There’s no doubt in Kevin Johnson’s mind that a quality lottery pick can turn around the fortunes of an NBA franchise.
A three-time All-Star who is now the mayor of Sacramento, Johnson saw Shaquille O’Neal do it with Orlando when the 7- footer was the Magic’s lottery pick in 1992. He also saw Tim Duncan do it with San Antonio Spurs when he was the Spurs’ lottery pick in 1997, and LeBron James do it as the Cleveland Cavaliers’ lottery pick in 2003.
And, as Johnson acknowledged, there were many others.
That’s why Johnson believes it’s imperative that teams do their homework and be meticulous when drafting a player who not only could become the face of the franchise, but could also shape that team’s fortunes for many years to come.
“If you pick the right pick it can make it a big deal,” said Johnson, who was the seventh overall pick by the Cavs in the 1987 draft. “You cannot have a lottery pick like Golden State and get Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry and it doesn’t work out well.
“So it all depends on the pick you get.”
Elton Brand couldn’t agree more.
Brand was the No.1 overall pick of the Chicago Bulls in 1999 and has been around to see Duncan turn around the fortunes of the Spurs, and witness O’Neal and James do the same for the Magic and Cavs, respectively.
“We’ve had some special players [in the NBA lottery] over the years,” said Brand, now a free-agent center for the Dallas Mavericks. “You saw what Tim Duncan did in San Antonio, you saw what LeBron James did for the Cleveland franchise, and Derrick Rose  in Chicago.
“Also, Kevin Durant [drafted No. 2 overall in 2007] changed that franchise around in Seattle [before they moved to Oklahoma City]. They didn’t win a lot, and then they got another lottery pick with [Russell] Westbrook, and then another lottery pick with James Harden, and they’re off to the races.”
The Mavericks are hoping to be off to the races with a quality lottery pick this year. But first they must determine when they’ll pick in this summer’s draft.
That process will unfold at 7 p.m. Tuesday when the NBA holds its draft lottery at the ABC Times Square Studios in New York City.
The Mavericks are in the draft lottery for the first time since 2000, and for the 12th time in franchise history. They are set to pick 13th in the draft, unless they get lucky and move up during Tuesday’s pingpong ball ceremony.
In the meantime, behind Duncan, the Spurs used the lottery system to win four NBA titles during a nine-year span from 1999-’07; O’Neal guided Orlando to the 1995 NBA Finals.
James led the Cavs to the 2007 NBA Finals before taking his talents to Miami. Meanwhile, Oklahoma City advanced to the 2012 NBA Finals behind Durant, Westbrook and Harden.
The highest lottery pick the Mavericks have had is point guard Jason Kidd, who was the No. 2 overall pick in the 1994 draft behind Milwaukee’s Glenn Robinson.
With the NBA’s weighted lottery system, the Mavericks only have a 6 percent chance of securing the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. And even if they’re able to defeat the odds and obtain the No. 1 overall pick, does that necessarily mean the Mavericks will be able to draft an impact player who can help them before Dirk Nowitzki retires?
“It depends on who it is,” owner Mark Cuban said. “We’ll find out. It’s going to be an interesting draft and we’re working hard right now to evaluate all the talent.”
Several mock drafts have Kentucky forward/center Nerlens Noel (6-foot-11) slated to be the top pick in the June 27 draft. Noel declared for the draft after playing just one, abbreviated season with the Wildcats, who didn’t make the NCAA Tournament after Noel suffered a torn knee ligament in mid-February.
In other words, there are no dominant, superstar players such as O’Neal, Duncan, James or Durant in this year’s draft. And Brand knows why.
“You can get some game-changers, but guys can definitely benefit from playing more years of college ball,” Brand said. “If you’re getting out of high school and are one year removed from high school, for most guys your mom is still making your bed.”
With no immediate, clear-cut game-changer available, Brand believes this may be a season where patience is better exercised. In essence, this might be the year in which players in the lottery are a work in progress.
“I see some [past lottery players], had they developed in college a little bit, I think they would have started off their career a lot different,” Brand said. “In the pros the coaches will work with you, but you’re employed, you’re paid to go to work.
“It might not be right away, but in a few years you’ll see the real talent. And it can pay some dividends.”