With the team eliminated from the playoffs long ago there are many Lakers fans on board with the tank, encouraging the team to lose as much as possible. Coach Byron Scott has made a few moves towards that goal, including giving more minutes to young players and outright benching veterans such as Jordan Hill and Carlos Boozer in order to help secure more losses. Unfortunately, these changes might not be enough. Thanks to the play of several contract-year players, most notably Jeremy Lin and Ed Davis, the Lakers find themselves only three games up in the win column on the 5th place Orlando Magic.
Three games may sound like a large lead but the Magic have won just one game in their past ten attempts. To make matters worse, the Lakers play a number of weak opponents down the stretch, including the Sixers, Wolves, and Kings (twice).
It's entirely possible that the Lakers could drop to the 5th spot, which would lower their chances of keeping the pick all the way down to 55%, only slightly better than a coin flip. To lose their draft pick after the worst season in franchise history would not only be insult to injury but it would also deprive the Lakers fan base of the little hope that they have left.
Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak has admitted that the team is looking to build for the future both with their young players and through the draft, and as such Coach Scott has given the young players more minutes. However, for much of the season Scott has also continued to play contract-year veterans Jeremy Lin, Carlos Boozer, Jordan Hill, and Ed Davis. Each of them are giving everything they have game-in and game-out because their livelihoods are at stake, and it's costing the Lakers valuable losses in the process.
While it's true that Byron has recently moved Boozer and Hill to the bench it hasn't been enough, as the team picked up a tank-crushing win over Minnesota anyway. Had the team gone full-throttle on the tank and benched Lin and Davis in addition to Boozer and Hill the Wolves game would have likely resulted in a loss, and if Byron had pulled the trigger two games earlier than that they might have been able to manage a loss to Philadelphia as well. Those missed opportunities are in the past though, and right now the team needs to focus on simply wracking up as many losses as possible over the final 11 games.
Take a look at the PER for each player on the team at this point in the season:
With Kobe injured the top players on the team are Lin, Davis, Hill, and Boozer. Sitting those 4 down would do wonders for the team's chances of losing out and securing their draft pick. Doing so wouldn't hurt the players either, as each of them has had plenty of time over the course of the season to prove that they deserve solid contracts next year.
To that point, Davis, Hill, Lin, and Boozer currently find themselves in a no-win situation. If they play well and the Lakers win then they are hurting the franchise immeasurably by lowering the odds of the team keeping the draft pick. However, if they play poorly enough for the team to lose then they could be negatively impacting the value of their next contract. The only solution that is a win for both the player and the franchise is to not play at all.
While benching the top-4 Lakers on the active roster might seem underhanded it would be par for the course in what has been a wild tank race. Philadelphia and New York have either traded or benched their most talented players, while Minnesota is bubble-wrapping their more injury-prone guys by keeping them in street clothes with relatively minor maladies. The only choice the Lakers have in order to even the playing field is to sit their veterans, leaving the team with a rotation that would look something like this:
PG: Jordan Clarkson (35 min)/Wayne Ellington (13 min)
SG: Jabari Brown (35 min/Wayne Ellington (13 min)
SF: Wesley Johnson (35 min)/Wayne Ellington (5 min)/Ryan Kelly (8 min)
PF: Ryan Kelly (30 min)/Tarik Black (18 min)
C: Tarik Black (18 min)/Robert Sacre (30 min)
Obviously it's a short, 8 man rotation, but that lineup would allow the Lakers plenty of time to evaluate their young players for next year while losing as many games as possible. In a lost season there is simply no reason to continue to give minutes to known-commodities like Lin, Boozer, Hill, and Davis. Let those players begin to focus on their pending free-agency while the younger guys get all the minutes they can handle to learn on the job.
It won't be pretty, but at this point the Lakers have no choice but to go all-out in their tanking efforts. To do anything less is simply tempting fate, which wouldn't be wise given the Lakers luck over the past three seasons.
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