Jeff Van Gundy suggested last week that the lottery should include every team in the NBA, not just the ones that miss the playoffs each year.
"Why reward losing?" asked Van Gundy, who went so far as to make a proposal to the league regarding the issue.
Van Gundy's idea was apparently not taken seriously, and the NBA will operate on the same premise it always has: that losing teams need the most help, and that giving them the highest choices in the draft will allow them an opportunity to improve quickly. Of course, that point is debatable, as it seems that many teams end up in the lottery on an almost annual basis.
Scouting is an inexact science, and there are plenty of great players around the league who were not lottery picks. Still, there's no doubting that teams at the top of the draft have the best chance of improving quickly, particularly in a draft like this one, where the crop of talent is deep and versatile and will include at least one potential franchise changer – Kevin Durant. If Greg Oden opts for the draft, as expected, then there will be two.
Here's a look at the NBA's sure-fire lottery teams, along with their needs and potential offseason plans:
ONE PLAYER AWAY?
Milwaukee Bucks. The Bucks might have more talent than any team in the lottery. Assuming they're healthy next season, they could be right back in the thick of things, particularly if they add a stud in the draft. New coach Larry Krystkowiak has made defense a priority, so look for Milwaukee to draft accordingly. Corey Brewer would give the Bucks a versatile defender on the perimeter. Joakim Noah would provide much-needed toughness and energy on the frontline. If Milwaukee gets the No. 1 pick, then Oden is the obvious choice, with Andrew Bogut perhaps being shipped off for perimeter help. No matter where they pick, though, the Bucks will have plenty of options given the talent on the roster.
Portland Trail Blazers. Nate McMillan's reclamation project is going well, with last year's draft netting good young talent at the point (Sergio Rodriguez), the wing (Brandon Roy) and at center (LaMarcus Aldridge). Portland would love to add another versatile scorer/defender at the wing, so Corey Brewer, Jeff Green or Julian Wright make some sense. It appears the Blazers are on the right track. Now it's a matter of adding another high character, good player to the mix and continuing to build the foundation.
Chicago Bulls (from New York). The Eddy Curry trade looks better and better for the Bulls, who get to swap picks with the Knicks and will end up with another good young player. Chicago still needs an inside scorer, and whether or not it is in position to grab one depends on where the choice ends up. But with cap flexibility and plenty of young talent on the roster, John Paxson's options are almost unlimited. Given the fact that the Bulls pulled out of a possible Pau Gasol trade, you have to figure there are a couple of big men they like in the draft. Al Horford would probably be the best fit.
Seattle SuperSonics. Three years in a row, the Sonics have taken a 7-footer in the first round of the draft: Robert Swift, Johan Petro and Mouhamed Sene. None have done much to turn the fortunes of the franchise around. Still, Seattle doesn't have a bad nucleus. Assuming the Sonics re-sign Rashard Lewis and Ray Allen gets healthy, they could be a good team. But Seattle needs to add some punch on the wing. The league is getting faster, and versatile players are more and more valuable. Brewer, Green, Wright – any one of them would look good in a Sonics jersey.
TRADE YOUR STAR?
Memphis Grizzlies. The Grizzlies have plenty of athletic talent in Rudy Gay, Hakim Warrick and Stromile Swift. But they didn't have Gasol for much of the season due to his foot injury, and they missed Shane Battier's leadership. This is a team that needs some veteran influence and direction in the worst way. The franchise is facing major changes, with perhaps a new owner, a new coach and a new general manager on the horizon. So what does Memphis do? The Grizzlies either rebuild around Gasol or they trade him. If they choose the former, they could use point guard help to get him the ball. But since there isn't a Chris Paul or Deron Williams in the draft, Memphis could trade down to take Mike Conley Jr. (if he opts to enter the draft). If the Grizzlies decide to trade Gasol, their draft pick will have to complement the new addition(s) to the roster.
Boston Celtics. Like Memphis, the Celtics need veteran help. Unless Danny Ainge can get Oden or Durant, he might try to move his pick and/or Paul Pierce for a package of veterans. Ainge has put together a talent-laden, young team, but he's gotten no results from it. In order to win, he has to balance out the roster with some veteran leadership. As a result, the Celtics might be the most likely team to make a trade – assuming they can't get either of the Big Two.
HOPE FOR A GOOD BOUNCE
Atlanta Hawks. The Hawks' pick is protected down to No. 3, but it goes to Phoenix if it's lower than that. Obviously Atlanta will be watching the May 22 lottery with great interest (as will the Suns). Either the Hawks are going to get a really good player, or they're getting nothing. (They traded their second-round pick to Dallas at midseason in the Anthony Johnson trade.) Needs are everywhere, but Atlanta is strongest at the big perimeter spots with Joe Johnson, Josh Childress, Josh Smith and Marvin Williams. The Hawks still need to address their point guard spot, and they could use help on the front line. But their fate is in the bounce of the pingpong balls.
Minnesota Timberwolves. The Wolves get to keep their pick if it's in the top 10. Otherwise, it goes to the Clippers as part of the Sam Cassell/Marko Jaric trade. (Oops). Minnesota has missed the playoffs three consecutive years, and there will be plenty of speculation that Kevin Garnett will be traded. Perhaps it is time for the Wolves to move their superstar and start over. Garnett's value is still very high. The idea would be to get a couple of established young players in a deal, plus maybe an extra draft pick, and build from there. If that's the case, the Wolves would have to replace Garnett with a playmaking big, so Brandan Wright, Julian Wright or Jeff Green all make some sense.
Philadelphia 76ers. The Sixers were supposed to be horrible without Allen Iverson, but instead they've been very competitive. Their pick might not be as attractive as a result, but Sixers fans have to be excited by the development of some of their young talent, particularly Andre Iguodala. Philly would love to add a big player to its core of young, perimeter-oriented talent, so that's where the focus lies. Remember, the Sixers have two more first-rounders – Denver's and Dallas' – so they have some options. But the focus will be on landing a good big man. With Oden, Durant, either Wright, Noah, Horford and Green, there are plenty to choose from, and hopefully for Philly, one of them will be available.
Sacramento Kings. Geoff Petrie has been one of the best general managers in the league for a long time, but this might be his biggest challenge. It's time to break up the Kings, and this draft will go a long way toward righting the ship. Mike Bibby figures to be shopped, and perhaps Brad Miller as well. Kevin Martin represents the future of the franchise, but he's not a superstar. He needs a big man next to him. If they don't get lucky and land Durant, Oden or Horford, maybe they go for 6-foot-11 Chinese sensation Yi Jianlian, who is a skilled big man in the Nowitzki/Bargnani mold.
Charlotte Bobcats. The Bobcats quietly made progress this season and have plenty of cap room to work with, along with a nice young roster. If Emeka Okafor can ever stay healthy for an entire season, this is a team that can be built around defense and shot blocking. Another big body makes sense, especially with Okafor's health issues, but Michael Jordan would like to add a perimeter playmaker as well. So maybe Georgetown's Green or Florida's Brewer make sense here. Of course, Charlotte's draft-day decisions will have a lot to do with its free-agent plans. The Bobcats should end up with a very good player to help them continue to grow.
- Jeff Van Gundy