The NBA world is still riding high after the "Valley Oop" in the Phoenix Suns' crazy comeback victory over the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals, but there was another huge event Tuesday: the 2021 NBA Draft Lottery.
Just like its draft counterpart, the lottery is a time where hope can run eternal and dreams can get crushed. The future of so many franchises are at stake, so let’s run through this year’s lottery winners and losers.
Winner: Pistons' Ticket Sales
This shouldn’t be shocking. The Pistons won the damn lottery!
Entering the night with about a 50% chance of dropping out of the top four slots entirely, Detroit can now set their sights on prospective No. 1 pick Cade Cunningham.
The Pistons — with two first-team All-Rookie players and Cunningham potentially on the way — should be one of the most exciting young teams to watch in the NBA, which should help a franchise that could use all the fans in the stands they can get.
Adding a potential star like Cunningham to an emerging young core clearly makes Detroit the big winners of the night. The same can be said about the lottery’s first loser.
Loser: Minnesota Timberwolves
One of the worst teams in the league, the Wolves desperately could've used another high pick while the Warriors get a little bit richer.
Minnesota’s brain trust will now have to bank on the development of Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Edwards, D’Angelo Russell and Malik Beasley to help boost the Wolves' winning percentage this upcoming season — and that may very well happen. The Wolves scored at historic levels with all their young players on the floor at the same time in limited minutes, so there should be ample hope within the fanbase. Just look at how the Phoenix Suns' core developed.
But a top-three pick would have brought even more tantalizing possibilities. Want a modern frontcourt with Towns and Evan Mobley? Or add the playmaking Cunningham to their already impressive backcourt? That's not going to happen now, and the clock is always ticking with stars on their second contracts with bad teams.
While the Wolves are big losers, the Warriors' championship chances got a little better thanks to the lottery.
Winner: The Next Star On The Move
The Warriors had nearly a 70% to get the Wolves' pick, and even though the odds were in their favor, anything can happen on lottery night.
Golden State now has the Nos. 7 and 14 selections to play with. Their core isn’t getting any younger, with Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson all 31 or older. This offseason was much more important in terms of having the necessary assets to meaningfully improve their team.
Now, Golden State has enough ammunition to enter the next star trade sweepstakes. Between Andrew Wiggins’ improvement (and his high salary), plus James Wiseman and the two lottery picks, the Dubs are in prime position to pounce on the next star on the move. Could that be Ben Simmons, Bradley Beal or Zach LaVine?
Loser: Bulls' Chances Of Re-Signing Zach LaVine
The Bulls entered this lottery knowing very well that they would probably be sending their pick to the Orlando Magic, barring an improbable move into the top four. And after losing their pick, they still have plenty of other reasons why they're lottery losers.
One of them is the Nikola Vucevic trade, which is rearing its ugly head. The Bulls were unable to make a dent in the pitiful Eastern Conference even after trading two first-round picks for Vucevic. Zach LaVine’s contract expires after next season, and even though he’s given no indication that he wants to leave, he hasn’t been on a winning team in his whole career.
It’s safe to assume LaVine is looking for greener pastures, and the Bulls don’t have a draft pick this year to help their case for convincing him to stay. While the Bulls seem to be perpetual losers, this next winner continues their great luck in the lottery.
Winner: Cavaliers' Lottery Luck
The Cavaliers have some of the best lottery luck known to mankind. They’ve won the first pick four times in the last 18 years, and one of those picks was generational NBA superstar LeBron James. But just because the Cavs get a high pick does not guarantee they’ll make the right choice. After all, this is the same franchise that chose poor Anthony Bennett first overall.
So, of course, they jumped a few teams and secured the third overall pick, which will guarantee them one of Cunningham, Mobley, Jalen Green or Jalen Suggs. At this point, it shouldn’t even be a surprise anymore when good things happen to the Cavs in the lottery.
The Cavs will have to decide if they want to go big with Mobley (if he’s available) and risk clogging the frontcourt next to Jarrett Allen, or draft another ball-dominant guard who will compete with Sexton and Garland for touches. They may have to make a trade, but that’s a good problem to have at this stage. While the Cavs can’t stop moving up, this next franchise dropped a few slots.
Loser: The Thunder's Treasure Chest
The Oklahoma City Thunder and their deep pockets full of first-rounders are doing just fine in the long term, but they were set to receive Houston’s pick if it fell out of the top four, which had about a 50% chance of happening. Thankfully for the Rockets, they stayed in the top four, which means OKC only has their own pick to look forward to in the lottery. But even that selection was hurt by those fickle ping pong balls.
The Thunder ended the season with the fourth-worst record, but are set to pick sixth, thanks to both the Raptors and the Cavaliers leaping them. OKC had a realistic chance to have the first and fifth picks in the draft, and now only have No. 6.
OKC’s general manager Sam Presti is an excellent talent evaluator. Since the Thunder have so many future picks, they could easily trade one of them in order to move up the draft if they set their sights on a certain prospect.
Winner: Stephen Silas
If anyone deserves the opportunity to coach a top draft pick, it’s Rockets coach Stephen Silas, who just had to endure a miserable season. Between James Harden’s messy trade request and the constant losing streaks, Silas had a rough rookie season. Now, things are looking up.
The Rockets technically moved from No. 1 to No. 2 in the lottery, sure, but remember these lottery rules are different, Houston had just a 27% chance at a top-two pick heading into the lottery, and they beat the odds. Not only was it a win to stay in prime position to draft a future star, but they also avoided a whole other kind of disaster.
Because of the Russell Westbrook - Chris Paul trade from a few years ago, Houston would have been forced to forfeit their pick to the Thunder if it fell out of the top four. Thanks to the new rules, the Rockets had about a 50-50 shot to keep their pick or risk swapping their lottery selection with OKC’s 18th pick.
That would have been a catastrophe for a franchise that was unable to immediately secure a star-level prospect in the James Harden trade earlier this season. Thanks to their lottery luck, they now are going to have their pick of some high-level talent.
Despite being forced to play in Tampa Bay while getting demolished by injuries and COVID-19, the Raptors fought hard every game but ultimately ended up with the seventh-best lottery odds.
Jumping into the top four is a huge deal for the Raptors. It’s very possible Jalen Suggs is available and becomes the heir to Kyle Lowry. Despite their quality core of Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby and Chris Boucher, the Raptors were in danger of getting stuck in the NBA’s dreaded middle class. Too good to get a high lottery pick, but not quite good enough to ever make a postseason dent.
Now, the Raptors have a rare chance at a high-level prospect who can potentially become the face of their franchise. Does this lure Masai Ujiri, who has an expiring contract, into staying put? It certainly doesn’t hurt those odds.
Photo: Getty Images