Breaking down which team is most worthy of the draft’s No. 1 overall pick
The 2016 NBA Lottery is Tuesday night and in the balance hangs the fate of 14 franchises. (This excludes the Knicks, who gave up swap rights, and then traded the worse of the two picks, and the Nets, whose pick belongs to the Celtics no matter where it falls.) You can read up on all the details on the lottery here. If we start to look at the possibilities for what could happen, which team “deserves” to win?
Because of the nature of chance involved in the lottery system — flawed and antiquated though it may be — there’s always a level of cosmic spirituality attached to it. Franchise representatives bring good luck charms. Teams’ personnel and fans cross their fingers and hope the ping pong balls fall their way. It’s a righteous night of basketball divineness, as cruel as it can often be.
With that in mind, I decided to take a look at the 14 teams in order of their worthiness from a basketball karma perspective, of being rewarded with one of the top three picks. (NOTE: This is not at all how karma works. Just play along.)
Bear in mind these rankings are for fun, and if I’m going to rank all 14, one team is going to have to be 14, 13, etc. The word “deserve” is loaded and arbitrary and completely without meaning. Don’t get caught up on it. I’m going to get a lot of “WHY DO YOU HATE MY TEAM?” and the reality is this is not something you should get angry over.
Oh, also: Apparently ye old Sports Guy over at Grantland did this two years ago, which I’m sure I read but totally forgot. Seriously, have no recollection of the column. Even still, just know that this is no way an original idea but hey, still fun!
Who will come out on top of the lottery?
Why they deserve it: There was no tanking involved here, they just missed the playoffs by a handful of games, and much of that was with Jimmy Butler on the shelf. Adding Brandon Ingram or Ben Simmons might spark the kind of reformation that fans are kind of itching for. Ingram would follow in the footsteps of Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer as great Bulls from Duke, while Simmons would be happy with the kind of market exposure Chicago would afford and Butler would cover up his shooting issues, putting him in the best position to succeed.
Why they don’t: The Bulls already got magical lottery luck back in 2008 when their 1.7 percent chance of the No. 1 pick conveyed into Derrick Rose. So maybe asking for lightning to strike twice is too much. The Bulls also always look to wrangle negotiations with their best players. You never want a rookie walking into a tough room with ego problems, and the Bulls are definitely that.
13. Washington Wizards
(NOTE: The Wizards only keep their pick if they land in the top three. Otherwise, it goes to Phoenix.)
Why they deserve it: Well, they’re not getting Kevin Durant, so giving D.C. fans something to liven their spirits would be good. It would be nice to reward a team that actually decided to give up a pick to try and help its team win now instead of just always valuing the future. John Wall deserves a good running mate to go with Bradley Beal. It would be fun to see the Wizards try and balance Wall’s ego while also promoting the new kid.
Why they don’t: I mean, they sacrificed a lot of picks over the years to try and just stay in the playoffs. You don’t really want to condone that kind of risk-taking, do you? It sets up Ingram to be coached by Scott Brooks and neither deserves the inevitable Durant comparisons. Wizards fans are one of the worst home crowds in the league and may not even come out for a team with Wall, Beal and a top pick.
12. Los Angeles Lakers
(NOTE: If the Lakers get jumped twice and fall to No. 4, this pick conveys to the Philadelphia 76ers.)
Why they deserve it: Arguably the greatest franchise in basketball history does not deserve this kind of ignominy. They should not be down in the dreck with the rest of these plebeians, scrapping for 19-year-old saviors. The Lakers will give the top pick the best chance at being a true star. They provide a good, young, up-and-coming coach along with a young core that can all get better together. The player will not suffer from frustration over why the team doesn’t spend more. Won’t someone, anyone think of Flea?!
Why they don’t: Because this isn’t an aristocracy and you don’t get credit for your past. They won a bunch of titles, they dominated the league, they’ve benefited from some of the most lopsided transactions in history. They ran the team into the ground, chased out the Zen Master, switched coaches like they were changing lanes in a video game, hired and retained Byron Scott, re-signed Nick Young, and the team got so bad Jack Nicholson stopped coming to games. And, I mean, Flea?!
11. Sacramento Kings
(NOTE: The Kings can only land the 2nd, 3rd, 4th or 8th pick. The Sixers have the rights to swap picks with them. So if they land No. 1 and the Sixers land the No. 2, the Kings get the 2nd pick and Philly gets the No. 1 overall. In the event that three teams behind were to jump them — which would basically be the mathematical version of a biblical cataclysm — they lose their pick.)
Why they deserve it: Because Kings fans deserve something nice. Every time they think they’re getting something nice (new franchise star, new owner, new GM, new roster) it winds up just being that much more frustrating and disappointing. They’re a good fan base, cut them some slack. Also, we deserve to see if DeMarcus Cousins will cut his nonsense if he gets a true star running mate. Dave Joerger is a good coach, a nice man and deserves a good fresh start there.
Why they don’t: I mean, have you been paying attention the past 13 years? Do we want to put another good player in the spirit blender that is Vivek Ranadive’s organization? Do you want to add Simmons’ personality to Cousins and watch the world implode? If we give them the No. 1 pick will they ever learn? When do teams that run themselves like this get rewarded like that. (Oh, the Cavs. I’m sorry. Nevermind.)
10. Boston Celtics (via Brooklyn Nets)
Why they deserve it: They managed to rebuild on the fly. Their team is also young, and fun. They fleeced the Nets, and if you’re a masochist, watching the Nets suffer through having to turn over the No. 1 or No. 2 overall pick in exchange for three players no longer on roster is peak schadenfreude. Adding Ingram gives them the very kind of player they need, and Simmons and Smart would make for a really interesting pair. There’s a very good chance this pick gets traded somewhere else if you’re a fan of the Kings or Clippers. You know the player will be taken care of.
Why they don’t: They have one fewer championships than Ingram has years alive. They have had a remarkable amount of success. If you add a rookie to this kind of squad, the players, on a playoff team, aren’t going to want to defer to him, which could hurt. He might wind up getting traded to Sacramento or somewhere else if Danny Ainge can land a star. Ainge always says the draft isn’t very good, no matter what year it is, so why reward him with a great pick? Have mercy on Nets fans.
9. Phoenix Suns
Why they deserve it: Suns fans have been on a roller coaster for three years and could use some hope after how badly a promising year bottomed out this season. Adding Simmons alongside Devin Booker could be a lethal combination. The Suns are really rebuilding now, and it’s a good place for a young player to grow into his own. There’s a chance they land the No. 3 spot and take Kris Dunn or Buddy Hield, which would be flat-out hilarious. Ryan McDonough may have mismanaged the egos in the locker room, but he did a great job setting this team up with picks and they deserve some reward for trying to win and looking to the future at the same time, even if the team imploded.
Why they don’t: Robert Sarver hates millennials, so giving him a marquee one seems wrong. The Suns have had a total disregard for team chemistry, and even with Markieff Morris gone, you wonder about that. They promoted Earl Watson to full-time head coach, which could work out great, but didn’t seem like a bold move. They already have too many guards, so what happens if they land No. 3? (They draft Dragan Bender, probably. But still.)
8. Orlando Magic
Why they deserve it: They have tanked and been so patient with their rebuild and got no franchise-level player out of it. They only really hit in the lottery in 2013, and that was the worst draft season of the past 10 years. They got Victor Oladipo out of it, but still, this team could use a break. Whoever they draft would instantly be the best player on the team, and adding Simmons to that core would just bring their athleticism to absurd levels. Ingram could fill in the scoring gaps for the backcourt and Aaron Gordon. They tried to rebuild the right way after Dwight Howard left and the lottery was cruel. Their uniforms are pretty great. If they land top three, they likely take Bender and then we can call him “Puff, The Magic Dragan.”
Why they don’t: Because you get all these chances in the lottery and you walk away with Elfrid Payton, Oladipo, Gordon and Mario Hezonja? You couldn’t find a steal in any one of those picks? They also completely pivoted at the trade deadline and have put a lot of their chips in free agency, which is a short-sighted move. They may sign Howard this summer, and while Simmons would fit nicely in the pick and roll game with Howard, Dwight’s a lot of personality for a youngster to handle. If they land No. 3 and don’t take Bender, they could wind up taking another combo guard and all of our heads explode.
7. Toronto Raptors
(NOTE: The highest the Raptors can land is the No. 2 spot, which would only happen if Denver and New York go 1-2 in the draft. If Denver gets No. 1 and New York gets No. 2, then Denver keeps its pick, and the Knicks’ pick (No. 2) goes to Toronto. If the Knicks go No. 1, and Nuggets go No. 2, Denver swaps and take No. 1, and the Raptors take No. 2 from Denver.)
Why they deserve it: Because Toronto’s Masai Ujiri managed to build an Eastern Conference finalist while also fleecing the Knicks and getting a potential top-three pick while keeping all his own picks and giving up almost nothing. You have to respect the game. Because adding Simmons or Ingram to this squad would work well and allow them to develop either slowly with low expectations. Because you know Toronto will make the most of their talents. Because it would be hi-ho hilarious for the Knicks to help surrender the No. 2 pick in the draft.
Why they don’t: They don’t need him. You bury a high prospect on a lottery team with high expectations and it can stunt him because Dwane Casey can’t afford to get the rookie minutes. Knicks fans have suffered enough, haven’t they?
6. New Orleans Pelicans
Why they deserve it: They had more injuries than a hand-crafted knife factory this season. Anthony Davis deserves someone to run with who’s great. Simmons went to LSU and the fans would love him. Ingram would give them a scoring punch at a position of need. New Orleans is a heck of a town and it belongs back in the spotlight. No one ever said “Man, why does New Orleans get all the good luck?” They might land the No. 3 spot, draft Bender, and because they play in the Smoothie King Center he can be the Blender Bender.
Why they don’t: Because they tried to skip steps by trading other draft picks and it backfired. They had short-term vision and it hurt them, badly. Davis lost out on a lot of money because of them. Giving them the pick is the very definition of “rewarding failure.” There’s a good chance with their medical luck that the player never plays a single game in uniform.
5. Milwaukee Bucks
Why they deserve it: They just missed the playoffs and took a step backward because they invested in a young core. Adding Simmons or Ingram to Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker would be amazing. They’d be the most athletic team on the planet. Their new uniforms and court are absolute fire. Milwaukee has had a rough go of it and its last No. 1 pick is now starting for the Warriors. The team paid for the biggest share of the new arena costs, which is rare in this day and age, including a huge chunk from their former owner, a retired U.S. Senator.
Why they don’t: They already have hyper-athletic forwards who can’t shoot so why do they need Simmons? They took a step back this year because they didn’t recognize how valuable their veterans were. Milwaukee’s really cold.
4. Minnesota Timberwolves
Why they deserve it: Because this team is young, fun and awesome, and let’s give them all the No. 1 picks. Because adding Ingram or Dunn’s scoring ability to Karl-Anthony Towns’ versatility and Andrew Wiggins’ athleticism restores balance to the Force. Because Minnesota has suffered a lot of pain this year. Because of Prince. Because of Flip.
Why they don’t: Because you don’t want to create a super-weapon which could destroy the earth. Because we’ve seen how they’ve wasted great young players in the past. Because the top-level players in this draft deserve their own team and not to play third-fiddle. Because Minnesota, also, is cold.
3. Utah Jazz
Why they deserve it: They’ve never won the lottery. Landing a player like Simmons or Ingram could push what is already a fun team over the top. No matter who they would draft in the top three, they’d have to look at a blockbuster trade of somebody, they’d have too much top talent jammed at every position, and chaos is good. Because Quin Snyder is great at developing talent, and the Utah fans are loud and faithful. They’ve paid their dues.
Why they don’t: First, they don’t need it. Second, granting them a guy like that is rewarding mediocrity over outright failure. You create a logjam which may not help this player become the best he can be. This means a rookie walks into a situation where he’s expected to help a team make the playoffs and that comes with unreasonable pressure. It’s Utah, and there’s no dancing in Utah.
2. Denver Nuggets
(NOTE: The Nuggets get the better of their own pick and the Knicks’ pick, while the other pick goes to the Raptors.)
Why they deserve it: They’ve never moved up in the lottery, not once. They’ve moved down seven times. They could have tanked out the rest of the year but they remained competitive. They added veterans so that their young players wouldn’t feel lost. They need a star player more than any other team in the lottery. This is the last chance for them to make good on the Melo trade. They offer a young team that could fit the talents of any of the possible top-three picks. They just sunk a bunch of money into upgrading their locker rooms and arena. They refused to tank.
Why they don’t: No one will know who this player is unless he puts on a Broncos jersey. This team tried to reload after firing the Coach of the Year and letting the Executive of the Year walk. They raised prices this year despite two horrible seasons. They already have great young talent in Emmanuel Mudiay and Nikola Jokic. Coach Michael Malone doesn’t actually want to get younger. They could wind up trading this pick for a short-term solution anyway.
1. Philadelphia 76ers
Why they deserve it: They have suffered enough. Think what you want about Sam Hinkie but he never got a chance to finish the job he started, and the lottery gods continually ruined the Sixers by landing them just outside the place where the best players were falling. Their winning this year would either be karmic reward for ditching the mega-tank and trying to win with Jerry Colangelo, or a final reward for those that believed in what Hinkie tried to do. Whoever gets drafted there will get a huge role on the team no matter what, with good, young players around them. Brett Brown is a saint who deserves better than the mile of sewage he’s had to crawl through. They have one of the best announce crews in the league.
Why they don’t: Blah, blah, blah, don’t reward failure, blah, blah, blah, Hinkie’s arrogance, blah, blah. You’ve heard all the reasons. The locker room is kind of a mess with so few veterans and putting an impressionable kid in there may not be the best thing. It would be kind of funny that in a two-player draft, the Sixers, with the best chance in the lottery for the first time since this rebuilding approach started, wound up No. 3. There’s a chance they take Bander after taking Jahlil Okafor after taking Joel Embiid after taking Nerlens Noel and their our heads just explode. Philadelphia fans are insane.