The fellowship of the miserable will commence Tuesday night for the annual gathering known as the NBA draft lottery, where the only comfort this year is the belief that more than one team will declare itself a winner.
That's due to the unusual depth of this draft class and the idea that one or two incoming rookies could be true franchise players in due time. There hasn't been this much hype and excitement since 2003, when LeBron James was the top prize, and two others taken in that draft, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, are fellow teammates on a Heat team gunning for a third straight title.
In no particular order, Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid and Jabari Parker could own the best odds of being the league's next great player, and there are teams that would just as soon have the No. 3 pick so they don't have to make a tough decision. But this year's lottery is more than just being about the draft. Other issues will come into play based on the draft order, like trades, free agent signings and coach hirings. For example, a team with a coaching vacancy can fill it quicker with the No. 1 pick than with the No. 10 pick. Also, a team trying to pull off a trade will enhance their leverage with a high pick.
There's so much on the line when the 14 non-playoff teams get together for the biggest night of the season. Here's our top 10 list of what's riding on this NBA lottery:
1. Kobe's future
If the Lakers somehow flip their 6.3 percent odds and steal the No. 1 pick, or at least move into the top three, the NBA will have another scorching Los Angeles controversy on its hands, although a distant second to Donald Sterling. Yes, cries of "fix" will be heard around the league for the first time since the Patrick Ewing frozen envelope, because from a TV business standpoint the NBA wants the Lakers healthy and competitive in Kobe Bryant's final two seasons, and what better way than to cash in through the lottery? The idea of Kobe playing next to Wiggins or Parker, or tossing the ball to Embiid, is a lot more enticing than Kobe teaching the finer points of the game to Marcus Smart, a non-shooter who should've declared for the draft last season.
If the Lakers stay put at No. 6, they may wind up with a decent player anyway, or they may try to package the pick for immediate help because Kobe is on the clock. The lottery will also help determine who coaches this team, and the smart money is on Derek Fisher, who would not only get Kobe's approval, but would be another slap in the face for Phil Jackson.
2. Sixers surge
If this goes well for the Sixers, they could have an impressive two-year rookie haul. Like, Michael Carter-Williams, Nerlens Noel, Wiggins and Gary Harris. Noel will technically be a rookie in 2014-15 after missing all of last season, Wiggins would bring star potential and Carter-Williams won Rookie of the Year. And the Sixers get the Pelicans' pick at 10 (unless the pick falls in the top three) and could have a shot at Harris to team with Carter-Williams in the backcourt. Would anyone still care that the Sixers endured a lousy season and put up with talk of tanking? Of course not. Philly GM Sam Hinkie needs to make these draft decisions count big and also hope a year off helps Noel bounce back. With four lottery picks on rookie scale salaries and a light payroll, the Sixers would have enough room to add a free agent or two in the next two years and reinvent themselves.
3. Brand new Bucks
The first move to save the Bucks happened last week when venture capitalists Wesley Edens and Marc Lasry were approved as the new owners, bringing the promise of a much-needed cash infusion and the semi-promise of a new arena planned for Milwaukee in three years or else (the NBA can buy back the Bucks if there's no arena by 2017). The second would be if the Bucks get the top pick. Even if they land in the top three they're guaranteed a shot at Wiggins, Parker or Embiid; falling to four would be a punch in the gut for a franchise that badly needs a box-office star and a chance to win and appear on the NBA radar.
4. Kevin Love
The biggest non-news last week was a report saying Love told the Timberwolves he wouldn't sign a contract extension this summer. Well, yeah. Nobody, not even the Wolves, expected him to waive the right to become an unrestricted free agent in 2015. This is the summer where the Wolves planned to accept serious bids for Love anyway, rather than hold onto him for one year and risk his trade value falling or losing him altogether next summer without any compensation. The Bulls and Suns will be in play because they have the most to offer, in terms of players and/or picks. While Love might want to consider playing long-term with the Knicks and Lakers, they're light on trading chips.
Lots of the Wolves' strategy will depend on where they're drafting and whom they choose next month; they have a 96 percent chance of picking 13th. That will dictate what they want in return for Love if he's traded right after the draft. Also, remember that Love holds the leverage here because unless he's receptive to signing long-term with the team that deals for him, nobody will take him as a one-year rental. Also keep this in mind: Minnesota has never won the lottery. The Wolves have an .06 chance of winning and a 2.2 percent chance of landing in the top three. There's a small chance the pick will go to the Suns for taking Wes Johnson; yes, the Wolves had to surrender a potential lottery pick in order to dump a former No. 4 pick. That's why Love wants nothing to do with this organization.
5. Luck of the Cavs
They snatched the No. 1 pick twice in the last three years thanks to good luck kid Nick Gilbert, the son of the owner who was born with a rare nerve disorder. But only Kyrie Irving panned out -- Anthony Bennett, a surprise choice last season, is still dealing with Kwame Brown-itis -- and Irving might be planning an exit strategy in a few years. How much did that Bennett decision cost the Cavs? Well, hard to believe now, but a year ago this time, there was somewhat realistic speculation about LeBron James re-signing with the Cavs this summer. But then the Cavs took Bennett, and he flopped, and Gilbert then fired GM Chris Grant and coach Mike Brown (for the second time) after a flat season, and the Cavs are once again on a three-year plan that may or may not include Irving.
6. Pat Williams
The only other multiple winner sitting at the lottery podium will be Williams, whose good-luck charms were responsible in getting Shaquille O'Neal, Penny Hardaway and Dwight Howard. Had Orlando missed out on all three, the Magic probably wouldn't be playing in a hi-tech, three-year-old arena. Despite winning the lottery three times, the Magic have no championships to show for it. They'd be able to build a solid foundation should they get a top-three pick, though, with Nik Vukovic and Victor Oladipo already on board. Williams is a feel-good story; he battled and beat cancer in the recent past and is always a good ambassador for the Magic and also the NBA. He'll always be shown on replay grinning and raising a fist in the air whenever the draft lottery is held.
7. Stan "The Man" Van Gundy
The Pistons were once a destination franchise just several years ago. But now they had to include a president of basketball operations title just to get someone decent to coach the team. It's all good, because Van Gundy was a solid choice, even if he never scouted anyone or made a trade in his life. He doesn't really want the hassle of being a full-time GM; he took the title so he doesn't have to worry about any future Dwight Howards trying to stick a knife in his back. That said, Van Gundy and whomever he hires to run the day-to-day front office hope to get lucky in the draft, which ruined Joe Dumars' reputation in Detroit. Van Gundy could get gutsy, if he wants wholesale changes in Detroit, and decide to package Josh Smith with the No. 8 pick for a legitimate small forward. If a team below them in the lottery jumps into top three, the Pistons pick goes to the Bobcats for the Ben Gordon trade.
8. Michael Jordan
His team just can't get it right in the draft, the only exception being Kemba Walker. The Bobcats (now Hornets) have been both bad and unlucky. When they were holding top-three picks, they wound up with Emeka Okafor (losing out on Dwight Howard) and Adam Morrison. In the last three years, besides Walker, they took Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Cody Zeller, who have "role player" written on the back of their jerseys. They're not officially in the lottery; their odds of getting the Pistons' pick and therefore landing in the lottery is small. But if the basketball gods have any compassion, they'd compensate Jordan for so many years of lottery misery.
9. New lottery system
Is this the final season for the present system? Adam Silver admits he is looking at proposals, even one where each team gets the No. 1 pick once every 30 years regardless of record. But there's no perfect plan. Besides, nobody complains about the lottery system when the talent pool is poor. Only when there's a clear-cut No. 1 choice (Tim Duncan, Shaquille O'Neal) is there suddenly a need for reform. Most likely, if the format is tweaked, it'll probably be a few years away.
10. Phil Jackson
Remember the big production when he arrived to save basketball in New York? That was just a few months ago, right? The Knicks all but threw a ticker-tape parade for Jackson and their starved fans were too elated to recognize that Jackson isn't coming to coach the Knicks and can't make Jordan and Kobe and Shaq suddenly materialize in their primes, when they helped him win 11 rings. Plus, right about now is when you understand how tough a job it'll be for Jackson. The Knicks' pick at 12 goes to Orlando (via Denver in the Carmelo Anthony trade), perhaps costing them a shot at Zach LaVine or Tyler Ennis. Also, their unprotected 2016 pick goes to Toronto for the Andrea Bargnani deal. Next season will be a salary cap wash for Jackson, who can't make wholesale changes to the Knicks until next summer at the earliest. And he also must find a way to convince Anthony to stay. And find a coach. Has the standing ovation he received in the Garden after his hiring died down yet?