The time has finally arrived for a select group of executives to sweat, for certain teams to pray, for a few lucky basketball cities to clutch whatever lucky charms are in their possession. That’s because it’s NBA Draft Lottery Time.
But this isn’t just any NBA Draft Lottery. This is a Generational Talent NBA Draft Lottery.
These select draft lotteries are like leap years, arriving every so often to mesmerize an entire league and give 14 teams holding odds of winning a chance to fantasize. You know, like when the Powerball jackpot reaches $1 billion, but only 14 people hold tickets (like that ever happens).
Anyway, the grand prize in Tuesday night’s lottery (8 ET, ESPN), as you probably know, is the right to draft Victor Wembanyama, the 7-foot-4 French phenom who checks a ton of boxes. Height, wingspan, shot-blocking, 3-point shooting, dribbling, mid-range … his package is all that. And at 19 years old, he’s still a work in progress.
Therefore: The anticipation for this lottery is on the same decibel level as it was for Ralph Sampson, Shaquille O’Neal, David Robinson, Tim Duncan and LeBron James. Actually, here in the social media age, it’s louder.
And that’s interesting, because a vast majority of fans are familiar with Wembanyama only from video clips of games played in faraway places, because Wembanyama didn’t play high school or college ball here in the States.
But NBA executives know; they’ve scouted him since he was barely a teenager. And after watching film of him dribbling between his legs and pulling up for jumpers and crossing up defenders — remember, he’s 7-foot-4 — what else is there to see, really?
On Tuesday, the mystery will be solved. We learn what franchise and fan base and city will be energized by a lucky ping-pong ball drawing. Wemby is on the way to … somewhere.
Here’s a look at the teams involved in the lottery, along with their odds, and how they’ll absorb this generational talent and if life will ever be the same (it won’t).
Detroit Pistons (14% chance)
The notion that all of the teams with a reasonable chance of getting Wemby are unfit is not true, at least in the case of the Pistons. This isn’t to say the Pistons would suddenly disrupt the pecking order atop the NBA. But this is to say (or scream) “Deeee-troit Basket-balll” would indeed be back and prepared to make a generous leap in short time.
Because: Wemby joining Cade Cunningham, Jaden Ivey and Bojan Bogdanovic, along with James Wiseman and Jalen Duren, gives Detroit the stamp of authenticity.
The trio of Wemby, Cunningham and Ivey would be especially delicious because they fill different spots on the floor. Cunningham and Ivey bring backcourt speed and court awareness and their basketball connection with Wemby would be pure. And none have reached their 22nd birthday yet.
As for the others? Well, Bogdanovic might make for trade bait, or kept around for much-needed shooting and veteran leadership (he’s 34). The two resident big men, Duren and Wiseman, are still in development and can either complement Wemby or perhaps one of them can be shipped for other assets. Throw Isaiah Stewart in that mix as well.
Basically, the Pistons are an ideal destination for Wemby because they’ve made all the right draft decisions over the last few years and have a savvy GM in Troy Weaver to create the right environment for a franchise player. Essentially, the table is set. Detroit just needs the main dish.
Houston Rockets (14%)
A franchise once carried on the shoulders of Moses Malone and Hakeem Olajuwon would be blessed by another big man capable of following in those giant footsteps. Maybe Wemby in that situation will spend his summers at the famed Fonde Rec Center, too, and elevate his game, as those two did.
As for elevating the Rockets? That might be trickier. Of the three teams holding the best odds of winning the lottery, the Rockets bring the most tenuous situation. Their best players are young and undisciplined. There’s no solid veteran presence nor an All-Star on the roster. And a losing culture has settled in with the Rockets, who have won 17, 20 and 22 games the last three seasons.
Does new coach Ime Udoka bring a new approach? He was a no-nonsense guy in Boston and that’s likely why he was hired last month in Houston. The last thing Wemby needs is to join players who are reckless shooters, lackadaisical on defense and indifferent to winning.
In that sense, maybe GM Rafael Stone might want to shuffle the deck for Wemby. With a surplus of young players, cash under the salary cap and also first-round picks — including those incoming from the James Harden trade — Stone can remake the Rockets with the right moves.
The key is to build a mix around Wemby, not necessarily add Wemby to the mix. Are the Juniors — Jabari Smith, Kevin Porter and Kenyon Martin — along with Jalen Green right for Wemby? The Rockets would love to find out.
San Antonio Spurs (14%)
There are reasons Gregg Popovich at 74 is sticking around. One: He’s being refreshed by the task of teaching a roster full of young players. Two: The money’s pretty sweet. Three: There’s a chance the Spurs, for the third time in their history, will get a generational big man. And if they do, Reason No. 3 leapfrogs Reason No. 1.
Right before Pop joined the organization, the Spurs won the lottery but there was a catch: Robinson had to serve a two-year military commitment before suiting up. No big deal as Robinson was well worth the wait, became a champion and Hall of Famer and member of the NBA’s 50th and 75th anniversary teams.
Their next prize became the best prize: Tim Duncan, perhaps a top-10 all-timer, the centerpiece of five championship teams, who won a pair of MVPs and helped Pop own the top spot on the all-time wins for coaches.
Wemby coming to the Spurs would be similar to Robinson’s arrival. While Duncan joined a team ready to compete for a title, Robinson joined a team that went 21-61 the year before. That’s just one win shy of the team Wemby would inherit. The current Spurs are under construction and loaded with developing players. Their core group — Keldon Johnson, Devin Vassell and Jeremy Sochan — is 23 and under.
Still, it would be an ideal situation for Wemby. He’d get instruction from someone considered the greatest coach of all time, the Spurs are a top-notch organization, and there’s plenty of available cap space for San Antonio to add solid help from trades or free agency. From Robinson to Duncan to Wemby? Pop might coach until he’s 80.
Charlotte Hornets (12.5%)
When the Pelicans won the lottery and the rights to draft Zion Williamson a few years ago, it was largely seen as a save-the-franchise stroke of fortune. Wemby to the Hornets isn’t exactly the same definition — the Hornets are in no danger of moving from Charlotte — but this team desperately needs a star who’s bigger than the guy who owns the team. Yes, Michael Jordan still owns a majority of the team.
The Hornets would experience an awakening with Wemby. Suddenly, everything changes in the organization. Keeping LaMelo Ball, who’s up for an extension, becomes much, much easier (imagine the lobs from LaMelo to Wemby on a nightly basis). Charlotte’s also sitting on a treasure chest of cash, with roughly $39 million available under the salary cap next season, to use on free agents if they choose. And the Hornets are expected to re-sign Miles Bridges, who missed the entire 2022-23 season while dealing with legal issues after being charged with three counts of domestic violence.
Wemby alone wouldn’t drastically change the culture; the Hornets have missed the playoffs for seven consecutive years, the longest streak in the league, and are due a roster cleansing. But he would “save” the franchise from a continued tailspin.
Portland Trail Blazers (10.5%)
Wemby to the Blazers would be all about two players: Him and Damian Lillard. Like, would Dame — who has evidently reached the limits of his patience — suddenly believe Portland finally has what it takes to contend for a title? Or will he suspect, and reasonably so, that Wemby will require a few years to develop into a superstar, a few years too long for Dame?
The Blazers could go two ways here. They could declare Wemby as their new franchise player and jettison the current one for a package of young players and picks and start fresh with a new identity. Whether that’s a better option depends on what they can get for Dame. Anyway: with Wemby, Anfernee Simons and Shaedon Sharpe, Portland would have an intriguing young core that’s nowhere near its prime.
Or they could keep Dame, re-sign Jerami Grant and take their chances. That’s a pretty good option as well, and with center Jusuf Nurkic handling the chores inside the paint, Wemby would be released to roam the court, free to score on the perimeter and offer help defense. Either way, it would be a good situation for Portland and Dame as well.
Orlando Magic (9%)
Somewhere deep in the team storage room are the highly valuable good-luck charms from lotteries past, which helped the Magic get Shaquille O’Neal, Chris Webber (swapped for Penny Hardaway), Dwight Howard and Paolo Banchero. The organization should dust off those charms and bring them to this lottery and see if their “magic” works again. It would be an amazing streak of luck for the Magic should they add Wemby to that collection.
As for the collection on the roster, he’d instantly become the centerpiece for a developing team. Along with Banchero — the freshly named Kia NBA Rookie of the Year — and Franz Wagner, the Orlando front line would bring height and skills at every position. They could package two other front-liners, Wendell Carter and/or Jonathan Isaac, plus picks to swap for a quality two-guard and accelerate their building process.
Indiana Pacers (6.8%)
This is perhaps the league’s most anonymous and obscure franchise from a visibility standpoint. But winning this lottery would obviously change everything. Like, when’s the last time the Pacers were showcased on national, primetime TV? The Paul George era? This is a small-market franchise that could use a taste of the big time that Wemby would give them.
Aside from the exposure, the Pacers would get a desperately needed building block. Put him next to All-Star guard Tyrese Haliburton (who could average 15 assists with Wemby) and Bennedict Mathurin for a young core, and next to 6-foot-11 Myles Turner for a rim-protecting tandem. If the Pacers upgraded a few other spots they could be a potential top-five team in the East, and on their way to better days.
Washington Wizards (6.7%)
This is one of those places that would rejoice to the heavens if it got Wemby, but would that reaction be reciprocated? The Wizards have been stuck in the mediocrity mud for a long time and own few assets under contract (Kyle Kuzma and Kristaps Porzingis are eyeing free agency). Even with Wemby, this franchise would be staring at years of honest rebuilding, and even then, that would depend on who’s in charge. Right now there’s no replacement for dismissed GM Tommy Sheppard.
The smart move would be a total tear-down, starting with convincing Bradley Beal to waive his no-trade clause (crazy that they gave him one) and swapping him for young talent plus picks. It would be a three to five year process but one that’s a long time coming for this franchise. The other option is to keep Beal, re-sign Kuzma and Porzingis (therefore flirting with the luxury tax) and go from there, a shortcut that carries risks. In that scenario, maybe the Wizards would be slightly better … and win a bountiful 45 games instead of their usual 35-40.
Utah Jazz (4.5%)
If back in October you said the Jazz would hold less than a 5% chance at winning the lottery, you’d have your basketball IQ questioned. Remember, after they traded their two best players — Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert — and didn’t get an All-Star in return, Utah was widely projected to be a bottom-three finisher. But then, stuff happened. Lauri Markkanen, acquired in the Mitchell trade, did become an All-Star and earned Kia Most Improved Player honors, and others (rookie Walker Kessler among them) played better than expected for a team that finished better than expected, and here we are.
Given that the Jazz have already had success with French centers (Gobert), adding Wemby would be a natural sequence. And the Jazz suddenly would destroy the current blueprint for development and draw up another. The good news in that scenario is Utah has Danny Ainge, the masterful GM who built a champion in Boston and with Utah has stockpiled enough future draft capital through trades that he can assemble some attractive packages for more trades, this time for proven help. Given that Utah isn’t a top destination for free agents, trades are the way to go to build around Wemby.
Dallas Mavericks (3%)
Owner Mark Cuban has purchased a ton of goodies with his billions — starting with the Mavericks, of course — but few of those purchases would bring more bang for the buck than the $750,000 spent for essentially winning entry into this draft lottery. That was the price he paid in an NBA fine for benching key players in an elimination game and therefore keeping this pick, which was top-10 protected.
There’ll be plenty of screaming from all corners should Cuban “benefit” from tanking, but after the noise dies down, the Mavericks would finally have a quality co-star next to Luka Doncic. They’d instantly form the most intriguing 1-2 punch in the NBA and someday maybe the best. Oh, and then it would make sense for Dallas to re-sign Kyrie Irving, who’d probably want to stick around. Almost overnight, the Mavericks would go from disaster … to being ready to deliver on all the promise.
Orlando Magic (from the Bulls, 3%)
So you ask: How did the Magic get this pick? It was acquired from the Bulls in the Nikola Vucevic deal a few years ago. At the time, the Magic believed it had tapped out with Vooch and Aaron Gordon and shipped both out of town for future considerations. The good news for the Bulls? This pick is top-four protected. So if they beat the odds, the Bulls could get Wemby. They would add him to a team that could use front-line help — Vooch is an unrestricted free agent and likely headed elsewhere this summer — and Wemby would become the biggest rookie to hit Chicago since you-know-who.
Oklahoma City Thunder (1.7%)
Well, the first order of business should OKC get Wemby is to ban him from summer Pro-Am games. Once they clear that hurdle, Wemby would join the most organic team in the NBA — all of the important rotational pieces were drafted by the Thunder with the exception of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, a solid job by GM Sam Presti. With 7-footer Chet Holmgren healed and ready to begin his career, the Thunder would be very tall and obviously very talented with Shai, Wemby, Josh Giddey, Jalen Williams and Lu Dort, all 24 and under.
Toronto Raptors (1%)
You’d want this Frenchman to play in the only non-American NBA city if only to join foreign teammates and form a true international dream team: Precious Achiuwa (Nigeria), OG Anunoby (England), Chris Boucher (Canada), Christian Koloko and Pascal Siakam (Cameroon) and Jakob Poeltl (Austria), all assembled by team president Masai Ujiri (Nigeria).
New Orleans Pelicans (0.5%)
What are the better odds: The Pelicans winning this lottery? Or Zion Williamson — the lottery prize four years ago — making it through an entire season?
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Shaun Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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