What’s at stake in the biggest NBA draft lottery in years

CHICAGO — When the way the pingpong balls bounced is revealed to the world Tuesday night here at the Drake Hotel, the immediate focus will be on who gets the No. 1 pick — and with it the chance to select consensus top prospect Zion Williamson. But how this NBA draft lottery shakes out will have far-ranging implications across the league well beyond whichever team gets the chance to choose Williamson.

For the first time, the top four spots will be determined by the lottery, rather than the top three. That additional factor, plus potential trade scenarios, have juiced the stakes.

Here’s a look at what tonight’s festivities will mean for all involved — no matter where they wind up landing.

More: How the lottery works | Mock draft | Top 100 rankings

No. 1 pick odds: 14.0 percent | Top-three pick odds: 40.2 percent

Knicks fans have been waiting more than 30 years to win the lottery again after the team secured the chance to take Patrick Ewing in 1985. They would love the ability to have Williamson. But if the Knicks do win the lottery, an immediate question will follow: Will Williamson ever even play in New York?

After trading Kristaps Porzingis at the trade deadline, the Knicks have enough cap space to sign two max players in free agency. They also own multiple future first-round picks from the Dallas Mavericks. Winning the lottery would give the Knicks the best possible trade chip to go nab New Orleans Pelicans star Anthony Davis.

And even if the Knicks don’t win the lottery, getting the second or third pick might allow them to have the most enticing offer for New Orleans, depending on how new team president David Griffin feels about either Ja Morant or RJ Barrett. But getting Williamson would undoubtedly ensure the Knicks won’t leave this offseason empty-handed.

If New York goes from the worst record in the league to missing out on any of the top three spots in this lottery, though, Knicks fans — who already are predisposed to believe the worst will happen to their team — will be wary of yet another disappointing summer.

No. 1 pick odds: 14.0 percent | Top-three pick odds: 40.2 percent

If the Cavaliers receive the first pick (for the fifth time since 2003), the choice is easy. But what happens if they get No. 2?

The Cavs are enamored with rookie guard Collin Sexton, but it’s hard to see them pairing him with Morant. Would they consider trading the pick? Trading Sexton? Drafting Barrett? Drafting Morant and trying to make it work? It would make for an intriguing situation to monitor.

If the Cavaliers do get Williamson, there’s something else to consider: They give up their 2020 first-rounder to Atlanta if it falls outside the top 10 in next year’s draft. A Williamson-Kevin Love combo in Cleveland’s frontcourt could at least give Cleveland a chance to do that.

No. 1 pick odds: 14 percent | Top-three pick odds: 40.2 percent

A Williamson-Devin BookerDeandre AytonMikal Bridges core would look awfully good. Paired with newly hired head coach Monty Williams, that group could finally usher in a new era of success in Phoenix.

Getting the No. 2 pick would be an awfully nice consolation prize, though. This team desperately needs a point guard, and it would be thrilled to get the chance to draft Morant. More than anything, Phoenix will hope to remain in the top three.

Though highly subjective, going in many scouts have projected this draft to have three franchise players — Williamson, then Morant, then Barrett. Everyone picking after that might have different expectations and likely will value those picks differently in trades.



Check out all the highlights and reaction to Ja Morant’s breakout season at Murray State, where he went from relative unknown to college superstar thanks to his high-flying dunks.

No. 1 pick odds: 12.5 percent | Top-three pick odds: 36.6 percent

Eleven years ago, the Bulls leapt up to the top spot and landed Derrick Rose. The Bulls would love the chance to get Williamson to pair with their intriguing tandem of young big men in Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr.

Like Phoenix, they’ll also be quite happy if they get No. 2, as the Bulls already have made it clear they are looking for an upgrade on incumbent starter Kris Dunn.

“Kris is going to have opportunity because he’s under contract,” Bulls vice president of basketball operations John Paxson told reporters at a season-ending press conference last month, “but we understand as an organization that’s a position that we’re going to have to address if we’re to make a step in the right direction.”

Paxson, who personally scouted Morant at Murray State this year, will make the standout guard Chicago’s new point guard given the chance. For a Bulls team that is now in the second full season of a rebuild and just gave coach Jim Boylen a contract extension, jumping up in the lottery would give this franchise a serious boost.

No. 1 pick odds: 10.5 percent | Top-three pick odds: 31.6 percent

There arguably isn’t a team with more on the line in this lottery than Atlanta. Already with an exciting young core of Trae Young, Kevin Huerter and John Collins, adding Williamson to that mix would be fascinating. So too would Atlanta getting the second pick.

Would the Hawks take another point guard (Morant) after drafting Young a year ago? Some might say no, but general manager Travis Schlenk’s history is to take the best available player and figure out fit later.

Meanwhile, Atlanta also will be monitoring the Mavericks’ pick, which is currently in the No. 9 slot. If it remains there or moves back, Atlanta will get the pick as part of last year’s trade that saw the Hawks move back two spots — allowing Dallas to take Luka Doncic — so they could select Young.

The Hawks made that deal betting they would get another mid-lottery pick this year. If they do, they’ll look awfully good. But the Mavericks have a 26.2 percent chance to jump into the top four. If that happens, the legacy of the Young-Doncic trade could be judged differently.

If the percentages hold and Atlanta can get two lottery picks, this team could be looking at the core of a contender in the East for years to come.

No. 1 pick odds: 9.0 percent | Top-three pick odds: 27.6

While owner Ted Leonsis continues to ponder who he will tap to lead his front office, what already is an attractive job for a variety of reasons — stability, patience, market — would get a turbo boost if Williamson is part of the mix.

If the Wizards do jump up to one of the top picks, it also could leave them with an intriguing decision to make. With John Wall likely out for most of next season while recovering from an Achilles tendon injury, does getting an elite young prospect convince them to undertake a full rebuild?

That could mean trading Bradley Beal, who might be in position to get a supermax contract extension if he makes an All-NBA team later this month. If the Wizards do move up, Beal could be put on the market ahead of the draft, perhaps making the Wizards one of the most intriguing teams to watch on Tuesday.



Duke’s RJ Barrett projects as a top-3 pick with his prototypical NBA size and high basketball IQ.

No. 1 pick odds: 6.0 percent | Top-three pick odds: 19.0 percent

There are plenty of big dominoes around the league that people are waiting to see fall this summer, but none is bigger than what happens with Anthony Davis. The Pelicans are not only hoping they jump up into the top four, they also have to monitor what happens across the rest of the lottery, because how it shakes out could dictate what their best trade package winds up being.

Focusing on New Orleans, though, Williamson landing here would make for compelling drama over the next several weeks. Would new basketball czar David Griffin be willing to double down on his stated hopes of keeping Davis longer than this summer and attempt to sell him on a core of Jrue Holiday and Williamson? Or would jumping up to the top of the draft make a Davis trade even more of a likelihood, as the Pelicans could then get multiple lottery picks and rebuild on the fly?

This might be the most important day the franchise has experienced since winning the lottery that landed Davis seven years ago.

No. 1 pick odds: 6.0 percent | Top-three pick odds: 19.0 percent

The worst-case scenario for Grizzlies this year would be to remain right where they are and keep the No. 8 pick. Why? Let us explain.

Like any team, the Grizzlies would love to jump up into the top four and get another talented young player to pair with rookie big man Jaren Jackson Jr. But the Grizzlies’ pick this year is top-eight protected — meaning that Memphis keeps the pick if it remains in the top eight. If it falls to ninth or lower, it goes to the Boston Celtics.

Why would it be better to give up the No. 9 pick this year? Because that pick will become top-six protected next year and fully unprotected in 2021. Given the direction the Grizzlies are headed in with a new front office, a soon-to-be hired new head coach and a roster that’s turning over, getting out of that pick obligation now is a win — especially because this year’s draft isn’t considered to be very deep.

No. 1 pick odds: 6.0 percent | Top-three pick odds: 19.0 percent

This is very simple: Dallas loses its pick to Atlanta if it doesn’t jump into the top four. However, if the Mavericks do keep their pick, it will give them a chance to add yet another top young talent to a core that already includes Doncic and restricted free agent Porzingis.

With the cap space to sign a max free agent this summer, this could be the last chance Dallas has to get another cost-controlled top talent for a while, given that the team should improve and the Knicks will get two future firsts from Dallas because of the Porzingis trade. There will be a lot of hearts in throats in both Dallas and Atlanta if nothing has changed below this pick when the ninth selection is unveiled.

No. 1 pick odds: 3.0 percent | Top-three pick odds: 9.9 percent

Gersson Rosas, the team’s new president of basketball operations, would love to get his hands on another high pick here to add another talented piece alongside Karl-Anthony Towns.

Minnesota has two former top picks on its team (Towns and Andrew Wiggins), but it wasn’t enough to lift the Timberwolves into contention (without Jimmy Butler, anyway). Add one of these top-three talents to Towns, Wiggins, Robert Covington, Dario Saric and Tyus Jones and perhaps the Wolves can finally become a consistent playoff team again.

No. 1 pick odds: 2.0 percent | Top-three pick odds: 6.7 percent

If the Lakers beat the odds and win the lottery, it would trigger an outcry from the other 29 NBA teams and their fan bases. And it could totally change the outlook for the back end of LeBron James‘ career.

But Los Angeles would simply be thrilled to be able to jump into the top four, as it would give a desperately needed boost to the Lakers’ collection of assets for a potential Davis trade. If the Lakers fail to move up — by far the most likely outcome — it will be the latest indignity in an offseason that has been full of them so far in Los Angeles.

No. 1 pick odds: 1.0 percent | Top-three pick odds: 3.4 percent

Charlotte arguably has the bleakest future in the league. Kemba Walker, easily the best player the franchise has had since being reincarnated last decade, is a free agent and his return is uncertain.

The Hornets have a roster full of bloated contracts, and only one young player — Miles Bridges — looks like a potential long-term fit. In short: This is a team that could really, truly use a lift like an unlikely leap into the top four.

No. 1 pick odds: 1.0 percent | Top-three pick odds: 3.4 percent

With Dwyane Wade having ridden off into the sunset, Miami needs to land an elite talent to build around. But with one of the league’s preeminent free-agent destinations being capped out for the time being, the best chance the Heat will have to land a player of that caliber is to get lucky in the draft.

Sure, that could happen at No. 13 — but it would be far easier if Miami jumped up and snagged one of the top-four selections this year.

No. 1 pick odds: 1.0 percent | Top-three pick odds: 3.4 percent

While there is very little chance the Kings’ pick will jump up, if their name doesn’t come up at No. 14, then this lottery immediately gets wild.

By virtue of the Markelle Fultz trade two years ago, the Celtics will get this pick if stays at No. 14 or moves up to the fourth, third or second pick. But if it climbs all the way to No. 1, it goes to the Philadelphia 76ers.

Can you imagine the level of drama in both Philadelphia and Boston if Miami shows up first — meaning this top-four pick is now either a huge asset for the Celtics in Davis trade talks or completely out of their hands? And what if the pick isn’t revealed at No. 4 or No. 3, either?

In terms of sheer excitement and anticipation, there isn’t a better outcome for neutral observers watching these proceedings unfold.

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