Tanking. Something no team truly wants to admit to doing but in reality many teams do it to adequately prepare for the future. It’s all about selling what you currently have (which typically isn’t much) in order to ensure you aren’t as poor of a team for the following years. In basketball it’s about being as bad as possible one year so you can get a great pick in the upcoming draft, and 2014 just happens to be one of the most loaded drafts in recent memory. With a draft class consisting of Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins, Marcus Smart, Joel Embiid, and Julius Randle rounding out the top-five, teams have to consider wanting a top-five pick for this draft.
Now, before everyone starts yelling about how the Lakers aren’t a team that tanks, they’re not a team that gives up, they’re not… Yeah, yeah, yeah I know, but let’s take a look at what that would exactly entail.
The Lakers aren’t winning anything this year with their current roster
With Mike D’Antoni as head coach, and the current arsenal of players, the Lakers aren’t even looking at obtaining a playoff spot right now. It’s time to face facts and just accept it, even when Kobe Bryant comes back it’ll be a lot to ask to even make an eighth seed. Even if they managed to make the playoffs they’re likely looking at a first round exit much like last season, to be honest, the rest of the West is just better and more primed to win than the Lakers currently are. However, most of us already knew this as the Lakers aren’t playing to win this year, they were playing to have a great amount of cap room for next season in hopes of signing a big name free agent.
Finishing with a poor record only means a better draft pick
For the most part at least. I mean, once the Lakers don’t make the playoffs they’ll be in the lottery, but with a poor record they may have a decent shot at getting at least a top-ten pick which, in this draft, would most likely yield a solid player that would make a difference on any team. If they’re truly BAD, then they can look at getting into the top-five which would yield one of the players listed above, almost certainly an instant game changer. Of course the NBA Lottery is unpredictable and just about anything can happen as we’ve seen in the past (1993 Orlando, 1990 Seattle). These players may not all pan out, but the chances of most of them turning into NBA All-Stars one day is immense.
So, as you can see it is clearly in the Lakers’ best interest to be a bad team. I don’t necessarily mean to just play as poorly as possible, but they shouldn’t use all their energy and willpower to just finish eighth or ninth in the West. Regardless of what fans think, about how the Lakers are a storied franchise that has only missed the playoffs five times in their history and only once since 1995, there is absolutely no benefit to finishing with a first-round exit. NONE.
Some may call me a hater, a doubter, a nonbeliever, but I’m just being realistic here, and in basketball realism is one of the best mantras to have. Imagine next season, 2014, with only Kobe Bryant ($23.5 million), Steve Nash ($9.7 million), and Robert Sacre ($915,243) on the books, oh and then there’s the possibility that Nick Young exercises his player option ($1.2 million). According to Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times, the 2014-15 cap is projected at around $62.1 million, and the Lakers would have about $40.3 million in salary which equals just under $22 million to spend this summer.
But, not so fast! This changes based on Los Angeles’ draft pick and how high or low it is. If they finish out of the lottery, then they will likely get an average draft pick to where they can sign their player to a minimum rookie salary. But, like I said, if the Lakers are terrible and end up with a top-eight or so draft pick then they will obviously be paying that rookie considerably more money. This is where we can analyze the options a bit more.
Either the Lakers are terrible, and they get a great draft pick, but don’t end up with enough cap room to sign Carmelo Anthony or Lebron James. OR the Lakers finish in the top-eight in the West, get a mediocre pick, and have enough money to sign a big name free agent. Anthony is the most likely candidate here, as James just doesn’t look like he’s going to land in the city of angels.
Now, let’s be real here again for a minute, do the Lakers really want Anthony? What has he done that screams “I’m going to win your team a championship, sign me to a max deal!” Is it the whopping zero championships he earned in Denver? Or maybe it’s the great record he has the Knicks sitting at in New York. Exactly. I’m not saying Anthony is a bad player, far from it actually, but he’s just not the player the Lakers need to pair alongside Bryant. Both those guys like to have the basketball in their hand A LOT, and both take a hefty amount of shots per game. Bryant averages about 20 shots per game for his career, and Anthony takes about, oh would you look at that, 20 shots per game for his career. That is 40 shots every game between two players, both of which will want it at the end of the game as well. Oh, and unless Lakers’ brass change their minds soon, Mike D’Antoni will be the one coaching these two, and he has a wonderful track record with superstars! Right…
Here’s the other option, the Lakers finish with a poor record, get a great pick and sign a guy who could potentially be a difference maker for them. They also would be quite young, which means they could be around for a long time. A top-ten pick would cost the Lakers anywhere between $1.8 million to $4.3 million, according to HoopsWorld’s rookie salary scale from 2012-13. This takes the Lakers from just under $22 million in space to roughly $18-$20 million in space, not quite enough for a big name free agent, but enough to fill-out the roster with solid role players. Yes, solid role players, because believe it or not, Bryant, Anthony, (potentially) Nash, and Sacre won’t be enough to fill out the Lakers’ roster.
Also, something to think about should the Lakers sign someone like Anthony; they won’t have much more salary to devote to the other players needed to fill out the roster. Which means another year much like this season, with players who are willing to sign for minimum salaries just to fill the roster up. So, tanking and receiving a great draft pick would essentially give the Lakers more financial freedom to sign other good, solid, dependable role players that can truly help them win another championship in the Bryant era. I like this plan much more for the future of the purple and gold as it gives them flexible cap space, a young budding star (potentially), and the ability to sign more good players instead of one great player.
So, to sum this whole thing up into a paragraph, the Lakers shouldn’t be worried about finishing with a record worthy of sending them to the playoffs, they should be worried about being bad enough to set themselves up for the future. Granted, the other option involving big name free agents isn’t horrendous, I just see holes and many issues arising from going down that path. Not that the tanking path doesn’t have its issues, believe me it does, I just see it as a safer and more efficient path to achieving what every NBA team wants, a championship.
Sometimes you just have to be bad in order to get better. That is what the Lakers must do this season in order to ensure they have a bright and welcoming future in the NBA.