At the end of the season, teams either kick into a higher gear or get some rest. Some are making the final push for prime seeding in the playoffs, some are just happy with where they are and let the bench stumble its way through the final contests. Then there’s another tier of teams often forgotten around this time. For the teams at the bottom of the standings, these final matchups are crucial for different reasons. Tanking, the game behind the game, or the very long game, or very sad, very long, very Hinkie game, is the focus.
Because trades can be bad (hello, Nets) and reckless (hello, Nets and Kings), the web of who owns what is often like a smelly pile of tangled hair that is stuck in a shower drain. With just a game remaining on the schedule, this is the time for cleaning gloves, untangling assets, and a tanking primer.
The Kings-Sixers Swap
Deal or No Deal was (is?) a terrible show. No singing competition, no Survivor challenges, no rose awarded to a grown woman who calls mac and cheese “cheese pasta.” Yet America watched, because there was just something psychologically fascinating about someone having assets in front of them, then risking it with hopes of winning more, and ending up with nothing. That’s the best way to explain the appeal of Vlade Divac’s reign — watching him throw picks and people at Philadelphia to free up cap space for a man the team would later trade away at half-price.
These are the draft scenarios for Sacramento: The Sixers have the right to swap picks with the Kings. Now, Philly is currently four games worse than Sac, and will choose to keep its pick should the ping-pong balls place them higher in the 2017 NBA draft order. In that case, the Kings can keep their pick and draft poorly like all is normal, except if Sacramento is placed outside the top 10. In that case, Chicago would get the pick, courtesy of an earlier Luol Deng trade. If the pick falls inside the top 10, then Sacramento’s second-rounder will be awarded to the Bulls.
So the sweet spot for the Kings is just lower than Philadelphia, but still in the top 10. And they also have the Pelicans first-rounder, the small added bonus that came with acquiring the next Steph Curry. The Kings end the season against the Clippers on Wednesday with a 12 percent chance at getting that 10 spot and just a 0.4 percent at going 11th (all odds according to Tankathon).
Los Angeles is winning again! Five straight victorious games, complete with buzzer-beaters and Metta World Peace. Showtime is back! Problem is, the current Lakers are bad for the future Lakers — even while winning. Los Angeles, sitting in 14th place in the Western Conference, just above the Suns and a McRib wrapper, needed to lose out to strengthen its chances of protecting this year’s draft pick. If the Lakers aren’t in the top three of the lottery, then their pick is shipped to Philadelphia. Thank you, Based Hinkie.
Should that happen, the West Coasters also owe Magic, sorry, the Magic a 2019 first-rounder, unprotected. If the balls keep the Lakers in the top three, then L.A.’s 2017 and 2018 second-rounders will go to Orlando.
Because of recent … success(?), the Lakers now have a 53.1 percent chance of giving the pick up to the Sixers, though even after beating New Orleans, they’re still locked into the third-worst record and the third-best lottery odds.
Devin Booker dropped 70 points in a game, grabbing one of the best lines of the year, and the Suns still lost that game. So, yeah, the Suns are tanking. With a 24–58 record, they’ve clinched the second-worst record overall, with just a second-round obligation to give up a pick to Atlanta (protected through picks 31–55). Here’s to hoping they select Malik Monk with their lottery pick — the Suns are looking at a 19.9 percent chance at the top choice, an 18.8 percent chance at the second pick, or a 17.1 percent chance at the third — and make the all-Kentucky NBA team Calipari has always dreamed of.
The Brooklyn Nets
Brooklyn decided to rest its “best” players for its final game against Chicago, sitting out Jeremy Lin, Brook Lopez, and Trevor Booker. Quincy Acy, Joe Harris, and Sean Kilpatrick are out with injuries, leaving a bench of Spencer Dinwiddie, his Chi-Town vengeance, and this Brooklyn cop. It makes sense for both sides — the Bulls need a win to clinch a playoff spot, and the Nets need to rest everyone for the playoffs they aren’t going to. An unnamed Ringer staffer actually (cue Conspiracy Corner music) believes that the Nets are in this for the long game, wishing the Bulls into the playoffs over Miami because he or she thinks Chicago’s chances against the Celtics are greater.
Oh, right. The Celtics. Boston gets Brooklyn’s first-round pick. And with a 20–61 record and a 25 percent chance at the top selection, the Celtics are in good (though bitter) hands with the Nets. Brooklyn does have an incoming first-rounder from Washington, protected 1–14.
The Magic, Wolves, and Knicks
Orlando faces the Pistons on Wednesday night. Detroit is out of the postseason picture, so both teams would be better off losing. The Magic are currently tied with Philadelphia with a 10 percent shot at the first pick.
Minnesota plays the Rockets on Wednesday and, after an admirable five-game losing spurt, sits with the seventh-best draft position odds.
“Faces” or “plays” does not accurately describe whatever New York and Philadelphia will do Wednesday night, as the two will meet for each other’s final game. The Knicks currently have a 6.3 percent chance at the top pick.