Evaluating all 14 lottery teams
Blake Griffin and Ricky Rubio are considered the class of the 2009 draft
Sacramento and Washington have the best chances to get the No. 1 pick
The early word on the June 25 draft is that it isn't deep with potential NBA stars
The meeting is called to order. The rules are simple: The Ping-Pong balls determine the order of the first 14 picks of the NBA draft, then the outcome of the selections determine how long you keep your job. And no sobbing in front of the cameras. Any questions, ask the Clippers.
This is the lottery. Fourteen team representatives sequestered in a back room under the cone of silence for the drawing itself, 14 more who dare to show their faces again on stage in Secaucus, N.J., as results are announced to the outside world Tuesday night. You can land in the top three for the June 25 draft, hold your current place established by reverse order of regular-season record or drop as many as three spots. Pretend to be sincere when congratulating the winner.
As you know, No. 1 will almost certainly be spent on Oklahoma forward Blake Griffin and No. 2 will probably turn into Spanish point guard Ricky Rubio, though it gets pretty interesting if the Thunder or Nets, set at point guard for a long time, climb to second. After that, it's a jumbled mess. So there will be very few actual answers Tuesday, heading toward a draft your optimistic peers have labeled "unpredictable" and the less diplomatic have cut down to "terrible."
Addressing weaknesses will mostly have to come as package work in the offseason, a lottery pick combined with trades combined with free agency. The lottery is an important first step, though, because, if nothing else, it allows trade talks to begin in earnest. There was no reason to get deep in discussion without knowing where a team would be picking. You'll all know in a few hours, making this the real starting point to the summer plan that may not be answered in the draft. Some of your wish lists are that long.
In order of greatest chance to land the top pick, here's a look at the needs for each lottery team:
Sacramento Kings: They could use answers at point guard and small forward and have to find anyone at any position who can be bothered with rebounding or defense. The makeup of the team has become that embarrassing.
There could be, and should be, major moves beyond a high draft choice to change the culture of a roster gone horribly wrong. A new coach will surely be part of the attitude adjustment. But the summer work of president Geoff Petrie will be long and exhaustive just to improve the chemistry, before even getting to reversing the downward spiral in the standings.
Washington Wizards: They are the most difficult team to assess because no one has seen the Wizards. There's no way to get a read off 19-63, 16 games worse than the Bobcats for real perspective, with Gilbert Arenas out for all but two games and Brendan Haywood for all but six and DeShawn Stevenson in the lineup just 32 times. Only that when healthy, this is hardly the second-worst team.
Hiring Flip Saunders as coach was the perfect way to transition into what they can realistically see as a bounce-back season. Saunders has been adept at developing young talent and steering veterans, so it's a credibility move for a roster that has both. At No. 2, Washington would consider drafting Rubio and moving Arenas off the ball. That's intriguing enough. But at No. 3, and needing a center, Washington would be staring at the risk of UConn's Hasheem Thabeet, though with the comfort of knowing it has more than enough offense to compensate for Thabeet's shortcomings there.
Los Angeles Clippers: Seeking offense, defense and rebounding. Otherwise, they're good.
The Clippers will have cards to play, with Marcus Camby a valued player beyond a contract that expires after next season. The intrigue comes in if they move up to No. 2, with a straight line to Rubio a year after making the massive commitment to Baron Davis. The likely outcome in that scenario is that the Clippers would take Rubio and bring him along with less pressure than he would face in other situations, but he's going to require big minutes at some point and Davis is as close to untradable as any player in the league.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Griffin isn't just the dream sequence because it would mean a team already on the rise would also add the best player in the draft. Griffin grew up just outside of Oklahoma City and starred at OU. His addition would be more popular around the Ford Center than any other Griffin landing spot.
No matter what, the Thunder covet interior scoring and interior defense, having been unexpectedly forced to continue the search for a defensive upgrade when they scuttled the Tyson Chandler acquisition because of an injury concern. OKC can also use a dependable shooting guard and should be in the range of Arizona State's James Harden.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Al Jefferson and Kevin Love never got the chance to play big minutes together. Love was brought along slowly and Jefferson tore a knee ligament in February, and there went the important chance to gauge whether two undersized but strong inside players could fit.
Either way, that was a lot of starts for Kevin Ollie and Sebastian Telfair at point guard. And another member of the backcourt, Randy Foye, was second on the team in scoring but shot only 40.7 percent.
Memphis Grizzlies: The priority is generating offense, though the presence of O.J. Mayo and Rudy Gay equals the potential presence of two 20-point scorers. That's a good start toward the future, just not nearly enough to push the Grizz into playoff contention.
Barring beating the odds to spring up to No. 1, and getting Griffin for an upgrade at power forward, Memphis will have the spending power to be an impact player in free agency. The same cap space could go toward trades.
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