Shortly after 8 p.m. ET tonight, one NBA franchise and its city and its fans will scream and rejoice with dreams of championships, massive merch sales, and a complete turnaround in its fortunes.
Yes, it’s back – the NBA draft lottery, when one team gets the No. 1 pick in next month’s draft. This year, that basically means the team that will draft Victor Wembanyama, a 7-4 phenom from France who is the most prized draft prospect since LeBron James came along two decades ago.
Here are the basics: through a fairly complex process involving ping-pong balls and a lottery machine, the top teams drafting at Nos. 1-4 will be determined prior to the broadcast tonight on ESPN. During the show, NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum will reveal the top four teams. The remaining 10 teams will receive their selection spots according to their won-loss record, with the worst team picking highest.
The grand prize this year will be Wembanyama, who is wrapping up his third year as a pro in France. His 8-foot wingspan is so long, he’s able to touch the rim without even jumping. To go with his height, Wembanyama can shoot and pass and is an “alien,” according to LeBron himself.
But don’t think it guarantees a title: only three No. 1 overall picks have won a championship with the team that drafted them over the past 30 years.
Here are the chances for each of the 14 teams tonight to get Wembanyama and why he’d be a fun fit for each of them – listed in order from highest to lowest probability.
Detroit (17-65, .207) 14.0% lottery odds
Motor City needs something to boost their NBA hopes. They haven’t won a playoff series – much less a playoff game – since 2008. Wembanyama would be a nice addition to a Pistons team with several promising youngsters.
Houston (22-60, .268) 14.0%
The Rockets have had more than their share of top-tier, foreign-born big men – including incredibly skilled Nigerian Hakeem Olajuwon, who won two titles and is considered by some the best NBA center ever, and China’s Yao Ming, who averaged 19 points per game on 52 percent shooting during his career.
San Antonio (22-60, .268) 14.0%
The last time the Spurs had the No. 1 pick, it worked out pretty well. Center Tim Duncan came to San Antonio with then-first-year coach Gregg Popovich and they teamed up for five NBA titles.
Charlotte (27-55, .329) 12.5%
It’s hard to believe, but Michael Jordan still owns this team, and his Airness hasn’t done much for the franchise. They haven’t won a playoff series since 2002, long before he took over. MJ currently is considering selling the team, but winning the Wembanyama sweepstakes might give him second thoughts.
Portland (33-49, .402) 10.5%
Wembanyama might be the last hope for future Hall of Famer Damien Lillard to win a championship and be justly rewarded for staying loyal to Portland all these years.
Orlando (34-48, .415) 9.0%
The Magic seem to have, well, a magic touch when it comes to the lottery. They’ve won it four times and have used it for big men most times – 1992 (Shaquille O’Neal), 1993 (Chris Webber), 2004 (Dwight Howard) and 2022 (Paolo Banchero). But they’re still looking for their first title.
Indiana (35-47, .427) 6.8%
The Pacers are still looking for their first NBA title and haven’t won a playoff series since 2014. They’ve also never won the lottery, so getting Wembanyama would be a great launching pad to become relevant again.
Washington (35-47, .427) 6.7%
The Wizards have won the lottery twice before, picking Kwame Brown in 2001 and John Wall in 2010. Wall turned out decent, but his pairing with Bradley Beal never amounted to much for them. Could they go twin towers with Kristaps Porzingis and Wembanyama?
Utah (37-45, .451) 4.5%
The Jazz haven’t advanced beyond the second round of the playoffs since 2007, and Donovan Mitchell has come and gone. But they have a decent core with Lauri Markkanen and Jordan Clarkson, so Wembanyama could help usher in potential playoff glory.
Dallas (38-44, .463) 3.0%
Would it be unfair for the Mavericks to add Wembanyama to a roster that already has Slovenian superstar Luka Doncic and trade-deadline acquisition Kyrie Irving? Billionaire owner Mark Cuban wouldn’t think so.
Chicago (40-42, .488) 1.8%
The Bulls already have a roster with solid talent – DeMar DeRozan, Alex Caruso, Lonzo Ball and Zach Lavine – so getting Wembanyama could help bolster the lineup or give the Bulls some trade possibilities if needed. The last time the Bulls won the lottery, in 2008, they got Derrick Rose, but he could never get past LeBron — wherever he was.
Oklahoma City (40-42, .488) 1.7%
The Thunder apparently haven’t recovered from blowing a 3-1 series lead to the Warriors in 2016, and haven’t won a playoff series since.
Toronto (41-41, .500) 1.0%
Getting Wembanyama would be a nice complement to a solid core that includes Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet and Gary Trent Jr.
New Orleans (42-40, .512) 0.5%
The Pelicans have won the lottery twice before – in 2012 and 2019 – but it hasn’t led to much yet. In 2012, they got Anthony Davis, who currently is going for his second title with LeBron and the Lakers. In 2019, the Pels picked Zion Williamson, who has shown flashes of brilliance but can’t stay healthy. Maybe the young French phenom would be the charm.
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