NBA Draft Lottery odds, what winning could mean for each team


“10 days before knowing my future team. It’s really a crazy thing”

That was what presumptive No.1 pick Victor Wembanyama Tweeted out 10 days ago. Tuesday night the NBA Draft Lottery will give him his answer, and the fortunes of multiple franchises will be changed forever.

For all the scouting, planning, and development that goes into NBA roster building, sometimes it’s still better to be lucky than good— and this year that luck could set a franchise up for a decade. That is whether they land first and get Wembanyama, second and pick Scoot Henderson, or land farther down the board but get one of a number of players with All-NBA potential but some development work to do.

Here are the lottery odds for all 14 teams involved, and what landing Wembanyama would mean to them.

Pistons small icon Detroit Pistons: No.1 14%, top four 52.1%. The Pistons were hoping to compete for a play-in spot last season before Cade Cunningham’s leg injury required surgery and ended his season. This is already a solid young core with former No.1 pick Cunningham plus Jaden Ivey, Jalen Duren, Killian Hayes, Isaiah Stewart — add a top two pick to this roster and the Pistons could be contenders in a handful of years. Even if they end up lower, they will be adding another high level player to a core than can grow into something special.

Rockets small icon Houston Rockets: No.1 14%, top four 52.1%. The Rockets are another team about to add a high pick to a young core with potential. A Wembanyama and Alperen Şengün front court could be a force with passing and shooting (for that matter, a Scoot Henderson and Jalen Green pairing would be interesting, that’s a lot of athleticism attacking the rim). Whatever happens in the lottery does not change the Rockets’ plans to use their around $60 million in cap space and win more now, which is going to mean chasing veteran free agents, starting with James Harden.

Spurs small icon San Antonio Spurs: No.1 14%, top four 52.1%. Winning the Wembanyama sweepstakes would feel a lot like when the Spurs won the lottery to land Tim Duncan and created a dynasty (or, maybe like when they won and landed David Robinson, which was the true first domino of those dynastic years). There have been whispers that Gregg Popovich would stick around and coach another year or two if the Spurs do land the top pick. San Antonio would roll out a starting lineup with Wembanyama, Keldon Johnson, Devin Vassell and Jeremy Sochan that would be interesting (they wouldn’t win a lot of game that first year, but they would be interesting).

Hornets small icon Charlotte Hornets: No.1 12.5%, top four 48.1%. LaMelo Ball with Wembanyama would create arguably the greatest social media/young fan favorite team in the league, and also one that could start winning games quickly as the roster is filled out around them. With the veterans already on this roster (Terry Rozier, the likely untradable Gordon Hayward, P.J. Washington) the Hornets could compete for a play-in spot next season.

Blazers small icon Portland Trail Blazers: No.1 10.5%, top four 42.1%. Let’s be positive and not go down the road of Portland’s previous top picks. The Trail Blazers remain intent on making a big trade this summer — not to send Damian Lillard out (like so many fans of other teams seem to expect), but rather to bring another star in next to Lillard to try and win now. Landing Wembanyama would likely mean they trade center Jusuf Nurkic for another quality player and start Wembanyama next to a re-signed Jerami Grant in the front court with Lillard and some added depth on the wing and backcourt. That sounds like a playoff team in year one.

Magic small icon Orlando Magic: No.1 9%, top four 37.2%. The Orlando Magic have won the NBA Draft Lottery in consecutive years before, 1992 and 1993, which led to them drafting Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway. Last year the Magic landed the No.1 pick and selected Paolo Banchero, who went on to win Rookie of the Year. Add Wembanyama to Banchero, Franz Wagner, a now solid point guard in Markelle Fultz plus young stars like Wendell Carter Jr. and this is the best young core in the game (the same might be true if the land the No.2 pick and bring in Scoot Henderson). Also, if he can stay healthy, a frontcourt of Jonathan Isaac and Wembanyama would be a defensive juggernaut.

Pacers small icon Indiana Pacers: No.1 6.8%, top four 29.4%. The Pacers would instantly have one of the best and most interesting young cores in the league: Myles Turner at center, Wembanyama at the four (creating a defensive wall up front), with the very good Tyrese Haliburton running the show at the point and a mix of Andrew Nembhard, Bennedict Mathurin and Buddy Hield on the wing. With Rick Carlisle as coach this is a playoff team in year one (they were on their way to that last season until Haliburton got injured) that could build into much, much more.

Wizards small icon Washington Wizards: No.1 6.7%, top four 29%. Whoever gets hired as the new GM in Washington would instantly look a lot smarter if Wembanyama is on the roster. If he is, do they re-sign Kristaps Porzingis ($36 million player option) and let coach Wes Unseld play around with a two-big lineup? They likely bring back Kyle Kuzma to create a lineup of a point guard to be named, then Bradley Beal, Kuzma, Wembanyama and Porzingis — that looks like the playoff team ownership wants. If that group can just stay healthy.

Jazz small icon Utah Jazz: No.1 4.5%, top four 20.3%. Lauri Markkanen and Wembanyama would instantly create one of the longest, most versatile, and most interesting front courts with Walker Kessler likely at center and those two at the 3/4 in whatever order you wish. While the playoffs would be a year one expectation, there would still need to be a lot of building out of the roster around that front line for the long term. The advantage is Danny Ainge and the Utah front office still have a mountain of draft picks from the Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell trades to use/trade to put all the puzzle pieces together.

Mavericks small icon Dallas Mavericks: No.1 3%, top four 13.9%. The bigger concern in the Dallas front office is a team leap frogging them and pushing the Mavericks down to the No.11 pick, in which case the Knicks get their pick as a remnant of the Porzingis trade. Dallas nakedly tanked at the end of the season to get into the top 10. Should they win the lottery things instantly look a lot better for the Mavericks, who will have found their star to go next to Luka Dončić (no matter what happens with the Kyrie Irving free agency). A Dončić and Wembanyama pairing might be the most entertaining duo in the league from Day 1.

Bulls small icon Chicago Bulls: No.1 1.8%, top four 8.5%. If the Bulls do not get lucky and land that 8.5% chance to jump into the top four, then this pick goes to the Orlando Magic as part of the Nikola Vucevic trade. If the Bulls do get that lucky and jump to the top spot, they will land the franchise cornerstone player they have not had since Derrick Rose and the thing this roster desperately needs. Considering the size of the Chicago market and the Bulls’ fan base, you know there are a few people in the league office rooting for the Bulls to get lucky.

Thunder small icon Oklahoma City Thunder: No.1 1.7%, top four 8%. If the lottery gods smile on OKC they could create an NBA dynasty in the Midwest. The Thunder already have All-NBA First Team guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, secondary shot creator Josh Giddey, promising big man Jalen Williams, Chet Holmgren (who sat out last season injured but was the No.2 pick last year for a reason) — add Wembanyama to that group and the potential is off the charts. Plus GM/president Sam Presti has a truckload of first-round picks in future years to round out the roster.

Raptors small icon Toronto Raptors: No.1 1%, top four 4.8%. It’s a crazy longshot, but add Wembanyama (or Henderson) to a roster with the length and athleticism of Scottie Barnes, Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby, (plus whoever they re-sign from Jakob Poeltl, Fred VanVleet and Gary Trent Jr., all free agents) and you have a playoff team in the short term that could be a real threat in the East in a couple of years. Some new coach is instantly going to look very smart if they win the lottery.

Pelicans small icon New Orleans Pelicans: No.1 0.5%, top four 2.4%. It’s a wild longshot but it’s fun to dream of what a Zion Williamson and Wembanyama frontcourt would look like (if it could stay healthy). Pair that with Brandon Ingram, CJ McCollum and Herb Jones and there would be a dangerous and entertaining team in the Big Easy (frankly, there is an entertaining and dangerous team there now if they can just all stay healthy and on the court together for a stretch).

Jaren Jackson Jr., Jrue Holiday headline NBA All-Defensive Teams


There is a bit of a changing of the guard with the NBA All-Defensive team — half of the 10 players named to the first and second teams are making their inaugural appearance on the team.

Meanwhile, some well-known faces — including the Defensive Player of the Year for each of the last five seasons — are not on the list.

Here are the official NBA All-Defensive Teams, which were announced Tuesday (players’ voting point totals included).

G. Jrue Holiday (Bucks), 192
G. Alex Caruso (Bulls), 125
C. Brook Lopez (Bucks), 181
F. Jaren Jackson Jr. (Grizzlies), 195
F. Evan Mobley (Cavaliers), 132

G. Derrick White (Celtics), 99
G. Dillon Brooks (Grizzlies), 54
C. Bam Adebayo (Heat), 53
F. Draymond Green (Warriors), 89
F. O.G. Anunoby (Raptors), 81

Others receiving votes: Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks) 60, Jaden McDaniels (Timberwolves), 40, Marcus Smart (Celtics) 35, Mikal Bridges (Nets) 33, Nic Clayton (Nets) 25, Jimmy Butler (Heat) 23, Joel Embiid (76ers) 15, Herbert Jones (Pelicans) 15, Anthony Davis (Lakers) 9, Lu Dort (Thunder) 9, Jaylen Brown (Celtics) 4, Matisse Thybulle (Trail Blazers) 4, Anthony Edwards (Timberwolves) 4, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Thunder) 3, Jarrett Allen (Cavaliers) 3, Dejounte Murray (Hawks) 3, Tyrese Haliburton (Pacers) 2, Paul George (Clippers) 2, De'Anthony Melton (76ers) 1, Delon Wright (Wizards) 1, Patrick Beverley (Bulls) 1, Desmond Bane (Grizzlies) 1, Scottie Barnes (Raptors) 1, Kevin Durant (Suns) 1, Aaron Gordon (Nuggets) 1, P.J. Tucker (76ers) 1, Walker Kessler (Jazz) 1.

Here are a few thoughts on the results:

• Marcus Smart, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, finished fifth in guard voting and did not make the team. If you’re looking for the biggest surprise, that would be it.

• Neither did another DPOY in Antetokounmpo, who finished fifth in forward voting. He had more points than the second team center (Adebayo) or a guard (Brooks), but because the NBA sticks with positions for this award the Greek Freak misses the cut by one.

• Forward was the most challenging position for this award, Jaden McDaniels also deserved a spot on the team, but there could be just four forwards.

• It’s unusual that this year’s Defensive Player of the Year, Jaren Jackson Jr., was not a unanimous First Team choice (three voters had him on the second team, and if there were 100 voters one left him off entirely, although it’s possible only 99 media members voted for this award).

• Making the team means a little extra cash for Holiday and White.

• The five players making their first All-Defensive Team are Mobley, Caruso, White, Anunoby and Brooks.

• The player with the most appearances in this group? Draymond Green, who made his eighth All-Defensive team (four times first team).

Magic’s Paolo Banchero wins Rookie of the Year in landslide

Orlando Magic v Miami Heat
Megan Briggs/Getty Images

The result wasn’t a surprise — Paolo Banchero was this class’s standout rookie from the season’s opening tip. Maybe the only surprise is it wasn’t unanimous.

The Magic’s Banchero won the Rookie of the Year award in a landslide, getting 98 of the 100 first-place votes.

Jalen Williams from the Thunder came in second and Jazz center Walker Kessler was third (Kessler got the other two first-place votes. Only the Pacers’ Bennedict Mathurian, the Kings’ Keegan Murray, and the Pistons’ Jaden Ivey also got votes. Here’s a look at the voting:

What separated Banchero from the pack for me — he was on top of my ballot — was more was asked of him than any other rookie. The Magic gave him the keys to the franchise and asked him to be the primary shot creator from Day One. Banchero finished the season averaging 20 points,6.9 rebounds and 3.7 assists a game.

While Banchero’s efficiency slipped as the season went on — and at the same time Williams and Kessler’s numbers got better — this race was never close because of the load Banchero was asked to carry. Williams and Kessler played roles off the primary shot creators on their teams, Banchero had to be that shot creator.

Williams averaged 14.1 points a game for the Thunder and will be part of whatever is built around Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in OKC. Kessler may have been better this year than the guy he was traded for, Rudy Gobert.

NBA Power Rankings: Celtics finish season on top, Bucks a close second


In our final NBA Power Rankings of the season, Boston moves into the top spot after a convincing win over the Bucks last week. Philly remains in third place, and any one of those teams could come out of the East.

Celtics small icon 1. Celtics (54-25, Last week No. 2). The Celtics finish this season on top of these NBA Power Rankings and as my pick to win it all this year (despite the loss to Philly on Tuesday, which was without Jaylen Brown and Robert Williams III). The one thing that can derail this team is Robert Williams III not being healthy enough to play significant postseason minutes. They will need him if they end up facing the playoff gauntlet of Miami (the No.7 seed heading into the play-in), then Philadelphia, then Milwaukee. Boston is not the same defense, not the same rebounding team without Williams. Tatum will finish fourth in MVP voting this season, and look for Malcolm Brogdon to win Sixth Man of the Year. Whether Brown makes an All-NBA team (as a forward?) could determine whether he signs an extension with Boston this summer.

Bucks small icon 2. Bucks (57-22, LW 1). The Milwaukee Bucks are going to finish with the best record in the NBA, and most importantly that gives them a much easier path through the Eastern Conference (the No.2 seed Celtics likely have to face the dangerous Heat, then the 76ers, just to get to the conference finals, where the Bucks hope and expect to find themselves. Milwaukee has a legit shot at another banner. If a voter’s criteria is the best player on the best team, Giannis Antetokounmpo should be MVP. He also had to carry a larger load this season with Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday missing time, putting more on the Greek Freak’s shoulders. Brook Lopez also deserves a long look for Defensive Player of the Year.

Sixers small icon 3. 76ers (52-27, LW 6). Joel Embiid made his MVP statement with the 52-point, dominant outing against the Celtics, but that win left a lot of other questions about the 76ers’ playoff viability. The rest of the team shot 35.9% against Boston, and while that may be a one-off it speaks to concerns about consistent scoring around them. Then there is the defense at guard with James Harden and Tyrese Maxey getting big minutes, the Celtics were without Brown yet the trio they did play (Smart, White, Brogdon) combined for 61 points. Philly has to be better to get past Boston in the second round, but they know what the bar is they have to clear.

Cavaliers small icon 4. Cavaliers (50-30, LW 5). Cleveland will be a popular media pick to be upset in the first round by the gritty Knicks, but I’m not on that bandwagon. First, the Cavaliers enter the playoffs with the best defense in the NBA this season (and still top-10 after the All-Star break), although the Cavaliers need a healthy and peak Jarrett Allen to anchor that end of the court. They also enter that series with the best player on the court — Donovan Mitchell has played at an All-NBA level all season and has picked it up in the last week with four straight 40+ point games. Mitchell has a history of big playoff performances and I think we will see more this season — he will be a problem for the Knicks and maybe for the Bucks in the second round.

Grizzlies small icon 5. Grizzlies (50-29, LW 4). Memphis gets overlooked, but it has a legitimate chance to come out of the West and reach the NBA Finals. A couple of things need to go their way for that to happen, starting with a healthy Steven Adams — they need his rebounding, his physicality in the paint, and his willingness to do the dirty work. Second, the Grizzlies need to show a maturity under pressure that has not been a consistent part of their makeup to this point — players cannot lose their cool, pick up unnecessary techs, and they need to stay out of foul trouble (we’re looking at you, Jaren Jackson Jr.). But Memphis winning the West can happen, especially with Ja Morant doing things like this.

Nuggets small icon 6. Nuggets (52-27, LW 3). The Nuggets go into the playoffs as the No.1 seed in the West, but with Nikola Jokić missing time recently, then an ugly loss to Houston on Tuesday, it’s challenging to have faith in a deep playoff run out of the Nuggets. However, give them a week off to get healthy and an eager Jamal Murray — assuming he can return to his bubble form — this is as formidable as any team in the West. The standings shake out so that the Nuggets likely see Kevin Durant and the Suns in the second round, Denver will have to have its stuff together by then (and likely in the first round, there will be no easy path out of this conference). Jokić is in the mix for another MVP and is deserving, but this recent slide has not helped his cause, recency bias is a strong pull on people.

Knicks small icon 7. Knicks (46-33, LW 8). New York is locked in as the No.5 seed in the East and is destined to meet a very good Cavaliers team in the first round. Offer that to any Knicks fan (or member of their front office) before the season and they would have jumped at it — this has been an impressive season behind Jalen Brunson and a resurgent Julius Randle (Randle is more likely to make All-NBA, just because there’s less depth at the forward spot this season). Immanuel Quickley is in the mix for Sixth Man of the Year with his play of late, although he likely finishes second (to the Celtics’ Brogdon). The Knicks have a chance against the Cavaliers, but they will need a healthy Randle hitting contested shots to make it happen.

Suns small icon 8. Suns (44-35, LW 9). Winners of six in a row and they have yet to lose with Kevin Durant suited up, making them the trendy pick to come out of the West despite questions about their depth and chemistry (at most Durant will have played 10 games with this team before the playoffs start). If the Suns are going to make it out of the East, Chris Paul will have to hit big shots, and Josh Okogie and Torrey Craig will have to step up on both ends of the court. Phoenix is basically locked in as the four seed, which would mean a second-round matchup with the Nuggets if the seeds follow form (Phoenix will have a tough first-round matchup with whoever finishes fifth in the West).

Kings small icon 9. Kings (48-31, LW 7). The Kings are the best story in the NBA this season, not just making the playoffs for the first time since 2006 but doing so as the No.3 seed and arguably the most consistent team in the conference. It will be trendy to pick against them in the first round of the playoffs because of their 25th-ranked defense, but their elite offense is enough to win a couple of rounds (and in this West, maybe more). Mike Brown will deservedly run away with Coach of the Year and Domantas Sabonis likely makes All-NBA as a center, but it will be tough for De'Aaron Fox to make the team because of the depth at guard. Fox will win the first-ever clutch performance award.

Warriors small icon 10. Warriors (42-38, LW 11). If you believe in the Warriors as title contenders, you believe in the muscle memory of the playoffs — the Warriors have not consistently looked like a contender this season and are 18th in the league in defense. However, they didn’t look like a lock to come out of the West last season until everything clicked into place in the playoffs. Can they repeat that kind of postseason run with their core six players back? Steve Kerr said this is not the Warriors’ “Last Dance,” but with GM Bob Myers without a contract beyond this season and Draymond Green with a player option (and a new CBA complicating things for big-spending teams), it’s fair to ask if we will see these core Warriors together again.

Lakers small icon 11. Lakers 41-38, LW 18). Winners of 7-of-8 and with the third-best defense in the NBA since the All-Star break, the remade Lakers — around a resurgent and healthy Anthony Davis and LeBron James — have to be considered legitimate threats to come out of the West. The question with the Lakers in the playoffs isn’t if their peak is good enough to come out of the conference, it’s can they sustain that level of play for a couple of months? This is a team with a small margin of error and a history of health questions, it’s easy to say the Lakers can win any series they are in, but can they win three grueling series in a row? That may be a big ask, but LeBron has had the answers before.

Nets small icon 12. Nets (43-36, LW 14). It wasn’t easy, but Brooklyn appears likely to hang on to the No.6 seed and avoid the play-in despite the in-season shakeups trading away Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant (the Nets’ magic number is two to secure sixth, but the play the Pistons and Magic next). The reason this team didn’t bottom out — they traded for solid players such as Mikal Bridges and Spencer Dinwiddie (the Nets don’t control most of their own future draft picks due to the James Harden trade, so there is no value in tanking) — is the same reason they can be a tough out in the playoffs. This team has a solid, deep group of defenders and shooters, they can switch screens and it will not be easy for the 76ers (if that proves to be the opponent) to find a weakness to attack.

Heat small icon 13. Heat (42-37, LW 15). Miami is the team everyone at the top of the East would like to avoid in the first round — playoff Jimmy Butler is a real thing, Bam Adebayo is an elite defensive big man, and Erik Spoelstra may be the best tactician in the league. Miami will be a tough out. The Heat should advance out of the play-in, but can they pull off an upset in the first round of the real playoffs? They will need some help (especially with the Celtics the likely first-round opponent), but if Tyler Herro and Kyrie Irving have strong outings and Max Strus and company can knock down some 3s, this is a dangerous team.

Clippers small icon14. Clippers (41-38, LW 10). With Paul George in the fold, the Clippers are as big a threat as any team in the West — Los Angeles is 24-14 in games both he and Kawhi Leonard play. The questions are: 1) Can they avoid the play-in? 2) Can they advance to the second round without George? That will require a monster effort from Leonard — he has played at that level of late — and consistency from their depth of role players, which has been more up and down. The Clippers (like the Heat, Warriors and others) have shown flashes of championship potential this season but only in short bursts. Can they finally string together those games? Huge showdown with the Lakers Wednesday night.

Pelicans small icon 15. Pelicans (40-39, LW 16). Zion Williamson is playing some non-contact 3-on-3, which is both encouraging and a long way from playing full-contact 5-on-5. Maybe he could return during the playoffs, but can the Pelicans stay afloat long enough for that to happen? This is a top-10 defensive team for the season and they are far more dangerous with Brandon Ingram playing at an elite level, which is why they are 7-2 in their last nine. New Orleans will need a big playoff series out of CJ McCollum as well because they lack depth in scoring and playmaking, especially with Zion out of the lineup. Can the Pelicans score enough to win when playoff teams clamp down on Ingram?

Raptors small icon 16. Raptors (40-39, LW 12). Since adding Jakob Poeltl, the Raptors are 14-9 and have the fourth-best defense in the league — they needed that solid paint protector that much. What has held Toronto back all season is shooting — they have the fourth-worst true shooting percentage in the league for the season, and that is the third worst since the All-Star break. They don’t shoot the 3 well and generally do not take enough advantage of their scoring opportunities. Despite his strong reputation as a tactician, there is a sense it may be time for the Raptors to move on from Nick Nurse as coach and get a different voice in the room. An early exit from the playoffs could add to that.

17. Timberwolves (40-40, LW 13). Since the All-Star break there have been stretches this team looks like a threat in the West, with the two-pronged offensive attack of Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards leading the way (and a steadier hand at the point in Mike Conley) and enough defense to get the job done. However, the Timberwolves have been inconsistent all season, and that continued even after KAT returned from injury, as evidenced by the recent three-game losing streak (which they snapped with a quality win over the Nets Tuesday). Minnesota looks destined for the play-in, but can they climb to the 7/8 seeds and make their path out much easier? Getting two wins, including a second on the road, can be a big ask.

Hawks small icon 18. Hawks (40-39, LW 19). Arguably the most disappointing team in the NBA this season — especially compared to internal preseason expectations — which is why there has been a front-office shakeup and a coaching change during the season. Under Quin Snyder the Atlanta offense has played better, but the defense has been bottom five in the league and it’s tough to predict any kind of a playoff run if they can’t get stops. That said, the win over the Bulls on Tuesday paves the way for Atlanta to be a 7/8 seed and only need one win to get out of the play-in, and if so they get their postseason shot. Trae Young in the playoffs is always entertaining (for fans, less so for the opposing coach).

Thunder small icon 19. Thunder (38-42, LW 17). Maybe the biggest surprise of the season (certainly the biggest outside Sacramento), the Thunder appear destined for the play-in (two games up on Dallas with three to play). Shai Gilgeous-Alexander will make an All-NBA team (and likely get some fifth-place MVP votes), Jalen Williams has stepped up as a rookie and Josh Giddey has grown as a playmaker. They will be a tough out in the play-in games. Add Chet Holmgren and another high draft pick to that group next season and the Thunder will be difficult to ignore. First up comes the play-in games.

Bulls small icon 20. Bulls (38-41, LW 21). Chicago’s offense has been much better since the All-Star break — and Patrick Beverley would like to take credit for that because he says he told Zach LaVine to shoot more. The Bulls are headed to the play-in and with that offense and the perimeter defense of Beverley and Alex Caruso, it’s not crazy to think they could advance out of it all and into the playoffs. Chicago thought they would be better than this and have some off-season roster shaping to do, but making the play-in is at least a start.

Mavericks small icon 21. Mavericks (37-42, LW 20). Owner Mark Cuban took the blame for not putting together a roster that could defend better than this one (23rd in the league), which has been at the core of all their problems. Not having secondary shot creation next to Luka Dončić is an issue, too, and Kyrie Irving wasn’t a natural fit that solved their problem (Irving and Dončić played next to each other, not with or off of one another). Dallas likely misses the play-in but expect them to re-sign Irving this offseason (it’s likely the best move for both of them) then try to retool the roster around their two stars. Jason Kidd will be back as coach. It’s on the front office to find defense and shooting during the summer.

Magic small icon 22. Magic 34-45, LW 24). Paolo Banchero is going to win Rookie of the Year, and it is deserved (even if his numbers faded some as the season went along — a lot was asked of him). The other reason for optimism: After a dreadful 5-20 start the Magic went 29-25 and they have played solid defense. Franz Wagner will be back and part of whatever is being built, and he plays well off Banchero. Markelle Fultz had a good season as well. The Magic will have a lottery draft pick and money to spend in free agency, they are evolving toward being a very interesting team.

Jazz small icon 23. Jazz (36-43, LW 23). The Jazz surprised everyone starting 10-4 and being 19-16 at Christmas — Will Hardy deserves credit for getting the most out of this foster. However, they have fallen off a cliff since and are headed to the lottery (which was always the plan, based on the trades they made at the deadline, sending out Mike Conley, Jared Vanderbilt and others). Lauri Markkanen may win Most Improved Player, he appears to be the frontrunner.

Wizards small icon 24. Wizards (34-45, LW 22). There were things to like: those cherry blossom uniforms, for one. Also, Kriztaps Porzingis was largely healthy and meshed well with Bradley Beal. Kyle Kuzma stepped up and made a leap — just in time to be a free agent this summer (the Wizards plan to pay up and keep him). Washington was better defensively than a year ago, but were still just 20th in the league. If the Wizards will run it back as intended with the Beal/Kuzma/Porzingis core, they need a better supporting cast. And to hit their draft pick this time (Johnny Davis was the pick last year).

Pacers small icon 25. Pacers (34-45, LW 25). The Pacers looked like a playoff team up until the mid-January night when Tyrese Haliburton was injured. Indiana is 6-17 in the games Haliburton missed (they are .500 with him) and it speaks to the need to add scoring and depth around him and Myles Turner (who had a strong season and signed an extension to stay in Indiana). Bennedict Mathurin had a strong rookie campaign (he will make an All-Rookie team) and should be part of whatever is being built in Indy.

Blazers small icon 26. Trail Blazers (33-46, LW 27). Missing the playoffs in a season that Damian Lillard played at an All-NBA level has raised eyebrows around the league, but Lillard is not asking out. Instead, look for the Trail Blazers’ first instinct to be to swing big this offseason (they have draft picks and good young players such as Shaedon Sharpe and Anfernee Simons they could throw in a trade for a star), but they need size (particularly in the backcourt), defense and more shooting. It’s a lot to upgrade. When everyone sits down and looks at a path forward, what do they see?

Hornets small icon 27. Hornets (26-54, LW 26). A disappointing season that started last summer when Miles Bridges got into legal trouble around that (rightfully) led to him missing this entire season. Throw in some LaMelo Ball ankle injuries (he only played 36 games) and the Hornets just couldn’t get any traction on this season — they are last in the league in offensive rating. On the right side, Steve Clifford got them defending, Ball will be back and the offense will pick up, they will add a lottery-pick player, and there’s real reason to be optimistic the Hornets can take a step forward next season. Especially under new ownership.

Rockets small icon 28. Rockets (20-60, LW 29). Expect bold moves out of Houston this offseason — they have good young talent ready to make a leap and an organization tired of losing and missing the playoffs. There have been plenty of James Harden returns rumors flying around the league this season, but if it’s not him it could be other top free agents as the Rockets have cap space and are looking to spend. Jabari Smith Jr. improved as the season went on (14.3 points per game after the All-Star break), Jalen Green and Kevin Porter Jr. continue to show great flashes, Alpren Şengün took a step forward and will be part of what is being built, they will add another lottery pick, throw in a quality free agent or two and this team could be in the postseason next year.

Spurs small icon 29. Spurs (20-59, LW 28). There were bright spots for the Spurs. Keldon Johnson and Devin Vassell looked good for stretches that they played. Jeremy Sochan, the No.9 pick from last year’s draft, looked like a player who could be part of what is being built in San Antonio. This is a long rebuilding process for a proud franchise, but one that could get a big boost of the lottery gods smile on them this season.

Pistons small icon 30. Pistons (16-63, LW 30). Detroit entered the season with dreams of competing for a play-in spot, but the second that Cade Cunningham went down a dozen games into the season, the calculus changed. However, it will not change next season — they extended Bojan Bogdanovic (and did not trade him), a sign they plan to compete next season. With those two plus the athleticism of Jaden Ivey (who looked better and better as the season went on), Killian Hayes, and a frontcourt with Isaiah Stewart and maybe James Wiseman (at the right price), this team is ready to compete next season — especially with a high lottery pick added to the mix.

Paul George says he was almost a Cavalier with LeBron in 2017


In the summer of 2017, the Indiana Pacers traded Paul George to the Thunder, and Kyrie Irving asked to be traded and left LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

However, in an alternate universe, George, LeBron and Irving were all teammates — and it almost happened in this universe, George said on his Podcast P with Paul George podcast (hat tip Yahoo Sports).

“I thought I was gonna go to Cleveland. Cleveland was close to getting me with’ Bron there…

“I’m chopping it up with’ Bron, like ‘Yo, how can we make this work?’ We’re trying to figure it out; he’s going back to [Cavs management], telling them how to get me. So I’m thinking like, ‘Oh, OK, we might make this happen. I might be with’ Bron over here in Cleveland.’…

“It fell through ’cause Cleveland and Indiana are in the same division.”

George added that the Celtics, Spurs and Raptors were also in the mix for his services. He ended up going to Oklahoma City, and eventually on to the Los Angeles Clippers.

A couple of weeks after the George deal fell through, Irving was pushing his way out of Cleveland (and after that LeBron was destined to move on eventually). If the Cavaliers had gotten George would Irving have wanted to stay? Good luck predicting what Irving was thinking or might have done, but if he felt he wasn’t getting enough sunshine in the shadow of LeBron, adding George to the roster would not help that issue.

George and LeBron’s teams square off in a huge matchup with playoff implications this Wednesday. Unfortunately, George will watch this one in street clothes due to a sprained knee.