Washington Wizards wish for a little luck in NBA draft lottery

The only time the Wizards won the draft lottery, in 2001, Michael Jordan, right, chose Kwame Brown.
The only time the Wizards won the draft lottery, in 2001, Michael Jordan, right, chose Kwame Brown. (Joel Richardson/the Washington Post)
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By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 18, 2010

When the Washington Wizards headed to Secaucus, N.J. last year, they hoped it would be their last NBA draft lottery appearance for some time. With the second-best odds of landing the top pick, the Wizards planned to leave town with the rights to draft Blake Griffin or some trade bait to help acquire some veteran help for a team built to contend right away.

With the exception of slipping three spots down, the plan worked out accordingly, as President Ernie Grunfeld used the fifth pick as part of the package to get Mike Miller and Randy Foye.

"Unfortunately, that didn't work out for us, for a variety of reasons that have been well-chronicled already," Grunfeld said, following a horrific campaign in which team owner Abe Pollin died in late November and star guard Gilbert Arenas was suspended for the final 50 games and spent the final weeks of the regular season in a halfway house after bringing guns into the locker room.

Thus, the Wizards are Jersey boys once again. After going 26-56 this season and losing a tiebreaker with the Golden State Warriors, the Wizards have the fifth-best chance (10.3 percent) of landing the No. 1 overall pick, which is expected to be either Kentucky point guard John Wall or Ohio State forward Evan Turner. They can pick no worse than eighth overall. The New Jersey Nets, who finished with the league's worst record (12-70), have a 25 percent chance of landing the top choice.

Hoping to honor the legacy of her late husband by bringing some luck to the franchise he loved so dearly for 45 years, Irene Pollin will represent the team. The Pollin family recently sold its 56 percent share of Washington Sports and Entertainment to Capitals owner Ted Leonsis, who will also attend the ceremony along with Grunfeld. Leonsis has met with Grunfeld, other members of the front office and scouting staff, Coach Flip Saunders and his staff. Although he has made few public comments about the Wizards, Leonsis is expected to retain Grunfeld, according to league sources. Grunfeld has two years left on his contract.

"Those things will take care of themselves as we move forward," Grunfeld said of his future with the organization. "We've had some good meetings [with Leonsis] to bring him up to speed on a few things, the draft and how we're preparing for it. It's been smooth. There has been communication."

Grunfeld didn't go to NBA Entertainment studios last year, sending Saunders as the team representative. But this year, Grunfeld is considering watching how the Ping-Pong balls bounce in the drum in the back room. He's also bringing a good luck charm that he was unwilling to divulge.

"I have something, but I can't tell you what it is yet," he said.

The Wizards will make their 14th trip to the draft lottery since the league began using that process of selecting the No. 1 overall selection in 1985, a badge of dishonor matched by the Sacramento Kings and surpassed only by the Golden State Warriors (17) and the Los Angeles Clippers (21). The Wizards have moved down 10 times, maintained their draft position twice and moved up once.

Irene Pollin last represented the franchise in the lottery in 1993, when the Bullets had the third-best odds of landing Chris Webber with the No. 1 pick, but dropped to sixth and had to settle for Calbert Cheaney. In 2001, after having the league's third-worst record, the Wizards won the No. 1 overall pick and used it to select Kwame Brown, considered one of the most disappointing top picks ever.

This is first time the franchise has made back-to-back trips to Secaucus since going six years in a row from 1999 to 2004. But the last lottery pick to suit up for the Wizards was Jarvis Hayes, taken 10th in 2003. Grunfeld also packaged Devin Harris, the fifth pick in 2004, with Jerry Stackhouse and Christian Laettner to acquire Antawn Jamison from Dallas. Jamison made two all-star appearances and helped the Wizards made it to the postseason in each of his first four seasons.

This time around, Grunfeld has no plans of trading the choice, no matter where it falls.

"Absolutely, this year's pick is going to be with us for quite some time. It's one of the building blocks," he said. "We're rebuilding. So obviously, we're going to go with more young players and players who want to be part of a winning situation, players who have upside going forward."

Although the Wizards' lottery luck has been practically nonexistent, teams with the fifth-best odds have fared quite well. Since the NBA instituted a weighted lottery system in 1990 to give teams with the worst record the best chances of winning, the team with the fifth-worst odds has won the lottery four times -- the Charlotte Hornets (1991), the Golden State Warriors (1995), the Houston Rockets (2002) and the Toronto Raptors (2006).

"If we can move, absolutely, we'd love to move up," Grunfeld said. "Everybody wants to get the first pick."

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