If the Lakers don’t finish the season with a friendly bounce of a ping pong ball that lands them a top-five pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, L.A.’s first round draft choice will belong to the Suns.
That was part of what went back to Phoenix in exchange for Steve Nash, who Lakers fans are still angry with to this day for the injuries that limited his ability to contribute much at all during his brief time in Los Angeles.
But even if the Lakers do keep the pick this season, at some point, they’ll be sending one back to the Suns.
L.A.’s first round picks in 2016 and 2017 are top-three protected, but in the unlikely event that they manage to keep both of those, the pick would finally become the property of Phoenix in 2018.
This fact — that the Lakers will have to give up a first round pick to the Suns eventually — is the reason Jeanie Buss recently cited for being against the idea of tanking this season.
From Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times:
“The draft pick to Phoenix, if we don’t give it to them this year, we have to give it to them next year, so I don’t really see what the logic would be,” said Buss on Tuesday, via SiriusXM NBA Radio’s “Off the Dribble” with Jared Greenberg and former Lakers champion Rick Fox.
“Try to tank to keep it this year, because we’d just have to give it away next year — that doesn’t resonate with me,” she continued. “I think it’s impossible to tell your coach and tell your players, ‘Try not to win.’ That goes against everything an organization is about.”
Since Buss uses the word “logic” here, it’s worth mentioning that this argument doesn’t contain any.
Bottoming out this season would ensure help would be on the way that much sooner, in the form of a lottery pick that would be added to the roster. That’s as good a reason as any to “tank,” because even if the pick the following season would then be unavailable, it would be because the team improved to the point where a top-three pick would be unlikely to be received.
As for the part about telling the coaches and players to “try not to win,” we’ve been here many times before.
It’s extremely obvious that players and coaches at the professional level are not doing things to intentionally try to lose games. When we discuss tanking, we’re talking about an organizational decision to not field as competitive a team as possible — see what the Sixers are doing this season, or take a look at what Phil Jackson just did to the Knicks by trading Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith away for nothing more than future salary cap space.
Every organization has an internal debate about how to rebuild its roster when the time comes, and tanking is inevitably a part of that discussion. The Lakers may not openly choose that path, and that’s fine. But the fact that they owe a future first round draft pick to Phoenix is not a viable reason for deciding whether or not to do so.