Though the methods of their rebuild process have received far less scrutiny than those of the Sixers, it's worth remembering that the Los Angeles Lakers have been bottoming out for nearly as long. The last time the Sixers made the playoffs was 2012, the Lakers last made it in 2013, their last chances of contention having limped away weeks earlier, along with Kobe's busted Achilles. In 2014, the Lakers drafted seventh while the Sixers picked third, and the three years after that, L.A. has picked second.
The third time, L.A. jumped all the way from No. 6 in the lottery standings -- due to an unexpected late surge of Ws at season's end, after coach Luke Walton had already sent multiple vets home for the holidays -- to No. 2. Afterwards, Walton offered, "I've always believed that things work out the way they're supposed to. and we decided to play the end of the season to try to win ball games and not go into tank mode, and the Basketball Gods shined down on us for that today." This was a half-callback to earlier in the season, when Walton previously referenced the Basketball Gods and their distaste for tanking, explaining, "Philly's been there for a while. They look like they're doing pretty well right now but they're still a long way from being a true contender. I would prefer not to be stuck in the lottery for very long."
The Sixers entered this week 19-19, in line for the eighth seed of the Eastern Conference playoffs. The Lakers started it 12-27, on pace to earn a fourth consecutive No. 2 overall pick at this June's draft.
For the second straight season, Los Angeles got off to a promising-enough start -- beginning the season 8-10 with one of the league's best defenses and one of the season's most productive rookies (though not the one they picked with this year's second pick) -- and then completely fell apart. While the Sixers were fumbling their way to a 5-10 December, the Lakers went 3-11, then proceeded to lose their first three games of the New Year. They've since amassed Ws against the lowly Hawks and Kings, but despite already picking in the top ten four straight years, it certainly doesn't look like Walton's crew has any chance of getting unstuck from the lottery this year.
It might be a couple years for them still. The Lakers have a stock of legitimately promising young players -- rookie forward Kyle Kuzma, second-year swingman Brandon Ingram, even lightning-rod point guard Lonzo Ball -- but no prospect yet on the obviously game-changing two-way level of Joel Embiid, or even Ben Simmons. They hoped to be a landing spot for LeBron James this summer, but the Lakers' on-court ineptitude has blocked them from being a legitimate player in free agency for a half-decade now, and it's hard to see The King jumping to a team still nowhere near sniffing .500 this late in his career. Other free agents like Paul George or DeMarcus Cousins may or may not be easier sells, but even if so, they're not the sort of players that fix flailing franchises overnight.
Not to mention the media circus the Lakers are currently engulfed in, surrounding a dude not even directly involved with the team. LaVar Ball caused a press firestorm over the weekend by opining to Jeff Goodman of ESPN that Walton had "lost the team" and that his son Lonzo needed a different coach to help him realize his potential. The rest of the NBA may not be as engaged with the story, but they're likely at least slightly annoyed by its pervasiveness, and the idea of being tethered to LaVar as a part of the Lakers' future probably lurks as a real factor at this point for anyone thinking of joining L.A. in the offseason -- especially while his son continues to put up historically lousy shooting numbers and maybe not even prove worth all the trouble.
This is all to say: The Basketball Gods do not appear to be smiling on the Los Angeles Lakers thusfar in the 2017-'18 season. And of course, I haven't even gotten to the best part of all of it: The Lakers don't even have their pick this year. It belongs to the Sixers.
For now, anyway. Due to the Markelle Fultz pickswap trade with Boston over the summer, we give the Celtics the Lakers pick if it falls between 2-5 this season, otherwise we give them the Kings pick we got from the original pickswap deal years ago next year (unless it falls No. 1, in which case we give them our own pick). After their win against Sacramento last night, the Lakers currently sit at No. 4 in the Tanking Rankings, tied with Sacramento -- if they ended the season at No. 4, they'd have about a 29% chance of handing over the No. 6 pick to Philly, with a 12% chance of giving us the No. 1.
There's been some debate about what the best-case scenario is for Philly of how the Lakers should end the season -- whether we're better off with L.A. winning enough to slide to No. 6 or 7, or basically losing out. I'm with Derek Bodner of the Athletic that I'd rather just have the Lakers lose as much as possible, ending up with as much as a 25 percent of handing us the No. 1 pick (under the last year of the old lottery odds, before reform flattens the possibility a little), though no chance of getting it below five.
I think that's fine: Getting the highest odds at the game-changing No. 1 pick and taking our chances next year with an unprotected Kings pick seems higher-upside than grabbing the No. 7 pick this year and potentially hand over a top-three choice to the Celts next year. There's basically no reason to think the Kings won't just be bad forever, so I have no problem riding with them in 2019. Meanwhile, we get to continue rooting for the Lakers to lose outright, to enjoy every slip of public dysfunction, every clanked Lonzo Ball three, every sports pundit who claimed LeBron-to-L.A. as a done deal now backpedaling on their words.
Which isn't to say the Sixers have been drama- or embarrassment-free in the '17-'18 season by any means themselves -- there are certainly a handful of teams who would be at least slightly within their rights to be cackling at us right now. But hey, we're .500, we've got a reasonable chance of postseason ball, we've got at least two of the best young players in the league, and we've got every reason to be optimistic about the immediate and near-future -- none of which the Lakers could confidently say about themselves.
So yeah -- while the Sixers wrap up their five-day layover in between games and continents, make sure to take a second to let loose a resounding, throaty, ha-HAH! at Luke Walton and the Lakers' expense. It's what the basketball gods would want.