The 2014 NBA Draft Lottery will be held tonight. This year’s draft class (featuring Andrew Wiggins, pictured above) is a particularly impressive one, so it is more important than ever that the lottery rewards the right teams. Here I rank the lottery teams in order, from most deserving to least deserving of winning the top pick.
The order is determined by Davometrics – a balanced consideration of each franchise’s fanbase, history, location, ownership, front office and existing talent.
I want to see the best young prospects in the world playing in the best possible basketball environment: in front of sold-out crowds of educated, passionate fans who will appreciate watching them develop; for owners who are financially committed to surrounding them with the necessary talent to win; and preferably in a large, desirable metropolis that offers superior living and marketing opportunities.
Bonus points for other reasons will be awarded to a team’s case wherever I see fit.
No. 1 in the list should be the New York Knicks: a flagship franchise; a brilliant, success-starved fanbase; an owner who may not be the smartest in the league but is willing to spend; Phil Jackson as president; the last great old arena; and the largest city in America. Alas, they traded their pick to Denver in the Carmelo Anthony trade, so are not eligible. And so the rankings are as follows:
1) Los Angeles Lakers
Lakers fans are among the best in the NBA, reliable in their attendance and their grasp of NBA history. They know superstars like no other fanbase, so why not bless them with another one? L.A. remains the most desirable city in the NBA – Hollywood, palm trees and the second largest media market in the U.S. – and it will always be a Laker town. The Lakers, armed with a $3.6 billion local TV deal, will be back (even if Jimmy Buss is a laughing stock in some quarters) and the playoffs just aren’t the same without them, so why not speed that re-building process up? Moreover, wouldn’t it be interesting to see Kobe embrace/mentor/alienate a budding young star? Wouldn’t it be particularly interesting seeing him co-exist with Wiggins, a fellow perimeter scorer who seeks to carve out a historic career of his own? Sign me up for that experience.
2) Boston Celtics
The most successful franchise in NBA history and a great fanbase that would properly support and cherish any young star. The Celtics have three things the Lakers currently do not: a widely respected owner (Wyc Grousbeck); a smart head coach (Brad Stevens) already in place; and an exciting, in-his-prime point guard (Rajon Rondo) who’s ready to dish the rock to Joel Embiid or whichever young blood Danny Ainge would choose. Boston isn’t quite Los Angeles though.
3) Phoenix Suns
The Cinderella Suns built up an immense amount of positive basketball karma during their run-and-fun 2013/14 season, blowing all tankapalooza predictions out of the water and becoming just the second team ever to amass 48 wins and still miss the postseason. It would be fitting if they were rewarded with a better pick than tankers like the Sixers. They have a great young coach, one of the best point guards in the league, great chemistry, and funky uniforms. Also in their favor: Phoenix is a dynamic warm-weather city that is predicted to be the 4th largest in the U.S. by 2020. The Suns would be even higher on the list if it wasn’t for their fair-weather fans (who ranked 24th in home attendance this year) and their cheap-ass owner (the ever-unreliable Robert Sarver).
4) Orlando Magic
Orlando as a city is by no means as unappealing as Birdbrained Dwight Howard’s prolonged exit made it out to be. With year-round warm weather, Disney World and a thriving downtown, it is routinely the most visited city in the U.S. and was voted the fourth most desirable place to live. The basketball team has a state-of-the-art arena, a loyal fanbase and a few nice pieces to build around (Victor Oladipo and Nikola Vucevic in particular). With an additional star, they could make the second round in the East within a couple of seasons, and seeing them go deeper into the postseason than Howard’s Rockets would be an undeniable thrill.
5) Utah Jazz
A well-run franchise with a rabid fanbase that ranked 12th in attendance this season despite enduring their worst season in 32 years. Salt Lake City will never be an A-list NBA destination, but Utah has some lovely mountains, and projected top-3 pick Jabari Parker is a Mormon who’d settle in just fine there should they get the chance to select him.
6) Sacramento Kings
Kings fans are as boisterous as any in the league when they have something to cheer (or ring their cowbells) about, and are more deserving of success than most. Mayor Kevin Johnson has thrown his weight behind keeping the team in Sacramento, plans are in place to build a $477 million new downtown arena (pending tonight’s city council vote) and DeMarcus Cousins should have been an All-Star this year. But Sacramento will always be known as a cow town whether cows actually live in the city or not. Friend of the blog Non-Player Zealot reports: “I once had to go to Sacramento. What a sh*t hole.”
7) Detroit Pistons
The Pistons are a team with a proud history. 16 times a Conference Finalist, they have never been this irrelevant for this long. They’ve been decimated by a decade of Joe Dumars roster mismanagement, so do they deserve a little lotto luck? Yes and no. Their fans were great when the team was great, but they’ve shown little loyalty in the lean times (with three straight years of average attendances under 15,000) and PA announcer Mason has become a tiresome caricature of himself. Detroit is a reasonably large media market (11th biggest in the U.S.) but will never be a destination city. The middle of the lottery is where they belong.
8) Denver Nuggets
Slightly above-average fans, an above-average city, well-above-average altitude and a slightly messy but workable roster. It would not be a disaster if either lotto pick the Nuggets own landed in the top three, but they already had their chance with Carmelo.
9) New Orleans Pelicans
The Pelicans earn massive bonus points for possessing the only player other than Shaq to ever average at least 20 points, 10 rebounds and 2.5 blocks before reaching the age of 21. Anthony Davis is a stud and it would be nice to see him develop alongside another young transcendent talent. Meanwhile their play-by-play guy Joel Meyers, who I met in 2009, is a true gentleman and great announcer who deserves to be calling meaningful games. Also, the Big Easy is a vibrant city that is still deserving of some extra good luck after Hurricane Katrina. So why aren’t the Pelicans higher on this list? Because their fans are terrible and they couldn’t even fill the arena when the then-Hornets were busy winning a franchise-best 56 wins behind an MVP-worthy Chris Paul season in 2007/08. Greatness is wasted on them.
10) Cleveland Cavaliers
We were all witnesses to LeBron selling out his home team. Cavs fans deserve a top pick and a true franchise player to replace James (Kyrie Irving isn’t getting it done), but sadly their front office already wasted three top-4 selections on Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters and Anthony Bennett and owner Dan Gilbert is an irritant. We can’t sanction them getting another top pick this year.
11) Milwaukee Bucks
The Bucks averaged just 13,487 fans per game in their decrepit home arena this season, and were until last month a prime candidate for both relocation and finishing bottom of this list. However, fresh off buying the team for $550 million, their new owners are discussing bold plans to rejuvenate professional basketball in Wisconsin. A team that dates back to the ‘60s and once won a title led by two of the 15 greatest players of all time deserves one last chance, but let’s face it: Milwaukee will always be an undesirable location. If they do get the top pick, what are the chances their selection will want to play out his career there?
12) Philadelphia 76ers
A sad-sack tanking franchise in a city that is only good for its cheesesteak and that treats basketball as the fourth most important professional sport. Unimpressive fans, very little existing talent, and Tony Wroten’s Air Jordan 10 shoe even exploded this season. Let’s hope they fall out of the top three.
13) Minnesota Timberwolves
A cold, unappealing location and a mediocre capped-out roster headlined by a star who is busy masterminding his exit, tired of putting up 26 and 12 in front of sub-15,000 crowds. No one wants to go to Minny so why should a top pick have to?
Sadly, I do not actually get to fix the lottery, and the undeserving Bucks (25.0% chance) and even more undeserving 76ers (19.9% chance) have the greatest odds of landing the top pick. The good news though is that there is thus a 55.1% chance that neither will snag it. Indeed, only once in the last ten years has a team with a bottom-two record been rewarded by winning the lottery: the 2008/09 Clippers, who selected Blake Griffin.
The Lakers, with the 6th worst record, have some recent historical cause for optimism: The 6th-worst Bucks won the top pick in 2005 and the 6th-worst Blazers won the top pick in 2007. Alas, the Bucks selected Andrew Bogut and the Blazers selected Greg Oden, so both teams may have been better off not winning the lotto after all.
As an aside, I am not a believer in draft lottery conspiracy theories, but imagine the firestorm if the L.A. does emerge with the No. 1 pick: One down year and the Lakers land the top pick in the most loaded draft in recent memory. An actual majority of casual NBA observers would probably believe that the fix was in. That is something Adam Silver will not want, but he should embrace it anyway.
The NBA is in a better place when its trio of flagship franchises – the Knicks, Lakers and Celtics – are all relevant. This year they all missed the playoffs for the first time in league history. Let this be the last time that ever happens – give the Lakers and Celtics each a top 3 pick and be done with it. They deserve it.