Culture of Hoops

Winners and losers of the NBA Draft Lottery

Tuesday night, the NBA’s version of the Hunger Games took place. The league’s 14 plebian teams took center stage just before a glorious playoff game amongst its upper class. For some, prayers were answered, but for most, dreams were shattered, hope lost. 14 representatives sat awkwardly by as the results of the 2014 NBA Draft Lottery were rattled off on national television.

We had been building to Tuesday for at least a year, probably more, in anticipation of what many claim to be a prolific draft class loaded with future superstars. Because of the projected talent in the class, teams made questionable moves throughout the season, seemingly for whatever slight permutation advantage they could get. The cruel lottery went mostly according to plan, except for a huge (irritating) surprise. Here are a few of the winners and losers from Tuesday night’s action.


Cleveland Cavaliers

After years of being surrounded by a mediocre supporting cast, LeBron James left the Cleveland Cavaliers at the altar, instead shacking up with the Miami Heat. In the following three years, the Cavaliers plummeted to the bottom of the NBA, but salvaged hope in the form of two No. 1 and No. 4 overall draft picks. Tuesday, with just a 1.7 percent chance of doing so, the Cavs nabbed the top pick in this year’s draft; the third time in four years.

That can’t be luck.

Luck is winning the lottery once, difficult even with the best odds, which stand at a mere 25 percent. Three times in four years?! Either Dan Gilbert sacrificed a baby or he’s converted to worship R’Hllor, the God of Light. Cleveland is dark and full of terrors, but the Cavs’ luck continues to shine through.

Breaking news: GMs of lottery teams across the league are ditching their sabremetric geniuses in search of red priests and priestesses from the shadow lands.

Charlotte Hornets

Their rebranding isn’t the only new thing about the Hornets. After making a surprising playoff berth, Charlotte will add a new name to its roster as well, a name from the lottery. In a trade of terrible contracts years ago (Corey Maggette for Ben Gordon), Charlotte also persuaded the Detroit Pistons to throw in a top-eight protected pick.

Surprise, surprise: the despairingly hopeful lottery struck again Tuesday. It’s like a casino in that way, the draft lottery, isn’t it? Flashing lights and jackpots instill patrons with delusions of hope and excitement, distracting them from the depressing losers in its mercurial wake.

Anyway, the Pistons fell to nine, ceding their pick to the Hornets, who will add a talented piece to a playoff roster led by Al Jefferson and Kemba Walker.

Phoenix Suns

The Suns were one and a half games shy of the eight-seed in a monstrous Western Conference. They’ll add a lottery talent to their skillful core come June.


Orlando Magic

The depth of this year’s draft depends on who you ask, but one thing is almost unanimous: the top three is pretty well solidified as the cream of the crop. Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Joel Embiid have been vying with each other throughout the year for the top spot, all the while separating themselves from the pack. Embiid’s back injury could shake up the top-three, but odds are those three freshman will come off the board in some order June 26.

The Magic, like the Cavs, have accrued assets and struggled since losing a superstar (Dwight Howard). This season was more of the same, as Orlando finished with the third-worst record in the NBA, and thus the third-best chances at the top pick. However, because of Cleveland’s improbable jump, someone had to fall. The Magic, who got stuck with the fourth pick, are now likely to get Dante Exum, who could blossom into a star. His projected strengths fit Orlando’s roster, but he played in Australia against weak competition, so may be a project or even a bust. Getting a top-three pick could have secured the Magic a star its still searching for, depending on how you feel about Victor Oladipo.

Sacramento Kings

For the fifth time in as many years, the Kings finished in the low- to mid-twenties in win total, slotting them at a difficult spot in the draft – right in the middle of the lottery, or just outside of the surefire range.

Since the lottery’s cruel inception in 1985, Sacramento has participated 19 times. In those 19 lottery years, the Kings have never, I repeat, never improved their slotted position by way of the lottery. They have either stayed where they were or fallen back every single time. The trend continued Tuesday, as the Kings moved back from their slotted seventh position to eight. Now, unless they decide to trade the pick, their selection’s fate will likely be left to the whims of the seven teams ahead of them. There is a well-defined group of eight players at the top of most big boards, of which the Kings will get the last pick.

Detroit Pistons

(See: Hornets, Charlotte)

The ghost of Joe Dumars continues to haunt the Pistons. This is their first offseason without him as GM for over a decade, but he’s been a front office corpse for years now.

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