Before you read this article be sure to check out the two-part series I did last year on the NBA draft lottery and its history of screwing teams over that need the help the most. NBA Lottery, Fixes, and Spin: A History (Part One) and NBA Draft Lottery Part II: Five Teams That Desperately Need To Win.
If the NBA lottery was like every other major American sport, the worst teams would get the first picks guaranteed every year. In this regard, based on their 2009-10 records, the lottery would look like this (as of today) from best to worst of the teams not slated to make the playoffs:
13. Houston (41-38): James Anderson
12. Memphis (40-39): Donatas Motiejunas
11. New Orleans (35-45): Cole Aldrich
10. Indiana (31-48): Hassan Whiteside
8. LA Clippers (27-52): Xavier Henry
7. Detroit (26-53): Greg Monroe
6. Philadelphia (26-53): Al Farouq Aminu
5. Sacramento (25-54): DeMarcus Cousins
4. Washington (25-54): Derrick Favors
3. Golden State (24-54): Wesley Johnson
2. Minnesota (15-64): Evan Turner
1. New Jersey (12-67): John Wall
There would be no suspense; there would be no drama. Wolves fans would know that, worst case scenario, New Jersey takes perfect-fit Evan Turner first overall, leaving them with three options:
1. Trade down, and in doing so get a package of young players with upside, future No. 1 picks, cap space, etc.
2. Take John Wall and package him in a similar deal.
3. Take the player they covet after Turner.
We could start to put names with faces and faces into places, as in the example above.
But as it is, the NBA leaves these desperate teams struggling for answers and anticipation needlessly. The lottery does more harm than good.
Because we know three things are going to happen at the Lottery Selection Show.
1. The League's Worst Team Rarely Gets the First Pick
Despite a 25 percent chance to win the lottery, someone always gets screwed. Last year it was the Sacramento Kings and their 17 wins. They did, however, come away nicely with a solid player in ROY candidate Tyreke Evans, who's much better than I anticipated.
The 2005 lottery saw the Milwaukee Bucks steal the first pick and take the ever-improving Andrew Bogut. In 2007, the Portland Trail Blazers rose from their projected sixth slot to get Greg Oden, even if they wish they didn't.
In 2008, we saw the suspicious Chicago Bulls, who barely missed the playoffs and who had a 1.6 percent chance of winning the lottery, bring Memphis point guard Derrick Rose home at No. 1 overall.
Someone is going to come out of nowhere and get the pick that the Nets earned. My guess is one of those fringe playoff teams like Toronto or Memphis. I mean, John Wall on either team instantly brings my attention. If you read my links above before this article, these are two teams that owe a little draft success having been historically shafted by the lottery.
Wall almost went to Memphis for college, remember? How funny (and appropriate) would it be if he ultimately ended up here anyway?
2. New Jersey Will Get Scewed Out of That Pick And Fall to Nos. 2-4
Like the Kings did. No. 2 pretty much ties into No. 1, but this is the end result here. Basically, the Nets get screwed and some team that doesn't deserve it, will move up. It happens every year. It's just a matter of who it will be this year.
3. Timberwolves Have No Luck in the Lottery, and in Their 14 Years of Being in the Lottery, They Have Never Bettered Their Previously Determined Draft Position.
Not once. In fact, on a few occasions they even managed to move down. Expect that to be the same this year. The most famous case was the 1992 draft. The Wolves had the best chance at getting the No. 1 pick (Shaquille O'Neal) with a 15-67 record (the same they will finish with this year) and even though he publicly said he wasn't going to go there, they would have took him or "fall back" Alonzo Mourning out of Georgetown. Both were sure fits.
Instead, as fate would have it, the Wolves crashed all the way to third and had to settle for the second tier in Christian Laettner. I expect the same this year.
This year I predict the Laettner sucker will be Derrick Favors, whom I don't trust. Like William Avery, he's a freshman, and we all know how that turned out. Besides, Favors is a PF, meaning there is no room for him. That means another trade of Al Jefferson or Kevin Love would have to be made, and thus, will be hurried and botched in getting back equal value.
In sum, some mystery team will win the John Wall lottery. I predict either Toronto, Memphis, or Houston. New Jersey will get the second pick and Minnesota will fall to No. 3 (if they are lucky and don't fall even further, as they can fall as far as No. 5).
Other problems with the lottery
As I've pointed out here in a recent article (Minnesota Timberwolves Fans Would Be Wise To Watch Evan Turner and Ohio State), it does no good for historically bad teams to hope and wish on the NBA lottery only to get all-to-often screwed over.
I say let the teams tank and get them the best picks and best players because of it. Sure, it may be dead obvious, like what the Timberwolves have done, losing 26 of their past 28 games after a 13-38 start.
But I guarantee you, after one or two tank jobs, and teams like the Timberwolves getting players like Evan Turner this year and Blake Griffin last year, you wouldn't see them in the lottery anytime soon. They would be better off in the long term because of it.
As it is now, we keep seeing the same teams in the lottery year-in and year-out, the same way we keep seeing the same teams in the NBA playoffs and ultimately winning the championship. One of the league's major flaws is how it's stupidly stacked against the favor of new teams able to emerge.
Why is it that the Timberwolves, Grizzlies, Warriors, and Clippers, to name a few, are always in the draft lottery?
Because not only do they never have the dumb luck required to win the rigged system, but in not doing so they are always on the outside looking in, having to settle for second-tier scraps, which won't improve them the same way a can't-miss player like Wall or Turner, who would really turn their franchises around, could.
When you suck as much as these teams do historically, after all the losing they went through not just for a whole season, but for the majority of their existence, why must they continually be dealt an additional blow each May when the selection show is revealed during the playoffs that they are unsurprisingly missing out on?
What good does it do to give these teams the fourth through seventh best players and reward some cusp playoff team like the Blazers, Rockets, or Bulls every year for doing nothing? I think when you are as bad as the Nets and Wolves have proven to be, you have earned that break. They deserve the right at a no-brainer pick, that would instantly turn their teams around. Maybe then they wooudn't have to rely on and be in the lottery each spring.
By drafting fourth through seventh each year, as the Wolves historically have done—just bad enough to miss out on the best players available—they are forever in limbo, and thus can't get any better. I think GM David Kahn figured this out long ago, and figured "Why not try a tank job, and give us the best chance at Turner, who could keep us from having to do this every year?"
You can't get better if you keep getting screwed over by a system that's flawed right from the beginning.