Roundtable: Lottery winners, losers
Of course, the Clippers were the big winner. But the team that is going to benefit most will be Memphis by taking Ricky Rubio with the No. 2 pick. He is going to give that franchise an exciting identity in the open floor. He's a terrific passer who will make the Grizzlies worth watching.
With their slide to fourth, the Kings are the big loser, much more than the No. 5 Wizards. Both teams were horrible this season, but the Wiz should get better with the return of a healthy Gilbert Arenas and the coaching of Flip Saunders.
Other big winners? Certainly Memphis and Oklahoma City did OK by vaulting past Sacramento and Washington, but, unlike the last two drafts (Greg Oden or Kevin Durant in '07, and Derrick Rose or Michael Beasley in '08), I think there is only one possible first pick.
You have to give the lottery loser award to Sacramento, which would have loved a crack at Rubio and is now left to sift through the Jordan Hill/James Harden/Brandon Jennings leftovers. The Wizards would have scared half the league if they came away with Griffin, but don't feel too bad for them. Harden is just the type of efficient, complementary scorer they need to play next to Arenas.
The biggest losers, once again, are the Timberwolves. This franchise is 0-for-12 in the lottery, in terms of improving its draft position going in. It has been bumped down, on the other hand, six times, including from a natural fifth (24-58) to sixth Tuesday night and, of course, the all-timer in 1992 when Minnesota had the league's worst record, "deserved" top pick Shaquille O'Neal, but wound up with No. 3 Christian Laettner. But wait, there's more: The team that it beat in a tiebreaker this year was Memphis -- which used the balls assigned to it, post-tiebreaker, to land the No. 2 pick. In 2007, Minnesota won a similar tiebreaker with Portland and saw the Blazers use those assigned balls to score the No. 1 pick overall.
Biggest loser: the Kings, and it's not even close. From the worst record to picking fourth. From the favorites to get the best player, Griffin, or at least the best point guard to address a position weakness to needing to get lucky to have Rubio fall to them. From the chance to reenergize a deserting fan base, especially if Rubio was the choice, to another blow to the impossible marketing plan.
But now that we know the results of the lottery, we can't deal in generalities. The Clippers are stuck with the remaining four years and $54 million of Baron Davis' contract, which probably can't be traded to make room for Rubio at point guard. They can rebuild their frontcourt around Griffin over the next couple of seasons while moving or letting expire the one year on Marcus Camby's deal and the two years remaining for Zach Randolph. Maybe center Chris Kaman returns to health and gives them an excellent frontcourt. The short of it is that drafting Griffin enables the Clippers to operate from a position of strength, whereas if they drafted Rubio, now they would be working from a weak hand while trying to force Davis and Rubio to play together.
Now, were Griffin in last year's draft, I would've taken Derrick Rose, a point guard, in front of him because Rose is that good. So Griffin's going before Rubio is not about position -- he's just better right now, and in the long run will be better, too, a potential 17-and-10 power forward. With the second pick, by the way, I see the Grizzlies going with Hasheem Thabeet, not Rubio.
Second, the Celtics' owners need to take stock. Next year they're committed to $56 million to their three stars, practically guaranteeing they'll be paying a luxury tax no matter what. Why squander that investment by refusing to make the moves needed to win another title? They boldly traded for Ray Allen and Garnett two years ago because they wanted to win championships, and I don't see them losing their nerve now. A lot of teams are going to be looking to give away talent this summer, and I can see the Celtics trying to exploit a couple of those situations to come back strong next season. If they don't re-sign their own free agents, the reason will be that they think they can do better elsewhere on the market -- and not because they're looking to recede from contention.
The Celtics will be fine. Garnett's injury was maddening, but three months should be more than enough time for him to heal. With Garnett, Boston still has the most talented starting five in the NBA, a unit that should be better thanks to the larger roles Kendrick Perkins and Rajon Rondo had to play late in the season. The bench will need to be revamped: February signee Mikki Moore proved to be useless, Davis may price himself out of Boston and Powe may not be healthy until the second half of next season. But with teams tightening their belts, there may be a lot of veterans on the market who will take a pay cut for a chance to win a ring. If the Celtics can add some quality depth, there is no reason they shouldn't be one of the favorites to win the NBA title next season.
If Howard is going to be the leader of a championship team in Orlando, he needs to be on the same page with his coach. A golden rule in the NBA is that the best player and the coach have to be partners. A championship cannot be won otherwise. When Howard spoke out emotionally after that game, he damaged Van Gundy's relationship with the rest of the team and opened windows for other players to complain about the coach. How can Orlando win a championship that way? If Howard wants things to change, he needs to work out the issues in private with Van Gundy, or with management if he feels he can no longer work with Van Gundy. And then he needs to continue to take responsibility by developing his low-post moves and free-throw shooting, as Hakeem Olajuwon did, because right now Howard lacks the footwork skills to win by himself. The irony is that he needs his coach to structure an offense that creates scoring opportunities for him, because Howard is still too young to create those chances for himself.
Someday Howard is going to turn into a low-post monster who creates his own shot, draws the double team and passes out to teammates for open jumpers. But he isn't there yet. In the meantime, I feel very strongly that we won't hear him complain about his coach again.
And I think Howard does understand the bigger picture. Getting what few big men the Celtics had in foul trouble would have been advantageous for the Magic. He went about it the wrong way by making it such a public debate in the middle of the playoffs, but he didn't say anything that was wrong. Just as it's not wrong to likewise increase the spotlight on whether Howard is doing enough to get more shots and whether he will always be a liability at the end of games because of problems at the line. That's a necessary step, too.