The Suns, at 23-48 and in last place in the Western Conference, have little to play for this season, but that doesn't mean there isn't plenty at stake in the next few weeks for Phoenix. The Suns entered the night in a jumble of nine teams within five games of each other at the bottom of the standings, as our tentative draft order shows. A rare win could compromise the team's chance at landing the No. 1 overall pick in the draft lottery, which currently stands at 11.9%. A win against the Jazz tonight would be twice as damaging.
Thanks to the Steve Nash sign-and-trade this past summer, the Suns will receive the Lakers' first-round pick this year if L.A. fails to make the playoffs. If the Lakers manage to sneak into the postseason, that pick goes to the Cavs, and Phoenix would instead receive Miami's pick, which will almost certainly be 30th overall. The Jazz sit one game behind the Lakers for the final playoff spot in the West, and they catch a break tonight. Suns starting point guard Goran Dragic isn't playing against Utah, and the team says the move is to allow Dragic to rest while rookies Kendall Marshall and Diante Garrett see more playing time, according to Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic. Dragic, the team's leading scorer, is healthy and says he would play if he were allowed. Skeptics may wonder whether the Suns' true intentions have more to do with the draft than they're letting on.
Also tonight, the Magic gave up a 19-point lead after one quarter and lost to the Bobcats, bringing Orlando to within a half game of Charlotte for the league's worst record. If the Magic eclipse the Bobcats for that mark, they'll improve their chances at the No. 1 pick by 5.1%.
The draft lottery was instituted in 1985 in part to remove the incentive for teams to intentionally lose games to improve their draft stock, but nearly three decades later, the strategy of tanking appears to be alive and well. Proposals abound on how to fix the problem, from giving each team in the lottery an equal chance at the top pick to instituting a playoff for the No. 1 overall selection. We'll surely hear plenty such ideas in the next few weeks, but the central question is simply whether or not the NBA should take measures to encourage teams at the bottom of the standings to stay competitive toward the end of the season. Let us know your thoughts by voting, and if you have an idea for a system of awarding draft positions that would encourage teams to try to win, post it in the comments.