Two big prizes in the draft lottery
The playoffs might still be in full swing, but for fans in places such as Miami, Memphis, Minnesota, New York and, yes, Oklahoma City, the 2008-09 season unofficially begins Tuesday night.
That is when the NBA will hold its annual draft lottery in an 8 p.m. ET drawing. At stake is a chance to draft one of two potential franchise players in Memphis point guard Derrick Rose and Kansas State forward Michael Beasley.
"Obviously, the highlight of the draft is the top two players, Beasley and Rose," Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace said. "I don't think there is a team in the league that wouldn't take one of those two at the top. But it's a good draft beyond that. There are going to be quality players outside those two."
USC guard O.J. Mayo, Stanford center Brook Lopez, Arizona guard Jerryd Bayless and Indiana guard Eric Gordon are among the group that fall into the next tier of prospects. While none is considered to be on the level of Beasley or Rose, each has big-time potential. Some NBA talent evaluators compare it to last season's draft, when Greg Oden and Kevin Durant were the marquee names but Al Horford and Al Thornton, among others, showed they could come in and contribute significantly.
"This draft is strong at the top, but there is also real depth throughout," Sonics GM Sam Presti said. "A lot of teams are going to have a chance to add talent."
Technically, the Heat and SuperSonics will have the best chance to score Beasley or Rose (see chart, right). But as last year's lottery showed (when the Trail Blazers jumped up to No. 1 and the teams with the three worst records were slotted four through six), the Ping-Pong balls don't always come up as expected. In fact, only twice in the 14 years under the current format has the team with the worst record landed the top pick.
That is why several teams, including the Timberwolves, Grizzlies and Knicks, will also be full of anticipation Tuesday night. One lucky bounce, and those clubs could snag a player who will put them on a much faster road back to respectability.
Here are the teams that have the most at stake in this year's lottery:
Heat: After a 15-67 season, Pat Riley decided to move back into the front office full time and turn over the coaching reins to assistant Erik Spoelstra. But Miami still has Dwyane Wade, Shawn Marion and Udonis Haslem. With the addition of a Rose or Beasley, the Heat could get right back in the Eastern Conference playoff picture next season. The Beasley/Rose debate in South Beach is already raging, but will Miami get the pick?
Sonics: Last year they moved up three places on lottery night, enabling them to land eventual Rookie of the Year Durant with the No. 2 pick. If the Sonics do get a shot at either Beasley or Rose, they would have a dazzling young pair of complementary stars to lead the franchise if/when it moves to Oklahoma City.
Grizzlies: With a dwindling fan base in a small market, the Grizzlies face an uncertain future in Memphis. They could desperately use a little luck, especially after losing out on Oden and Durant a year ago. But if they do get the top pick, Wallace will have a difficult choice to make. Local favorite Rose might put more fans in seats, but Beasley fills a bigger need as a scoring big man.
Knicks: New coach Mike D'Antoni would love to get a shot at drafting Rose to run his high-octane offense. It could be the difference between a quick turnaround or a lengthier rebuilding process for New York. In each of the past two lotteries, the No. 5 team has moved up into the top two. But if the Knicks follow the trend, the conspiracy cries will be so loud that David Stern will need earplugs.
Nets: As in 2000, when they leapfrogged several teams in the lottery to land the top pick (Kenyon Martin), they would be thrilled at the chance to plug Beasley into their gaping hole at power forward. With Devin Harris, Vince Carter and Richard Jefferson, it would be enough to get New Jersey back among the East elite next season. Otherwise, president Rod Thorn might decide to break up the core and seek help through the trade market.
Timberwolves: Like the Grizzlies, they haven't had much luck in the lottery. But if fortunes were to change and they could nab an elite point guard such as Rose to pair with Al Jefferson, the post-Kevin Garnett rebuilding plan would get a major boost. Vice president Kevin McHale certainly would be able to breathe a little easier.
Clippers: For those teams that desperately covet Rose or Beasley, this could be their best hope. With power forward Elton Brand (assuming he doesn't opt out of his contract and become a free agent) and point guard Shaun Livingston (provided he's healthy) already on the roster, the Clippers might be more willing than most to deal the No. 1 pick. L.A.'s odds are not good, but in two of the past three lotteries the top pick has gone to the team in the No. 6 hole (2007 Blazers, '05 Bucks).