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NBA Deputy Commissioner, Mark Tatum awards the Memphis Grizzlies the number four pick in the 2018 NBA Draft during the NBA Draft Lottery on May 15, 2018 at The Palmer House Hilton in Chicago, Illinois.
Gary Dineen / NBAE / Getty Images

MikeCheck: Scenes And Sounds From Sequestered NBA Lottery Room as Grizzlies Land No. 4 Draft Pick

by Michael Wallace | Grind City Media

CHICAGO – Five times, Grizzlies’ general manager Chris Wallace leaned forward in anticipation from his spot on the front row between Phoenix and Dallas executives, and watched ping pong balls dance through the lottery machine just a few feet away.

And five times, he ultimately rocked back into that seat while masking anguish through a nervous smile as those darn balls spat out sequences that equally teased and tortured the Grizzlies.

Memphis entered the lottery with 199 four-number combinations, second-most among the 14 lottery teams behind only the 250 sequenced set of numbers possessed by the Phoenix Suns. One loss separated the Suns (19-61) and Grizzlies (22-60) in the standings for the best odds to land the No. 1 pick.

That one additional loss gave the Suns the extra 51 sets of sequential numbers that won them the lottery and gives them the preferred choice of DeAndre Ayton or Luka Doncic atop the June 21 draft. Phoenix’s lucky set of numbers didn’t just come up once – but in three straight drawings.

By the fourth drawing, NBA vice president of basketball operations Kiki Vandeweghe announced Sacramento jumped from seventh in the order to grab the No. 2 pick. The fifth and final drawing moved Atlanta from the fourth seed entering the lottery to departing with the No. 3 selection Tuesday night.

And that was it. After about 15 minutes of suspense, the room settled into quiet chatter among some and stone silence from others. Eventually, reality settled with the gradual certainty of a brick tossed into the Mississippi. The Grizzlies sank from second to fourth on the draft board.

On this night, the numbers didn’t add up.

Memphis’ 19.9-percent shot to get the No. 1 pick came up short.

Memphis' 55.8-percent chance to stay in the top three didn’t pan out.

The Grizzlies sit at fourth in a draft where three players have formed a consensus as essentially can’t-miss prospects: Ayton, Doncic and Duke’s Marvin Bagley.

The Suns, Kings and Hawks all felt like they won the lottery on some level.

Phoenix held serve and will likely pick between the star college center at the state’s flagship university or the European teen sensation their new coach recently molded into an international phenom.

Sacramento and Atlanta are picking in spots higher than they could have imagined.

But it was a different experience for Memphis. The Grizzlies, at best, survived the draft lottery. Wallace and his front-office staff now move on to conducting interviews and watching workouts of some viable prospects at the NBA Draft Combine that runs through Friday in Chicago.

It could have been worse.  

Moments before the 14 NBA team representatives settled into their seats, sequestered in a ballroom on the sixth floor of the Palmer House Hilton for the start of the official lottery drawing, Wallace walked over to longtime Orlando Magic executive Pat Williams and extended his hand with a simple request.

“Pat, you’ve won this thing a few times before,” Wallace said to Williams, who ran the Magic when they landed the No. 1 pick in consecutive lotteries in 1992 and 1993 for Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway, then again in 2004 for Dwight Howard. “Rub a little bit of that good luck on us, would ya?”

The two men laughed, embraced and returned to opposite ends of the room’s front table.

After the lottery ended, Wallace returned to Williams for another cordial exchange.

“Maybe luck kept us in the top four,” Wallace quipped. “We’ll take that. We didn’t fall as far as we possibly could’ve at five.”

Perhaps Wallace’s best attribute is that he’s an eternal optimist.

He sees upside, no matter the scenario or slide.

That should serve the Grizzlies well as they sort through a potential draft board wide open with possibilities, whether they keep the No. 4 pick or deal it for an attractive package. Or maybe in a twist of fate, the Suns, Kings or Hawks allow someone to fall a spot or two Memphis’ way next month.

But the lottery portion of the drama is now over.

For the Grizzlies, there’s no looking back. All that took place this past season that led to the lottery night outcome will never add up. With important work still ahead this week in the Windy City, the remaining equation is clear as the Grizzlies consider all options for the No. 4 and No. 32 picks in June’s draft.

Forget those 199 combinations.

Focus on the Combine.

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Memphis Grizzlies. All opinions expressed by Michael Wallace are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Memphis Grizzlies or its Basketball Operations staff, owners, parent companies, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Memphis Grizzlies 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.