Every spring, the conspiracy theorists try to poke holes in the NBA’s annual Ping Pong ball party. From the New York Knicks landing the top pick and franchise-savior Patrick Ewing to the Cleveland Cavaliers coming up lucky in the wake of LeBron James’ departure, the NBA draft lottery winner seems to be the team with the best story.
Last night was no different, and, predictably, talk of the lottery being rigged is drowning out the early mock draft frenzy.
The NBA-owned New Orleans Hornets earned the right to the No. 1 pick — which most assume will be Kentucky forward Anthony Davis — despite going in with the fourth-best chance of winning among the 14 teams. The Hornets had a 13.7-percent chance compared to Charlotte’s 25-percent chance, Washington’s 19.9-percent chance and Cleveland’s 13.8-percent chance.
Now, after New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson assured NBA Commissioner David Stern he would keep the team in the Big Easy, he has already begun to cash in on his $338 million investment.
“It’s such a joke that the league made the new owners be at the lottery for the show,” one high-ranking team executive told Yahoo Sports. “The league still owns the Hornets. Ask their front office if new owners can make a trade right now. They can’t. This is a joke.”
After David Stern vetoed a Chris Paul-to-the-Lakers deal before the season, cries of impropriety rang out in NBA executive offices across the league. And when the Hornets played their reserves for the vast majority of a season-ending loss to Houston — a result that tied them with Cleveland for the third-most losses in the NBA — the chorus grew louder.
Now it has reached fever pitch.
As Yahoo Sports reporter Adrian Wojnarowski writes:
This is the problem for Stern, and will always be: Within his own league, they're dubious about him, his underlings, about the centralized power structure in New York. Stern created the mayhem of the Hornets season – the vetoed Paul trade that disrupted the operations and balance of several teams – and the fallout never relented. Here comes Tom Benson now, whose NFL organization is mired in one of the great institutional scandals in pro sports history, walking into New York for the draft lottery with a bad team, in a bad arena, and leaving with a franchise star.
Four years removed from their last playoff series win, the Hornets will be a great story next season. In Anthony Davis, they get a marketable star who provides a central building block for their future. Just like Patrick Ewing in 1985 and Kyrie Irving for the Cavaliers this season.
But if the rest of the NBA believes the New Orleans story was a calculated maneuver by Stern to revive a floundering franchise, will his fairy tale become a nightmare?
What do you think? Is the NBA draft lottery fixed, or did the Hornets just get lucky?