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The 2016 NBA draft lottery went according to form, completely, as the three teams with the best odds at the No. 1 pick–the Sixers, Lakers and Celtics (via the Nets)–landed the top three picks, respectively.
Even though the ping pong balls failed to reveal any shocking plot twists, there are still plenty of juicy storylines to savor in advance of the June 23 draft.
Here’s a quick rundown of the draft lottery’s winners and losers:
Winner: Sixers president Bryan Colangelo
This is an all-timer when it comes to showing up just in time to enjoy the fruits of the labor. Over the last three years, Philadelphia has won just 47 combined games, 18 fewer than the Lakers and at least 36 fewer than the other 28 teams. Those three seasons were beyond arduous, testing the patience of fans, executives, coaches and players alike.
Last month, Colangelo was hired to replace polarizing Sixers executive Sam Hinkie, who resigned after a third straight season of tanking. Colangelo’s arrival was going to represent a new era of Sixers basketball, one way or another, but now he gets to ride the wave and excitement of a franchise-changing talent like Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram. Even better, he gets to cash in or make use of the many assets hoarded by Hinkie–two additional first-round picks, a stashed Dario Saric, a rehabilitating Joel Embiid–to build around whichever player he deems worthy of the top selection.
The grueling work–the stuff that takes forever and inspires ire from critics–is largely done. Colangelo gets to undertake the fun stuff like roster building while also being perfectly positioned to get all the credit. Not a bad way for Colangelo to get back into the game three years after he parted ways with the Raptors.
Loser: Former Sixers president Sam Hinkie
Hinkie finds himself in a truly weird place following Tuesday’s drawing. Over the last three years, his reputation took a beating and his authority was ultimately usurped, but his diehard fans kept the faith even after he chose to resign. Philadelphia winning the lottery stands as the clearest possible validation of his methods while also representing a heart-breaking reminder that he wound up being a completely disposable part of the franchise’s “Process.” He will always get the satisfaction of knowing that the arrival of Simmons or Ingram in Philadelphia was his doing, even as he comes to terms with the idea that history is bound to undersell his role in whatever success the Sixers enjoy in the years to come.
Perhaps Hinkie can draw consolation from the knowledge that the lottery will seal his “cult hero” status forever. But there’s still a nagging feeling that he’s become the NBA’s version of the unfulfilled millionaire, the man who achieved his life’s dream only to realize that he was unable to enjoy it. Hopefully Hinkie can find the proper fake Abraham Lincoln quote to carry him through this trying, bittersweet time.
Winner: The Lakers, especially Mitch Kupchak and Luke Walton
The Lakers are arguably the lottery’s biggest winners, even though they will pick second behind the Sixers. Why? They were staring down the barrel of an out-and-out disaster: Had their pick slipped out of the top three, they would have had to convey it to the Sixers as part of a 2012 trade with the Suns for Steve Nash. That scenario would have left Kupchak and new coach Luke Walton to open the post-Kobe Bryant era on a truly sour note.
Instead, the Lakers will get to pick second in a draft with two players who are the consensus top two picks. In other words, they’re adding talent and facing zero pressure. They can conduct as many workouts as they want, they can float out trade rumors and all the rest, but this decision will eventually boil down to taking whoever is left, Simmons or Ingram. Either player would immediately become the most promising and hyped player on a young roster that needs a franchise face. There’s no replacing Bryant, not after two decades, but at least there’s serious cause for hope in Lakerland for the first time in three years.
Loser: The Knicks and Nets
Well, at least they weren’t blindsided. New York entered Tuesday knowing that it wouldn’t have a lottery pick this year thanks to previous trades with the Nuggets and Raptors for Carmelo Anthony and Andrea Bargnani, respectively. After the lottery, Denver will pick seventh (in addition to two other first-round picks), Toronto will pick ninth, and New York will be left without the ability to add another young talent alongside 2015 lottery pick Kristaps Porzingis.
Rubbing a little salt in the wound, the Knicks had to watch the Raptors compete in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals immediately after the lottery. Since the 2013 trade with Toronto for Bargnani, a deal that was supposed to make New York better in the short-term, the Knicks have failed to make the playoffs for three straight years while the Raptors have made the playoffs all three years. Bargnani, a former No. 1 overall pick, appeared in just 71 games for the Knicks, with New York going just 20-51 in those contests. Woof.
Brooklyn has it pretty bad too. Its reward for an ultra-depressing 21-win season that cost coach Lionel Hollins and GM Billy King their jobs? The No. 3 pick, which they had to convey to the Celtics as part of the blockbuster package that landed Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett in 2013. Pierce is already two teams removed from Brooklyn, and on the verge of retirement; Garnett is settling into life as a quasi-assistant coach in Minnesota before he eventually hangs it up. The two produced just one playoff series victory during their brief Nets tenure, and new Brooklyn GM Sean Marks will be dealing with the ramifications of that deal for years to come. In the meantime, Nets fans are left yearning for the type of foundational prospect that would have been available at No. 3–Dragan Bender or Kris Dunn–while they gulp in dismay at the assembled “talent” in Brooklyn.
Both Big Apple teams mortgaged their future to a degree with their trades, and both were reminded Tuesday that payment is now due.
Winners: Sacramento Kings and Phoenix Suns
In two anticipated footnotes, the Kings kept their own pick and the Suns received the Wizards’ lottery pick.
Sacramento would have needed to send its pick to Chicago if it slipped outside the top 10. Because no team jumped the Kings, they held steady at No. 8, giving the franchise’s much-maligned front office an extra chip to find a functional supporting cast around DeMarcus Cousins.
Suns GM Ryan McDonough cashed in a second lottery pick thanks to the midseason trade of Markieff Morris. Washington could have kept its pick if it moved into the top three; instead, Phoenix will pick at No. 4 (its own pick), No. 13 (from Washington) and No. 28 (from Cleveland) as it tries to rebound from a thoroughly and unexpectedly depressing season.
• MORE NBA: Mock Draft 3.0
Loser: Anthony Davis
If any A-list superstar needed a little lottery magic, it was Davis, who suffered through another injury-plagued season in New Orleans. The Pelicans didn’t move up or down on Tuesday and will therefore pick at No. 6, a fine slot but not one that is likely to deliver an immediate franchise-level sidekick for the Davis. Remember, the 23-year-old All-Star is set to enter the first year of a five-year rookie extension next fall, and the pieces surrounding him (Tyreke Evans, Jrue Holiday, etc.) all present more questions than answers.
It’s all a bit of a bummer. Four of the five teams picking above New Orleans (Philly, L.A., Phoenix and Minnesota) are in full youth movement mode and lacking a true All-NBA level talent like Davis, while the fifth team (Boston) is coming off a promising playoff appearance and poised to make real noise this off-season. Compared to those scenarios, Davis looks awfully stuck. As it turns out, it was too much to dream that Simmons, who spent one year at nearby LSU, might help save him.