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Why 2019 NBA Draft Lottery is so important

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The lottery is the NBA’s silliest event. High-ranking team personnel travel across the country to sit on stage as the results are announced. They don’t even watch the actual drawing (though others do that). They just sit and grin or grimace for the cameras based on how ping-pong balls bounced in another room earlier in the night.

The silliest part: How darn important it is.

Dynasties are built in the lottery. Rebuilds are upended in the lottery. Jobs are saved and lost in the lottery.

Few lotteries have been as important as this year’s. The future of the NBA’s competitive balance could swing tonight, and highly touted Zion Williamson is only the start of the significance.

The big three reasons this lottery is particularly critical:

Prospect tiers

Zion Williamson is the quality of prospect who comes along only once every few years. He’s huge, athletic and skilled. Few college players, especially freshmen, have ever affected the game like he did at Duke.

WHOOSH!

That was the steep drop to Murray State point guard Ja Morant, who’s nearing consensus as the No. 2 prospect. Then there’s another drop to Duke forward R.J. Barrett, probably the probably the popular pick as No. 3 prospect. Then, there’s yet another drop to whomever you fancy as the fourth-best prospect in this draft.

These divisions between tiers aren’t solidified. There’s still time for movement as players work out and interview.

But, as it stacks up now, the reward for getting the No. 1 pick is far greater than the reward for getting the No. 2 pick, which is far greater than the reward for getting the No. 3 pick, which is far greater than landing somewhere in the middle of the lottery. Those clear delineations only add to the stakes tonight.

Protected picks

The drama doesn’t end with the high picks. A few trades involving protected picks will have major ramifications.

The Grizzlies owe the Celtics a first-round pick, which is top-eight-protected this year. Neither team wants a middling lottery pick in this weak-looking draft. If not moving into the top four, Memphis would rather convey its selection this year. Boston would rather wait, as the protections drop in subsequent years. The Grizzlies have a 26% chance of getting a top-four pick and a 31% chance they get the undesired No. 8 pick. So, that leaves the Celtics with a 43% chance of getting a pick in the 9-12 range.

Will Boston leave this lottery with an uninspiring pick from Memphis or a tempting long-term asset that could be used to, say, trade for Anthony Davis? Will Memphis enter a rebuild with the threat of losing an even higher first-round pick in a better draft, or will it get this obligation out of the way?

The Mavericks have a 24% chance of landing a top-four pick. If they get one, it’d increase the odds they send the Knicks only one of a possible two first-rounders in the Kristaps Porzingis trade. What a double whammy. In the 76% scenario, Dallas will send the Hawks a pick in the 9-13 range.

The Mavericks will eventually send the Hawks a first-rounder from the Luka DoncicTrae Young trade. But this lottery will determine whether that pick gets conveyed this year and could dictate how these promising teams rise from the basement.

The Kings owe their first-round pick to the Celtics or 76ers. Philadelphia gets it only if it lands No. 1. Otherwise, it goes to Boston. There’s a 95% chance Boston is the first team revealed tonight, getting the No. 14 pick. But if another team shows up first, that means Sacramento’s pick landed in the top four. Though the odds still favor picks 2-4 with the Celtics getting it, the 1% chance of the 76ers getting the No. 1 pick would send this lottery’s excitement level into overdrive until the top selections are revealed.

System expectations

The NBA changed its lottery setup this year – reducing benefits for the very worst teams with flattened odds and a drawing for the top four, rather than top three, picks.

I can see the new odds. You can see the new odds. Every team see the new odds. They’re not changing next season or for the foreseeable future. The odds will remain what the odds are.

But people running teams can be irrational. How many times have you heard someone decry tanking because of how rarely the worst team has gotten the No. 1 pick? No matter how many or few times that has happened previously, the chances of it happening are unaffected.

So, this lottery could go a long way in setting a tone. If the worst teams get high picks, teams might convince themselves lottery reform didn’t go far enough and there’s still value in tanking. If the lottery features a huge shakeup, teams could be dissuaded from tanking hard.

It’s silly that it comes to that. But, again, all of this is silly.

Report: Dell Demps bypassed Rob Pelinka for Magic Johnson in Anthony Davis trade talks

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It appears that Anthony Davis is headed to the Los Angeles Lakers. The trade was announced this weekend between L.A. and the New Orleans Pelicans, but won’t be completed until July 6. Earlier this season, it was thought this trade could never happen. Tensions between the two teams were high, and negotiations had broken down.

That was perhaps due in some part to the odd back-and-forth between the teams’ front offices. According to ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne, one peculiarity was that former Pelicans GM Dell Demps wouldn’t deal with Lakers GM Rob Pelinka. Demps would only discuss things with Magic Johnson.

Via ESPN:

Now, calling those discussions in February “negotiations” is a bit of a stretch. The Pelicans were never serious about dealing with the Lakers then. They didn’t like being forced into this position by Davis and his representative, Rich Paul. And they probably weren’t going to let former general manager Dell Demps make this big of a decision anyway.

So the Lakers — really just Johnson, because Demps wouldn’t talk to Pelinka — would call and Demps would write names on the board without giving them any feedback. Those names would leak publicly and do damage to the Lakers’ team chemistry. But eventually, Johnson and the Lakers got the hint and stopped banging up against what had become an incredibly self-destructive wall.

It’s possible that Demps wanted to deal with Magic simply because he thought he had ultimate authority. That, or maybe Demps thought Johnson would be easier to manipulate?

There’s also the idea that Demps could have had a poor relationship with Pelinka from when he was an agent. For example, Pelinka client Eric Gordon had a restricted free agent saga wherein he tried to leave New Orleans for the Phoenix Suns in 2012. The Pelicans matched, and the shooting guard never played more than 65 games in a season. This is conjecture of course, but it’s not as though Demps hadn’t dealt with Pelinka in the past. There’s been reports that Pelinka is unliked by some GMs around the league from his days as an agent.

I think we’re going to keep seeing information about the inner workings of the Lakers and former Pelicans front office like this over the next several months. This one is pretty odd, but it’s not entirely surprising.

Magic Johnson congratulates Lakers, Rob Pelinka, on Anthony Davis trade

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Magic Johnson left the Los Angeles Lakers under inauspicious terms. Turn the last game of the season, the Lakers great announced that he would be resigning his position effective immediately. In an extended hallway interview, Johnson said that he hadn’t even informed close friend and Lakers owner Jeanie Buss.

Now Magic is back to his old tricks, flashing his pearly white smile on television and tweeting banal observations about the NBA.

Johnson was supposed to be part of the team that got New Orleans Pelicans big man Anthony Davis to Staples Center. He couldn’t get the deal done, and things reportedly got testy between the two organizations during the regular season.

The Lakers were able to finally trade for Davis in an agreed-upon deal on Saturday. The trade reportedly won’t be completed until July 6th, but all indications are that Davis will be a Laker.

To that end, Johnson is apparently quite happy. He took to social media to congratulate Buss and the organization on Saturday. Eventually — surprisingly — he even gave props to Rob Pelinka.

Via Twitter:

The Pelicans got a great haul for Davis, and the Lakers got what they wanted in another star to pair with LeBron James.

It’s unclear if Los Angeles will be able to build a roster around their two stars enough to contend deep into the Western Conference playoffs. That’s still up for debate, and health will be a serious question as they try to rely on an aging James and a shaky Davis.

Still, the Lakers are headed in the direction they would like and with the West now more in question than ever. We don’t know what’s happening with the Golden State Warriors, and the Houston Rockets could be in full teardown mode as they look to ditch Chris Paul.

We’re headed into the summer and there’s a bit of daylight for fans in L.A.

Report: Celtics wouldn’t include Jayson Tatum in Anthony Davis trade talks

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Anthony Davis is headed to the Los Angeles Lakers. The New Orleans Pelicans got a significant haul in exchange for their beleaguered star, and LeBron James is openly happy his team finally got the player they wanted all along.

Other favorites to land Anthony Davis this offseason were the Boston Celtics and the New York Knicks. Danny Ainge had to wait until after July 1 to make a trade for Davis thanks to some special CBA rules regarding Kyrie Irving‘s contract.

But that no longer appears to be on the table, in part because Boston decided not to offer Jayson Tatum in any deal for Davis. Thought to be the crown jewel of any potential Celtics-Pelicans trade, there was also concern by Ainge that Davis would not re-sign in Beantown.

Via Twitter:

This runs contrary to everything we’ve heard about Boston going after Davis. Ainge has always been one to leverage his assets in a way that’s less conservative than other team execs. Plus, the reports have been that the Celtics were not concerned about Davis re-signing. Perhaps Davis gave them a little extra information, telling them directly that he would not re-sign? Davis’ agent Rich Paul said as much publicly, but what’s posturing and what’s negotiating isn’t one in the same.

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Pelicans and Lakers will complete the deal on July 6. There’s a lot of time before we hit that date, and Pelicans leader David Griffin won’t back out of his deal with L.A. But the fact there’s still time on the table and the Celtics didn’t change their tune on Tatum tells us all the information we need to know.

Rumor: LeBron James hoping Kyrie Irving might join Lakers despite Nets talk

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The Anthony Davis trade saga is finally over. The deal between the New Orleans Pelicans and Los Angeles Lakers hasn’t been completed yet, and is expected to be done on July 6.

For now, L.A. can move its attention elsewhere to look for another star. The Lakers will have significant cap space — $23.7 million, according to Adrian Wojnarowski and Bobby Marks — and they’ll need another star.

Talk recently has been that former LeBron James running mate Kyrie Irving is headed to the Brooklyn Nets. But no deal is officially in place, and free agency hasn’t started. According to Sam Amick of The Athletic, there are folks in LeBron’s camp who are hopeful that Irving could still join L.A.

Via The Athletic:

Just days before the Davis deal was done, a source close to James indicated some optimism that – Nets noise be darned – Irving was still in play for the Lakers.

Remember, Irving and James had a heart-to-heart talk earlier in the season. They hashed out what happened in Cleveland, with Irving apologizing to James for how he acted as a younger man.

That sparked speculation that Irving could be looking to join LeBron with the Lakers this summer when he had the ability to opt out of his contract with the Boston Celtics.

We haven’t even reached the 2019 NBA draft yet, and already free agency is ramping up and getting crazy. This July is going to be wild, and until the music stops and the butts are in the seats, don’t count anyone as being a sure thing for any team just yet.