While who will compete in the NBA finals is pretty much a foregone — and boring — conclusion, there was just enough drama for the also-rans at the NBA Draft Lottery Tuesday night.
The Boston Celtics, via a trade with the Brooklyn Nets in 2013 involving Paul Pierce, retained their hold on the no. 1 pick as they had the highest odds (25 percent) heading in.
Pierce, now retired, had the perfect Twitter reaction to Tuesday night’s news.
And look what I leave behind for the Celts on my way out #1 pick
— Paul Pierce (@paulpierce34) May 17, 2017
However, the Phoenix Suns, with the second highest odds (19.9) fell two spots to no. 4, even though they also had a 55.8 percent chance of getting a top 3 selection.
Otherwise, the rest of the movement was incremental and the teams with the worst odds, Charlotte (0.8), Detroit (0.7), Denver (0.6) and Miami (0.5) stayed right where they were, from picks 11 to 14.
It was a fairly interesting evening all around and with that, there are a few winners and even more losers. Here they are starting with winners.
12. Boston Celtics – Winner
That trade on draft day in 2013 just keeps on giving. Brooklyn sent Boston first round picks in 2014, 2016 and 2018 as well as the right to swap first round picks in 2017, along with Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, MarShon Brooks, Kris Joseph and Keith Bogans for Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Jason Terry and D.J. White. With Garnett, Pierce and Terry leading the way, the Nets were good, but not great for a bit, making it to the Eastern Conference semi-finals in 2014, but quickly went bust after that. As for the Celtics, they have improved greatly and used the 2014 pick to take SG James Young (17th overall) and the 2016 selection on SF Jaylen Brown (third overall). This year, the Eastern Conference’s no. 1 seed opted to swap the pick and with the no. 1 — estimated to be PG Markelle Fultz of Washington — the Celtics have options. They can retain the pick, even though they have a superstar PG in Isaiah Thomas, or deal it to get a starting line-up ready player to plug a hole. A definite winner Tuesday.
11. Los Angeles Lakers – Winner
The Lakers won Tuesday precisely because they stayed in the top 3. They avoided the doomsday scenario of losing their first round pick to Philadelphia — had they fallen out of the top 3 — despite the fact the odds were stacked against them. With the Lakers moving up to no. 2, the lottery scenario also helped them avoid surrendering their 2019 first rounder to Orlando in a separate deal. So, today president of basketball operations Magic Johnson can breathe easy knowing his team can not only add a future impact player — consensus says hometown boy Lonzo Ball — but also doesn’t lose out on another potential future star. They also win with the knowledge they won’t have to face down all that “best player available” talk and be able to take Ball freely at no. 2, since Markelle Fultz is the top player available.
10. Sacramento Kings – Winner
The Kings are a marginal winner here, in that they have two first round picks, but the first one could have been better. Due to a 2015 trade that GM Vlade Divac swung with Philadelphia in 2015 — ostensibly a salary dump — the Kings had to swap selections this season with the Sixers, even though they earned the right to pick third. Thus, Philly owns the no. 3 and the Kings no. 5 (and it could have been much worse, had they won the lottery). But, Sacramento also has the 10th overall pick, thanks to the fact that they did fall out of the top 3, which triggered the deal that they would get New Orleans first rounder (from the DeMarcus Cousins trade before the deadline this season). Sacramento has holes throughout their line-up and sitting at five on many draft prospect ranking’s is Kentucky PG De’Aaron Fox. And, according to the folks at CBS Sports, North Carolina SF Justin Jackson is the 10th rated prospect.
9. Lonzo Ball – Winner
We wanted to include stage managing pop LaVar to the “winners” side, but we sincerely hope that the elder Ball will step back a little and just let his son develop in what will likely be basketball’s biggest market. With the Lakers scooping the no. 2 pick, it’s a virtual certainty that Anaheim native Lonzo and his $500 kicks will be pounding the hardwood at the Staples Center for years to come. The UCLA freshman point guard will, if surrounded adequately with better talent, help bring the Lakers back from the basketball dead. As we said earlier, Lonzo and the Lakers win because the team won’t have to explain to anyone why, since the best player available is Markelle Fultz and he’ll be taken no. 1. L.A. needs a point guard who will fit in with coach Luke Walton’s preference for run-and-gun style basketball and as a known entity, Ball fills the bill.
8. Phoenix Suns – Loser
Now we’re in the loser’s bracket, since fewer teams — and people — had anything positive to crow about Tuesday night. The Phoenix Suns make the loser’s side because even though the full-court pressed the tank late in the season to increase their lottery odds to second best, the still dropped two places to fourth. So instead of having a crack at possible future game-changing point guard Lonzo Ball to add to Devin Booker’s emerging game in the back court, the Suns will have to content themselves with a 4-7 question mark, such as NC State’s Dennis Smith Jr, or SF Jayson Tatum of Duke. Adding salt to a festering wound for Phoenix management is the knowledge they traded away Isaiah Thomas to Boston for virtual peanuts.
7. Philadelphia 76ers – Loser
The Sixers are a provisional loser here, depending on their lottery pick is viewed. It’s a winner if the optics say that jumping to no. 3 after having fourth best odds at no. 1 isn’t so bad. They will still get a quality player like Josh Jackson or Jayson Tatum to fill out a roster that includes 2016 no.1 Ben Simmons and center Joel Embiid. On the flip side of the winner coin, though, is the fact that instead of jumping to best-case scenario no. 1 — and the Lakers dropping out of the top 3 — they didn’t net the Lakers’ first round pick as well. So, instead of being able to announce Markelle Fultz as their PG of the future, and having another outstanding selection after, they are stuck with but one potential baller.
6. Minnesota Timberwolves – Loser
Close, but yet so far. We’re calling the T-Wolves a minor loser here for the fact they had the sixth best odds at picking first, but ended up going down one to the seventh pick. It is by no means too disheartening, however, the hard luck squad has had their draft position worsened nine times in franchise history. The projected players in the 5 through 9 holes in the draft will yield decent talent, such as Arizona PF Lauri Markkanen and Florida State F Jonathan Isaac. Project players who may one day help get Minny out of a post-season funk they have been in for 13 years and counting. They haven’t been to the Big Dance since 2004, when Kevin Garnett led the team all the way to the Western Conference finals.
5. New York Knicks – Loser
The team that needs to get back to relevance that few people talked about leading up to the lottery are the New York Knicks. While the Lakers garner the headlines and are looking good heading into the draft, the sorry Knicks are still looking for answers. Team Dysfunctional had the seventh best odds at garnering the first pick, but instead saw them drop to eighth. Despite this unfortunate turn of events, Phil Jackson tried to put a positive spin on it, saying, “Our opportunity [at] seven could have been 10, so eight we’ll live with. I think that we’re good at what we do.” Uh, yah. Like the last time they picked eighth, in 2009, when they took Jordan Hill (who played all of 24 games in New York), when they could have taken DeMar DeRozan (ninth to Toronto). Or that no. 8 pick in 2005 that turned into Channing Frye, who they misused and then gave up on after just two seasons.
4. Orlando Magic – Loser
After reversing course at the deadline and sending superior defensive player Serge Ibaka to Toronto, the Magic could have used a little lottery luck from years gone by. Instead of moving up with the fifth best odds at no. 1, they fell to sixth. Not a bad spot, but not all that great either. And, with GM Rob Hennigan fired and the front office in holding mode, the team might be flying in foggy weather at the draft. The luck we speak of harkens to 1992, when the Magic won the right to pick Shaquille O’Neal. Or the 1994 lottery that netted the first pick, Dwight Howard. The team that won just 29 games this past season needs scoring and needs help at just about every position. The only saving grace is that they also have picks at no. 25 (from the Clippers), 33 (from the Lakers), and 35 (their own) in a fairly deep draft.
3. New Orleans Pelicans – Loser
The Pelicans, who loaded up by trading for DeMarcus Cousins during the season to try and make the playoffs — which they failed at — are losers here. Their 10th pick was usurped by Sacramento because of that trade and the fact the Kings fell out of the top 3, voiding the protection the Pelicans would have had on that pick. Therefore, a 34-win club with Cousins, Jrue Holiday, Anthony Davis and not much of anything else doesn’t have a first round pick in a deep draft. In fact, they have just one pick in the entire draft, a 40th selection in the second round. Adding to the off-season uncertainty is the fact that Holiday is a free agent who will command big bucks. If the Pelicans do decide to pony up for him, they will be tight up against the cap to try and upgrade other positions in need of it.
2. Markelle Fultz – Loser
It’s difficult for us to call Fultz a “loser”, given that he will likely be taken first overall and stands to make a killing playing a game he loves. However, there is just way too much uncertainty about his future, given what went down at the lottery. Boston, which won the right to take the consensus first overall pick and are contenders now, might well trade Fultz’ rights to someone else to shore up a need other than at point guard. So, he really can’t look forward to wearing a Celtics uniform just yet. On the flip side of that coin, if Boston does decide to take him, he’ll be stuck in career purgatory behind Isaiah Thomas for a good long while, instead of being “the man” with a lesser squad. Added to that is the pressure of being the no. 1 pick, which can be good, and bad.
1. Brooklyn Nets – Loser
The Nets can be penciled in every year for the foreseeable future as a loser in this category. That trade in 2013 for Paul Pierce, which got them to an Eastern Conference semi-final and not much more is still haunting them to this day. The worst team in basketball and in dire need of a re-boot, Brooklyn doesn’t have a first round pick until way down at no. 22 and then another at no. 27. They also surrendered what will likely be a high pick in the first round next season as part of the Pierce deal. The Celtics can probably hear Nets’ fans cries of indignation all the way up in Boston. There is little the faithful in Brooklyn can do now but wait and hope that the team can inch into the middle of the pack in 2017-18 and deny the Celtics yet another top pick in 2018. It can’t get much worse in Brooklyn, we think, anyway.