By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Being in Secaucus, N.J., in May is an unfamiliar position for Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld. In his eight seasons as general manager in New York, the Knicks were never in the draft lottery, never made him make that six-mile drive from Madison Square Garden. In four seasons in Milwaukee, the Bucks made the lottery once, after missing out on the playoffs in the final game of the season. And, in his first full season in Washington, the Wizards were in the lottery after winning just 25 games, then made four consecutive trips to the playoffs.
"Twenty years," Grunfeld said on Monday. "Two trips."
Reminded that it will now be three trips, since the Wizards matched their worst season in franchise history, Grunfeld moaned: "C'mon. You don't have to rub it in."
On Tuesday night, the Wizards will discover just how fruitful their fruitless season will be, when the draft order is determined by ping-pong balls. Sacramento, which finished a league-worst 17-65, has a 25 percent chance of winning the No. 1 overall pick, which is expected to be Oklahoma forward Blake Griffin.
After an injury-marred season produced a 19-63 record, the Wizards have the second-best chance of getting the top pick, at 17.8 percent. Since the NBA moved to a weighted lottery system in 1990, the team with the best chance of winning has done so four times (New Jersey took Derrick Coleman in 1990, Philadelphia selected Allen Iverson in 1996, Cleveland took LeBron James in 2003 and Orlando took Dwight Howard in 2004). In that same time, the team with the second-best chance has won the lottery three times (Orlando took Shaquille O'Neal in 1992, the San Antonio Spurs took Tim Duncan in 1997 and the L.A. Clippers took Michael Olowokandi in 1998).
The Wizards won the No. 1 pick in 2001 -- which turned out to be Kwame Brown -- with the third-best odds.
Grunfeld is hopeful for some good fortune -- which is why he asked new Coach Flip Saunders to represent the team on stage. But he won't be deeply saddened if his team is unable to get the No. 1 pick.
Grunfeld would prefer not to even be in this predicament, and believes that the Wizards would've made a fifth consecutive playoff appearance if not for injuries to Gilbert Arenas, Brendan Haywood and several others last season. "We have a lot of good pieces on this team," Grunfeld said. "I think we showed that last year when we had everybody out there against Cleveland. If we get all of our players out on the court, we can compete with anyone in the league."
So while he isn't sitting back, fingers crossed, begging for some luck, Grunfeld explained why Saunders would represent the team. "He sat up there one time before and his team got Kevin Garnett," Grunfeld said with a laugh.
In 1995, Saunders was general manager of the Minnesota Timberwolves and he represented the team at the lottery. He wasn't exactly good luck, because the Timberwolves tied with Washington for the second-worst record in the league but slipped to the fifth pick.
"I told Ernie, the luck of the whole thing doesn't happen with the ping-pong balls. It's who you select," said Saunders, who will carry a lucky coin that he usually has in his pocket for NBA games. "We're probably the perfect team for a draft pick to come to. Whatever draft pick we have is going to have the luxury of fitting into a team that has veteran players and some very good young players. They are coming to a playoff team. Usually, you're coming to a team that's not very good and needs an influx of talent. And when you walk into the team, you're the most talented player. With this team, that's not the case."
Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler, the two former all-stars left to endure the misery of last season, are both high on Griffin but said the Wizards need experienced veterans more than another young player. Grunfeld used the fifth pick in 2004 as the primary piece to acquire Jamison.
"I have great respect for those players and all our players. They want to have the best possible team out there and so do we," Grunfeld said. "[The draft] is not as deep as last year, but we think we can get some very good players out of this. We're hopeful that we can get something good, whether it's with a player we select or possibly with a trade."
Grunfeld said he has "no preconceived notions" about what he'll do if the Wizards don't land one of the top two picks. "We have a lot of work ahead of us, and a lot of work to do," Grunfeld said. "It's the next step in seeing where we are and what we're going to do. You explore all your options, see what's out there and you have to weigh everything."