Lakers can pull off the nightmare scenario of sending Victor Wembanyama to bed in New Orleans after defeating Pelicans

On November 11, the 2-10 Los Angeles Lakers had the worst record in the NBA. Less than a month later, on December 7, the New Orleans Pelicans took over the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. Both teams would move up a fair bit early on in the standings, but overall, for the first two months of the season, there was a sense that by the end of the season, the Lakers would be among the worst teams in the NBA and that the Pelicans would be among theirs best belong.

This was a critical development early on, as Anthony Davis’ trade gives New Orleans the right to trade first-round picks with the Lakers in the upcoming 2023 NBA draft. That draft also includes Victor Wembanyama, arguably the best prospect since LeBron James to get into the NBA. When the Lakers won the championship in 2020, it became impossible for them lose the Davis trade, but had they handed the Pelicans Wembanyama on a silver platter, it would be hard to argue that New Orleans wouldn’t have at least emerged as a co-winner. Given the turmoil Lakers management has faced in recent years, that kind of embarrassment could have been disastrous.

That made Tuesday’s Lakers win over the Pelicans somewhat symbolic. Less than a week ago, the Lakers overtook the Pelicans in the standings for the first time all season. New Orleans fought their way back to a tie with Los Angeles ahead of Tuesday’s game, but their win puts the 34-35 Lakers a full game ahead of the 33-36 Pelicans.

The Lakers are now 9-4 as of the close, although James was only there for three of those games. The pelicans, meanwhile, have been standing between 10 and 24 since New Year’s Eve and trending in the wrong direction. Zion Williamson may or may not return this season. Brandon Ingram is struggling with an ankle injury. Their overall offense ranks 27th in the NBA over the past two months, which is even worse than the Tanking Rockets. The Lakers have the easiest remaining schedule in the NBA. New Orleans is close to the easiest four-game stretch on its slate (two Rockets, Spurs and Pelicans), but after that the Pelicans could be underdogs in all of their remaining games.

In the modern NBA, you can never say never. This is especially true in the flattened lottery era. But with the Lakers thriving despite James’ absence and the Pelicans in sight with no Williamson return, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the nightmare scenario of Los Angeles sending Wembanyama to New Orleans can likely be put to bed. As it stands, the Lakers are currently in ninth place in the Western Conference, which keeps them two play-in wins from being eliminated from the lottery entirely. Even if they stay there, no play-in team can have more than a 2% chance of actually winning the lottery.

The most likely outcome right now is that the Lakers and Pelicans stay where they are. Not only would New Orleans miss out on a potentially high Lakers pick, but their slippage would ensure the Lakers retained a relatively valuable pick even midway through the first round, whether or not the Pelicans exercised their swap.

New Orleans can still feel good about the haul it’s received for Davis by and large. Ingram has grown into an all-star as a Pelican. Josh Hart was a key trading component that brought them CJ McCollum. The Lakers gave the Pelicans the number 8 in last year’s draft, which they used at Dyson Daniels, and New Orleans will get another pick in the deal, which will come in either 2024 or 2025 (the Pelicans have the right to vote). which year).

But in this small way, the Lakers can breathe a sigh of relief. They may still have a long way to go before they can return to the championship, but at least they can sleep easy knowing the odds of them sending the best prospect of a generation to New Orleans have dropped to almost zero is.

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