By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
SECAUCUS, N.J., May 19 -- A worst-case scenario season yielded a worse-case scenario result for the Washington Wizards at the NBA draft lottery, as the team that could choose no lower than fifth landed the No. 5 pick in the June draft. Hoping for a potential franchise building block to add to a team that already boasts three all-stars, the Wizards were jumped by three teams despite having the second-best odds to win the top overall pick.
The Los Angeles Clippers -- a woebegone franchise that has made an almost annual trek to Secaucus the past two decades -- earned the right to draft Oklahoma forward Blake Griffin with the No. 1 overall pick. New Wizards coach Flip Saunders, who represented the team on stage on Tuesday, wasn't too disappointed with the final result. "I think coming in, our mind-set was, what we got was going to be gravy for us, and increase our talent pool," Saunders said. "But our biggest improvement is going to be able to get our guys healthy and get them back healthy again."
The Wizards were hoping to add a quality player to a roster that already includes Caron Butler, Antawn Jamison, Gilbert Arenas and Brendan Haywood, the latter two combining to miss 156 games last season because of injury. Now the Wizards are in a position similar to the last time they were in the lottery five years ago, when President Ernie Grunfeld packaged the fifth overall selection, Devin Harris, with Jerry Stackhouse and Christian Laettner to get Jamison from Dallas. Jamison helped lead the Wizards to four consecutive trips to the playoffs. Grunfeld did not attend the draft lottery, but said he believes the Wizards can still find a quality player with the fifth pick.
"There are a lot of great players in this draft. We're in a good spot to get a good player or to possibly use that player in a trade," Grunfeld said in a telephone interview. "We feel comfortable with the fifth pick, but we are going to explore our options to see what can make us the best possible team next year. But we feel, if we have all of our pieces out there, it would be hard for any young player to come in and break into the lineup -- even if it was the first pick."
After tying for the worst regular season in franchise history at 19-63, the Wizards appeared to be headed in a positive direction two days later when they won a tiebreaker against the Clippers, giving them the second-best chance of winning the lottery. The Wizards won the tiebreaker but lost the No. 1 pick.
The Wizards had 178 number combinations -- one more than the Clippers -- out of a possible 1,000 for the 14 lottery teams. But because the number combinations are in sequential order, they theoretically would've been in the Clippers' position to win the top pick had they lost the tiebreaker and finished with the third-best odds. As a consolation, the Wizards will get the 32nd pick in the second round, with the Clippers getting the 33rd.
The Clippers won with a combination of 5, 3, 6, 10. The Wizards had three of those numbers. The Wizards had a combination of 5, 6 and 3, but were out of the running when the next ping-pong ball popped up as 10. The Wizards would have won the top pick only if 2 had come up next.
The Clippers were so lucky that they actually had the first combination for the second overall pick. But that result was tossed aside, the ping-pong balls were dropped back into a drum and the second time, the Memphis Grizzlies were awarded the No. 2 pick. The Oklahoma City Thunder got the third pick and Sacramento, which had the best odds of winning the lottery, will select fourth.
An hour before the lottery, Saunders displayed his sleight of hand, doing magic tricks with his lucky coin, which had an angel on it. Asked if he had similar magic with ping-pong balls, Saunders quipped, "I do if they let me in that room."
Saunders wasn't allowed in the room, but he appears to be a lock at securing the fifth pick. The last time Saunders was in Secaucus, he represented the Minnesota Timberwolves, who slipped to fifth in 1995. They used that selection to draft Kevin Garnett. "If we can get another Garnett," Saunders said, "I'll be okay with that."
Saunders also wanted to look at the bright side. "The positive is, the four teams that are in front of us are in the Western Conference, we're number one in the East," he said. "We're going to have an opportunity to have potentially the best talent to come into the Eastern Conference."
The Clippers have won the No. 1 pick on two occasions, drafting Danny Manning in 1988 and Michael Olowokandi in 1998. Griffin, the national college player of the year, is the favorite to go No. 1 in what is considered a weak draft. Ricky Rubio, the promising point guard from Spain, is expected to go second. Other players considered top-five selections are Connecticut center Hasheem Thabeet, Arizona State shooting guard James Harden and Arizona forward Jordan Hill.
"We feel good about who is going to be at number five for us and the ability to get a very good player with a lot of potential at that spot," Grunfeld said, "We didn't assume that we were going to have the number one pick. We're doing our due diligence and we're going to continue to do that. I've always wanted to go with the best available player for us. And we're going to do the same thing again, regardless of position."