The most sobering line of the NBA Draft Lottery’s night, as it turned out, came from the Dallas Maverick who has been through nearly 20 of these ping-pong ball things.
With the Mavericks trusting their fate at No. 9 on the odds board, Dirk Nowitzki posted on Twitter, “With our luck at the draft, our pick is probably gonna slip to the second round tonight ...”
Dirk was being facetious. But the big laugh Tuesday night was on everyone who thinks the NBA Draft replenishes the weak and downtrodden.
When the envelopes were opened, the Boston Celtics ended up with the No. 1 pick, with the Los Angeles Lakers getting the No. 2 pick.
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The Celtics and the Lakers.
Larry Bird and Magic Johnson themselves couldn’t have picked a more pedigree-favorable NBA draft order.
Space – and my short attention span – do not allow for an elaborate explanation of the lottery procedure. There still are ping-pong balls involved, numbered 1 through 14 for each of the non-playoff teams. But as Tuesday’s outcome suggests, at some point the process is handed over to a small garden of NBA elves who (wink, wink) determine the top three picks.
That’s the way I read it, at least.
By virtue of their hard-earned 33-49 record, Dirk and the Mavericks were handed a 1.7 percent chance of being awarded with the No. 1 spot. There was an 81 percent chance for them to remain at No. 9, which is exactly what happened.
As poorly as the Mavericks have performed in the annual draft, the franchise has had even less luck in the draft lottery.
In 1996, after a 26-win season, the franchise had a 12.82 percent chance of moving up to the No. 1 pick. The Mavericks ended up staying at No. 6, trading the spot to Boston for the ninth pick and selecting Samaki Walker, who would go on to play for six teams in 10 undistinguished seasons.
To select Walker, the Mavericks passed on a few guys named Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Jermaine O’Neal and Peja Stojakovic.
At No. 9 this time, however, the Mavericks should get a real player, not just some twinkle in Donnie Nelson’s eye. It’s been roundly suggested by credentialed NBA experts that the draft crop is at least 10-deep in ready-to-wear talented newcomers – not projects destined for the D-league.
Arizona’s Lauri Markkanen, a would-be Nowitzki starter kit, could even fall to the Mavs.
The Celtics and Lakers, meanwhile, will get to decide who wants either Markelle Fultz of Washington or UCLA’s Lonzo Ball.
Boston will get the top choice despite having won 53 games in the regular season and playing now in the Eastern Conference finals. The Brooklyn Nets, losers of a league-worst 62 games, had to swap the 25 percent lottery chance to the Celtics because of a 2013 trade that some consider the worst in NBA history.
The rebuilding Lakers, with Johnson himself in attendance at the lottery ceremony, moved up one spot and will select second in the June draft.
The big winners of the night, therefore, were Bird’s and Magic’s old teams.
The Mavericks have never enjoyed this kind of good fortune. Maybe owner Mark Cuban has angered those NBA elves.
Gil LeBreton: @gilebreton