Knowing The Numbers
Posted May 23 2007 12:16PM
SECAUCUS, N.J., May 22, 2007 — Imagine being able to play God – or any deity of your choosing – or, for the non-believers, Donald Trump: You’re fully aware how a certain situation will play out and yet you watch it happen to participants who have no control over their fate.
That’s basically what it’s like to watch the NBA Draft Lottery show on the large-screen television inside Room 3A in Secaucus, New Jersey.
Those team personnel sequestered inside the NBA Entertainment conference room knew the results in advance of the broadcast, but could only watch on as their teams’ representatives squirmed when the envelopes were opened and the 2007 draft order was announced.
“I’d like to be able to tell them,” Wyc Grousbeck, Boston’s CEO, said, referring to his traveling party which included Hall of Famer Tommy Heinsohn on the Lottery show set, “but they’re just going to have to go through the same rollercoaster that we went through.”
It all went downhill for Heinsohn as Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver opened the No. 5 envelope revealing the Celtics logo. The scowl said enough: What was earlier the hope afforded by a 19.9 percent chance of striking it rich and an 18.8 percent probability of landing the second overall pick, the Celtics legend came to the realization his team would select fifth – the worst possible outcome for Boston on this night.
Earlier, however, the pressure was felt by Grousbeck, the team’s rep overseeing the actual drawing of ping-pong balls along with members from the other 13 lottery teams.
When the 14 numbered balls were dropped into the tumbler, Grousbeck sat back, left foot crossed over his right knee, a stack of papers displaying all 1,001 possible combinations resting in his lap.
As the balls were plucked one-by-one others paged through the same tables of numbers that Jamin Dershowitz, WNBA general counsel, was pointing to on a much larger wall-mounted version.
Grousbeck never flipped a page.
Four balls drawn and the first pick awarded to a team not hailing from Beantown.
“I knew the numbers,” he explained. “The general idea was a one or a two had to show up or we weren’t getting the pick.”
No dice at No. 2, either.
Neither digit emerged from the machine through 12 draws, leaving the Celtics with Plan B.
“Danny (Ainge) has been hammering in to me that there are five or six guys we like,” Grousbeck said afterward. “So, I was probably looking for something to cheer me up, but that’s what’s we’ve been talking about for a month and we’re going to go with that plan.”
That plan doesn’t involve the two youngsters – Greg Oden and Kevin Durant – most believe to be the top two selections in this year’s Draft. Feel free to guess the order, but if you’re picking any later than No. 2, you’re most likely out of luck. That is, unless you have a need for a player of different stature.
“I was in the practice facility today with Al (Jefferson) and (Kendrick Perkins) and Tony (Allen),” Grousbeck said. “Al and Perk reminded me that we don’t need any more big men – in their opinion. I like their confidence.”
After the drawing, Grousbeck had to spend the next hour locked into the room with those who moved past him.
“It’s a little uncomfortable,” Kevin Pritchard, Portland’s General Manager, said of fraternizing with those less fortunate than his Blazers. Perhaps Pritchard should have enjoyed the comfort of his particular chair.
Before the drawing got underway, Skip Robinson, Milwaukee’s Director of Player Development, was telling the room he wanted the left-most chair at the second table – the same seat from which he beat 6.3 percent odds to take the first overall pick in the 2005 Draft. Robinson’s team finished with the third worst record in the league and was thus forced to sit at the first table with Grousbeck and Dana Davis, Memphis’ VP of Basketball Operations and Team Programs.
“I said it when I walked in here,” Robinson repeated after the drawing, “that’s the seat I sat in two years ago.”
Maybe it was the seat, as Robinson also wore the same cuff links and gold tie he did when the team won the right to draft Andrew Bogut in 2005. That same seat this year delivered to the Blazers the hard choice of deciding between Oden and Durant; Portland had only a 5.3 percent chance of winning the first pick.
“Poetic justice maybe,” was all Pritchard could offer as an explanation why Portland beat the odds after falling all the way to fourth a year ago when they, like Memphis this year, held the most chances at No. 1.
“I was watching the numbers,” he said, reliving the draw for the top pick. “It was coming up ours. I was thrilled to death.”
Of course, those of us in the room nearly had to take his pulse because Pritchard’s reaction to the announcement was, well, nothing really.
“I was a little stunned and Rich (Cho, Seattle’s Assistant GM) told me first, ‘That’s you,’” Pritchard said, assuring us he was aware Dershowitz called out Portland as the winner. “It takes a while to sink in. Even now, I’m probably not expressing how I feel. We’re excited. We know there are some franchise players in this draft and we’re excited.”
(There was no questioning his excitement after the picks were announced on air, however, as Pritchard rushed out of the conference room forgetting to reclaim his cell phone. Upon return, he said, "My guess is this thing is full already.")
The excitement continued a moment later when the room learned the No. 2 pick was headed to the Sonics.
“Rich and I were talking (before the drawing) and we said good luck to each other,” Pritchard told us. “He said, ‘I hope this goes 1-2.’ I said, ‘Well, if it goes 2-1, I’ll be okay too.’ We looked at each other (afterward) and, obviously, we’re both thrilled.”
The luck rubbed off, as Ed Peskowitz, Atlanta’s owner seated to Cho’s right, celebrated when his Hawks claimed the third pick and the right to keep it.
“I was ecstatic,” beamed Peskowitz. “We needed one of the first three picks to keep it (as a condition of) our trade for Joe Johnson. So, I was happy to see that we moved up. Our general manager will figure out what to do. We know it’s a very deep draft. These are two assets we have now; we have the third pick and we have the 11th pick.”
With that, the Hawks have some work to do to figure out just who it is they’ll take with their two lottery selections.
“Billy (Knight)’s building for the long term,” Peskowitz said of the team adding even more talent to an already young team. “We’re not going to sacrifice wins; We want to win now. It could have been a lot worse and I feel good about it. We have a shot at some real talent with three and 11.”
Who the Hawks tab at No. 3 we won't know for another month, when the 2007 NBA Draft takes place on June 28 at the Theater at Madison Square Garden. But then, unlike tonight, only one team – Portland – will know just how the top few picks are going to play out and which player is likely to be around by the time Atlanta gets on the board.