The worst team in the league got what it earned — the top pick in next month’s NBA draft.
The Phoenix Suns, a franchise that has never picked first overall, had the best odds of winning the top pick entering the NBA draft lottery Tuesday night in Chicago, and wound up getting it. The Sacramento Kings got the second pick and the Atlanta Hawks will pick third.
The focus now shifts to who the Suns will take with that pick.
There are two clear choices for the Suns — both of which would fill a glaring need. The leader at the moment is DeAndre Ayton, a center from Arizona who is a mountain of a man with impressive athleticism and a working jump shot. But the Suns recently hired Igor Kokoskov, a Utah Jazz assistant, as their coach, and Kokoskov spent last summer coaching Slovenia to the Eurobasket title – a team led by the other contender for that pick, European wunderkind Luka Doncic. Phoenix desperately needs a point guard next to Devin Booker, and Doncic has a chance to be a wonderful pick-and-roll player in the NBA.
This also was a big night for Sacramento, which will be picking in the top three for only the third time in 22 trips to the lottery. In a twist, the Kings tied with the Chicago Bulls — which won a coin flip to pick sixth. Had the Bulls lost, they would be picking seventh.
But the Kings caught a break, one they badly needed. For a franchise desperate for a talent infusion, taking whomever Phoenix passes on between Ayton and Doncic will be a no-brainer.
Atlanta also benefited slightly, jumping up from fourth to third in the lottery. The Hawks will have four picks in the top 33 of this year’s draft, allowing General Manager Travis Schlenk a chance to add to last year’s lottery pick, big man John Collins, and continue to put his imprint on the franchise.
The Memphis Grizzlies and Dallas Mavericks dropped two spots each, falling to fourth and fifth, respectively, where they’ll likely be taking big men in a draft where, other than Doncic, the top is expected to be dominated by bigs.
There were no other surprises, as the picks at the bottom of the lottery went as anticipated. The Los Angeles Lakers sent their unprotected first-round pick – 10th overall – to the Philadelphia 76ers, finally completing the Steve Nash trade from six years ago after taking the second pick each of the past three years. If the pick had jumped to second or third, it would have gone to the Boston Celtics, while the Sixers got it if if it landed 10th or first. Since it didn’t move up, it stayed with Philadelphia.
The Detroit Pistons didn’t jump up from the 12th pick, either — meaning that their first-round selection went to the Los Angeles Clippers (also owners of the 13th pick) as part of the Blake Griffin trade earlier this season.
The Cleveland Cavaliers, meanwhile, didn’t jump up from the eighth pick — which is the final one the Brooklyn Nets will convey after giving up the rights to five consecutive first-round picks in a pair of trades (the 2015 pick to Atlanta for Joe Johnson; the 2014, 2016-18 picks to Boston for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett – the last of which the Celtics sent to Cleveland in the Kyrie Irving trade).
This will be the last year the draft is held under the current framework, with the team with the worst record having a 25 percent chance of winning the lottery, and the odds going down from there – as well as the top three spots being determined by the drawing of ping-pong balls.
Next year, there will be four spots selected, rather than three, and the odds will be much different; the teams with the three worst records will each have a 14 percent chance of getting selected, while the fourth team will have a 12.5 percent chance, fifth will be 10.5 percent and sixth will be nine percent.
In an interview on ESPN before the lottery drawing, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said he wasn’t sure the changes would actually do what the NBA hopes they will – keep teams from tanking – intentionally losing – to improve draft position.
“I don’t use that word,” Silver joked. “But the idea there is to disincentivize the race to the bottom. But you ask the right question. Do I feel it will deal completely with the issues of incentives? I don’t know.
“I feel bad for some of the [general managers], too, because some of the fans are coming up to them and saying they’re mad about winning, and we can’t have that as a sports league. This will help around the margins but we have to have teams competing all the time.”
Jerry West has been in this position a few times before.
One of the legendary figures in the sport, West — now a consultant with the Clippers — was realistic about his situation, accurately pointing out in an interview on ESPN that he’s got an incredibly small chance of doing anything but walking out of Chicago with the 12th and 13th picks in this year’s draft.
But it was interesting hearing West, who will turn 80 later this month, talk about what it was like to be drafted second overall in 1960 — and just how different it was then.
“I found out I was drafted the next day,” West said with a laugh. I didn’t even know if I would get drafted, to be honest with you, even though I had a college career that was a lot different than most players. When I got drafted number two, I was like, ‘Huh, that’s pretty cool.’
“I think [the attention around this event now] really tells you what people think about this. People are trying to find a difference maker. A star. I’m talking about a superstar.
“In my opinion, there are only five or six of them in the league, and if you can find one of them, it does wonders for a franchise.”
It will take an awful lot of luck for West to be in a prime position to get one of them tonight. But even last year’s draft — when Donovan Mitchell was taken 13th overall — shows even late lottery picks can unearth true gems.
Here we are once again, with the annual drawing out of the NBA draft lottery from what should be a 10-minute production into an hour-long snoozefest with a bunch of ridiculous promotions thrown in throughout it.
I understand why ESPN has to do this, given they are trying to make money off this event. But given that the ping-pong balls have almost certainly already been drawn, it’s annoying that we have to sit here for an hour and wait for something that’s already been decided to be announced.
It’d be nice to get on with this.
For those who are interested, ESPN has a cool NBA draft lottery mock draft machine, one in which Jonathan Givony — formerly of DraftExpress and now an ESPN Insider — gamed out all 2,184 potential draft scenarios that could take place depending on how the ping-pong balls fall in a couple of hours.
So, I decided to play the machine once, and see what happened. And boy, if this winds up being what happens, we are going to be in for one wild night:
1. Atlanta Hawks — jumping up from fourth in the lottery odds, the Hawks got the top pick, with Givony having them take DeAndre Ayton
2. Boston Celtics — this would be the true stunner. For the fourth straight year, the Lakers would wind up with the second pick — only this time, it jumped up from the 10th pick, instead of being inside the top five as it was each of the past three years. However, because it is now an unprotected pick, it would finally have to convey (it was top-three protected each of the past three years). This pick was sent from Philadelphia to Boston as part of the Markelle Fultz trade. So not only did the Celtics get Jayson Tatum, but they would also get Luka Doncic, as well, which would truly be insane. (For clarification purposes: Philadelphia gets the pick if it is first or 10th; Boston gets it if it is second or third).
3. Sacramento Kings — jumping up from the eighth lottery spot, the Kings would take Michigan State forward Jaren Jackson, Jr., per Givony. It also would be just the second time in 22 trips to the lottery the Kings (who have also never picked higher than third, which they did in 1991 when they drafted Billy Owens) were in the top three.
So that means that the top three teams in lottery odds — the Phoenix Suns, Memphis Grizzlies and Dallas Mavericks — all would not be selected. It also means the Sixers would go from having a top 10 pick to having nothing, and further egg on their faces for the Fultz trade. It would see the Bulls drop two spots, and the Knicks and Lakers each drop one.
It’s highly, highly unlikely this scenario plays out. But if it does … my, oh my.
If you want to play the lottery game for yourself, here’s the link.
The amusing part of the NBA’s draft lottery each year is watching the various participants involved on the dais go through an awkward set of interviews beforehand, then watching their faces as they see their fates play out as the various cards are flipped over. There are many unintentional comedy moments that happen throughout, and it is one of the highlights of the league’s annual convention of losers.
Here is a list of the 14 team representatives who will be on stage Tuesday night:
Atlanta Hawks: Jami Gertz — the actress is the wife of owner Tony Ressler
Boston Celtics: Team President Rich Gotham
Charlotte Hornets: newly hired President of Basketball Operations Mitch Kupchak
Chicago Bulls: Michael Reinsdorf, team president, COO and son of owner Jerry Reinsdorf
Cleveland Cavaliers: Nick Gilbert, son of owner Dan Gilbert
Dallas Mavericks: Michael Finley, assistant vice president of basketball operations
Denver Nuggets: guard Jamal Murray
Detroit Pistons: guard Luke Kennard
Los Angeles Clippers: Jerry West, whose official title is “consultant” but who really is there to offer his advice in whatever way he sees fit
Memphis Grizzlies: minority owner Elliot Perry
New York Knicks: General Manager Scott Perry
Orlando Magic: President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman
Philadelphia 76ers: Elton Brand, longtime NBA veteran and current General Manager of Philadelphia’s G-League team, the Delaware Blue Coats
Phoenix Suns: forward Josh Jackson
Sacramento Kings: guard De’Aaron Fox
The NBA will select the order of its June draft by drawing lots on Tuesday night in Chicago among the 14 teams that failed to make the postseason or traded away their draft picks.
Phoenix, following a 21-61 finish, has the best chance at the No. 1 pick at 25 percent. Memphis, at 22-60, is not far behind at 19.9 percent, with Dallas (24-58) third at 13.8 percent.
But that all comes down to the fate of the bouncing ping-pong balls and which one Commissioner Adam Silver grabs first. The Cavaliers, and either the 76ers or Celtics, the top teams in the Eastern Conference, have lottery picks, too, due to trades. The Cavaliers have a chance to get help for LeBron James — or plan for his departure — with a pick via the Brooklyn Nets as part of their haul for trading Kyrie Irving. Meanwhile, either the Sixers or Celtics will benefit from the Lakers sending out a first-rounder for Steve Nash six years ago — the bill for which is finally coming due.
Here’s everything you need to know about tonight’s draft lottery:
When: 7:30 p.m.
How to watch/stream: ESPN or the ESPN app
Best odds: Phoenix (25 percent), Memphis (19.9 percent), Dallas (13.8 percent)
Worst odds: Detroit (0.7 percent), Los Angeles Clippers (0.6 percent), Denver (0.5 percent)
Top prospects: Luka Doncic, G, Slovenia | DeAndre Ayton, C, Arizona | Jaren Jackson Jr., F, Michigan State | Marvin Bagley III, F, Duke | Mohamed Bamba, C, Texas | Trae Young, G, Oklahoma | Michael Porter Jr., G/F, Missouri
What’s at stake for each team?
Phoenix Suns: Phoenix has never picked first, including when it lost the most painful coin flip in basketball history to the Milwaukee Bucks for the right to draft Lew Alcindor (later Kareem-Abdul Jabbar). This year, though, the Suns have the best odds of winning the lottery, a fine year to buck that trend. The No. 1 pick would allow the Suns to draft either Arizona center DeAndre Ayton or Slovenian wunderkind Luka Doncic. Either would be welcome under new Coach Igor Kokoskov and alongside guard Devin Booker.
Memphis Grizzlies: After an atrocious season, a lottery win would give the Grizzlies a chance to inject a premium young talent onto a veteran-laden team led by Marc Gasol and Mike Conley. The Grizzlies look like they’ve reached the end of what has been a terrific run, but the right young player could potentially allow them to extend it by a few years or more.
Dallas Mavericks: Dallas openly committed to finishing with the best draft pick possible after spending the past several years seeking a veteran talent to pair with Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki. Point guard Dennis Smith was a strong selection with the ninth pick last year; another hit this year could finally give Dallas the bridge to its post-Nowitzki future.
Atlanta Hawks: General Manager Travis Schlenk committed to a full rebuild when taking over a year ago, and hiring Lloyd Pierce — known for his player development skills — as his head coach last week. That plan, though, will only work if Atlanta gets its picks right. Winning the lottery in a draft in which the Hawks have four picks inside the top 33 would be a great place to start.
Orlando Magic: Since trading Dwight Howard in August of 2012, the Magic have been on a treadmill of mediocrity, failing to make the playoffs in each of the past six seasons. Three coaches and a new front office later, the Magic hope Tuesday is the start of a new and more successful era in Central Florida.
Chicago Bulls: A decade ago, the Bulls jumped up to win the lottery and the chance to get hometown hero Derrick Rose. A lot has changed since then, but now, with the lottery site moving from New York to Chicago, the Bulls will be hoping the change in location provides enough luck for them to add another high draft pick to pair with second-year forward Lauri Markkanen.
Sacramento Kings: With the Minnesota Timberwolves making the playoffs this year, Sacramento’s streak of 12 straight years without a postseason appearance is the new leader among NBA teams. Another team that’s never won the lottery, Sacramento could desperately use some ping-pong balls bouncing their way.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Want to bet on a long shot? Cleveland winning, with Brooklyn’s pick, is a good bet. Three of the last four times the Cavaliers have been here (either with their own pick or someone else’s), they’ve won it. That would certainly come in handy for Cleveland, which would love a top three pick to equal either a prime young talent or a trade asset that can be used to lure more veteran help for LeBron James.
Brooklyn Nets: This year finally marks the end of the five years of misery Nets fans have suffered through since trading the rights to four picks for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett in 2013. All it has resulted in is watching the Celtics load up with assets just up the coast, while the Nets have been stuck in a rebuild that can’t get off the ground. The Cavaliers’ draft slot will be the final feeling of pain.
New York Knicks: With David Fizdale now coaching and a new front office firmly in place, the Knicks — for the first time in forever — seem committed to a patient, long-term approach. Perhaps they will be rewarded with some lottery luck for the first time since winning the first one ever, and the right to draft Patrick Ewing, in 1985.
Philadelphia 76ers: Things are looking up in Philadelphia, thanks to Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid and Dario Saric. After trading up to get Markelle Fultz last year, Philadelphia will hope for more luck, or, at worst, to stay at No. 10 and draft another player who can step in and help right away.
Los Angeles Lakers: That the Lakers owe this year’s pick to the Sixers is remarkable, given that it was only top-three protected each of the past three years because of the ill-fated Steve Nash trade from six years ago and the Lakers managed to finish with the second pick three years running. Now that it’s unprotected, there’s no such luck this time.
Charlotte Hornets: The man who made that ill-fated Nash trade, Mitch Kupchak, is now running the Hornets, who fired their general manager (Rich Cho) and coach (Steve Clifford). With little to no chance of jumping up from 11th, a roster full of bad contracts and Kemba Walker one year from free agency, this is as bad a situation as there is in the NBA.
Los Angeles Clippers: The Clippers probably won’t jump up from the 12th and 13th picks, but having both should allow them to either begin retooling their roster with a couple immediate contributors, or offer potential chips in a trade for Kawhi Leonard if the San Antonio Spurs choose to go that route.
Detroit Pistons: Having moved on from the Stan Van Gundy last week, it would be fitting if the final act from his tenure — the Blake Griffin trade — resulted in the Pistons somehow jumping up from No. 12, which would then allow them to keep their top-four protected pick. The chances of that happening, though, are minimal.
Denver Nuggets: There’s virtually no possibility of Denver moving up, meaning it will have the 14th pick to add to its young core. Denver will undoubtedly be sitting on the lottery stage thinking about last year’s draft, when it traded out of 13th and missed a chance to take Donovan Mitchell. Oops.
Look out for mentions of special good luck charms representatives from lottery teams bring with them to the event Tuesday night. The Magic’s co-founder, for example, will carry a “Lil Penny” doll with him on stage. What is a “Lil Penny” doll, you ask? It’s a toy fashioned after former Magic star and new Memphis Tigers Coach Penny Hardaway, and once voiced by Chris Rock.
It looks something like this:
The last time the Magic beat the odds to grab to No. 1 overall pick was in 1993, when the team won with a 1.52-percent chance at the top choice, and selected Chris Webber to pair with Shaquille O’Neal. Orlando traded Webber later that night for the No. 3 pick and three future first rounders. That No. 3 pick was Penny Hardaway, who made a lot more sense as an O’Neal running mate.
In 2010, the Wizards had a 10.3-percent chance to win the draft lottery, and Irene Pollin, in one of her last official acts as the team’s owner, represented the franchise while wearing her late husband’s 1978 Washington Bullets NBA championship ring. Washington won the lottery and used the pick to select John Wall.
The following year, Wall attended the lottery as the Wizards’ representative and vowed to wear, or at least carry, the gold jacket Irene Pollin wore the year before.