With the Clippers beating the Lakers, this pushes the the Lakers to 2-5 following the All-Star Break (9-21 since the start of 2019) . This includes two embarrassing losses to the Grizzlies and Suns, who both sit above the Lakers in the mock drafts. This is all coming, of course, after LeBron said that “playoff mode” was activated. All that has been “activated” is Kuzma and Ingram’s dominance for the Lakers, and they are proving to more than the Lakers (looking at you, Pelicans) that they can shoulder a team. However, the main issue emerging from all of this is simple: LeBron’s typical dominance is absent.
Is LeBron suffering from injury? Is Luke Walton as bad as everyone says? Is LeBron not being a good leader? Whose idea was it to sign ‘the Meme Team’? What is the deal with all these trades they made pre-trade deadline?
I mean, you can see the amount of questions that I alone have, and that’s just a few so I can move along more quickly to the body of this article. However, the amount and scale of the questions is breath-taking, and very shocking to say the least. It essentially calls into scope the entire, horrible season that they have had. The Lakers organization has failed LeBron since they undoubtedly cannot make the playoffs with 18 games left in the season, and they are 5.5 games behind the Spurs (who currently own the 8th seed). The Lakers would have to jump the Timberwolves, Kings, and Spurs, AND also lose more games than the Pelicans, Suns, Grizzlies, and Mavericks can. With one of the hardest remaining schedules, the Lakers are trapped with only 2 paths that they can choose from: push for the playoffs or tank for a better pick. It would take a Herculean effort from LeBron and the rest of Lake Show in order to secure the 8 seed, and would still lead to a 4 game, first round exit since they would (logically) meet the Warriors in the first round. So, that kind of pushes them on the path the Lakers and LeBron have never had to take: tank for better draft odds.
A bit of context: the reason why they should tank is because they are currently at the 13th pick in the draft. Not a very valuable asset especially since the cream of the crop is within the 4-5 picks in the draft (as it usually is) this year. After that, it is somewhat of a level playing field in terms of talent. While I don’t believe that (and believe myself this is somewhat of a deep year in terms of talent), having a higher pick is always better leverage for a trade than a lower pick. I’m sure a certain team located in New Orleans would love to have two top 10 (hell, maybe even two top 7 picks if this scenario plays out) picks in this draft. Now, how is this occurring? Well, let’s go into the draft lottery odds, since a certain team from New Orleans could end up with 2 top 4 picks based off of the new draft lottery odds and how they have been “leveled” a bit…
Over the summer, the NBA decided to “fix the tanking crisis” by leveling the draft odds and making the top 4 picks have the best odds for the #1 pick, not the top 3. Simply put, what it means is this: the #4 team, while not having the best odds, will have better than 10% odds at the #1 pick. Hell, the top 5 teams will ALL have better than 10% odds at getting the #1 pick. So, for a team that is hypothetically sitting outside of the top 5 picks that is from LA, this is good news! Why? Well, a couple teams may have decided that it would be in there best interest to maybe make a push for worse (as in lower) lottery odds, whether that be through trying to convey picks OR struggling to make the playoffs. The Grizzlies (currently at 6th best odds) do not want to convey a pick to the Celtics in the future, so this season would be a good one. Washington (7th), Orlando (9th), New Orleans (10th), and Miami (11th) are all in a weird limbo of trying to win but not win games. Dallas (8th) wants to lose as many games in order to keep their pick, but it still may convey to the Hawks anyway. New York (1st), Phoenix (2nd), Cleveland (3rd), Chicago (4th), and Atlanta (5th) will all begin to win games as many teams already in a playoff lock begin to rest players. So that puts the Lakers (currently at 12th) in a great position…
The best player for the Lakers is LeBron, no matter what anyone says. He is one of, if not THE, best players in the NBA. If he was to sit out, the playmakers currently healthy for the Lakers are as follows: Brandon Ingram and Rajon Rondo. A team under that construction will not win more than 20% of their 18 games remaining. LeBron does not seem to be actually in “playoff mode”, requiring Kyle Kuzma actually pushing him onto his defensive assignment. So if LeBron was to sit out, they would more than likely lose their remaining 18 games; this would make their record 30-52. If the Hawks (again, currently 5th) were to win 50% of their remaining 17 (lets round 8.5 up to 9), their record would be 31-51…hence outside the top 5 of picks. This is, of course, not factoring in the other teams. However, this is where the rabbit hole widens a bit, since this is a scenario that requires many things to happen…
The Heat, Magic, and Wizards are currently tied, 0.5, and 3 games behind the 8 seed in the East. All three will struggle to push to make it to justify their season. The Pelicans are currently below the Lakers in the conference standings, but they only have 15 games left to their season. Atlanta wants to use all of their picks and continue building the young core of John Collins and Trae Young, and winning games help chemistry more than anything else. These are all 5 teams above the Lakers in the standings. The Grizzlies are a tad more complicated. Their pick is currently the 6th best odds, BUT their pick this year is top 8 protected from the Celtics controlling it. It would be better for them to get rid of it this year, since in 2020 it becomes top 5 protected and then unprotected in 2021. These are the two predicted years for the NBA changing the age date, and allowing high school basketball players to join the NBA out of high school. IN MY OPINION, it would be okay to convey the lower pick this year, be free from that burden, and begin the process of rebuilding by becoming a salary dump for picks.
That wraps up all 6 of the teams that lie ahead of the Lakers from their current ranking at the 12th pick to their projected 5th pick if they lose all of their games. That’s also assuming the top four teams in the draft lottery (aka New York, Phoenix, Cleveland, and Chicago) do not win any more games, which I cannot assume to be correct. Teams can win games even if they don’t want to. Hell, the “Zion Bowl” will occur 4 times between the Knicks and Cavs by the time this season ends, and they have altered in those games for who wins.
In reality, I do not know if the Lakers will rest LeBron. Since he is only 12 points away from passing Michael Jordan on the all-time points list, I am sure he will play against the Nuggets to reach that. After that? No idea. I would hope they do, since it is the better thing for their franchise to do. But what does this mean for you, Lakers fans of America?
…that the rest of this season will suck as much as the offseason last summer went. Just sit around until the offseason and hope the Lakers finally make a smart move or two (hell, maybe a lot more than that) to turn the Lakers into a contender.