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For Nets, Lottery is No. 1, 2, or 3 or bust

05/29/2012 1:58 PM ET
By Lou DiPietro

The last time the Nets won the Draft Lottery was 2000, when they chose Kenyon Martin.(AP)

An old adage says that “second place is the first loser,” but come Wednesday, the Brooklyn Nets could find out that finishing second (or even third) makes them a winner.

The NBA Draft Lottery results will be announced on Wednesday night, marking the culmination of what has been colloquially referred to for weeks now as the “Anthony Davis Sweepstakes,” as the Kentucky star is expected to be the No. 1 overall pick no matter who earns the rights to that choice.

The Nets would obviously love to get the No. 1 pick, but in their case, it almost matters not if they win the lottery as long as they’re on the proverbial podium – for if they don’t at least place or show in this Kentucky derby, then the newest residents of New York’s most populous county might be left with a shortage of human resources this summer.

For those who may not know, here’s how the lottery works: 14 numbered ping pong balls are placed into a hopper, with four of them drawn (much like any state lottery) to produce one of 1,001 possible combinations. Each of the 14 teams who misses the playoffs has a certain number of those combinations, weighted in reverse order of finish – meaning that the “worst” team (this year, Charlotte) has the most combinations (250), with the “best” non-playoff team (Houston in 2012) getting the least (they have five).

Whichever team has the combination drawn first gets the No. 1 overall pick, with Nos. 2 and 3 determined the same way. After that, picks 4-14 (and of course 15-30) are then assigned in reverse order of the regular-season standings.

The Nets finished the 2011-12 season with a 22-44 record, tying them with Sacramento for fifth-worst in the league and giving them a 7.5 percent chance of winning the lottery. Only five teams have better odds, but as history has proven and the slogan for the New York State Lottery suggests, all a franchise needs is a dollar (or, in the case of the 1993 Magic, one ping pong ball) and a dream.

The Nets have about 75 of the proverbial 1,001 dollars in the pot, but their dreams could in fact be a summer nightmare if they don’t finish in the proverbial money.

Their first-round pick, if it isn’t a Top 3 selection, would be somewhere between Nos. 6-9 – but, if it falls in that range, then it goes to Portland as the final part of this past February’s Gerald Wallace deal. Meanwhile, Wallace himself has already said that he will forego the option year in his contract and test free agency, meaning that the Nets could end up with nothing to show for one of the riskiest trades in franchise history.

In addition, the Nets are also without a first-round choice they are owed, at least this year, in the lottery-protected first-round pick they acquired from the Rockets for Terrence Williams back in 2010; because Houston did not make the playoffs and is thus in the lottery, they keep the pick in 2012 and Brooklyn has to wait at least one more year to put closure to that trade.

That means that if they fail to move up to the Top 3, Brooklyn will have just one selection: No. 58 overall, the third-to-last pick in the draft and one that isn’t even “theirs,” as they acquired it from Miami back in 2010. But all those thoughts of doom and gloom presented, don’t forget that the Nets have twice before won the lottery.

Back in 1990, the Nets were coming off a league-worst 17-65 campaign and did just what the Bobcats hope to do this year: retain the top overall choice, which that year allowed them to select Derrick Coleman. And, exactly a decade later, the Nets won the lottery again, this time moving up from the No. 7 slot to earn the right to select Kenyon Martin in 2000.

Beyond that, the Nets have also moved up two other times under the current lottery system; the first saw them rise from No. 5 to No. 4 in 1988 (when they selected Chris Morris), and the other was in 1991 when they rose from No. 4 to No. 2 to take Kenny Anderson.

And, as mentioned before, in a finite environment like the draft lottery, all it takes is one chance. That’s all the Magic had when they won the No. 1 choice in 1993, and the Bulls only had 17 out of 1,001 when in 2008 when they won the right to select Derrick Rose.

Will it happen? The world will know in less than 36 hours, but if there’s at least one current correlation that can give the Nets and their fans more hope, it’s this: less than four weeks ago, I’ll Have Another had 12-to-1 odds, the sixth-best in the race, on the morning of the Kentucky Derby….and on June 9, he will be coming to New York with a chance to become just the 12th thoroughbred to win horse racing’s Triple Crown.

 

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