Each team in the 2014 NBA draft lottery needs something. OK, some of them need a lot of somethings. The Ball Don't Lie staff takes a look at the biggest positions of need for each team holding a lottery pick, along with the wild-card Charlotte Bobcats Hornets.
1. Milwaukee Bucks (15-67, 25 percent odds of winning No. 1 pick)
Everything that could have gone wrong for the Bucks did go wrong this year, from expected centerpiece Larry Sanders' myriad problems through roster-decimating injuries and a total whiff in free agency. Milwaukee is already paying big bucks for Sanders (four years, $44 million), Ersan Ilyasova (two years, $15.8 million) and Zaza Pachulia (two years, $10.4 million) in a crowded frontcourt that also features 2012 lottery pick John Henson, which might make general manager John Hammond reluctant to add yet another piece at the four or five.
Then again, there are no set spots on a 15-win team. If Hammond feels comfortable enough with the medical reports on Kansas center Joel Embiid's back, it wouldn't be shocking to see Milwaukee pull the trigger on a long-armed athlete/potential defensive game-changer who's in need of some development work. (The Bucks have a type.)
If Embiid's back issues are a deal-breaker, though, Milwaukee could sure use help on the wing. They struggled mightily to find production at the two and three beyond second-year surprise Khris Middleton due to O.J. Mayo's no-show and the inconsistency of still-super-green Greek prospect Giannis Antetokounmpo. Embiid's Jayhawks teammate Andrew Wiggins — perhaps the most physically gifted player in the draft, a jump-out-of-the-gym athlete and explosive finisher with the tools to become a knockdown shooter and a plus defender — would seem to make sense, and could team with Antetokounmpo to give Milwaukee two of the most exciting young players in the league. Imagine that: the Bucks being exciting. – Dan Devine
2. Philadelphia 76ers (19-63, 19.9 percent)
Sam Hinkie proved last year that he's willing to take a player with medical concerns, trading All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday to the New Orleans Pelicans for the rights to Kentucky center Nerlens Noel (who missed the entire 2013-14 season rehabilitating a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee) and a top-five-protected 2014 first-round pick. If the GM thinks Philly's medical team can handle the Cameroonian big man's back issues, and that he can team Joel with Noel (it writes itself!) in a Twin Towers-style pairing that could substantially improve a defense that finished 27th in points allowed per possession last year, he won't be dissuaded just because other teams might.
That said, as bad as Philadelphia's defense was, their offense was even worse. The Sixers were dead-last in the NBA in offensive efficiency; Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams needs someone to pass to who can put the ball in the basket. If head coach Brett Brown thinks Jabari Parker's conditioning would fit with Philly's breakneck offensive pace, the first-team All-American forward's inside-out scoring game would seem to be just what the doctor ordered, especially with two-way stalwart Thaddeus Young onboard to help cover for Parker defensively and a healthy Noel coming back to patrol the paint.
Wiggins could also be a consideration here, since Hollis Thompson and James Anderson are the names presently atop the 76ers' depth chart at small forward and shooting guard. Philly could also address the wing need later in the lottery, thanks to the Holiday-Noel trade; if the Pelicans, who enter Tuesday in 10th position, can't leap into the top five, the Sixers will receive their pick. It's unlikely that Hinkie will have a shot at Australian combo guard Dante Exum, who would form an intriguing Twin Towers defensive backcourt alongside MCW, this low in the draft, but he could look at established collegiate contributors like Michigan State's Gary Harris or Michigan sharpshooter Nik Stauskas. – Dan Devine
3. Orlando Magic (23-59, 15.6 percent)
Year 1 of the Victor Oladipo: Point Guard Experience provided uneven results, as was to be expected. With veteran triggerman Jameer Nelson having just one more guaranteed year remaining on his contract, and two years left on 28-year-old two-guard Arron Afflalo's deal, Rob Hennigan could look for a backcourt partner with whom Oladipo could share ball-handling and playmaking responsibilities in the years ahead; Exum could make sense here, as could Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart.
The Magic, like the 76ers, have some flexibility in the form of another late-lottery selection — whichever is the worse of the picks initially slated for the New York Knicks and Denver Nuggets, as helpfully detailed by Orlando Pinstriped Post. If one of the Wiggins/Parker/Embiid group, or perhaps post-scoring Kentucky power forward Julius Randle, are still on the board, the Magic could select the highest-ceiling frontcourt talent remaining and look toward second-tier point-guard options like Syracuse's Tyler Ennis later down the line. – Dan Devine
4. Utah Jazz (25-57, 10.4 percent)
The path the Jazz take with this pick could depend heavily on where they go in their head-coaching search — which, somewhat surprisingly, might include Earl Watson — as well as on what the organization plans to do with restricted-free-agent-to-be Gordon Hayward and about the Derrick Favors-Enes Kanter frontcourt pairing, in which the Utah brass still sounds confident despite a poor showing (albeit in limited minutes together) last season. In a perfect world, they'd find a way to land Duke's Parker, who would plug perfectly into the small-forward slot formerly filled by veteran Richard Jefferson, who could begin his career as a complementary scorer before hopefully evolving into an offensive focal point alongside point guard Trey Burke, and who also happens to be a Mormon who'd likely become an instant superstar in Salt Lake City.
If Parker's not available but Embiid is, Dennis Lindsey might have to pull the trigger on the kind of player who could pair with Favors to help transform what was the NBA's very worst defense last season. If they're both off the board, high-ceiling combo guard Exum, who could help soften the blow at the two if Hayward leaves, or NBA-ready scorer Randle, who might fit more naturally up front with Favors than Kanter has, could be the play. – Dan Devine
5. Boston Celtics (25-57, 10.3 percent)
The Celtics could use help everywhere. The only truly proven commodity on Boston's roster is Rajon Rondo, and the All-Star point guard is heading into the final season of his five-year, $55 million deal; it would be surprising for Danny Ainge to target a point guard like Smart rather than help elsewhere, but it wouldn't be gasp-and-clutch-your-pearls shocking. The rebuild that Ainge brought Brad Stevens to Boston to shepherd is still in its early stages, and more pieces, everywhere, are needed.
Given the dearth of legitimate bigs on their roster, especially on the defensive end, you'd expect Boston would leap at Embiid if he fell to them. Randle's scoring touch might seem like a boon for the 2013-14 season's fourth-worst offense, but I wonder if he'd overlap a bit too much with incumbent Jared Sullinger. The Celtics' need for versatile defensive playmakers of all stripes in all places could make high-motor Arizona forward Aaron Gordon, long-armed and giant-handed Indiana power forward Noah Vonleh, and Exum (especially if Ainge has the sense that restricted free agent Avery Bradley's not long for Massachusetts) attractive selections.
Just one word of advice, Mr. Ainge: Don't pick Doug McDermott. I don't doubt that the high-scoring Creighton star can get buckets in the league, but asking him to do it in Boston seems like flirting with disaster, for pretty obvious symbolic reasons. – Dan Devine
6. Los Angeles Lakers (27-55, 6.3 percent)
With just a few players under contract, Kobe Bryant’s future in flux, and no head coach in place, the Lakers figure to select the best player available no matter where they end up. They don’t have “needs” in the traditional sense, because it’s possible their lottery luck and eventual pick will shape the direction of the team more than any preexisting factors.
Vaulting into the top three picks would be a massive victory for a franchise in need of fresh star power. Wiggins, Parker, and Embiid would instantly become among the most marketed players in the NBA if they end up in Los Angeles. On the other hand, any Laker taken in the top half of the lottery figures to get a great deal of attention and pressure.
If the Lakers stay around No. 6, they could end up with 18-year-old Australian point guard Dante Exum, a very intriguing prospect who’s earned comparisons to Penny Hardaway for his combination of height, athleticism and talent. Exum has also previously referred to the Lakers as his best fit. Marcus Smart of Oklahoma State and Kentucky power forward Julius Randle could also be options. – Eric Freeman
7. Sacramento Kings (28-54, 4.3 percent)
The Kings find themselves in the awkward position of a bad team with apparent commitments at several key roles. DeMarcus Cousins is entrenched as a scoring and rebounding big man, small forward Rudy Gay has another season and a $19 million player option left on his mega-deal, point guard and restricted free agent Isaiah Thomas figures to return, and shooting guard Ben McLemore will likely take on greater responsibilities in his second season. Their greatest need is obvious — Cousins does not protect the rim — but dominant defensive power forwards are in short supply. Essentially, Sacramento’s roster both constrains their options for playing time and gives them some flexibility in pursuing different types of players.
Indiana big man Noah Vonleh is the second-youngest prospect in this class and could team with Cousins to provide a fearsome interior combo, but he does not rate as an elite shot blocker despite his great wingspan. Uber-athletic Arizona freshman Aaron Gordon is a relatively local product from San Jose but lacks the polish and height (he measured under 6-foot-8 at the combine) associated with dominant defenders. With their ideal player lacking, the Kings may opt for another scorer such as versatile Croatian forward Dario Saric or even National Player of the Year Doug McDermott. Of course, when it comes to the latter, Kings fans would have to stomach the Jimmer Fredette flashbacks, which might not be so exciting. – Eric Freeman
8. Detroit Pistons (29-53, 2.8 percent)
This pick is top-eight protected, which means that it will go to the Charlotte
Bobcats Hornets if any team with worse odds jumps the Pistons into the top three. New head coach Stan Van Gundy figures to remake the franchise substantially, so the Pistons’ options depend largely on the new brain trust’s plan for the franchise. All we really know for now is that several players are unlikely to go anywhere — Andre Drummond is a massively productive man-child inside, Josh Smith has a contract that will be untradeable for at least another season, and Brandon Jennings seems just as difficult to move. All else figures to be up for debate.
With the team in need of backcourt help, the Pistons could opt for Marcus Smart, if he drops to them, or a scorer like Dario Saric or Doug McDermott (who would hopefully not get dunked on as often as Kyle Singler). All we know for sure, really, is that the Pistons don’t need a defensively adept frontcourt player with a poor jump shot. They appear to have that role covered several times over. – Eric Freeman
9. Cleveland Cavaliers (33-49, 1.7 percent)
New general manager David Griffin is still in need of a head coach, but the Cavaliers have expressed interest in Lionel Hollins and figure to be looking for disciplined, coachable players after dealing with various internal messes during the 2013-14 season. With Anderson Varejao looming as potential trade bait and the team lacking interior depth, it would not be shocking to see Cleveland go after an athletic big man such as Noah Vonleh or Aaron Gordon. Nineteen-year-old Bosnian big man Jusuf Nurkic has impressive strength at 6-foot-11 and 280 pounds and could be a fit, as well.
The only near-certain thing here is that the Cavs will not pursue a point guard — that Kyrie Irving guy isn’t going anywhere — or another offensively minded combo forward after top pick Anthony Bennett’s disastrous rookie season. Doug McDermott and Dario Saric will likely have to look elsewhere for employment. – Eric Freeman
10. New Orleans Pelicans (34-48, 1.1 percent)
The Pelicans dealt this pick to the 76ers in the 2013 draft-day deal that brought them point guard Jrue Holiday, but it does carry top-five protection for this year. As such, they’ll only keep it if they get very lucky and jump into the top three.
Unlikely as that scenario may be, such good fortune would instantly turn New Orleans into one of the most intriguing young teams in the NBA. Any of the top three prospects would be a tremendous fit with this roster, in large part due to the excellence and versatility of All-Star power forward Anthony Davis. Jabari Parker would slot in as a versatile scorer on the wing for a team in need of added firepower, and the presence of Davis would help cover for his defensive lapses. Andrew Wiggins would be just as terrific and give the Pelicans possibly the two best transition forwards in the NBA not named LeBron James. Arguably the best situation for neutrals, however, would involve the Pelicans grabbing Joel Embiid, who would team with Davis to create one of the best shot-blocking duos in recent NBA history.
OK, that’s it — we all need to root for the Pelicans to grab a top-three pick. – Eric Freeman
11. Denver Nuggets (0.8 percent chance)
The Nuggets will take in this pick as a result of the 2011 Carmelo Anthony trade, which is nice, but at points in the 2013-14 NBA season, the team was hoping for a little higher turnout from that deal. After the season’s first month, Anthony’s Knicks were 3-13 and on pace for a 16-win campaign. That was good news for a Nuggets team that was similarly struggling in the wake of a front office, coaching and lead star reboot after losing Masai Ujiri, George Kar, and Andre Iguodala during the 2013 offseason.
Instead, the Knicks rallied, as did the Nuggets, though neither team made the playoffs. The Nuggets had to give up their own pick to the Orlando Magic in the move made to acquire Iguodala for a year, which means the just sub-mediocre Nuggets will be working with skinflint lottery odds, desperate to get out of the mucky middle that tends to stick good-but-not-good enough above average NBA teams.
Denver can’t afford to draft for need, the squad needs help and depth at every position, so taking a chance on Croatian forward Dario Saric makes sense should the lottery odds hold up. – Kelly Dwyer
12. Orlando Magic (0.7 percent chance)
This is the Magic’s second lottery pick, the long-awaited payoff for punting both the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons while rebuilding in the wake of the Dwight Howard deal. That trade produced this pick, taken from the Denver Nuggets, but it also forced Orlando to play both without a star or a high-end lottery pick in Howard’s first season away. And while 2013 second overall pick Victor Oladipo showed signs last year, like most lottery teams the Magic had to struggle through a 2013-14 season after owning a high-end lottery selection in one of the worst drafts in NBA history.
The presence of Oladipo shouldn’t dissuade the Magic from going after depth in the backcourt, but at this point in the low lottery (if that 0.7 rings true), Orlando might want to take a chance on space-creator James Young out of Kentucky, or take a gamble on a hybrid guard like UCLA's Zach LaVine. – Kelly Dwyer
13. Minnesota Timberwolves (0.6 percent chance)
It’s been said by many that the T'wolves very well could trade star forward Kevin Love on draft night, should a team that lusts after the All-Star pick up a top-three pick after the lottery results reveal themselves. That’s going to be a hard NBA salary cap sell, however, as expiring contracts aren’t wiped off of a team’s payroll until the week after the draft, and dealing a top pick on a rookie contract for Love’s 2013-14 $14.6 million deal doesn’t hold up to NBA collective bargaining agreement scrutiny.
So expect the T'wolves to once again hope to move up, be glad that former general manager David Kahn isn’t doing the selecting this time around, while looking for the best player available in the low lottery. If it drafts for need, the team would like to add a reserve or even starting point guard to help credibly run games down the stretch, perhaps overreaching for Louisiana-Lafayette's Elfrid Payton along the way. – Kelly Dwyer
14. Phoenix Suns (0.5 percent chance)
This is the first of the Phoenix’s first three picks, which is nice, but the 48-win Suns obviously thought they would be entering into the lottery selection process with different scouting locations, so to speak. The Suns weren’t exactly tanking — they did deal for Eric Bledsoe last offseason, after all — but most assumed the Suns would end up in the higher reaches of the lottery, and that the pick they were set to receive from the Washington Wizards (slated at 18th overall) would nudge a little higher as well.
Bledsoe, a restricted free agent, isn’t guaranteed to stay (the Suns will pay through the teeth to keep him, but some amped-up team could offer him a maximum contract), and while a low lottery pick won’t turn in a replacement, someone like Michigan’s Nik Stauskas could help with the spacing.
Also, look for the phones to start ringing off the hook for this team, as it could deal away each of its picks to any number of teams looking to move up to grab certain players, taking along any manner of veterans along the way. – Kelly Dwyer
Wild card: Charlotte Hornets
Considering how poorly things might have turned out, the newly reborn Hornets are on pretty solid footing as they flip their TVs to the lottery process on Tuesday. The team entered the 2013-14 season worried that it would have to give up its lottery pick to the Chicago Bulls in a four-year-old Tyrus Thomas trade, a not-unreasonable fear considering the former Bobcats won just 28 total games from 2011-13. That selection would have gone on to lose further protection in the 2015 draft, and become fully unprotected in 2016.
Instead, Charlotte rallied to its best year yet to make the playoffs, and though it has to hand Chicago the 16th pick as the deal thankfully concludes, the team has other draft (Portland owes Charlotte the 24th pick) and lottery options. Charlotte also worried that it wouldn’t see a potential lottery pick from Detroit this year, the result of a cap-clearing trade from 2012. The Pistons used that cap space to acquire Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings last year, presumably putting a playoff team together along the way, but instead the team faltered and now stands to draft eighth if the lottery goes chalk on Tuesday.
If the Pistons drop a notch, that pick becomes Charlotte’s. And though the former Bobcats did well to win 44 games this year, they still need help at every position, especially in the scoring department. A pick in the lower reaches of the lottery could allow them to go after scoring help in the vein of UCLA’s Zach LaVine or Michigan State’s Gary Harris. – Kelly Dwyer