NBA Draft Lottery 2012: What Would the Draft Order Look Like If Stern Rigged It?
As odd as it is, the landscape of the NBA is almost entirely determined by the fall of a couple of ping-pong balls.
Need proof? Two of the remaining four teams are alive only because the lottery gods favored them; San Antonio stole Tim Duncan while Oklahoma City (then Seattle) was lucky enough to walk away with Kevin Durant.
The other two teams left are where they are because they didn't get lucky in the lottery. Had Miami gotten the second or third pick in 2003 instead of the fifth, they wouldn't have Dwyane Wade right now. Boston only acted on its plans to contend after losing the 2007 lottery. Had they won the right to select Greg Oden or Kevin Durant, the Celtics wouldn't have traded for Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen.
The lottery means everything in the NBA. So every year when the winner is announced, conspiracy theorists claim that it was rigged by David Stern because of some story-line or financial implications involving that team.
I don't think that's true (well, perhaps with the exception of the frozen envelope in '85, but that's an argument for a different day). But it's always fun to wonder. What if Stern actually does rig the lottery? What would the draft order look like? Here's how I think it would happen.
(Author's note: I know that the lottery only determines the first three teams, and I'm changing the order around more than that. It's for effect, I know that some of this is impossible by lottery rules. I'm going to try to keep it close to realistic (the Bobcats won't be picking 14th), but I'm going to take some liberties. Think of this as how likely it is for Stern to rig the lottery for each team).
No. 14: Milwaukee Bucks
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I'm going to be blunt: there's no chance David Stern would ever help the Bucks. There's absolutely nothing appealing about them winning the lottery.
They already won a recent lottery (2005, when they took Andrew Bogut over Chris Paul and Deron Williams) and proved they aren't among the league's smarter teams. The NBA doesn't want Anthony Davis to waste away in No Man's Land. They want him making an impact from Day 1.
Milwaukee is also a tiny market. The financial implications of the Bucks competing are minimal, and the state of Wisconsin will always belong to the Packers. Maybe there's a reason the Bucks haven't won anything since they had Kareem.
No. 13: Houston Rockets
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Houston ranks only slightly ahead of Milwaukee in terms of riggability (and yes, I did just create that word).
Houston is among the bigger markets in the NBA, but that's all the Rockets have in their favor. Because of the success of the teams in Dallas and San Antonio, the NBA probably doesn't think it needs anything more out of the Texas market.
The Rockets don't have a recognizable star. Ideally, Stern would like to pair Anthony Davis with someone fans know, and Kevin Martin doesn't exactly fit that category.
Worst of all, GM Daryl Morey has already incurred the wrath of Stern once. He was fined $100,000 last year for comments on collective bargaining. If Stern is petty enough to steal a championship from the Mavericks in 2006 because of issues with Mark Cuban, then he's definitely not going to help the Rockets in the lottery after fining Morey so heavily.
In other words, don't expect Anthony Davis in Houston (I don't care that they only have a .5 percent chance anyway, it's really because of Stern).
No. 12: Detroit Pistons
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From this point on, there's a legitimate storyline for every team involved. In other words, there's about a 98.8 percent chance that Wednesday night we'll hear people grumbling about why the lottery is rigged.
For Detroit, it would be about revitalizing a devastated city and a broken franchise.
We've seen the effect sports can have on the pulse of a city. Look at New Orleans in 2006. The Saints came out of nowhere and make the NFC championship game just a year after Hurricane Katrina, and it meant the world to the whole state of Louisiana.
If Detroit wins the lottery Wednesday night, we're going to hear about how the city deserves Anthony Davis and how he's going to help bring money and tourism back into the city. It'd be great for the city of Detroit, but I don't think it will happen.
The Pistons are among the worst-run franchises in basketball. I doubt Stern wants to hand The Unibrow to a GM who once spent more than $100 million on Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva in the same offseason.
I have to admit I think Davis going to the Pistons would be cool. I hate seeing them lose. The Pistons have such a rich history and have always emphasized defense and physical play. I like teams like that. I just don't think Davis will be a Piston any time soon.
No. 11 Phoenix Suns
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I look at these Suns the same way I looked at the Wolves late in Kevin Garnett's run in Minnesota.
It would be really great to see them win. Steve Nash deserves a chance to win, but more than that he deserves to do it in Phoenix. He could have left any time he wanted, but never did. Say what you will about the guy, but you have to respect that.
But like Garnett, Nash's time with a team that doesn't deserve him will likely come to an end. Unless of course, Anthony Davis comes to Phoenix.
It would be a great story. Nash would get another shot in Phoenix, and the team that always lost because they couldn't stop anybody would get the best defender to enter the draft since Tim Duncan.
But there are better stories. There are bigger markets. And there are more realistic scenarios. Stern isn't touching this one. If the Suns were a bit worse, I'd say there was a chance, but they are a bit too good.
No. 10: New Orleans Hornets
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I'm not really going to get into the Hornets here, as this pick originally belonged to Minnesota and is too high up for Stern to realistically move it up (especially after what happened with Cleveland last year). We'll talk about the Hornets later on, but this pick is staying where it is.
No. 9: Portland Trailblazers
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Portland fans deserve a break. Don't get me wrong, they have needed one for almost 35 years. But lately it's just getting hard to watch.
First, Bill Walton's feet fell apart. Then Sam Bowie's knees couldn't hold up as they watched the guy they passed on (Michael Jordan) become the greatest player ever. Greg Oden was the savior, but then he got hurt as well.
Finally, Brandon Roy had to retire because of knee issues as well.
For once, Portland would be getting the guy with absolutely no question marks. Anthony Davis has no health issues. Barring something out of the blue, he's going to play 15 years in the NBA.
It'd be a nice story, but not nice enough. Maybe if Portland was in the top three, but not all the way down at No. 11.
No. 8 Toronto Raptors
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The last time Toronto won the lottery it was in one of the weakest drafts of the past decade. That would not be the case in 2012.
A reasonable case could be made in Toronto's favor. Basketball in Toronto has been irrelevant since Vince Carter stopped caring. Canada is a pretty big untapped market. If the NBA wants to profit there, making the Raptors contenders is a good start.
Anthony Davis is also a logical basketball fit. The Raptors play absolutely no defense. Davis plays plenty of defense. See what I'm getting at?
This one would be reasonably plausible in riggability, but there are too many better stories. I wouldn't suspect foul play if the Raptors won.
No. 7: Golden State Warriors
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There's a lot of bad blood between the Warriors and their fans. They've been run terribly for decades, and it finally came to a head this year when they booed their owners during a ceremony for Chris Mullin.
What's the best way to cure bad blood? Start winning. The Warriors haven't played defense since the '70s, so adding Anthony Davis would be big. It would have been bigger had they not traded Monta Ellis for Andrew Bogut, but who am I to nitpick?
The bigger issue at play here is the upcoming move to San Francisco. Adding Davis would help secure funding for the new arena, and, more importantly, help bring in new fans for the new and bigger market. Oakland and San Francisco are obviously close, so they won't need a completely new fanbase, but a player like Davis can help turn casual fans into season ticket-holders.
The Warriors haven't won a title in more than 30 years. If the league wants to help them, now's the time. Davis could make them contenders fairly quickly. And if the NBA wants that for their new team in San Francisco, they might think about giving the Warriors a bit of help.
No. 6: Washington Wizards
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Washington is one of the recent examples used by conspiracy theorists to "prove" that the lottery is rigged. It was too perfect in 2010 when they won the right to select John Wall by sending the wife of their deceased owner to represent them.
I doubt that such a miracle could happen twice in three years. But if it did, it would make sense. The Warriors have the second-most ping-pong balls. Nobody could say it was completely out of nowhere.
Washington, D.C., is a fairly big market that hasn't won anything in a while. The NBA might like the idea of having a competitive team in that city.
There are also some sentimental ties here. Wall was Kentucky's first star of the John Calipari era. Anthony Davis was the one who led the Wildcats to a national championship. The two former Wildcats could team up to bring Washington its first championship in more than 30 years.
It'd be a great story. Especially if they faced DeMarcus Cousins and the Sacramento Kings in the finals.
If the lottery truly is rigged, though, I just doubt that they'd do it for the same team twice in three years. It almost defeats the purpose (unless, of course, they're doing it for a team in New York or Los Angeles).
I'd say this makes sense, but doesn't make a great case.
No. 5: Sacramento Kings
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Here are the five teams where foul play could actually be suspected.
The Kings are moving. We aren't quite sure where yet. It could be Anaheim. It could be Seattle. It could be Las Vegas, for all we know.
What we do know is that they're going to need funding for a new arena. They may even need new owners. Wouldn't Anthony Davis make the Kings a more enticing franchise? For all we know, Stern has an under- the-table agreement with a city that it will build him an arena in exchange for Davis.
The coolest part about this particular conspiracy theory is that the "city" mentioned in the last paragraph could be Sacramento. Imagine the Kings winning Davis and then announcing a few days later that they're staying in Sacramento. That would be fishy.
No. 4 Cleveland Cavaliers
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I'd say lightning doesn't strike twice, but it has. The Orlando Magic won the '92 and '93 lotteries with worse odds than Cleveland.
Orlando got Shaq and Penny, became contenders and then fizzled out. A Cleveland pairing of Kyrie Irving and Anthony Davis wouldn't. On paper, it would be the best young pairing in the Eastern Conference, second in the league only to Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
This one might not have to be rigged by Stern, it might be rigged by the karma gods. LeBron ripped Cleveland's heart out. Imagine the irony of Irving and Davis giving it back.
James leaves because he didn't have talent around him, then the Cavs get the first pick twice in a row (yes, I know it wouldn't happen with him there, but bear with me).
I'd honestly love to see this. I'm a noted Heat hater, so the idea of Cleveland winning a championship without LeBron sounds great to me. It sounds greater to a city that hasn't won a championship in 48 years.
The problem is that Stern isn't exactly Dan Gilbert's biggest fan. His post-decision letter to Cleveland fans was awesome for haters (like myself), but not exactly a classy move. Helping him once is unlikely enough, but twice seems impossible.
But like I said, lightning doesn't usually twice, but it's happened before.
No. 3: Charlotte Bobcats
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If the Bobcats played anywhere other than Charlotte, they'd be first on this list. I've spent one night in my life at a Charlotte Holiday Inn and can say pretty confidently that I won't be going back. How that city has had two NBA teams is beyond me.
But enough of my hating (which seems to be coming up a lot), realistically, the NBA can't exactly be thrilled with the idea of Charlotte being a premier franchise. I mean...it's Charlotte.
But isn't that exactly what David Stern would want us to think? Maybe he wants to throw us a curveball because he knows we wouldn't question Charlotte winning the lottery, because again, it's Charlotte.
Michael Jordan is among the league's (nay, the world's) more incompetent leaders. Someday, Charlotte (and Washington, for that matter) fans should make him stand trial for crimes against the Bobcats' fanbase. But Anthony Davis would actually make them relevant. Even Jordan couldn't screw that up.
Oh, and there's the not-so-small fact that they were the worst team in league history! I'm somewhere between 60 and 80 percent sure the Kentucky Wildcats could have beaten them. Having a team like that in the league is simply bad business, so Stern might want to do something to fix them.
Of course, there's always the chance (oh, who am I kidding, the inevitability) that the Bobcats win the lottery, but Jordan trades the pick to Dallas for Vince Carter and a 2019 second-round pick.
Let's just move on.
No. 2: New Orleans Hornets
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This was the popular rigging pick early in the season.
It made sense, Cleveland won the lottery a year after losing its star. Why shouldn't the same happen to New Orleans?
The irony here is that it's really the league's fault the Hornets struggled so much. They killed the trade that could have kept the team competitive. Maybe David Stern wants to give them the No. 1 pick as a sort of apology.
But Stern isn't in the business of charity, at least not exclusively. Like we discussed with the Kings, there are some potential bribery possibilities at play here.
The Hornets were recently sold to Tom Benson. Benson isn't an idiot. He has to know that the Hornets aren't exactly valuable right now. The league had to own them for two years because a buyer couldn't be found. Benson had to see something valuable in the franchise to spend the kind of money he did to buy the team.
Maybe that something was Anthony Davis.
Oh, and Davis won his championship in New Orleans. There'd be some nice symmetry to him becoming a Hornet.
The only problem I see with this scenario is that it's almost too obvious. Especially just a year after what happened with Cleveland.
No. 1: Brooklyn Nets
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We have a winner! The Nets are the one team, if they manage to beat the odds and steal Anthony Davis, that would arouse real suspicion. Not from me, but from the general population.
Let's look at everything in play here. First of all, the Nets are moving from a small market to a big market. We all know how David Stern loves his big markets. The Nets need someone to open their new building.
That someone was supposed to be Deron Williams, but the Nets haven't exactly set the world on fire with him running the point. If Williams cares about winning, he'll leave the Nets this summer as a free agent.
If Williams leaves, who do the Nets market as their star? Brook Lopez? That's a disaster waiting to happen.
If the Nets get the No.1 pick, Williams might have a reason to stay. A Davis-Williams combo with the inevitable "Lopez, Brooks, two first-round picks for Dwight Howard" trade coming, the Nets would suddenly be real contenders.
If the Nets don't get a top-three pick, their selection goes to Portland. In other words, it's all or nothing. If ever there were a team that that league should want to help, it's these Nets. They'll either be contenders from the start or rebuilding for the next five years.
And rebuilding in a new city (a big market, no less) is awful for the league. Don't be surprised if we see some divine intervention Wednesday night.
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I just want to point something out before we see the results of the lottery.
As I stated before, 12 out of the 14 slots in this lottery would create real story lines. Story lines that conspiracy theorists could try to use to convince themselves that the lottery is rigged.
Based on the odds of each pick winning, there is a 98.8 percent chance of some of these story lines coming into play.
In other words, it's going to happen. Please remember that before crying rigged.