Winners and losers from the NBA draft lottery
They’re smiling in San Antonio.
Tuesday’s NBA draft lottery might not have been the most unexpected turn of events, but the results are still a welcome development – to some, anyway. Others are going to rue their misfortune for a while.
Here are the winners and losers from this year’s lottery.
San Antonio Spurs
Let’s get the obvious out of the way: This is a massive win for an organization that already boasts an incredible history with the No. 1 pick. If Victor Wembanyama turns out to be even half the player that David Robinson and Tim Duncan were – assuming the Spurs take the coveted Frenchman, as widely expected – San Antonio could be celebrating these lottery results for years to come.
After taking Duncan in 1997, the Spurs didn’t miss the postseason again until 2020. That’s 22 straight playoff appearances – with five championships in six Finals trips sprinkled in. Not bad.
The lottery gods laughed mercilessly at those hoping for drama Tuesday. As NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum unveiled pick after pick early on, beginning with the New Orleans Pelicans at pick No. 14, it didn’t take long to realize this year’s lottery would be short on surprises.
Besides some minor movement inside the top five (which will be addressed soon), everything else was chalk, with teams falling exactly where the percentages plotted them. Sure, it was mathematically the likeliest outcome, but it’s always exciting to see a franchise spit in the face of probability and bounce another club out of the top four.
Not only did the Spurs land the opportunity to add a generational talent on June 22, but there may not be a better destination for Wembanyama to hone his craft than sunny San Antonio: The Spurs have a vaunted history with former No. 1 picks thanks to the tutelage of longtime head coach Gregg Popovich.
The 74-year-old tactician is one of the best minds in basketball and has shown recent success in nurturing young talent such as Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, and Keldon Johnson, among others. Wembanyama arguably could not pick himself a better mentor. And while the media spotlight will follow him anyway, playing in a smaller market like San Antonio can help the French prospect better acclimate to the Association at his own pace.
New York Knicks
Luck was not with the New York Knicks as the pingpong balls fell. Thanks to the final, yet-to-be-resolved fragment of the 2019 swap that sent Kristaps Porzingis to the Dallas Mavericks, New York had a chance – albeit a slim one – to add a lottery pick as the cherry on top of a respectable second-round playoff run. All the Knicks needed was for Dallas to fall outside the top 10. Instead, the Mavericks landed exactly at No. 10, allowing them to retain their pick.
Two things compound the hurt for the Knicks. New York does not have a first-rounder of its own after sending it to the Portland Trail Blazers in February for Josh Hart; that pick is now penciled in at No. 23. Secondly, the Mavericks managed to maintain their odds for the 10th overall selection because they not-so-inconspicuously threw in the towel for the final game of the regular season. The whole charade cost them $750,000, but they kept their first-rounder. Checkmate? There’s no good moral to the story here.
One of the long-lasting images from last year’s lottery was Lillard’s look of complete incredulity upon learning his Trail Blazers had dropped to seventh in the draft after finishing with the sixth-worst record in 2021-22. Lillard didn’t have to represent the team this year – franchise legend Brandon Roy stepped in instead – but he was likely smiling.
Lillard, 32, has been vocal about not wanting to drift through a rebuild in Portland, and the Trail Blazers’ jump up to third overall should theoretically represent a positive outcome for the seven-time All-Star. If Portland elects to keep the pick, the franchise should see little sense in keeping Lillard while adding another prospect and should be more inclined to send him to a contender. The opposite is also possible, however; the Trail Blazers can dangle their fortuitous luck as part of an offer to surround Lillard with more win-now talent. Either way, he’s likely sleeping well.
There isn’t a nice way to say it, but Detroit fans might be the first to agree: The Pistons were borderline unwatchable this past season. In a year filled with growing pains – some literal – Detroit flailed its way to the finish line at a 17-win pace. The Pistons played all but 12 games without rising star Cade Cunningham because of a shin injury and somehow nosedived into two separate 11-game losing streaks over the last two months of the campaign. Still, there was a 7-foot-2 beam of light at the end of the tunnel that would make all the anguish worth it.
But that’s not how things played out Tuesday. In fact, it could not have gone worse for the Pistons and team legend Ben Wallace, who served as their lottery rep. Detroit entered the lottery in a three-way tie with San Antonio and the Houston Rockets for the best odds to win No. 1 at 14%, and it had a 52.1% chance of landing anywhere in the top four. Instead, the Pistons slid all the way to fifth – the worst outcome possible. After a nightmare season, Detroit fans likely feel like they have nothing to show for it.
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