Atlanta and Houston’s Big Lottery Moves Add Another Layer of Offseason Intrigue

CHICAGO — As each of the white ping pong balls, numbered 1 through 14, bounces on the SmartPlay device that facilitates the annual NBA Draft lottery, the echo of the 2.7-gram plastic spheres clanking at the inside of the glass is a stark reminder of how the fate of $4 billion franchises literally hangs in the balance of pure chance. On Sunday afternoon, in the sequestered lounge at McCormick Place, the first three balls to determine the winner of the No. 1 pick in June’s draft came out of the machine 6-10-14, for example, leaving seven teams with the possibility of the first selection – or half of the room.

The drawing takes place about an hour before the NBA telecast publicly reveals these results and why every league official, all 12 members of the media – including this reporter – and every representative of the 14 potential lottery teams present must return their mobile devices in a white, sealed bag. envelopes. This ensures that the results will remain secret until Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum reveals on stage which team sign is slipped into each numbered envelope corresponding to each choice. Last year, there was palpable unrest inside the lottery bunker, as team executives waited to find out which lucky organization would earn the right to select Victor Wembanyama. This time around, the lack of consensus on top prospects has left those backstage with a general air of curiosity.

If a “1” came out of the hopper last, Washington would have gotten the first pick. The Wizards were in exactly this position a year ago, finding themselves just one ball away from bringing Wembanyama from France to the nation’s capital. Portland needed a “2”, San Antonio needed a “3”, and so did Toronto with a “4”, Memphis with a “5” and then Houston with a “9” . Alas, the final ball was “13,” meaning the Atlanta Hawks, who entered Sunday with the 10th best odds and just a 3 percent chance of securing the No. 1 pick, emerged victorious.

Atlanta Hawks general manager Landry Fields, right, and NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum pose for photos after Tatum announced the Hawks won the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft during the draft lottery in Chicago, Sunday, May 12, 2024. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)Atlanta Hawks general manager Landry Fields, right, and NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum pose for photos after Tatum announced the Hawks won the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft during the draft lottery in Chicago, Sunday, May 12, 2024. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Daniel Starkman, Atlanta’s vice president of player personnel, knew his team had a chance once the third ball coughed up a high number. Starkman’s brother owns a sock company and the Hawks executive wore fireman red socks with the team’s Pacman logo to help coax their good fortune. “I can’t wait to watch our Slack channels and see what our group thinks,” Starkman told Yahoo Sports after the draw. While many decision-makers around the league are suggesting that this draft carries the type of uncertainty that could present dangerous repercussions for the team that picks first, Starkman flatly rejected the premise that the possibility of not finding the right needle in this haystack of hopes is certain. a sort of death sentence for a front office. “Having the opportunity to select one of these top prospects presents a lot of options for any team looking to improve,” Starkman said. “Who wouldn’t want that?”

You could see the same enthusiasm on general manager Landry Fields’ face as he sat on the dais, a wide smile spreading across his face as Atlanta jumped into the top four for the first time during the broadcast and again once the Hawks were declared the last team standing. . The team executives in the broadcast room relished their congratulatory handshakes, happily wondering, “Who could You take if you could choose any of them player of the draft?

Their choice, and the Hawks’ deal for No. 1, immediately casts additional uncertainty on this volatile class of players. Atlanta was already expected to be one of the most active teams of the offseason, after exploring the trade market for All-Star point guard Dejounte Murray before the February trade deadline, officials said. league sources at Yahoo Sports, and the growing belief among rival teams that this summer, All-Star Trae Young will also be placed on the league’s trading block. Perhaps Atlanta will look to attach the top pick to one of these players in its upcoming trade conversations. Going into the lottery, league staff were already hoping that this draft would have the highest probability in years that the No. 1 pick could be traded — that hasn’t happened since 2017, when Boston went down to No. #3 with Philadelphia, allowing the Sixers to take Markelle Fultz while the Celtics fortunately recovered Jayson Tatum. The Atlanta result certainly puts that possibility back in the spotlight in June, especially since the Hawks have already identified third-year forward Jalen Johnson as a critical piece moving forward, regardless of this. what will happen with their expected backcourt maneuvers.

Even though he was only one ball away, Washington didn’t fall very far. The Wizards entered the day with the second largest four-ball combination out of a possible 1,001 that could emerge from the lottery machine. And once the 7-6-1-5 determined the second coin toss, Washington general manager Will Dawkins learned his club was holding on with the No. 2 pick. Dawkins didn’t bring any lucky charms with him to the private room. His Wizards might be the team furthest from competing for the playoffs, without a clearly defined franchise centerpiece like Wembanyama in San Antonio or even Cade Cunningham in Detroit. Dawkins expressed confidence that Washington’s recruiting department can find such a player at the top of these rankings, even with the unknowns that abound.

“There are several All-Stars in this class,” Dawkins told Yahoo Sports. “We’ll probably have to wait a few years to see which ones are really popular.”

Then 6-7-11-9 came out of the machine, and that awarded the No. 3 pick to Houston, by way of Brooklyn, thanks to the draft capital the Nets sent to the Rockets for James Harden. This slot held the ninth-best chance to move up to the first selection in Sunday’s drawing, so the Rockets scored another massive jump in the lottery that will have ripple effects across the entire offseason landscape . Houston, according to sources, planned to consider the trade option if the Rockets had stayed within their expected range at the bottom of the top 10. Houston has clear goals of competing for the playoffs after picking inside the top four over the course of each of the last three. drafts, which has left rival staff already pinning the Rockets as the second team in June’s top three that will evaluate trades out of their selection. With such a change in circumstances, Atlanta and Houston will have to completely reconsider their path before making any decisions.

The Rockets sent Sam Strantz, the team’s associate general counsel, into the lounge. To discuss Houston’s result, he slipped the white hat with pink and blue stripes that his newborn son, Sawyer, wore to the hospital just two months ago into the breast pocket of his jacket.

The fourth and final tie produced the 3-10-6-5 combination, meaning San Antonio got their luck back after the Spurs put themselves in position for Wembanyama last May. Brandon Leibsohn, the Spurs’ senior manager of basketball strategy and legal affairs, wore the belt he fastened during his first interview to join San Antonio. “I wanted to make sure I had something from my first day to today,” Leibsohn told Yahoo Sports. The seismic jumps from Atlanta and Houston also pushed Toronto’s pick out of the top six, meaning the Raptors’ No. 8 pick has now also been passed to San Antonio, a holdover from the Jakob Poeltl trade of the 2023 trade deadline. The Spurs suddenly inherit two swings in the first eight picks to land impactful pieces to grow alongside their blossoming Frenchman. “For us, all the pillars of building a team are just finding players who can help us develop something that is sustainable over a very long time,” Leibsohn said.

Detroit fell to fifth, remarkably, for the second year in a row after entering the lottery with the highest possible chance of winning the top prize. This will mark the third straight season that Detroit has held the No. 5 pick after the Pistons selected Cunningham with the first selection in 2021. The Pistons could also be a trade possibility at this slot. However, there is as much uncertainty over which leader will have the final say on such an important decision as there is over the top talent in this class. Detroit has already announced that the Pistons are looking to hire a new president of basketball operations above general manager Troy Weaver, tapping search firm Turnkey, where former Nets and Sixers executive Billy King, plays a vital role in all basketball advisory services.

Potential candidates for the position were told they would ask the agency to remove Weaver from his position, league sources told Yahoo Sports. But early returns from Detroit’s search didn’t seem to bring much progress to the Pistons. While Detroit hoped to interview Milwaukee general manager Jon Horst, the Bucks blocked those moves and did not allow Horst to do so, sources said. Other names, like former Trail Blazers general manager Neil Olshey, sources said, also declined the Pistons’ invitation to interview for the role.

Many of the league’s decision-makers are still traveling to Chicago, where the NBA Draft Combine will continue throughout the week. There will be countless clandestine meetings between NBA powerbrokers, leaving plenty of trade talk and free agency talk in the stands at Wintrust Arena. The Lakers left the impression to coaching industry figures that Los Angeles was also planning to conduct interviews with the franchise’s head coach this week. The league’s silly season is well underway.