The Los Angeles Lakers entered a pivotal draft lottery in 2017 where the bounce of four ping pong balls determined their fate for the next few years. Luckily for them, the balls bounced their way.
The Lakers will have the No. 2 overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, behind bitter rivals Boston. But because of that, they won’t need to trade their first-round pick to the 76ers and secure their 2019 first-round pick instead of dealing it to the Magic.
Let us explain:
The Lakers finished the regular season with a 26-56 record, third-worst behind the Phoenix Suns and Brooklyn Nets. That gave them the third-best odds at landing the No. 1 pick with a 46.9 percent chance that selection stays in the top three. They ended at No. 2
If that pick had fallen below No. 3, however, it would have conveyed to the Philadelphia 76ers. And in a ripple effect that could have destroyed their rebuild before it got off the ground, Los Angeles would also have lost its 2019 first-round pick to the Orlando Magic.
Instead, the pick conveyed to Philly will roll over to next year, while the 2019 pick to Orlando will turn into two second-round picks in 2017 and 2018. That’s a heck of a trade.
The top-two projected picks in this year’s draft, Markelle Fultz (Washington) and Lonzo Ball (UCLA), are highly skilled talents who could each alter the trajectory of a franchise for the better. (It also helps that Lonzo wants to be in L.A.). Los Angeles could also taken Kansas’ Josh Jackson to Duke’s Jayson Tatum, or either of Kentucky’s two talented guards, Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox. The 2019 draft is also expected be deep.
By ending up on the right side of that coin flip, the Lakers could get two future franchise players. Had they ended up on the wrong side, the would have received none.
How did we get here?
It all started in 2012, when Los Angeles knew their window to re-tool around Kobe Bryant for one last championship was ajar just an inch.
As a result, Los Angeles mortgaged its future in an attempt to make one last Finals run. They initially swung a deal for Chris Paul that was vetoed. Instead, the Lakers watched the league’s best floor general go across town to the Clippers.
So, Los Angeles went after Steve Nash as Bryant’s back-court mate and Dwight Howard to be the next franchise center. The Lakers thought they were putting together a Big 3 that would compete for championships through Kobe’s final years in purple and gold while ushering in a new franchise player.
Instead, they got a goose egg that ushered in the longest playoff drought in franchise history. That’s all thanks to the many future assets they dealt to put that failed team together.
In exchange for Nash, the Suns got two first-round picks — one in 2013 and another in 2015.
The second first-rounder was top-five protected in 2015 and top-three protected in both 2016 and 2017. The Lakers were bad enough to sneak into the No. 2 slot in the last two draft, selecting D’Angelo Russell in 2015 and Brandon Ingram in 2016.
The Suns later sent the Lakers’ pick to Philadelphia as part of a four-team deal that brought Brandon Knight to Phoenix and sent Michael Carter-Williams to Milwaukee. They likely saw Los Angeles wasn’t getting better anytime soon and would do all it could to retain those picks as the team rebuilt. Philadelphia had the opportunity to reap the benefits from the Lakers’ impatience if they fell out of the top three. Instead, the Lakers kept their pick, though the 76ers earned the No. 3 selection via a similarly prudent deal with the Kings.
Orlando, meanwhile, fielded a massive package in return for Howard, including Los Angeles’ 2017 protected first-round pick. Because Los Angeles’ 2015 obligation to Philadelphia (via the Suns) had been pushed back two years, Orlando was in line to snag the Lakers’ 2019 first-rounder instead.
But because the Lakers kept their pick this season, the Magic’s 2019 first-rounder turns into a set of second-round picks due to the original terms of the deal. You cannot trade future first-rounders in consecutive years due to the Stepien Rule, which pushed Orlando’s timeline back as the Lakers kept hanging on to their pick sent to the Suns in the Nash deal. The statute of limitations for that first-round pick the Magic got for Howard ended.
The time is now, whether the Lakers like it or not.
Now, the world is the Lakers’ oyster. They kept the No. 2 pick this year and a first-rounder in 2019, selections they could use to build from the ground up or package together for an All-Star, like Paul George.
Had they lost their pick, they would have been stuck with a subpar mix. The Lakers have a young core now of Russell, Ingram, Julius Randle, and Larry Nance Jr., none of whom look like future stars. They have Timofey Mozgov and Luol Deng draining their salary cap. They could still have landed George, a Los Angeles native who becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2018. But the chances of them acquiring him would have been much more slim without any picks to trade or future stars to entice him to join on the roster.
This lottery is all or nothing for the Lakers’ future. Because of the flip of a coin, it stays bright.