Feb 24, 2017; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Los Angeles Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson watches action against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena.  Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

There is no spectacle in sports like the NBA Draft lottery. The NHL has a lottery of its own, but it only puts a few top picks up for chance, and one hockey player typically provides less of an impact to his new franchise compared to a basketball player.

The lottery can change everything for a host of teams and players, in the matter of minutes, without a single basketball in play. Instead, ping-pong balls dance around and decide the fate of franchises in just a moment.

This year’s lottery has extra intrigue. Picks have been traded, protected, and designated for swapping. Some of the most high-profile teams and power players in today’s NBA will be watching with keen interest, ready to celebrate their chance to fish for a franchise player.

Here’s a look at the 10 most important things to know about Tuesday’s NBA Draft lottery.

1. The Lakers await their fate

No team has more on the line at the lottery drawing than the Los Angeles Lakers. The newly re-built front office will watch with bated breath as the franchise’s next three to five years hangs in the balance. Back in 2012, the Lakers sent a protected future first-round pick to the Suns for Steve Nash, pairing the two-time MVP with Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant.

While that superteam floundered, the Suns would later move that pick in the four-team deal that saw Isaiah Thomas, Michael Carter-Williams, and Brandon Knight shipped to new teams. The Sixers, deep in the throes of asset acquisition, were happy to swap Carter-Williams for the promise of such a high pick.

The pick has stayed inside its agreed upon protections, and hence with the Lakers, every year thus far, but is in real jeopardy of heading to Philly this year. The Lakers keep the pick if it falls in the top three. There is a 46.9 percent chance that happens. The Sixers will get it if it falls fourth or higher. If the pick stays with the Lakers this year, the Sixers will receive the Lakers’ pick next year, completely unprotected.

To make matter worse for Los Angeles, that same summer in which they acquired Nash, they sent a future first-round pick to the Orlando Magic for Howard. That pick is scheduled to be sent to the Magic two years following the one sent to Philadelphia (due to the Stepien Rule, which forbids teams from trading consecutive first-round picks). Luckily for the Lakers, if they keep this year’s pick, the future selection owed to Orlando expires and becomes two second-round picks.

Best case for Los Angeles means keeping their pick this year and in 2019, but sending next season’s selection to Philadelphia (and doing everything to make sure it isn’t at the top of the draft). 

It’s safe to say that ESPN’s cameras will be locked on Magic Johnson.

2. The Kings reap what they sowed

Meanwhile, up the California coast, the Sacramento Kings are in a similar situation.

In 2015, Kings general manager Vlade Divac made a trade with the Sixers that has already hurt the franchise, and the worst is yet to come. Looking to sign veterans like Rajon Rondo to please DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento sent the salaries of Nik Stauskas, Jason Thompson, and Carl Landry to Philadelphia for two meaningless European stashed players. As compensation for taking on those salaries, the Kings also sent the Sixers a 2019 first-round pick (unprotected) and the right to swap picks in the 2016 and 2017 first rounds.

The Kings were lucky that the lottery balls kept them from swapping last year, but this lottery offers another opportunity for that trade to haunt Sacramento. The Kings have 2.8 percent chance of seeing their logo pop up from the lottery machine at No. 1, and would have to sadly turn over that top pick to Philadelphia. In any scenario in which the Kings jump ahead of the Sixers, the teams would swap spots.

Kings fans could be thankful that they at least will end the night with a top ten pick no matter what, but it would sting to lose that swap having reaped no benefit from it. Receiving New Orleans’ pick from the DeMarcus Cousins trade (if it falls outside the top 3) would help ease the burden a bit.

3. ‘The Process’ is trusted once again

After breaking down those first two scenarios, it’s pretty clear that the Philadelphia 76ers will be front and center at the lottery again this year.

The re-building Sixers will have a chance at two top-six picks (via their own and the Lakers) and beefed up chances at the top selection (via the Kings). With Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons both hopefully returning from injury, the chance to add a lot more talent at the top of the draft has Philly fans salivating.

With oodles of future picks down the line and movable young talent on the roster, the Sixers could be in play for trades in the days leading up to the draft. Contrary to the wishes of Process Trusters, that decision rests with current GM Bryan Colangelo, not the architect of this rebuild, former GM and cult-hero Sam Hinkie. Regardless, the Sixers front office and ownership espoused the value of adding more and more opportunities to acquire top line talent, and this lottery could bring those to Philly.

Sixers fans will cheer with gusto as their beloved Joel Embiid represents the team on stage at the lottery.

4. The Celtics sit on top

Further up the East Coast, the Celtics have benefited from a similarly beneficial trade.

In 2013, Boston traded Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Jason Terry to Brooklyn for an absolute warchest of future draft assets. The Celtics brought home three future Nets’ draft picks and the right to swap picks this year.

Making matters even sweeter, the trade proved to be a disaster for Brooklyn, who immediately swooned to the bottom of the league. Suddenly, just as Brad Stevens was developing the young Celtics into a playoff team, Boston would also have the chance to select at the top of the draft in Brooklyn’s place year after year.

While floundering teams going through half-hearted re-shuffling projects, the Celtics can draft like a team that has been tanking, without having to lose those games. If the Nets ping-pong ball jiggles to the top spot, this trade will go from an abject trainwreck to one of the worst deals in league history.

5. The Knicks’ chance to fix things

Despite the best efforts of the Lakers, Kings, and Nets, no franchise has been more publicly ridiculed or picked apart than the New York Knicks. Despite high profile names on the roster, like Carmelo Anthony, Derrick Rose, and Kristaps Porzingis, the Knicks won just 31 games and finished with the seventh-best lottery odds in the league.

As rumors swirl about virtually every Knicks player, coach, or front office member, the lottery gives New York a chance immediately turn things around.

Adding a star in the draft like Markelle Fultz or Lonzo Ball would erase worries about the fit, timing, and personalities of Anthony and Porzingis.

On the flip side, choosing seventh or eighth in this draft could be troublesome, with a collection of game-changing prospects that may not be available that late.

Most teams would celebrate nabbing a top-three pick, but the Knicks would breathe a sigh of relief.

6. Can Minnesota get lucky again?

Every other team stuck in a series of lottery-bound seasons looks at the Timberwolves with envious eyes. A bit of luck and good fortune helped Minnesota survive without missing a beat when Kevin Love was sent to Cleveland.

After receiving top pick Andrew Wiggins from the Cavaliers, Minnesota won the lottery the following season and snagged promising big man Karl-Anthony Towns at the top of the 2015 draft. Despite that stockpile of young talent, the Wolves have yet to leap into the playoffs.

In a world of superstars and superteams, Wiggins and Towns will need help. Fans across the nation would gag at the sight of Minnesota landing another top pick, but that would turn the Wolves from a plucky upstart to a team actually capable of making noise this decade. The T-Wolves have a 5.3 percent chance of winning the top pick, and an 18.2 percent chance of securing a top-three spot.

7. Orlando starts a new chapter

Quietly, as high-profile clubs in major markets have plodded in squalor, the Orlando Magic have been one of the worst managed and mishandled franchises in the NBA. After struggling to take advantage of trading their superstar, Dwight Howard, Orlando has been rudderless for the last half decade.

The Magic had chosen in the top five in three straight drafts, until last June. The Magic swapped their first-round pick and Victor Oladipo for Serge Ibaka. The talented big man lasted only a few months in Orlando, and then was traded at the deadline to Toronto.

The path forward for the Magic is as cloudy as ever.

Aaron Gordon has shown flashes, but likely is playing out of position. Elfrid Payton is above-average, but flawed. Mario Hezonja has produced little to nothing in his first two years in the NBA. Star power is drastically absent from the Orlando roster, a problem solved by the bounce of a lotto ball.

Without luck at the lottery, things will likely stay dismal in Orlando. The Magic have a 10.3 percent chance of getting the top pick and a 33.4 percent shot at a top-three pick.

8. Phoenix needs some answers

Like Orlando, Phoenix has spent several seasons toiling at the bottom of the standings, making puzzling choices in the draft and free agency in efforts to build a better team. Looking for players, other than Devin Booker, who could contribute to a contending team on the Phoenix roster is a tough test.

Marquese Chriss, Dragan Bender, and Tyler Ulis leave something to be desired. Booker has shown that he can blossom into stardom. This lottery and draft cycle could present an opportunity to add another player capable of greatness. With that one-two punch, and fingers crossed for the futures of Chriss and Bender, Phoenix’s future begins to make a bit more sense.

Without the addition of a top pick, the Suns appear to be headed for mediocrity, with Booker flanked by question marks and uncertainties. The Suns do have strong chances at receiving a high pick in the draft. They have nearly a 20-percent chance at winning the top pick, and a 55.8 percent shot at a top-three pick.

9. Dallas looks for their next Nowitzki

Mark Cuban’s efforts to build a competitor since the Mavericks’ championship in 2011 have been scattered and futile. With Dallas star Dirk Nowitzki in the twilight of his career, the Mavericks are looking for a bridge to the next era in their history.

Harrison Barnes was swiped away from Golden State for a maximum price, but likely can’t be the centerpiece on a contending team. With some good fortune this week, he may suddenly look more attractive, paired with Markelle Fultz or Lonzo Ball.

Cuban has always turned his nose up at teams who tank. This year, as always, the Mavs did their best to fight for a playoff spot. If lottery luck has any shred of karma attached to it, perhaps Dallas can nab the next star it desperately needs.

Dallas has a 2.2 percent chance of winning the top pick and is more likely to end up somewhere around the 10th spot.

10. Flawed teams pray to the lottery gods

The last four or five teams in the lottery in any given year at least share one thing: a faint sense of hope. Unlike other sports where the top picks are automatically doled out to the worst of the worst, the NBA at least gives teams just outside the playoffs a prayer at a game-changing draft pick.

Detroit, Denver, Miami, and Charlotte each have shown something promising in recent seasons, but not enough to reach the playoffs this year or inspire confidence that they could contend any time soon. Each would jump for joy at the sight of their envelope being opened last during Tuesday’s lottery.

Detroit may be the most eager, with Reggie Jackson struggling to fit in the Motor City. Guards capable of being franchise players are available at the top of this draft. Pairing Fultz or Ball with Andre Drummond, Tobias Harris, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope could turn the Pistons into a playoff team.

This article first appeared on Larry Brown Sports and was syndicated with permission.


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