The NBA Draft Lottery is one of the most fun and chaotic nights on the NBA calendar — if you're an impartial observer, that is — and this year's edition was no exception.
In the first lottery since the NBA tweaked the odds in an effort to curb tanking, only the first three picks – announced in reverse order – went in accordance with how the odds suggested they would. Memphis leaping from the No. 8 spot into the top four, and New Orleans following suit 10 seconds later, set in motion a wild sequence that also saw the Lakers move into the top-four, sending two of the three teams with the best odds at the top pick – Cleveland and Phoenix – tumbling to No. 5 and No. 6, respectively.
When the dust settled, New Orleans came away with the top pick for the second time in eight years, sending Alvin Gentry into a temporary blackout and dramatically changing the outlook for a franchise on the wrong end of a very public trade debacle. In landing the No. 2 pick, Memphis is suddenly in position to add another high-upside piece next to
Joakim Noah Jaren Jackson, though the pick landing in the top eight means the Grizzlies still owe an increasingly less-protected first-rounder – it'll be either next year's or their 2021 pick – to the Celtics.
The only bottom-three team to survive the carnage was New York, though sliding to No. 3 still feels like a massive disappointment for Knicks fans, who – judging from a wide range of social media responses, ranging from borderline-suicidal to borderline-homicidal – were under the impression that their odds of getting the No. 1 pick were closer to 95 percent than 14 percent. Outside of New Orleans and Memphis, the biggest winner of the night, by far, was the Lakers, who leapfrogged seven teams on their way to the No. 4 pick. Los Angeles will pick in the top-four for the fifth time in the last six drafts.
With the draft just over a month away, let's run down the lottery implications for each team:
New Orleans Pelicans (1)
The biggest of the big winners Tuesday night, New Orleans' entire franchise outlook shifted from small-market team with a disgruntled superstar to small market team with a disgruntled superstar AND maybe the single best asset in the NBA. Landing Zion Williamson doesn't alleviate the Anthony Davis problem, but it makes the path to a solution a bit less complicated. Early word is Davis still wants out, but the Pelicans intend to at least pitch him on a trail run alongside Williamson and Jrue Holiday.
Either way, the Pels are no longer under immense pressure to secure another future-superstar to replace Davis – in theory, they already have that in Williamson. Now, assuming Davis holds strong to his demand, new GM David Griffin – a four-time lottery winner – can focus on finding the best pieces to build around Williamson. Beyond trading Davis, the arrival of the No. 1 pick opens up even more options going forward. Would New Orleans also consider dealing Holiday, who at 28 has two years, plus a player option, remaining on his deal? They're certainly under no obligation to do so, but if the Pelicans are willing to punt on short-term contention, they now have the firepower to assemble the best young core in the league.
Memphis Grizzlies (2)
The two smallest markets holding the top two picks may not be ideal for the league, but for Memphis, which entered the night on the verge of potentially losing its pick, this was almost the perfect outcome. While the Grizzlies' still owe a future first-round pick to Boston (the protections shrink to top-five in 2020), they're now in position to pair Ja Morant with Jaren Jackson – the best two-way rookie in last year's class.
No matter what the Grizzlies do with the pick, they likely won't be a playoff team next season, but they should be well-positioned to contend down the road in a post-Warriors Western Conference. Like New Orleans, Memphis still has another bargaining chip in Mike Conley, who isn't as valuable as Davis or Holiday but would still fetch a strong return in the trade market. Hanging on to Conley as the bridge from one era to the next is an option – particularly given the 2020 pick situation – but he's owed more than $67 million over the next two seasons combined. Assuming they deal Conley, the Grizzlies' cap sheet looks squeaky-clean going forward. Chandler Parsons finally comes off the books next summer, as does the $8.7 million owed to C.J. Miles, who came over from Toronto in the Marc Gasol deal.
New York Knicks (3)
In retrospect, maybe Zion to New York was too good to be true. While losing out on what, for a few minutes at least, really looked like it might be destiny is a gut punch, it could've been worse. At least the Knicks held on to a top-three pick – unlike the Cavaliers and Suns, who also had a 52.1 percent chance to remain in the top four. This is widely considered a three-player draft in terms of superstar potential, and though Williamson is far and away the biggest lock – and the most marketable – of the top three, Barrett would be a fine consolation prize for a franchise in desperate need of a talent infusion.
If you believe the rumors, Kevin Durant will be there to save the day in a few short weeks, but what will be interesting to monitor is how the "fall" to No. 3 impacts the Knicks' standing in the Anthony Davis sweepstakes. The chance to pair Williamson with another blue chip prospect would certainly be enticing for New Orleans, but the Knicks don't have much else to offer. Kevin Knox still has some intrigue, as does Mitchell Robinson, but would that package be enough to top what the Celtics or the Lakers – now armed with the No. 4 pick – could offer?
Los Angeles Lakers (4)
The Lakers have done absolutely nothing to earn this lottery luck, but after a brief hiatus following successfully avoiding handing over a lightly protected pick in three consecutive drafts, they were back at again Tuesday night. Of all the leaps and falls, the Lakers' seven-spot jump was the largest move of the night in either direction. There was less than a three percent chance it would happen. A purple-suited Kyle Kuzma wasn't able to will the pick into the top-three, but it was still a massive win for the Lakers, who likely view No. 4 as more of a trade asset than a draft pick.
If they so choose, the Lakers could add a very good young player with the pick, but the question on everyone's mind immediately after the lottery was how much, if at all, does it change LA's chances to pry Anthony Davis away from New Orleans? Sure, the Lakers can now pile the No. 4 selection on top of their war chest of B-level young pieces and future picks, but it's unclear at this point if that'll be enough to grease the wheels of an organization that's shown little interest in dealing with them. At the end of the day, David Griffin won't let organizational pettiness get in the way of making the best trade, but that doesn't mean he won't coerce the Lakers into overpaying in the process.
Even if they fall short of acquiring Davis, the Lakers now have another really good (but not quite great) asset – period. While no one else of Davis' caliber will be available, the Lakers can use the pick as part of a package to try to shake loose another star, or even – God forbid – make the pick themselves.
Cleveland Cavaliers (5)
This was not a great night for the Cavs. It's hard to feel bad for an organization that won three lotteries in a four-year span, but this is now two straight rough shakes after the Cavs failed to move up from No. 8 a year ago. Of course, this one hurts a little more, given that the Cavs were in position, if there is such a thing, for a top-three pick after finishing with 19 wins – the second time in eight years they've hit that number after losing LeBron James.
The Cavs can still add a valuable young piece at No. 5 – maybe even one who instantly becomes their best young asset. But more so than Phoenix or Chicago or Atlanta or even New York, the Cavs desperately need to upgrade their overall talent. While the likes of Darius Garland, Jarrett Culver or De'Andre Hunter are intriguing, they're not franchise-changers on the level Williamson, Morant or Barrett could be.
Even if Kevin Love stays healthy, it's hard to imagine the Cavs not being a very bad basketball team again next season. Eventually, they'll have to consider trading Love, and that deal should probably come sooner rather than later. At age 30, Love is still a productive scorer and rebounder, but his four-year, $120 million extension hasn't even officially kicked in yet, and his personal timeline doesn't mesh with that of the Cavs, who are building for 2022 and beyond.
Phoenix Suns (6)
No team lost more value than the Suns, who would happily trade last year's lottery win for this one in a heartbeat. Instead, after entering the night tied for the best odds, Phoenix careened all the way down to No. 6. Clearly, that knocks them out of the conversation for Williamson and Morant, the latter of whom would've been an ideal fit as the third piece next to Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton. But the fact remains that the Suns really, really need a point guard. The good news is they'll still have a great chance to get one in Darius Garland or Coby White. Neither player has the sky-high ceiling of Morant, but both are intriguing for their own reasons.
Chicago Bulls (7)
The Bulls will pick seventh for the third consecutive year, and while they've done well with the previous two picks, turning them into Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter, they'll miss out on a chance to shift their rebuild into hyper-speed. Like Phoenix, Chicago already has some attractive young assets, but right now the core is trending more toward pretty good, rather than potentially great. It's not the worst place to be, but Chicago is still seeking a bona fide No. 1 option – that's not Zach LaVine, sorry – and that'll be difficult to find in this draft. However, there's a good chance the Bulls will have their pick of the Suns' point guard scraps.
Atlanta Hawks (8, 10)
The odds weren't in their favor, but the Hawks entered lottery night with a chance to move up from the fifth position, as well as snag the Mavericks' top-five protected pick from the Trae Young trade. While Dallas' pick did end up conveying, it dropped a spot (from nine to 10), while the Hawks' own pick also sunk to No. 8 – a less-likely outcome than the Hawks picking first, second, third or fourth. All in all, not a great night. But the Hawks still have two picks in the top 10, one of which they'll likely use to address the center position. It's tough to draft for need in the bottom-half of the lottery, but Atlanta is need of a long-term solution with Dewayne Dedmon hitting free agency and Alex Len being, well, Alex Len.
Washington Wizards (9)
The Wizards came tantalizingly close to jumping all the way up to No. 1, but, like most teams in the mid-lottery, they slipped three spots down to No. 9. The difference between six and nine in this draft isn't massive, so it's not a colossal disappointment – but missing out on the top pick by one ping pong ball? I think that qualifies. The Wizards have two more years of Bradley Beal, who's coming off of by far his best season as a pro, but beyond on that, things are pretty bleak.
First and foremost, the John Wall contract is shaping up to be among the worst , if not the single worst, deals in the league – one that figures to hamper the Wizards into the middle of next decade. In the shorter term, Washington still has Ian Mahinmi on the books at $16 million next season, while the futures of Dwight Howard ($5.6 million), Bobby Portis (qualifying offer), and Jabari Parker ($20 million team option) remain up in the air. Tomas Satoransky also heads into unrestricted free agency this summer. As far as the draft is concerned, Washington is in no position to do anything but take the best player available at No. 9.
Minnesota Timberwolves (11): Dropped one spot from the 10th position.
Charlotte Hornets (12): Stayed put at No. 12 and will pick in the 9-11 range for the fifth time in six years.
Miami Heat (13): Will pick 13th after taking Bam Adebayo at No. 14 in 2018.
Boston Celtics (via SAC): Technically, the second-worst-case scenario for Boston, though there was better than a 95 percent chance of the pick staying at 14. The actual worst-case would've been Sacramento jumping all the way up to No. 1 (one percent chance), meaning the pick would've instead conveyed to the 76ers.