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What if Tim Duncan went to ... ? Draft Lottery can change future

The NBA will hold this year's lottery in New York City, instead of its traditional location in New Jersey, which ... well, let's face it: They could hold it in your backyard and if you felt a raindrop, you would go inside and watch it on TV. The location is not relevant. It is a TV event.

This is a weird draft. It's as deep as any draft in many years, but there is only one sure superstar in it. It's quite possible that the team that picks 12th will be just as happy with its choice as the team that picks third or fourth. (I'm talking about genuine happiness, not just for-the-media happiness, where the general manager says "We're really excited," then turns to his assistant general manager and says "This guy is going to get us fired.")

At the top, though, the draft is clear. This is the Anthony Davis Lottery. Davis, the Kentucky star freshman (not to be redundant), is a dominant defensive center who handles the ball like a small forward. He reminds me of Hakeem Olajuwon, not just because of his game but because of his story. Olajuwon played soccer as a kid, which helped him develop the best footwork of any NBA center ever. Davis was a wing player until a late growth spurt. In both cases, nobody could have planned that kind of development -- it just happened.

So you can be sure: Even more than most years, every team in the lottery is dreaming about getting that top pick. The Charlotte Bobcats have a 25 percent chance of winning the lottery. A 25 percent chance of winning anything sounds good to the Bobcats, but that really isn't that high.

The Chicago Bulls had a 1.7 percent chance of landing Derrick Rose, and they got him. The Toronto Raptors once won the lottery with an 8.8 percent of the ping-pong balls, the Milwaukee Bucks won with 6.3 percent of the ping-pong balls, and in 1998, the Clippers once had a 22.56 percent chance of winning and a 99.3 percent chance of screwing up the pick; they won and drafted Michael "The Kandi Man" Olawokandi, the rare player whose nickname alone should have wiped him off their draft board.

You know that getting Davis is a big deal. But do you realize how big? I mean, the NBA lottery seems silly -- a short TV show in the middle of the week. Nobody gets drafted. We don't even get to see the ping-pong balls! (The balls hide in the back room, offended that we don't say "table tennis.") Let's face it: The NBA lottery makes the NFL Draft feel like a Presidential debate.

And yet ... well, the Anthony Davis Lottery could well determine the next 15 years of basketball history. If you don't believe me, look back 15 years, at the Tim Duncan Lottery in 1997. Imagine how different our hoops world would be right now if ...

*****

June 24, 2012

Confetti fell and the crowd roared as Tim Duncan and the Boston Celtics won their fifth NBA title.

Celtics coach Rick Pitino strengthened his already-strong case as the best coach in basketball history. Pitino has won five NBA titles with the Celtics, one with the University of Kentucky, and a gold medal with the 2008 U.S. Olympic team. He has also written 17 best-selling books, including Success Is A Choice, More Success Is Also A Choice, and If At First You Don't Succeed ... No, Actually I Don't Know Anything About That.

The Celtics have now won 21 championships, more than any team in NBA history. But when Pitino arrived in 1997, Boston had fallen on hard times. Then the Celtics cashed in on their 36.31 percent chance of winning the lottery -- they owned Dallas's pick as well as their own.

After the game, Pitino flew on his private airline, Success Is An Airline, to his second home in Lexington, Ky., where he is still beloved. But first, he recalled that moment when he landed Duncan.

"It just shows you how a few seconds can change your life," he said.

June 24, 2012

The confetti fell and the crowd roared as Tim Duncan and the Denver Nuggets won their fifth NBA title.

Afterward, Duncan teased Nuggets coach Mike D'Antoni, who took over in 1998 and initially tried to run a fast-break offense. D'Antoni came to his senses and built the team around Duncan, the star who landed in Denver in 1997. The Nuggets had a 16.51 percent chance of getting Duncan that year. The rest is NBA history.

"I just love the way they play," said longtime NBA coach George Karl, who did not participate in the Finals in any capacity but conducted a postgame press conference anyway.

June 24, 2012

The confetti fell and the crowd roared as Tim Duncan and the Philadelphia 76ers won their fifth NBA title.

Duncan immediately made a beeline for his longtime running mate, Allen Iverson. Hoops historians will forever wonder if Iverson made Duncan, or if Duncan made Iverson. More likely, they helped make each other the most successful basketball players of their generation. Duncan has established the 76ers' culture of tough defense and teamwork while deferring to Iverson's scoring. Together, they have defined winning in the NBA.

Iverson was named Finals MVP once again, but as he pointed out, he might only have one or two championships without Duncan. Iverson recalled the day, after his rookie year, when the 76ers cashed in on their 12.24-percent chance of winning the Duncan lottery.

"That was the biggest day of my career," Iverson said, "and we're not even talking about a game."

The big question for the 76ers now: Will Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown return for his 16th season with the franchise? Or will Brown turn the coaching over to longtime assistant Gregg Popovich, who once served as the best man at Brown's wedding? Popovich has forged a close relationship with Duncan but has not been a head coach since a middling stint with the San Antonio Spurs in the 1990s.

Brown sounds like he will come back.

"This is home for me," Brown said. "I can barely even remember having any other job."

June 24, 2012

The confetti fell and the crowd roared as Tim Duncan and the New Jersey Nets won their fifth NBA title.

Duncan celebrated by hugging the only professional coach he has ever known, John Calipari, who used the postgame press conference to introduce his new line of cookware, and to push his new anthology, The Best Of John Calipari: A Book For People Who Bought My Other Books But Still Have Room For One More On Their Shelves.

This was an especially emotional championship in the state of New Jersey, because it was the Nets' first title since a group of rogue investors attempted to move the team to Brooklyn. Basketball traditionalists were outraged at the thought the Nets might move, but the Nets looked like they were goners until New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie stepped in with state funds.

Christie's decision has been criticized as needless government spending, and it may keep Christie from getting the Republican vice-presidential nomination this summer. But Christie said it was well worth it because "the New Jersey Nets are recognized around the world as a symbol of excellence."

It's hard to believe now, but before the Nets cashed in on their 6.05-percent chance of landing Duncan in the 1997 lottery, they were a laughingstock. What if Duncan had ended up somewhere else? Duncan said he didn't even want to think about it.

"I got 99 problems," he said, as he put his arm around Nets co-owner Jay-Z, "and that ain't one."

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