It wasn't quite as startling a jump as when the Orlando Magic parlayed a .500 record into Penny Hardaway, the Chicago Bulls took a less than 2 percent chance into the top overall pick and eventual MVP Derrick Rose, or when last year's Cleveland Cavaliers cashed in on hoop karma and leaped from seventh to first to take Kyrie Irving. But the New Orleans Hornets made out quite well in the 2012 NBA draft lottery by taking the fourth-best odds and turning them into the top overall pick in the June 28 draft.
The Hornets, who until last month were owned by the NBA (go nuts, conspiracy theorists) had the right combination of ping-pong balls to get the job done, switching out their fourth overall pick for the top choice that will likely result in Kentucky center Anthony Davis heading to Louisiana. It will be the first time since 1991 (Larry Johnson) that the Hornets will select first overall, though not the first time since then (in 1999, resulting in Baron Davis) the franchise has bypassed several worse teams on its way to a higher pick.
[Adrian Wojnarowski: NBA's Hornets ownership opens door to talk of rigged lottery]
This is terrible news for the Michael Jordan-owned Charlotte Bobcats, who turned in the worst winning percentage in NBA history, but per lottery rules were only guaranteed a 25 percent chance at the top overall pick. As with the Washington Wizards (moving from second to third) and Cleveland Cavaliers (third to fourth), the Bobcats moved down a spot in the projected order to second overall. Losing a projected All-Star center in Davis will hurt for Charlotte, but in reality the team badly needs help at all positions -- with even the team's recent lottery selections barely registering as starting-quality NBA players moving forward.
It's good news for the struggling Hornets franchise, though. The team dealt away disgruntled superstar Chris Paul twice last December, only to have the league put the kibosh on an initial deal that arguably would have left the team with better assets to eventually turn over. A second deal netted the team Clippers Chris Kaman and Eric Gordon, though both were injured and played indifferently for most of the year, with Kaman sure to leave this offseason and Gordon likely following him out the door soon after. A potential lottery pick thrown in the deal (from Minnesota) didn't make much of a dent either (as expected, that selection will stay at 10th overall in June's draft).
Though the Hornets have 2004-05 Rookie of the Year Emeka Okafor already starting at center, many league observers expect the team to use the amnesty clause on the former University of Connecticut big man, saving the franchise just under $28 million over the next two years in cap space. Still, new owner Tom Benson will still have to pay Okafor that amount as it is (he comes off the team's cap, not the team's payroll), and with Davis likely to struggle as most big men do in adjusting to NBA play, Benson and general manager Dell Demps might keep Okafor around as a mentor of sorts -- or, until things are settled, play them in a pretty rugged frontline with Davis at the power forward slot.
The 2012 NBA draft will take place on June 28. Here is the order of first-round selections:
1. New Orleans Hornets
4. Cleveland Cavaliers
5. Sacramento Kings
6. Portland Trail Blazers (from the Brooklyn Nets)
8. Toronto Raptors
9. Detroit Pistons
10. New Orleans Hornets
12. Milwaukee Bucks
13. Phoenix Suns
14. Houston Rockets
15. Philadelphia 76ers
16. Houston Rockets (from the New York Knicks)
17. Dallas Mavericks
18. Minnesota Timberwolves (from the Utah Jazz)
19. Orlando Magic
20. Denver Nuggets
21. Boston Celtics
22. Boston Celtics (from the Los Angeles Clippers)
23. Atlanta Hawks
24. Cleveland Cavaliers (from the Los Angeles Lakers)
25. Memphis Grizzlies
26. Indiana Pacers
27. Miami Heat
28. Oklahoma City Thunder
29. Chicago Bulls
30. Golden State Warriors (from the San Antonio Spurs)
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