Denton: Magic Hoping for More Lottery Luck

By John Denton
May 20, 2013

ORLANDO – The NBA’s version of Powerball takes place Tuesday night and the Orlando Magic have the best odds at winning the Draft Lottery. The problem, however, is that no one is exactly sure about the size of the prize for the team whose lottery balls are selected.

A significant piece of the Magic’s history has been their uncanny ability to win NBA Draft Lotteries, doing so three times in their 24 years of existence. But unlike in years past when the Magic used No. 1 overall selections culled from their lotto luck to chose franchise players Shaquille O’Neal, Chris Webber (who was turned into Penny Hardaway and three first-round picks) and Dwight Howard, there is thought to be no definitive No. 1 selection when the NBA Draft rolls around on June 27.

Still, it’s always good to win and important to have ownership of the top overall pick of the NBA Draft. And that’s what the Magic will be gunning for in Tuesday’s NBA Draft Lottery from Manhattan’s Times Square Studios. The televised portion of the Draft will be held at 8:30 p.m. on ESPN.

``It’s one of those things where we’re at the mercy of how the (ping pong) balls drop. It’s out of our control and we just want to concern ourselves with the things that we can control,’’ said GM Rob Hennigan, who will be presiding over his first lottery for the Magic.

``I think any time that you are able to improve your team, that’s a good thing. Regardless of what pick we end up with I think we’ll be in a position to improve the team,’’ Hennigan continued. ``Regardless of what happens it’s going to be exciting for us and a good opportunity for us.’’

Despite the Magic’s lack of success on the court, Hennigan – the NBA’s youngest GM at 30 years old – had a banner first season as a talent evaluator for the team. He helped set in place the team’s foundation for years to come by wisely trading for standout center Nikola Vucevic, promising forwards Tobias Harris and Maurice Harkless and Magic leading scorer Arron Afflalo.

Tuesday’s actual selection process for the lottery is conducted earlier in the night for NBA and team executives behind closed doors, and those participants are sequestered until after the TV portion has been aired.

Teams are assigned four-number combinations, and by virtue of having the NBA’s worst record, the Magic own 250 of a possible 1,000 combinations. They have a 25 percent shot at the No. 1 pick, a 21.5 percent shot at the No. 2 pick, a 17.8 percent chance of getting the No. 3 pick and a 35.7 percent of landing the No. 4 pick. The weighted lottery process decides only the top three picks, and the remaining places are slotted in reverse order based on the teams’ regular-season records. By rule, the Magic can fall no lower than the No. 4 selection in the June 27th NBA Draft. The Magic and Senior Vice President Pat Williams – Orlando’s stage representative once again – have become somewhat legendary in lottery lore. Williams, who also won the first overall pick in 1986 when working for the Philadelphia 76ers, has presided over three NBA Draft Lottery wins with the Magic. That total is second only to the Los Angeles Clippers with five lotto wins.

The Magic are the only franchise to win the lottery in consecutive years, doing so in 1992 and 1993. The Magic then won again in 2004 when owning the best odds, snagging the top overall pick which they used to select Howard. The Magic will be armed with a 25 percent shot at the top overall pick, the best percentage among the 14 non-playoff teams represented at the lottery. They earned that by going 20-62 during the regular season.

But the NBA’s much-debated lottery system has not been kind to teams with the worst record/best odds in recent years. In the past 23 years, only three teams – New Jersey in 1990 (Derrick Coleman), Cleveland in 2003 (LeBron James) and Orlando in 2004 (Howard) – have gotten No. 1 after entering the lottery process with the best odds.

Last year, for example, the Charlotte Bobcats came to the lottery with not only the NBA’s worst record, but also the worst winning percentage (.106) in league history. But the Bobcats were disappointed when New Orleans jumped to the top of the heap and won the rights to consensus top pick, Anthony Davis. As it turns out this past season’s Rookie of the Year, Damian Lillard, went sixth overall to the Portland Trail Blazers.

Even though the lottery process has failed to reward the team with the worst record with the top pick for eight years in a row, Hennigan feels the process still upholds the integrity of the NBA’s regular season. Because teams have just a 25 percent chance of winning the top overall pick, the lottery system keeps teams from losing on purpose down the stretch for better draft position, Hennigan said.

``I think every team wants to make the playoffs and if they don’t there has to be a system in place that keeps the integrity and parity of the game to continue,’’ he said. ``I think the system is sound.’’

Hennigan, assistant GMs Scott Perry and Matt Lloyd, head coach Jacque Vaughn and scout/player development manager Brian Wright spent two days in Chicago last week where they were finally able to interview some of the top college talent available for this year’s draft. Hennigan and his staff were able to interview Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel, Kansas’ Ben McLemore and several other top talent at the pre-draft camp.

Hennigan said that he left Chicago knowing that regardless where the Magic come out of Tuesday’s NBA Draft Lottery, the team will be in a position to pick a promising young player who can help the team next season.

``It was a really valuable experience to get to sit down with a handful of guys and get to know them on a personal level,’’ Hennigan said. ``We’ve spent so much time watching and observing them from a distance and when you get a chance to sit in a room with them, have a conversation and learn about them as people, that’s a very valuable tool to help us make our decision.

``The way the rules are set up, the worst case scenario is that we’ll be picking no lower than No. 4,’’ he continued. ``So we’ll be in that top four somewhere. It’s our job then to determine who makes the most sense for us. We feel good about knowing that we’re going to find a good player.’’

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic. All opinions expressed by John Denton are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Magic or their Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Magic and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.




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