Posted Jun 21 2010 10:30AM
They were the cursed and the cursed at, the victims of bad luck and the recipients of good fortune, the disappointing teams and uplifting stories.
The Jazz obviously aren't a lottery team and the Rockets basically aren't, and the Hornets and Raptors can make a similar case in their most optimistic moments, yet all are picking in the top 14 Thursday in the NBA Draft.
Utah is the only team that can celebrate being there -- the No. 9 pick is the product of great patience. Had Houston been healthy, it doesn't choose 14th, so it is likewise a chance for unscheduled gains. New Orleans, unable to unequivocally make the same claim, can at least suggest it was a playoff candidate at full strength. Toronto had Toronto problems, making it a reach to say Woe Canada doesn't deserve to be counted among the bad teams, except that the Raps certainly aren't among the good, either.
For the Jazz and Rockets, this is a moment full of found-money potential. Utah reached the Western Conference semis and has its pick to use as part of the internal debate of what to do when Carlos Boozer becomes a free agent on July 1.
Houston, with its overachieving team of heart and productive starters at every position -- the egg-shell feet of Yao Ming willing -- now has the chance to build on the gains of the trade-deadline deal with the Knicks and Kings, and the opportunity to return to the West playoff mix.
Each will reach New York in different ways. That they're there is the important thing this week.
2009-10 finish: 53-29, Western Conference semifinals.
How they got No. 9: New York sent it to Phoenix and Phoenix sent it to Utah about six weeks later, on Feb. 19, 2004, along with Tom Gugliotta, a first-round pick that year, a 2005 second-round selection, cash, and a No. 1 protected into the 20s every year until 2010 for Ben Handlogten and Keon Clark. In amazing bit of luck, protection came off as the Knicks were dumping salaries to build a war chest for the summer of 2010.
What's next?: "I think the first thing is, you didn't go through the agony of earning it, of being in the lottery and winning the 29 games," general manager Kevin O'Connor said. "I think the second thing is that you're going to be able to get, hopefully, a good player, with the idea that you're going to be paying a rookie contract. That's helpful in this day and age, when everybody's concerned with what's going to happen with collective bargaining and your numbers. When you're a veteran team and you've had some success, usually your payroll is fairly high. This is an asset."
Especially at a time the Jazz could lose Boozer without compensation. The free-agent power forward could also return, his departure not nearly the automatic some have wrongly believed for months, and management has options either way. Paul Millsap replaces Boozer in the starting lineup and the pick is used for depth. Boozer stays, Millsap stays, and the pick is still used for depth. The O'Connor school of thought is that it's impossible to have too many good big men.
2009-10 finish: 42-40, missed playoffs.
How they got No. 14: Yao missed the entire season. A major trade at midseason juggled for lineup again.
What's next?: Everything is predicated on the return of a healthy Yao, and not just the lineup next season. The hopes for another long playoff run and the direction of the franchise rest on Yao's health. But imagine an opening five of Aaron Brooks, Kevin Martin, Trevor Ariza or Shane Battier, Luis Scola and Yao, plus 2009 lottery pick Jordan Hill, Chase Budinger coming off an encouraging rookie season, and the No. 14 pick. That's serious potential.
2009-10 finish: 37-45, missed playoffs.
How they got No. 11: Chris Paul made 45 appearances ... game over, right there. The Hornets missed the playoffs by 13 games, and also trailed the Rockets and Grizzlies in the chase for the top eight, but New Orleans could rationalize adding double-digit wins with Paul making 70 or 75 outings.
What's next?: The 2010-11 season is urgent. The Hornets had the playoff crash landing in the spring of 2009 and then the campaign of struggling just to stay relevant, and now they have a new young coach, Monty Williams, and a new young lottery pick to help with the digging.
2009-10 finish: 40-42, missed playoffs.
How they got No. 13: Sheer determination. The Raptors earned their spot in the lottery with a heartless finish, so, unlike the others, they're not here by some strange circumstance or bad luck. There's a reason people booed them. But they have a decent lineup in a soft conference that had the chance to be at least a few spots higher.
What's next?: This is going to be a turning-point summer. Chris Bosh may leave as a free agent. Hedo Turkoglu asked for a trade less than a year after signing. The lottery pick could turn out to be a minor move of an eventful offseason, or one of the initial steps in the rebuilding.
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