The worst team in the league got what it earned — the top pick in next month’s NBA draft.
The Phoenix Suns, a franchise that has never picked first overall, had the best odds of winning the top pick entering the NBA draft lottery Tuesday night in Chicago, and wound up getting it. The Sacramento Kings got the second pick and the Atlanta Hawks will pick third.
The focus now shifts to who the Suns will take with that pick.
There are two clear choices for the Suns — both of which would fill a glaring need. The leader at the moment is DeAndre Ayton, a center from Arizona who is a mountain of a man with impressive athleticism and a working jump shot. But the Suns recently hired Igor Kokoskov, a Utah Jazz assistant, as their coach, and Kokoskov spent last summer coaching Slovenia to the Eurobasket title — a team led by the other contender for that pick, European wunderkind Luka Doncic. Phoenix desperately needs a point guard next to Devin Booker, and Doncic has a chance to be a wonderful pick-and-roll player in the NBA.
This also was a big night for Sacramento, which will be picking in the top three for only the third time in 22 trips to the lottery. In a twist, the Kings tied with the Chicago Bulls — which won a coin flip to pick sixth. Had the Bulls lost, they would be picking seventh.
But the Kings caught a break, one they badly needed. For a franchise desperate for a talent infusion, taking whomever Phoenix passes on between Ayton and Doncic will be a no-brainer.
Atlanta also benefited slightly, jumping up from fourth to third in the lottery. The Hawks will have four picks in the top 33 of this year’s draft, allowing General Manager Travis Schlenk a chance to add to last year’s lottery pick, big man John Collins, and continue to put his imprint on the franchise.
The Memphis Grizzlies and Dallas Mavericks dropped two spots each, falling to fourth and fifth, respectively, where they’ll likely be taking big men in a draft where, other than Doncic, the top is expected to be dominated by bigs.
There were no other surprises, as the picks at the bottom of the lottery went as anticipated. The Los Angeles Lakers sent their unprotected first-round pick — 10th overall — to the Philadelphia 76ers, finally completing the Steve Nash trade from six years ago after taking the second pick each of the past three years. If the pick had jumped to second or third, it would have gone to the Boston Celtics, while the Sixers got it if if it landed 10th or first. Since it didn’t move up, it stayed with Philadelphia.
The Detroit Pistons didn’t jump up from the 12th pick, either — meaning that their first-round selection went to the Los Angeles Clippers (also owners of the 13th pick) as part of the Blake Griffin trade earlier this season.
The Cleveland Cavaliers, meanwhile, didn’t jump up from the eighth pick — which is the final one the Brooklyn Nets will convey after giving up the rights to five consecutive first-round picks in a pair of trades (the 2015 pick to Atlanta for Joe Johnson; the 2014, 2016-18 picks to Boston for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett — the last of which the Celtics sent to Cleveland in the Kyrie Irving trade).
This will be the last year the draft is held under the current framework, with the team with the worst record having a 25 percent chance of winning the lottery, and the odds going down from there — as well as the top three spots being determined by the drawing of ping-pong balls.
Next year, there will be four spots selected, rather than three, and the odds will be much different; the teams with the three worst records will each have a 14 percent chance of getting selected, while the fourth team will have a 12.5 percent chance, fifth will be 10.5 percent and sixth will be 9 percent.
In an interview on ESPN before the lottery drawing, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said he wasn’t sure the changes would actually do what the NBA hopes they will — keep teams from tanking — intentionally losing — to improve draft position.
“I don’t use that word,” Silver joked. “But the idea there is to disincentivize the race to the bottom. But you ask the right question. Do I feel it will deal completely with the issues of incentives? I don’t know.
“I feel bad for some of the (general managers), too, because some of the fans are coming up to them and saying they’re mad about winning, and we can’t have that as a sports league. This will help around the margins but we have to have teams competing all the time.”
Jerry West has been in this position a few times before.
One of the legendary figures in the sport, West — now a consultant with the Clippers — was realistic about his situation, accurately pointing out in an interview on ESPN that he’s got an incredibly small chance of doing anything but walking out of Chicago with the 12th and 13th picks in this year’s draft.
But it was interesting hearing West, who will turn 80 later this month, talk about what it was like to be drafted second overall in 1960 — and just how different it was then.
“I found out I was drafted the next day,” West said with a laugh. I didn’t even know if I would get drafted, to be honest with you, even though I had a college career that was a lot different than most players. When I got drafted number two, I was like, ‘Huh, that’s pretty cool.’
“I think (the attention around this event now) really tells you what people think about this. People are trying to find a difference maker. A star. I’m talking about a superstar.
“In my opinion, there are only five or six of them in the league, and if you can find one of them, it does wonders for a franchise.”
It will take an awful lot of luck for West to be in a prime position to get one of them tonight. But even last year’s draft — when Donovan Mitchell was taken 13th overall — shows even late lottery picks can unearth true gems.
2018 NBA draft order
8. Brooklyn (to Cleveland)
9. New York
10. LA Lakers (to Philadelphia)
12. Detroit (to LA Clippers)
13. LA Clippers
16. Miami (to Phoenix)
18. San Antonio
19. Minnesota (to Atlanta)
20. Oklahoma City (to Minnesota via Utah)
22. New Orleans (to Chicago)
25. Cleveland (to LA Lakers)
28. Golden State
29. Toronto (to Brooklyn)
30. Houston (to Atlanta via LA Clippers)
36./37. Chicago (to New York via Oklahoma City)
38. Brooklyn (to Philadelphia)
39. New York (to Philadelphia)
40. LA Lakers (to Brooklyn via Toronto via Orlando)
41. Charlotte (to Orlando via Phoenix via Memphis)
43. LA Clippers (to Denver via New York via Philadelphia)
45. Milwaukee (to Brooklyn)
46. Miami (to Houston via Memphis)
47. Denver (to Los Angeles Lakers via Chicago via Utah)
49. San Antonio
51. New Orleans
53. Oklahoma City
54. Portland (to Dallas via Denver)
55. Cleveland (to Charlotte via Brooklyn via Philadelphia)
57. Boston (to Oklahoma City)
58. Golden State (to Denver)
59. Toronto (to Phoenix)
60. Houston (to Philadelphia)
Note: Teams that finished the regular season with identical records will select in the second round in inverse order of the order in which they select in the first round. With respect to ties between lottery teams: Since the order of selection in the first round for these sets of teams may change based on the results of the Draft Lottery, the order of selection in the second round cannot be determined until after the Draft Lottery is conducted on May 15.
— The Associated Press