Lakers will keenly follow the bouncing balls in NBA lottery Tuesday

Lakers' situation will be among the most closely followed in Tuesday's NBA draft lottery

The Lakers will see if six months of angst and ruin was worth it shortly after hearing the sound of 14 ping-pong balls dropped into a plastic hopper Tuesday.

The Day has arrived for the Lakers, the one they've been anticipating — or dreading? — since the end of their worst season ever.

The NBA draft lottery in New York will reveal if they move up from their current No. 4 spot into prime top-three territory. Or they could fall two spots and cough up the top-five-protected pick they owe for the Steve Nash trade in 2012, in what would be a devastating turn for the Lakers after going 21-61 last season.

"That is a huge, huge piece of this lottery on Tuesday night — what becomes of the Lakers' pick?" Orlando Magic executive Pat Williams said.

No matter what, the Lakers have the 27th overall pick after Houston gave it to them to take Jeremy Lin last summer. But make no mistake — all eyes are on the other pick in a draft that's very strong up top.

There is a 17.2% chance two teams pass the Lakers in the lottery, forcing them to forfeit the pick to the Philadelphia 76ers, who acquired it from Phoenix in February.

On the other hand, there's a 37.8% chance the Lakers move into one of the top three picks for the June 25 draft.

"We can get better quickly. We can be in the hunt quickly," Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak said last month after players cleaned out their lockers. "A lot depends on May 19.

"We'd like to have something in our pocket for the way the year went. This would be a good draft to participate in."

If they keep the pick, they then would owe their 2016 first-round pick next year to the 76ers, and that one would be top-three protected next year and even harder to keep — unless the Lakers have an even worse season in 2015-16.

But if they cough up the pick Tuesday, consider it one last gift from one of the worst trades in Lakers history.

Nash played all of 65 games during a three-year, $28-million contract marred by injuries. He did not play last season because of recurring back problems.

It will be briefly forgotten when ping-pong balls numbered 1 through 14 fall into the plastic drum. When four of them are drawn, there are 1,001 possible combinations; 1,000 of them are assigned to participating teams based on their regular-season record.

Minnesota had the NBA's worst record and received 250 of those combinations for a 25% chance of winning the No. 1 pick, followed by New York (19.9% chance), Philadelphia (15.6%) and the Lakers (11.9%). Ten other teams are also in the lottery with steadily decreasing chances corresponding to their regular-season record.

The four balls are placed back in the drum after the top pick is determined and the process is repeated for the second and third picks. If the same team's four-number combination is drawn more than once, the result is discarded and another one selected. If the lone unassigned combination is drawn, there will be another draw for that pick.

The Lakers would like to move to at least the No. 3 pick, of which there is a 13.3% chance, guaranteeing them one of three top college players: Duke center Jahlil Okafor, Kentucky center Karl-Anthony Towns or Ohio State point guard D'Angelo Russell.

If the Lakers stay at No. 4, of which there is a 9.9% chance, or drop to No. 5 (35.1% chance), they're looking at slightly less-certain prospects such as point guard Emmanuel Mudiay, Kentucky big man Willie Cauley-Stein or Duke small forward Justice Winslow.

It's not uncommon for teams to jump up from outside the top five. Most recently, the Cleveland Cavaliers vaulted from ninth to first last year, despite only a 1.7% chance of getting the No. 1 spot. The Lakers concurrently fell from No. 6 to No. 7, where they selected Kentucky power forward Julius Randle.

Since the basic framework for the present-day lottery was installed in 1996, the No. 4 spot has not been kind to lottery teams. Teams have moved up from the position five times, moved down 13 times and stayed in the same spot only once.

New Orleans is the only team since 1996 to win the top pick after entering the lottery at No. 4, ultimately selecting future All-Star Anthony Davis in 2012. In the two years before that, however, Washington and Golden State each fell from No. 4 to No. 6 on lottery night.

If the Lakers keep the pick, it will be only their fourth lottery selection since the concept was originally created in 1985. They took Randle last year, Andrew Bynum in 2005 with the 10th pick and Eddie Jones in 1994, also 10th overall. Only San Antonio has made fewer lottery appearances (three).

The Clippers, coincidentally, lead the league with 22 lottery appearances, though they will not be there this season thanks to a strong regular season.

Coach Byron Scott will represent the Lakers on the 30-minute TV broadcast of the lottery results, which takes place at 5:30 p.m. PDT, before tipoff of the Western Conference finals between Golden State and Houston.

mike.bresnahan@latimes.com

Twitter: Mike_Bresnahan

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