As this abomination of a season comes to its merciful conclusion for the Lakers, it’s been clear for some time now that there is quite literally no benefit to winning any of the team’s remaining games.
But Los Angeles thumped the Jazz by 15 points on Monday anyway, behind a 41-point performance from Nick Young in 34 minutes off the bench.
The victory hurt the Lakers’ chances of securing additional ping pong balls in the NBA’s Draft Lottery that will take place on May 20, and in what seemed to further prove that players and coaches never “tank” or do anything that remotely shows an intent to lose on purpose, Mike D’Antoni appeared clueless afterward as to how the win negatively affected his team’s prospects.
“They played hard, and I think, if I’m not mistaken, it’s the same number of pingpong balls, right?” D’Antoni said. “They flip a coin, or something.”
Turns out, he was mistaken. The Lakers went into the night with the sixth-worst record in the league. A loss to the Jazz would have put them in a tie for fifth with Utah, with the Lakers owning the tiebreaker as the worse team — should the Jazz close out the season with a loss in Minnesota and L.A. finish things out with a loss in San Antonio — because Utah would have won the season series 3-1.
A reporter informed D’Antoni that the win by the Lakers actually cemented the Jazz with a worse record and thus better lottery chances.
“I mean, you kind of hate that,” D’Antoni responded, realizing what the win did to the potential draft order. “But, I thought we had the same rank.”
A segment of Lakers fans viewed this as unconscionable, but there was zero wrongdoing on D’Antoni’s part.
The Draft Lottery is just that — a random drawing of how the top picks in the draft are ultimately distributed. Yes, L.A. would have theoretically had more chances at a better pick had the team managed to finish with a worse record than the Jazz, but nothing is guaranteed.
Besides, the decision of whether or not to play the team’s best players is one made by the front office. If Mitch Kupchak viewed the securing of additional ping pong balls as the end-all, be-all, then he could have instructed his coach to play someone like MarShon Brooks extended minutes under the guise of player development, while making sure Young rode the bench.
The Lakers are a star-driven team that will need to rebuild on the fly by adding proven talent in free agency in order to quickly return to the status of contenders. The top of this year’s draft has a handful of potential impact players, but like the lottery itself, nothing is guaranteed — all of which makes Kupchak’s decision not to intervene, along with D’Antoni’s ignorance of the situation completely understandable.