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The Lakers’ win over the Suns could be horrible for their future

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Los Angeles could lose two first-round picks if the team wins too many games.

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Oklahoma City Thunder Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Lakers handily beat the Phoenix Suns late Thursday night, 122-110, behind a 28-point performance from D’Angelo Russell. The win snapped an eight-game losing streak that featured several blowout defeats.

But in a cruel twist of fate, that win did more damage to L.A.’s future than those many embarrassing defeats. Now, the Lakers need to stop winning games, immediately, if they plan to keep their draft pick in the deep 2017 NBA draft. And if they keep that pick, there will be another reward for them down the road.

The Lakers (20-45) have the Western Conference’s worst record and are the second-worst team in the NBA, ahead of only the Brooklyn Nets. But Los Angeles doesn’t own its first-round pick in 2017 outright. In fact, their draft standing gives them more incentive to throw games than any other team in recent memory.

As a result of the trade that (briefly) landed Steve Nash in purple and gold, the Lakers sent Phoenix two first-round picks, one of which was top-five protected last year. Phoenix turned around and traded that pick to Philadelphia as part of the Brandon Knight for Michael Carter-Williams trade.

Los Angeles selected Brandon Ingram No. 2 overall last year, so the pick transferred over with a top-three protection this season. If the Lakers’ pick lands in the top three this year, the 76ers own Los Angeles’ 2018 first-rounder outright.

But there’s an interesting fold to the Lakers’ 2017 first-rounder that directly influences its standing in the 2019 draft, as well.

As part of the 2012 trade that sent Dwight Howard to Los Angeles, the Lakers agreed to send a first-round pick to Orlando two years after the second of the two first-rounders conveyed to Phoenix. That was supposed to happen much sooner than now, but the Lakers fell apart quicker than anyone expected. So that second first-round pick that was supposed to head Phoenix’s way sooner still hasn’t and might not again this year.

That’s bad news for the Magic.

If Los Angeles’ pick fell outside of the top-five last year, they would have kept their pick this season and sent their first-rounder to Orlando in 2018. If the Lakers lose their pick this season, they’ll also lose their first-rounder in 2019. That pick is top-five protected, so it’d likely be a lottery selection.

If the Lakers again keep their pick this year, however, the terms of the trade change. Instead, they’ll convey a 2017 and 2018 second-round pick to Orlando. So instead of a likely lottery pick, Orlando will get two second-rounders.

That’s a much better bargain for the Lakers than losing another high pick two years from now.

This is why they can’t keep beating teams like Phoenix

If the Lakers hold steady as the second-worst team in the league, they’ll have just about a 20 percent shot at the No. 1 overall pick, a 19 percent shot at No. 2 and a 17 percent shot at No. 3. They will also have a 31.9 percent chance of falling to No. 4 and a 13 percent chance at landing the fifth pick. So, the chances of keeping their 2017 and 2019 first-rounders would be around 56 percent

But if Los Angeles wins a handful more games, it could move ahead of Phoenix (21-44) in the standings and improve to just the third-worst record. That would give the Lakers around a 49 percent chance at landing the fourth or fifth pick and a 4 percent chance at pick No. 6. That means their chances of losing both the 2017 and 2019 picks would be more likely than a coin flip.

That’s not good for business.

The Lakers won’t lose more games than the Brooklyn Nets (11-52) this season and are now just one game behind Phoenix (21-44) in the year’s tank-a-thon. There are also a few Eastern Conference teams, including the 76ers and the Magic (each 23-41), just a few losses away from pushing for a top-three pick.

Luckily, the Lakers have it easy ... or tough, depending on how you look at it. Only five of Los Angeles’ remaining 17 games are against teams decisively outside of the playoff hunt, including the 76ers, the Kings, and the Timberwolves three times. They should easily be able to put up a donut over the next month.

So while getting a few wins for their young core might seem like a good idea, the Lakers should do absolutely everything in their power to lose out for the season.

Somebody find Mark Madsen.