The outcome of tonight's lottery (5:30pm Pacific on ESPN) will determine the fate of many NBA teams for years to come. Four important factors make tonight's lotto even more intriguing:
1) Superstars in-waiting
2) Depth of draft
3) The possibility that Phoenix ends up with a lottery pick
4) The possibility that the Lottery is rigged
Once a decade type players Greg Oden and Kevin Durant by definition don't come along often. Centers with potential superstar talent are even rarer. In fact the majority of NBA teams no longer even play with a "true" center. That doesn't stop teams from drafting centers early and often. In the last 10 drafts, I count 5 true centers taken with the #1 pick.
2005: Andrew Bogut
2002: Yao Ming
2001: Kwame Brown
1998: Michael Olowokandi
1997: Tim Duncan
Duncan is a superstar. Ming is a few playoff round wins away from becoming a superstar. Brown and Olowokandi were full-on draft busts. The jury is still out on Bogut, although no one can fault the Bucks for selecting him #1.
Dwight Howard was the number 1 pick in 2004. He's definitely a superstar, although I consider him to be a power forward slash freak of nature.
The 2007 NBA Draft is deeper than usual. Obviously, we won't know for a couple years where this draft stacks up historically, but Oden and Durant are sure-things as sure-things get. Also helping this year's draft is the NBA 19-year old age minimum which prevented several talented players from coming out in 2006. This year's draft is stocked with a 2-year supply of eager teenagers who spent the last year in college basketball purgatory.
Phoenix/Atlanta Trade 101
The Suns are already a great team, arguably one unfortunate hip-check away from proving they are the best. Tonight they have a legitimate chance to make their trade 2005 trade with the Atlanta Hawks one of the great NBA heists in history. The Atlanta Hawks traded Joe Johnson to the Phoenix Suns in exchange for Boris Diaw and two conditional first round picks. The first pick from the Hawks comes into play tonight. Atlanta's first round pick has lottery "protection" through the Number 3 pick -- and wouldn't you know it, the Hawks are slotted to select Number 4. Translation: If statistical averages hold, Phoenix will get the 4th pick.
Here are the actual odds (courtesy of NBCSports.com)
Chance that Atlanta keeps lottery pick: 37.07%
Chance that Phoenix gets either the 4th, 5th, 6th, or 7th pick: 62.22%
Chance something really weird happens (or that there's a rounding error): .71%
Phoenix/Atlanta Trade 201
But wait, there's more. In addition the Suns also get first round pick from the Los Angeles Lakers or Boston Celtics from an earlier trade between Boston and Atlanta. Here's how it works:
"The Laker pick which is subject to protection through No. 10 in 2006, protection through No. 5 in draft years 2007-2010 and unconditional in 2011, is owed to Boston from yet another previous trade. In the year that the Laker pick is conveyed to Boston, Phoenix will receive the least favorable of Boston's own pick or the Laker pick."
We'll worry about that one next year. But the rest of the League should hope the Celtics don't choke again in tonight's lottery like they did in 1997 when they lost Tim Duncan. The Celtics have a 37.7% chance of getting either Oden or Durant.
Also interesting to note: The Bulls have the unconditional rights to the Knicks 2007 lottery pick. The Bulls chances of getting Oden or Durant: 4.13% (or 1 in 24). Bulls fans, like myself, have already enjoyed a lifetime worth of NBA championships, but Oden or Durant in a Bulls uniform would be heaven (or David Stern) sent.
So is the Lottery is fixed?
I do think something weird is going to happen tonight. And if that occurs, David Stern will be at the center of another absurd conspiracy that the NBA Lottery is rigged. On second thought, maybe there is some evidence that the NBA is actually predetermined. After all, look at the NBA on TNT commercials promoting the NBA playoffs (produced with the NBA's blessing, I presume), where David Blaine shows how the NBA magic really works. Warning: Don't read the next sentence or click on the link if you don't want to know. It's unbelievable!
It's not the greatest athletes in the world playing the greatest sport. It's not even the shoes. It's just magnets strategically placed on the ball that are attracted to rims. Or it may be David Stern. Watch his hands very closely tonight.