Can the Lakers end up near the top of the NBA Draft Lottery again?

The NBA released their 2016-17 schedule on Thursday with the Lakers set to open their campaign against the Houston Rockets on October 26th in Los Angeles. There are still two months left in the offseason for the Lakers to prepare for that game, but in the meantime, fans will dissect and analyze the team’s schedule.

In the other words, which games are winnable and which games are not? If the past three years have taught Lakers’ fans anything, it is that there shouldn’t be any surprise if the Lakers wind up in NBA Draft Lottery contention. But will the Lakers end up in the bottom three of the standings once again this year?

Maybe not, but highly likely.

It is hard to give an exact number as to how many wins the Lakers can improve from last year. It is also not that hard to win more than 17 games. There is no question that the Lakers have improved from last year. They hired Luke Walton, drafted Brandon Ingram and signed key veteran free agents.

The problem is that the Lakers are not the only team that upgraded their roster. The Western Conference is still stacked and the bottom teams like the Minnesota Timberwolves, Denver Nuggets, Phoenix Suns and New Orleans Pelicans have all improved.

The Lakers could win as many as 30 games and still end up with the worst record in the Western Conference. Minnesota drafted stud point guard Kris Dunn to add to their already tremendous young core of Karl Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine. They also hired an excellent coach in Tom Thibodeau to compete for a playoff berth.

Denver is also a rising team in the west that upgraded their roster as well. They drafted guard Jamal Murray to go along with their core of Emmanuel Mudiay and Nikola Jokic. The Suns will have a healthier backcourt than last season with Bledsoe and Knight returning to full form. They also drafted a talented frontcourt duo of Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss. The Pelicans won’t be as mediocre as they were last year with Anthony Davis presumably coming back in full form this season.

In short, the bottom teams that were ahead of the Lakers in standings last year got better. It is not impossible to see the Lakers leap over these teams, but no one should be shocked if they are unable to.  The Lakers could still have a successful season and finish anywhere from 13th to 15th in the standings.

In the East, bottom teams like the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets have also upgraded their roster, although the Philadelphia 76ers seem to be the favorite to finish last in their conference. It wouldn’t be a complete shocker to see the Sixers and the Lakers competing for the top odds in the lottery again this season.

Another factor that can prove to be a challenge for the Lakers is their strength of schedule. According to Jarid Dubin of Hardwood Paroxysm, the Lakers have the toughest schedule in the NBA. The Lakers are set to host the Houston Rockets on opening night and then play their next four games on the road against playoff contending teams like the Utah Jazz, Oklahoma City Thunder, Indiana Pacers and Atlanta Hawks. In the month of November, the Lakers will the play the Golden State Warriors three times.

Lakers fans have a lot of reasons to be optimistic coming into next season. They won’t end up with 17 wins, but they also won’t win 35 games either, and that is okay.

The Lakers are still a young and rebuilding team. Their top five players are all under 24 years old. There is no need to expect this team to compete for the playoffs in a tough conference. The Lakers’ goals next season should be the development of their youth and the fun basketball culture they build around Walton. So if the Lakers end up with 27 wins and in the lottery again, that could still be a successful season for them. Maybe this scenario won’t be as bad as one may think.

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