NEW YORK — For the first time since the NBA started using ping-pong balls to determine its draft order in 1990, the balls bounced as the odds projected at the league’s annual draft lottery in New York on Tuesday night, delivering the Philadelphia 76ers the second No. 1 overall pick in franchise history.
The 76ers, owners of the league’s worst record by seven games, had a 25 percent chance of landing the top selection after finishing 10-72, the third-worst record in NBA history. The Los Angeles Lakers will pick second, followed by the Boston Celtics, Phoenix Suns and Minnesota Timberwolves to round out the top five.
The status quo meant the Washington Wizards’ first-round pick, 13th overall, went to Phoenix as part of the deal that shipped Markieff Morris to Washington at the trade deadline in February. The Wizards had a 2.2 percent chance of jumping into the top three and securing the pick, which was top-nine protected.
Philadelphia now will have the chance to choose from one of the consensus top two players in the draft: Duke’s Brandon Ingram and LSU’s Ben Simmons.
“I feel like this does maybe validate some of the pain that we have gone through,” said 76ers Coach Brett Brown, who represented the organization on the dais for the order’s unveiling.
The result marked a reversal in fortune for the 76ers and Sam Hinkie, the architect who crafted the favorable chances but won’t be around to reap the benefits. Hinkie was hired as general manager in 2013 and given the green light to institute an unprecedented rebuilding plan centered on stockpiling assets at the cost of winning.
But the 76ers, despite going the controversial tanking route, had to settle for the No. 3 pick each of the past two years and didn’t acquire a clear-cut franchise player as they won a combined 37 games. Patience waned. Hinkie ceded authority when Philadelphia hired Jerry Colangelo as chairman of basketball operations in December and resigned in April by issuing a 13-page manifesto as speculation mounted that the 76ers were interested in hiring Bryan Colangelo, Jerry’s son, for a front-office position. Bryan Colangelo was hired days later as team president.
“[Hinkie] deserves to be recognized,” Brown said.
The results arrived tinged with a snippet of controversy, eliciting conspiracy theories from yesteryear. At 4:36 p.m., approximately three hours before the ping-pong balls were drawn, former 76ers center Dikembe Mutombo tweeted congratulations to the team for landing the No. 1 pick. The post quickly created an uproar. The NBA immediately refuted that the results were already determined. The 76ers claimed they asked Mutombo to post the tweet after the announcement and he simply unloaded it prematurely.
“My response is that clearly it was an accident,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said. “The team with the greatest likelihood to win the lottery was preparing under the likelihood that they did win. . . . But I have no questions whatsoever about the integrity of the lottery.”
The 76ers are not complaining.
“I never felt jinxed,” Brown said. “I truly believed in what we were doing, and in many ways I feel like we’ve been rewarded for the patience and perseverance and especially the city’s perseverance and patience.”