The Los Angeles Lakers are still paying the price for the Steve Nash trade.
In 2012, the Lakers traded the Phoenix Suns four draft picks in exchange for Nash. The last of those picks was a first-round pick, top-five protected in 2015, top three-protected in 2016 and 2017, and unprotected in 2018. The Suns later traded that pick to the Philadelphia 76ers as part of a three-team trade in 2014.
That last pick is yet to transfer because the Lakers have fallen in the top five and three in the lottery the last two years.
The Lakers obviously never thought they'd be in this position. They believed with Nash, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Dwight Howard on the team, they'd compete for championships for years — draft picks wouldn't matter as much.
That never happened.
Nash's tenure with the Lakers was a dud as he struggled with injuries, and that core fell apart, leaving the Lakers to become a talent-bereft lottery team for longer than imagined.
Now, at 20-48, the Lakers are trying desperately to hold onto their 2017 pick.
In doing so, they're pulling the most obvious tank job in the entire league. The Lakers have lost 11 of their last 12 games in an effort to end up with one of the worst records in the league and thus, secure better odds at landing in the top three of the draft and keeping their pick.
In order to lose those games, they've been gradually shutting down their veteran players. ESPN reported on Wednesday that the Lakers were shutting down Timofey Mozgov and Luol Deng — two players they signed to $64 and $72 million contracts, respectively, this past offseason. The Lakers have even begun to bench Nick Young, who was having a nice season, seemingly in order to be less competitive.
At the trade deadline, new team president Magic Johnson traded sixth-man Lou Williams to the Rockets for a 2017 first-round pick, ridding the team of one of its best scorers while getting another pick in the meantime.
In turn, they've been playing their younger players extended minutes to get them experience — and to be less competitive.
It's working, too. The Lakers lost a crucial game to the 76ers on Monday, a game neither team wanted to win. The loss hurt the Lakers' record, giving them better odds in the lottery, while pushing the 76ers' record higher, giving them worse odds.
As ESPN's Kevin Arnovitz noted on Zach Lowe's "The Lowe Post" podcast, the NBA currently has a structure that rewards teams for incompetence. If the playoffs are out of sight, teams are incentivized to lose and get better odds at a higher pick in the draft. This year's draft is considered especially deep and talented, thus giving teams like the Lakers more motivation to lose games.
Until the NBA does something drastic to change the rules, it's going to end up with similar situations for teams that are in clear need of young talent in the draft.
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