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2019 NBA draft lottery featured historically massive shakeup

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The Knicks winning the lottery was treated as an inevitability.

New York had the lottery’s No. 1 seed. No team had better odds than the Knicks. New York fans salivated over Zion Williamson. The Knicks sent Patrick Ewing, their last No. 1 pick and player they got by winning the initial lottery, to represent them on stage. Nearly every mock draft until last night slotted the Knicks No. 1. Reports emerged about what New York would do with the No. 1 pick (try to trade it for Anthony Davis).

Some of this was overstated. The Knicks, Cavaliers and Suns had an equal chance at the top pick. New York’s higher lottery seed would be relevant only if not getting drawn into the top four. Yet, Cleveland and Phoenix often got left from the discussion.

Some of this was innocent. There’s no other prospect in this draft whose hype nears Williamson’s, and other fan bases got preemptively excited about the idea of adding him. Using lottery seeds to order a mock draft before the lottery is just practical. The Knicks should be planning for every eventuality.

But it all created a feedback loop: Talk about the No. 1 pick, talk about the Knicks. Talk about the Knicks, talk about the No. 1 pick. And on and on, the noise amplified by the world’s biggest media market.

Lost in the hoopla: 86%.

Those were the quite-high odds New York wouldn’t get the No. 1 pick.

Of course, New York didn’t get the top pick – an expected outcome amid one of the most chaotic (and most important) lotteries of all-time.

The NBA reformed the lottery this year – flattening the odds and drawing the top four, rather than top three, picks. That didn’t ensure a wild outcome, but it increased the potential. And we got pandemonium.

The Pelicans (No. 7 seed) drew the No. 1 pick. The Grizzlies (No. 6 seed) landed the No. 2 pick. The Lakers (No. 11 seed) jumped even further, to the No. 4 pick.

Those leaps are among the biggest in lottery history.

No lottery had ever included even two teams moving five slots between their lottery seed and draft pick. The 2019 lottery had three teams move six slots.

Here are the biggest movements between lottery seed and draft pick of all-time:

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With the mediocre Pelicans, Grizzlies and Lakers moving up, some awful teams had to get displaced.

And there were some truly awful teams this year.

New York (17-65), Cleveland (19-63) and Phoenix (19-63) stunk then leaned into tanking. Though lottery reform gave the three worst teams equal lottery odds, the fourth-worst Bulls (22-60) didn’t allow much cushion to win meaningless games. Every additional ping-pong-ball combination improved the odds of getting Williamson. Plus, standings within the bottom three still determined draft order if not selected in the lottery.

Before this year, the average draft position for a sub-20-win team in the lottery era was slightly better than No. 3. The Knicks, Cavaliers and Suns will pick Nos. 3, 5, 6.

Phoenix’s No. 6 pick is the worst in the lottery era for a team that won fewer than 20 games. Cleveland’s No. 5 pick is tied for second-worst. And in this weak-looking draft, it’s not as if New York should rejoice about getting No. 3.

Here’s every team to win fewer than 20 games in the lottery era (or the equivalent in a lockout-shortened season), sorted by ensuing draft pick:

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All told, 11 of the 14 teams in last night’s lottery got a pick that didn’t match their seed.

The Pelicans (7 to 1), Grizzlies (8 to 2) and Lakers (11 to 4) moved up.

The Knicks (1 to 3), Cavaliers (2 to 5), Suns (3 to 6), Bulls (4 to 7), Hawks (5 to 8), Wizards (6 to 9), Hawks via Mavericks (9 to 10) and Timberwolves (10 to 11) moved down.

Only the Hornets (12), Heat (13) and Celtics via Kings (14) remained in place.

Originally, the lottery determined where every non-playoff team picked and gave each team equal odds of each pick. That system sometimes produced less movement than last night’s lottery.

Yesterday, the 14 lottery teams averaged moving 2.7 slots between their lottery seed and draft pick – the third-biggest shakeup ever.

Here’s every lottery, sorted by average movement between lottery seed and draft pick for each lottery team:

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In 1993, the Magic – despite holding the lowest odds – jumped to the No. 1 pick. That produced plenty of backlash, especially considering Orlando also won the previous lottery.

In 1986, one of two years with the initial lottery system, the seven lottery teams, picked, in order of seed: 5, 4, 7, 3, 2, 1, 6. And the Cavaliers got a bonus pick to be slotted after Dallas (which owned Cleveland’s own pick) as compensation for Ted Stepien’s numerous missteps on condition of him selling the team. It was chaos.

Both situations prompted change. The NBA instituted the Stepien rule, limiting teams’ ability to trade future draft picks. The league didn’t want a team to be so hopeless, it’d need dispensation. The NBA also changed lottery rules for 1994, improving odds for the worst teams and therefore trimming odds for teams – like the Magic the year prior – that barely missed the playoffs.

Eventually, that led to an outbreak of tanking. Nobody pushed the limits further than former 76ers general manger Sam Hinkie and his Process. He, more than anyone, prompted this lottery reform.

Last night’s lottery won’t change everything.

But it worked exactly as intended.

LeBron James’ voting rights group converting arenas into polling places

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ATLANTA (AP) — If basketball icon LeBron James gets his way, NBA arenas and other sports venues around the country will be mega polling sites for the November general election.

James and his voting rights group, formed this spring with other black athletes and entertainers, are joining with other professional basketball leaders and Michigan’s top elections official to push for mega voting sites to accommodate in-person balloting amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

More Than A Vote, the James organization dedicated to maximizing Black turnout in November, shared its plans with The Associated Press on Wednesday after the Detroit Pistons became the second NBA franchise to announce plans to use its arena for voting later this year. In Georgia, Fulton County elections officials this week approved the Atlanta Hawks’ proposal to use State Farm Arena as a polling site. Plans call for the arena to serve as a countywide early voting site ahead of Election Day.

The idea, which comes after Kentucky used large facilities in its June 23 primary, is to use large spaces that allow for in-person voting while still enforcing social distancing guidelines. It also underscores the attention on the mechanics of voting amid the pandemic, with the intensity already reflected in both President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden warning that state and local officials have the power to “corrupt” the election.

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson called her “partnership” with the Pistons an “blueprint for other teams and leagues seeking to advance our common goal of protecting access to the vote for all.”

Lloyd Pierce, head coach of the Atlanta Hawks, said the arrangement in his city ensures “high turnout” in a safe environment. Benson, Pierce and David Fizdale, former New York Knicks head coach, will advise NBA franchises and arena management entities around the country on how to replicate the existing deals.

The Milwaukee Bucks also confirmed they are willing to use their home arena as a voting site in the most populous city in the key battleground of Wisconsin.

The coordinated push is a turnabout, of sorts, in the often-partisan jousting over voting procedures.

Some Democrats panned Kentucky elections officials for limiting in-person June primary voting in the state’s two most populous counties to Louisville’s Exposition Center and the University of Kentucky football stadium in Lexington. Voting rights advocates argued in federal court that the plan, part of culling voting sites statewide amid coronavirus concerns, would harm minority voters.

A federal judge rejected their claims, and voting proceeded without the melee that some advocates had forecast.

Now, Benson, a Democrat, is pushing the arena model not as an example of potential voter suppression, but a way to fight it. “One of our greatest challenges in protecting voters’ access to democracy this November is identifying accessible locations where citizens can safely vote in person,” she said.

Amid COVID, that could outweigh potential logistical difficulties of large sites. Lines for such venues can still be long — just as with normal polling locations — as was seen in Lexington at some points on primary day. Voters also could face traffic jams or public transit hiccups given the number of people involved. General elections also have considerably larger turnout than primaries.

Nonetheless, there’s a growing bipartisan push for large-venue voting. NFL executive Scott Pioli last week presented the National Association of Secretaries of State a plan for widespread use of professional and college sports facilities.

James’ group is officially nonpartisan. But the NBA star has been open about its emphasis on the Black community, where Trump faces intense opposition for his white identity politics. James has not endorsed Biden, but he endorsed Hillary Clinton over Trump in 2016.

In Milwaukee, meanwhile, the Bucks owners, the Lasry family, are major Democratic Party donors. Bucks executive Alex Lasry helped lead the effort that landed the Democratic National Convention in the city.

Missouri man freed from prison with help from WNBA’s Moore

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A Missouri man was freed from prison Wednesday after a county prosecutor declined to retry his case, punctuating years of work by WNBA star Maya Moore and other supporters who argued he was falsely convicted of burglary and assault charges.

Moore was on hand when Jonathan Irons, 40, walked out of the Jefferson City Correctional Center. She clapped as Irons approached a group of people waiting for his release. She then dropped to her knees at one point before joining a group hug around Irons.

He had been serving a 50-year prison sentence stemming from the non-fatal shooting of a homeowner in the St. Louis area when Irons was 16. But a judge threw out his convictions in March, citing a series of problems with the case, including a fingerprint report that had not been turned over to Irons’ defense team, according to The New York Times.

The Missouri attorney general’s office unsuccessfully appealed the judge’s decision, and the lead prosecutor in St. Charles County decided against a retrial.

Moore and Irons became friends after meeting through prison ministry, according to the Times. The 31-year-old Moore, a Jefferson City, Missouri, native who starred at UConn before helping lead Minnesota to four WNBA titles, put her career on hold last season to help Irons.

Moore said in January she planned to sit out a second season and miss the Tokyo Olympics. After Irons’ convictions were thrown out in March, she told the AP her plans hadn’t changed.

“’My decision to take another year was bigger than this case,” she said at the time. “But obviously this case was in the forefront of my mind. I’m looking forward when this is done to finally getting some rest and time with my family.”

Adam Silver: Restart broadcasts may need delay to keep cussing off air

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NBA players trash talk and swear more during a game than a Samuel L. Jackson character.

That’s not exactly insider knowledge. However, most of what is said is covered up by the ambient crowd noise and in-arena music at a traditional game. Nobody at home can hear Patrick Beverley‘s stream of consciousness.

But what is going to happen at the NBA’s restart in Orlando? With no crowds and less noise, and courtside microphones can pick up everything. Including language some fans may not want to be brought into their homes.

This is why the league many need a broadcast delay — similar to the seven-second delay used on some live broadcasts — so it can drop any offensive language, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said at the Time 100 interview.

“I think often players, they understand when they’re on the floor, they’re saying certain things to each other because it’s so loud in the arena, they know a lot of it is not being picked up. They may have to adapt their language a little bit knowing what they say will likely be picked up by microphones and in all seriousness, we may need to put a little bit of a delay.”

One solution would be to have a live stream available to fans where nothing is dropped. There are those of us — hard-core NBA fans — who want to hear the trash talk, want to listen to the coaches call out the play as the defenders call out what is coming and talk about set picks, etc. We all what to hear what LeBron James is going to say to J.R. Smith on the court. That should be available to fans, along with the video game look and other customizable streams.

The league may have fan’s faces on video boards around the court and music pumped in, but this is just not going to look and feel the same. There may need to be a delay to keep some of the language off the air (that happens at sporting events anyway), but it would be fun to give the viewers the option, as ESPN did with The Last Dance.

Report: Rockets signing Luc Mbah a Moute

Rockets forward Luc Mbah a Moute
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Rockets forward Thabo Sefolosha is sitting out the NBA’s resumption at Disney World.

Enter Luc Mbah a Moute.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Like Sefolosha, Mbah a Moute is a versatile defensive forward who can make open 3-pointers and fits well into Houston’s system.

In theory.

Mbah a Moute, who played well for the Rockets in 2017-18, looked like a major loss when he left for the Clippers in 2018. But he has struggled to stay healthy. He hasn’t played in the NBA since October 2018. Houston worked out the 33-year-old in March – and didn’t sign him. That’s telling.

Expect Mbah a Moute to fall behind Robert Covington, P.J. Tucker, Jeff Green, DeMarre Carroll and Danuel House on the Rockets’ depth chart. It’d be a good outcome for Houston if Mbah a Moute helps in spot minutes.

But if Mbah a Moute proves to be effective in a Rockets uniform, that’d at least look quite natural. We’ve seen it before.