SAN ANTONIO — The chances are extremely slim that the Los Angeles Lakers repeat history from 1979 and '82, when they had the No. 1 overall draft pick and took perhaps the best point guard ever (Magic Johnson) and perhaps the most underrated Hall of Famer ever (James Worthy) in those respective years.
The Lakers just finished with the NBA's sixth-worst record, meaning they have a 6.3 percent chance at lucking into the top pick when the NBA lottery is conducted May 20.
Those chances are at least slightly higher than the likelihood of them falling down to the eighth pick: 4 percent. But the Lakers have no chance of moving up just a little; they can't pick fourth or fifth because of the way the lottery is set up.
They also have small chances of picking second (7.1 percent) or third (8.1), meaning if Joel Embiid's back checks out once NBA doctors get better access to the info, the Lakers are a lot more likely to have Indiana power forward Noah Vonleh shoring up their frontcourt next season than Embiid.
If Embiid's back sprouts a bunch of red flags, then maybe a scenario develops wherein he drops to the Lakers lower in the draft. That's basically what happened with center Nerlens Noel last season. Many considered him the top pick before he dropped to sixth and the open-to-waiting Philadelphia 76ers after ACL surgery. Noel sat out this entire season.
The Lakers are overwhelmingly likely to be picking sixth (43.9 percent) or seventh (30.5) when it comes down to it. On the bright side for Lakers fans, that's higher than the only other two top-10 picks the club has had in recent memory besides Johnson and Worthy: The Lakers took Eddie Jones 10th in 1994 and Andrew Bynum 10th in 2005.
|Rank||Team||Chance of Winning|
|6||Los Angeles Lakers||6.3%|
|10||New Orleans Pelicans||1.1%|
|11||Denver Nuggets (via New York Knicks)||0.8%|
|12||Orlando Magic (via Denver Nuggets)||0.7%|
Both wound up being very good picks for the Lakers, contributing to NBA championships. (They swapped Jones for Glen Rice, who won in 2000, and Bynum won in 2009 and '10.) But when you get into the bottom half of the top 10, there are a lot more misses by the scouts.
The Lakers are also limited by NBA trade rules preventing teams from trading out of the first round in consecutive years. The Lakers could make the pick and trade the draftee away in a prearranged deal, or they could trade the pick while getting another first-round pick back.
But odds are that the Lakers make the pick given their need for youth and the quality of this draft pool.
Another very relevant factor to consider is that the Lakers might not have a first-rounder in the near future because they went all-in for Steve Nash and Dwight Howard.
If tanking advocates thought this Lakers season was dramatic down the stretch for how important every loss was, it could be really suspenseful next season. The Lakers traded their 2015 first-round pick to the Phoenix Suns in the Nash trade, but it is protected only through the top five picks.
That means that if the Lakers are bad enough next season to have one of the top five picks in the 2015 draft, then they don't have to give it to the Suns yet. The Lakers would get to pick in the top five in '15—a potentially important piece to a new puzzle including an incoming star in 2015 free agency to pair with Kobe Bryant and that 2014 rookie.
In that scenario, the Lakers would postpone giving the pick to the Suns until 2016 or '17, when it is protected through the top three picks. It becomes unprotected in 2018.
To get a better winning feeling again, for themselves and their fans, the Lakers would like to win so much next season that they definitely give up that 2015 first-round pick (sixth overall or worse) to the Suns. If they win enough, they'll also be sacrificing their '15 second-round pick, which is going to the Orlando Magic from the Dwight Howard trade but is protected through the top 10 second-round slots.
The Howard trade costs the Lakers down the road too: They owe the Magic a future first-rounder. If the 2015 first-round pick goes to Phoenix, then the '17 pick goes to the Magic—again unless it is in the top five overall. As long as the Lakers can't give Phoenix its pick, Orlando has to keep waiting, two years behind.
The bottom line is that the Lakers don't have the future picks to plan on building through the draft. But this one pick coming up does offer a rare opportunity to secure a top talent whose cost will be controlled by rookie-scale salaries for future years—or swing and suffer a big miss.
A Van Gundy in Lakerland?
Last week we suggested Quin Snyder, who impressed Mitch Kupchak and Bryant in his one season as a Lakers assistant, as the sort of energetic, authoritative, hopeful new head coach to give the Lakers a new feel.
If the Lakers decide to fire Mike D'Antoni but want to go with an old feel—in other words, a retread coach—hopefully it isn't one too retreaded.
Two names jump out to me, and they have the same last name: Jeff Van Gundy and Stan Van Gundy. Of the unemployed coaches out there, they are two of the very few who have proved themselves to be top-shelf NBA leaders.
And how poetic would it be for the Lakers to return to glory with Stan Van Gundy, the excellent coach whom Howard got fired in Orlando?
The Lakers finished the season with 319 games missed because of player injury. As bad as that was, it really could've been worse, according to some research by Calder Hynes of Lakers public relations and NBA stat legend Harvey Pollack.
The Lakers this season didn't even equal the most missed from last season: the 2012-13 Minnesota Timberwolves missed 341. And the Lakers were a full 200 shy of the league record: The 2002-03 Toronto Raptors missed 519 games to injury.
Raptors All-Star Vince Carter (39 games missed) wasn't out as much as Bryant or Nash this season, but Lamond Murray (82), Lindsey Hunter (53) and Antonio Davis (29) were all established NBA players too.
On April 17, a day after the final game of the season, Toronto let head coach Lenny Wilkens go. The Lakers aren't planning on doing the same to their coach on this April 17 day after the season, but we shall see in the future.
The Raptors wound up with the fourth overall pick in the draft and did get a big-time talent in Chris Bosh, though he didn't exactly turn the Raptors into winners either.
Kevin Ding covers the Lakers for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @KevinDing.
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