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CHICAGO — The NBA Draft Lottery remains one of the silliest yet most entertaining aspects of the league, where the fates of billion-dollar organizations and the world’s elite basketball prodigies are decided by sheer chance. But the Orlando Magic, who won the first pick in the 2022 NBA draft, along with the Oklahoma City Thunder (No. 2), Houston Rockets (No. 3) and Sacramento Kings (No. 4) are not complaining.
The fickle nature of the lottery always leaves others on the opposite end of the luck spectrum. This year’s drawing also presented a clear delineation between the league’s big- and small-market teams.
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Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images
The Los Angeles Lakers were not represented in Tuesday night’s lottery, yet they’ve been a constant talking point on the ground in Chicago at the draft combine.
The conversation among league personnel about Russell Westbrook’s trade status continues, and the fact New Orleans inherited the No. 8 pick that would have gone to the Lakers—a pick that could have added significant value for upgrading their roster this summer—seemed to be another reminder of how difficult of a task LA’s front office faces this summer.
The New York Knicks were the largest market represented in the lottery, emerging with the 11th pick after entering the night with the 11th-best chance at the No. 1 selection. They had only a 9.4 percent chance of vaulting up into the top four, but they haven’t moved up in the draft lottery since David Stern pulled the envelope that gifted Patrick Ewing to New York in 1985.
The Knicks went 12-11 after the All-Star break, which wound up hurting their lottery chances. Yet Knicks personnel were encouraged by the late-season progress shown from Immanuel Quickley and Obi Toppin. And several young players, including trade deadline acquisition Cam Reddish, have been active in offseason workouts at the team’s facilities.
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Orlando Magic Chief Communications Officer Joel Glass brought pingpong balls into the drawing room from the years that Orlando lucked into top choices that netted Shaquille O’Neal, Penny Hardaway and Dwight Howard, and the good luck charms worked. For the fourth time in franchise history, the magic won the no. 1 pick in the lottery.
For most NBA personnel, Auburn forward Jabari Smith stands as the most coveted prospect in this draft class. Smith could pair nicely in the frontcourt with Orlando’s swath of backcourt players, most notably 2021 No. 5 pick Jalen Suggs and No. 8 pick Franz Wagner.
The Magic will now have a significant advantage in intel gathering, too. Every prospect at the top of this class wants to hear his name called first. For example, members of Paolo Banchero’s family were chatting about the idea of joining Orlando as they exited the lottery room on Tuesday.
The Magic should have the opportunity to meet with and evaluate whomever they please. Their clear void of a franchise centerpiece offers a direct runway for whomever they select at No. 1 to become the team’s true alpha, with a development plan and roster construction centered around that player.
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The Trail Blazers weren’t the only team to fall in the draft order from their original pre-lottery standing—Detroit and Indiana also slipped—but they had far more at stake.
Portland remains committed to quickly retooling a contender around All-Star point guard Damian Lillard. A stroke of pingpong ball fortune could have delivered a massive chip for the Blazers’ hopes of pairing Lillard with a bona fide running mate. the no 1 pick, or even a top-four selection in a deep class, would have presented various trade options for Portland’s front office to juice the roster.
There’s skepticism around the league that the Blazers will actually move their lottery selection for a veteran contributor such as Jerami Grant. It seems that Portland had hoped to use the Pelicans’ first-round pick to swing a deal with Detroit, but that pick wound up not conveying.
There are other avenues to find Lillard a star counterpart. Word of Portland’s potential pursuit of Chicago Bulls All-Star Zach LaVine via sign-and-trade and Charlotte Hornets restricted free agent swingman Miles Bridges has been a talking point among personnel at the combine.
Can Portland find a willing trade partner interested in a youngster who’s available at No. 7? The Golden State Warriors just learned last year how little trade value the seventh pick may ultimately have. In any case, the Blazers can’t be thrilled with how their 2022 draft capital looks today compared to the initial aftermath of February’s trade deadline.
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While Orlando, Houston and Detroit have joined Oklahoma City in the league’s latest evolution of the race to the bottom, there has been no franchise as brazen as the Thunder in their attempt to fumble games and hack the draft. OKC jumped from the fourth-best odds up to No. 2 on Tuesday, which gives general manager Sam Presti a clear chance to incorporate a dynamic talent to pair with Shai Gilegous-Alexander and Josh Giddey, in addition to the Thunder’s myriad young prospects.
The league’s new lottery system, which flattened the odds to give the three worst teams an even 14 percent chance at the No. 1 pick, which was a direct result of the tanking era highlighted by the Sam Hinkie-led Philadelphia 76ers. That followed OKC’s dramatic rebuild from 2007-09, when Presti’s front office selected Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden in consecutive drafts.
While the Thunder surely hoped to win the No. 1 overall pick on Tuesday, coming away with the second pick is a massive coup for Presti’s strategy that the NBA’s revised lottery setup is designed to disincentivize.
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As the Dallas Mavericks surge into the Western Conference Finals, combo guard Jalen Brunson’s free-agency payday seemingly grows larger with each win. Dallas personnel insist they will be able to retain Brunson with a competitive offer when he reaches unrestricted free agency in July, but New York, Indiana and Detroit are all expected to make aggressive runs at Brunson as well.
Brunson will surely sign a lucrative deal that most NBA executives expect to surpass $90 million over four years. But could the lottery results hamper Brunson’s market by taking a prospective buyer off the table?
The Pistons’ slide to No. 5 almost certainly removes the possibility of them landing Smith, Gonzaga big man Chet Holmgren or Duke forward Paolo Banchero. That will likely leave either Purdue guard Jaden Ivey and Kentucky guard Shaedon Sharpe on the board as possible selections.
The Pistons could very well select a backcourt partner of the future for Cade Cunningham and still pursue Brunson in free agency. But for an organization that’s purportedly eying a tangible step toward postseason contention next spring, falling in the draft order must sting to some extent.
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Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press
Ever since the league introduced this new lottery format, adding a fourth drawing in addition to the flattened odds, an unexpected team has leapt into the top four each year. This season, after a headline-grabbing deal for Domantas Sabonis at the trade deadline, Sacramento leapt from the seventh-best odds to the fourth pick, which will leave the Kings with a crack at one of the elite prospects in this class.
The Toronto Raptors made that exact same jump in last year’s lottery and selected eventual Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes at No. 4. Sacramento also stands in a strong position to swing a trade for immediate help toward the franchise’s goal of competing for the postseason—exactly what Portland desired.
It’s a massive stroke of luck for Kings owner Vivek Ranadive, who hasn’t reached the playoffs in each of his nine years steering the franchise, and newly appointed head coach Mike Brown. It’s also a huge victory for a Kings fanbase that surely was celebrating across Northern California on Tuesday evening as the lottery telecast went to commercial break and the improbable chance at a No. 1 pick seemed alive and well.