The seven most compelling 2016 NBA draft lottery storylines

May 17, 2016

More than a few franchises will see their fates altered by the bouncing of table-tennis balls on Tuesday, as the 2016 NBA draft lottery takes place before Game 1 between the Toronto Raptors and Cleveland Cavaliers.

Once we have the order for June's draft, there will be plenty of time to debate whether Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram is the No. 1 overall pick and if Dragan Bender is worth the risk with such an uncertain future. For now, though, let's focus on what's at stake in the lottery.

7. An Eastern Conference finalist could claim a top 3 pick

The transactions are a little bit tricky, because NBA draft pick trade rules are cumbersome and unnecessary. Here's the short of it: The Knicks owe the Raptors a pick, but first, the Denver Nuggets get to poach New York's pick if it's better than Denver's own. Whichever pick the Nuggets don't want between their own and New York's goes to Toronto.


So if the Denver and New York picks somehow both end up in the top three (a less than one-percent chance of happening), then the Raptors would lock up a top-three pick just before the team's first ever conference finals game. Not a bad day for Masai Ujiri.

6. Can the Wolves go back-to-back(-to-back, kind of)?

Minnesota struck gold last year, winning the lottery and drafting Karl-Anthony Towns. Towns was the unanimous Rookie of the Year in 2015-16; he looks every bit like a future All-Star -- and that's being conservative.

The Wolves have their coach in Tom Thibodeau. They have the 2014 No. 1 pick, too, in Andrew Wiggins. If Minnesota wins the 2016 lottery and adds a third consecutive first overall pick to the roster, this young team could be a championship contender sooner than later.

5. Beware the Utah Jazz, maybe

Could Utah go the route of the 2008 Chicago Bulls and get super-lucky? Chicago had just a 1.5 percent chance of claiming the No. 1 pick that year, yet they ended up with Derrick Rose. The addition of the one-time MVP was enough to launch the Bulls into playoff contention for the next few years, although things admittedly didn't work out in Chicago. Damn you, knee injuries.

The Jazz are already a formidable team that just barely missed the playoffs this year, mostly because of injuries. Their odds of winning the lotto are significantly less than the 2008 Bulls -- just 0.7 percent -- but stranger things have happened. Add a player like Simmons to the likes of Rudy Gobert, Derrick Favors and Gordon Hayward and Utah becomes downright terrifying in the near future.

4. Is there any help out there for Anthony Davis?

Before the 2015-16 season started, the New Orleans Pelicans big man was a popular pick to be in the top five of MVP voting. Instead, the Pelicans' season fell apart thanks to injury after injury after injury.

The upside for New Orleans is the sixth best chance at the No. 1 overall pick in this year's draft. Even if the Pelicans merely hold onto the sixth pick, their mostly likely outcome from Tuesday, they should be able to add some solid help on the wings or in the backcourt. If the Pelicans can find the right player, all of the pain of this year will have been worth it.

3. The Celtics' gain is Brooklyn's pain

It's bad enough that no one pays any attention to the Nets -- including their hometown Brooklyn crowd. When the draft rolls around in June, Nets fans will have to watch as Boston enjoys the fruit of Brooklyn's awful season.

Thanks to the Kevin Garnett-Paul Pierce trade, the Celtics own this year's Nets pick, plus the right to swap picks with Brooklyn next year, plus the Nets' 2018 first-rounder. Once the Celtics know where the 2016 pick falls (and they have a 15.6 percent chance at No. 1), GM Danny Ainge will have a better idea of whether he wants to package that selection with some of Boston's players in pursuit of a veteran.

Or the Celtics can hold onto the pick, draft a potential star, and continue to build slowly while focusing on free agency this summer. Or they might do some combination of the two. Thanks largely to the Nets, the Celtics have options.

2. Will the basketball gods bless or curse the 76ers?

Depending on the way the lottery plays out, Philadelphia could have as many as four first-round picks in June. They're already locked into the 24th and 26th picks, courtesy of trades with the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder. The league-worst Sixers then have their own 25 percent chance at the first overall pick. Should they luck into No. 1, the rush to either credit deposed former GM Sam Hinkie or say that this is karmic retribution for replacing Hinkie with a "real basketball person" in Jerry Colangelo will be overwhelming.

And, of course, there's a chance that Philly adds the fourth overall pick to its stable of assets, because ...

1. The Lakers will be sweating bullets

If just one team should vault from lesser odds into the top three, those who rock the purple and gold are going to panic. Los Angeles owes its first overall pick to the Sixers if it falls outside the top three. Otherwise, the Lakers get to keep it.

Coming off the worst two seasons in franchise history, the thought of losing a first-rounder and having to face another down season is overwhelming. The Lakers need this pick, or so the thinking goes, to start rebuilding under coach Luke Walton.

That's probably true, but keep one thing in mind, Lakers faithful: this is supposedly a weak draft. One or two of the best players will emerge into All-Stars and maybe even Hall of Famers, but there are also going to be pretty significant flops. Next year's class is looking pretty solid, and if L.A. doesn't send the pick to the Sixers this year, they get to go through this all over again next year, when the selection is once again top-three protected.

Maybe, then, losing the pick on Tuesday wouldn't be the end of the world. As long as patience doesn't run out, there's always next year. Right, Lakers? ... right?