While Laker haters throughout the NBA are able to enjoy the struggles of one of the two most successful franchises in the league, they perhaps have overlooked the irony of the Lakers’ misfortune.
It seems quite evident what is going to happen. The Lakers are not going to make the playoffs and will be in the draft lottery. Regardless of how few chances they have in the lottery, they’re going to win it.
And Andrew Wiggins is going to be a Laker.
Yes, I realize the Celtics are also lottery-bound, and they still have a 17-16 lead over the Lakers in championships. If there is magic in the lottery, the Celtics normally would be logical recipients.
But there is a big difference in the current franchises. This year, the Celtics have embraced rebuilding, trading their older stars and doing it without much concern for competition. They had no problem shipping Kevin Garnett and should-have-been-Celtic-for-life Paul Pierce to division foe Brooklyn, ideally making the Nets a better team and enhancing their own chances of being in the lottery.
The Nets have been disappointing enough — unless we are currently seeing a turnaround (beating Oklahoma City, red-hot Golden State and Miami in two OTs was impressive) that can be sustained — to subvert the Celtics’ plan, but there was never any doubt what the Celtics were trying to do.
(And we should keep in mind there is a not-so-fine line between “rebuilding” and “tanking.”)
The Lakers were having none of that. Even though Kobe Bryant was recuperating from a serious Achilles tendon injury at the beginning of the season, he was going to return at some point. And a team with Kobe is not one interested in the lottery.
So the Lakers’ quest for Wiggins was purer. They did not make the decision to be bad; they were victims of bad luck. So I am of the opinion that because of that, they will be rewarded.
(I realize some astute reader will point out that one situation has nothing to do with the other. Such people don’t understand the concept of karma.)
There is a secondary bonus for Lakers fans because Wiggins in purple and gold will severely irritate the rest of the league. And charges of tampering will be the strongest since the Patrick Ewing frozen/bent envelope controversy in 1985.
Lakers get Wiggins? Didn’t David Stern once say the ideal NBA Finals would be Lakers vs. Lakers? Got to be a setup.
If you look at the history of the Lakers, however, good luck happens. In 1974, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, playing for Milwaukee at the time, told the Bucks the city did not fit his cultural needs and he wanted be traded to the Knicks or Lakers. He could have easily returned to his birthplace in New York.
The Lakers got him.
In 1976, the New Orleans Jazz signed Lakers free agent guard Gail Goodrich. In a deal that included six draft picks, the Lakers received as compensation the Jazz’s 1979 first-round choice, which turned out to be Magic Johnson.
Tell me the basketball gods weren’t looking out for the Lakers.
One of the many positives Johnson produced for the Lakers was the freedom to look ahead and made decisions for the future of the franchise. So in 1980, they traded Don Ford (career average: 6.4 points) and their unneeded 1980 first-round pick to Cleveland for a 1982 first-rounder and Butch Lee.
The Cavaliers used the pick to draft Chad Kinch (2.9 career average, died of HIV).
The Lakers got James Worthy.
(Even then in Cleveland, the basketball gods were cruel.)
(FYI: LeBron was born two years after the Worthy draft.)
On July 11, 1996, the Lakers traded center Vlade Divac to Charlotte for Bryant, who had been drafted by the Hornets a few weeks earlier. Exactly seven days later, the Lakers signed free agent Shaquille O’Neal and did not have to give up any players.
And I should mention the Wilt Chamberlain deal in 1968, when the Lakers acquired him from the 76ers for Archie Clark, Jerry Chambers and Darrell Imhoff. Wilt, however, was 32 when the next season began and was at the end of his career. The others were at the beginning.
So to review, over the years and not including Wilt, the Lakers have been involved in deals that included losing Gail Goodrich, Elmore Smith, Brian Winters, Junior Bridgeman, David Meyers, someone named Essie Hollis, Jack Givens and Vlade Divac.
In return, they received Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, James Worthy, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant.
Are they a favored nation, or what?
The Lakers currently have the third-worst record in the West, but the glut of bad teams in the East will prevent them from accumulating many lottery chances. Plus Steve Nash is expected back at the end of the month, which should mean another win or two.
But luck has struck the lottery before and, oddly, Cleveland is an example. In 2011, the Cavs had the most lottery chances but also had the rights to the Clippers’ No. 1 pick. The Clippers had only the eighth-most chances, but theirs was the number combination that came up, and the Cavs got Kyrie Irving.
The team with the worst record in the lottery gets 250 of 1,000 chances at the No. 1 pick. After that, the number of chances in order are 199, 156, 119, 88, 63, 36, 35, 17, 11, 8, 7, 6 and 5.
If the lottery were held today, the Lakers would have either 17 or 11 chances to win. The odds would be long, but, well, we’ve covered that.
The only thing that makes me think the Lakers’ luck – or destiny if you prefer – will be any different is because Dr. Jerry Buss is no longer with us. With him, of course, the famous words of baseball pioneer Branch Rickey rang true.
Luck is the residue of design.
Still, the Lakers have had their share of luck and the situation is perfect for them. As Kobe prepares to play his last few years, Wiggins arrives to carry on the legacy. It’s a story made for Hollywood, and the Lakers play only a few miles from there.
Yes, the Lakers are struggling this year. But their reward will be Andrew Wiggins.
TAKE A SPIN THROUGH JAN HUBBARD’S ARCHIVE FROM SHERIDAN HOOPS.COM. FANTASTIC STUFF ON THE NBA, PAST AND PRESENT.
Jan Hubbard has written about basketball since 1976 and worked in the NBA league office for eight years between media stints. Follow him on Twitter at @whyhub.