SECAUCUS, N.J. — The lottery has change into a celebration for the damned. It is often held in a flowery lodge, with pre-show mingling over cocktails and appetizers for VIPs. Once a staff contingent confirmed up, as an instance, just a little rowdier than common after a personal flight to New York. Representatives from every lottery staff sit at tables adorned with staff logos in the secret drawing room the place the precise lottery occurs about an hour earlier than the TV present. A dozen media “observers” watch. It is a manufacturing.

The drawing room of the pandemic lottery was a curtained-off rectangle in the atrium of the NBA’s nondescript workplace constructing — it may go as Initech’s headquarters — in Secaucus, New Jersey. There have been 9 folks in the room — together with me. There have been extra pingpong balls (14) than folks. Other than the requisite accountant from Ernst & Young, there have been no different guests — simply 40 NBA employees. The TV present, headlined by Mark Tatum, the NBA’s deputy commissioner, was filmed in the cafeteria down the corridor.

I used to be the solely media member in the drawing room. If this seems to be one the NBA lastly rigged, I’ll go down in infamy as having didn’t detect the conspiracy.

• The NBA kicked round establishing some video wall through which representatives from every staff may view (through Zoom) the drawing, however determined it was each pointless and cumbersome. A number of staff executives agitated for an in-person spot in the room, sources instructed ESPN. No cube.

• Each attendee stopped at a safety desk at the entrance entrance at hand over numerous waivers and medical declarations. Then we proceeded right into a testing room for the coronavirus nasal swab. My outcomes got here again — destructive — in 23 minutes. This was apparently an antigen take a look at — barely much less correct than the extra widespread PCR molecular take a look at, inclined to some false destructive outcomes, however clearly a lot quicker. We all wore masks for the the rest of our time in the drawing room.

• The fortunate 9 handed over our telephones and sequestered in the drawing room at about 7:30. The drawing takes about 5 minutes. An NBA worker vacuums up 4 numbered pingpong balls, one-by-one at exact 10-second intervals, from an old-school lottery machine. (Yes, there’s a timekeeper who stands together with his again to the machine and holds a stopwatch.)

There are 1,001 attainable four-digit combos. Each lottery staff is assigned a sure variety of them. The three worst groups get the most: 140 apiece for Golden State, Cleveland, and Minnesota.

And let me inform you: Once a grown man in a swimsuit holds up a pingpong ball and recites aloud the quantity you may already see on that pingpong ball, the lottery seems like its outdated goofy self once more — even amid a pandemic.

• After the drawing, we made small discuss in the atrium as we waited for the ESPN broadcast. Suddenly, Tatum burst by double doorways and into the atrium on his option to the cafeteria set. This would by no means occur in a daily lottery: Tatum didn’t know the outcomes, and now he was chatting with a half-dozen of us who did. For about 5 minutes, we have been at threat of spoiling it for him! As the dialog flowed, I got here very shut to creating a generic “Woe are the Knicks” joke earlier than realizing even that will tip him to the Knicks falling (once more).

• Speaking of the Knicks: Tatum recalled Patrick Ewing, New York’s rep on the dais final season, standing proper behind him — at an angle from which he may spot the contents of the No. Three envelope earlier than Tatum. As Tatum ripped open the envelope, he heard Ewing groan — realizing the Knicks had barely missed out on Ja Morant and Zion Williamson. Tatum can nonetheless hear that groan in his head.

• Two days earlier than the lottery, I requested Gersson Rosas, Minnesota’s president of basketball operations, if he had any lottery superstitions. He didn’t. “We’re due for something good to happen to us,” Rosas stated, “after everything we’ve been through.” The lottery gods (a subset of the basketball gods) agreed.

What a second for Minnesota. As rosters stand now (topic to the common offseason makeovers), the Wolves would most likely be projected as one in all the two or three worst groups in the loaded Western Conference. They owe their 2021 first-rounder, with teensy top-Three safety, to Golden State. Their staff is (mainly) on the market. There is not any consensus No. 1 decide. If the Wolves really feel strain to chase a playoff spot, would they be open to sniffing round what they could get packaging that decide and buying and selling down?

MORE: Who should — and will — the Timberwolves draft at No. 1?

• Also, Timberwolves: I’ve acquired the envelope and Wolves staff placard from Thursday’s present. An NBA staffer gave them to me! Here’s proof:

(It could be one in all a number of copies. I’m selecting to consider it is the one Tatum held up.)

If you need it, I’m positive we will agree on some kind of transaction! I really suppose you shouldn’t declare it, although. It will get miserable when groups gather too many souvenirs from lottery wins.

Devonte’ Graham, the Hornets’ consultant on the digital dais, had not considered his outfit, his TV backdrop, or the chance of bringing any fortunate trinket by 5 p.m. — three-ish hours earlier than the present. “I’m trying to let it come to me,” he instructed ESPN. “I don’t want to plan too hard and have it backfire.” The lottery gods admired his restraint.

• Graham remains to be smarting about being left off the listing of finalists for the NBA’s Most Improved Player award. “I was definitely upset,” he stated. “And surprised.”

• We know the Warriors, with cheap aspirations of contending for the title subsequent season, will sniff round what they could get packaging the No. 2 decide for a top quality veteran or two (plus different stuff).

The NBA has not seen a dilemma like this in a very long time. Maybe you do not suppose it is a dilemma — that the Warriors have to do every part of their energy to maintain their title window open. That’s most likely so. A title window is valuable. If Draymond Green‘s decline this season was actual — and never the product of malaise — Golden State can not act as if the Stephen Curry/Klay Thompson/Green trio alone places them forward of the Los Angeles groups (or maybe even on par with them). Thompson has not appeared in a sport in 14 months.

But if Green revs again up, that trio — plus a couple of intriguing younger gamers, together with the No. 2 decide — is fairly damned good. As a rule, rookies don’t make it easier to win, however No. 2 picks could be exceptions.

Nailing that decide may give Golden State a bridge past the Curry/Thompson/Green period. They have talked about eager to be the Spurs — about being a prime staff for 1 / 4 century. Drafting a star at No. 2 would unlock that path. As Kevin Pelton noted Thursday, they could even have a tough time discovering a veteran who’s each obtainable for what Golden State can supply and value what they’ll supply — and actually strikes the needle on their title odds for subsequent season.

Of course, the Warriors may commerce this decide and nonetheless draft a bridge star with Minnesota’s 2021 decide — or with a stroke-of-genius commerce down the line, as the Spurs did in swapping George Hill for Kawhi Leonard.

But what if Minnesota’s decide in some way finally ends up towards the backside of subsequent 12 months’s lottery — or worse? The draft is unpredictable. That does not imply it is utterly random. Your possibilities of discovering a franchise star are nonetheless greater at the prime. That could be much less true this season, however it’s nonetheless typically true.

If the Warriors suppose they’ll get the man they need elsewhere in the lottery, they might thread the needle in some kind of Jayson Tatum/Markelle Fultz-style deal through which they commerce down and decide up some fringe veteran assist. But another staff has to like another person sufficient to pay to maneuver up.

• Golden State brass initially requested Joe Lacob, the staff’s governor, if he wished to helm the digital dais for the staff’s first lottery look since their legendary 2012 tank job for Harrison Barnes.

They take into account Lacob unusually fortunate, for numerous causes. He instructed them, semi-facetiously, one thing to the impact of: “I don’t do lotteries. I do championships.” When ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne requested Lacob about that cheeky line, he chuckled. “This is gonna be like the ‘light years’ thing,” Lacob stated. “I did say that. But when you’re in last place, you shouldn’t really have much to say.”

Stephen Curry was the subsequent and apparent alternative. He had one request, Golden State higher-ups stated: Ask Klay first. Thompson apparently handed.

• Yes, the identify of Golden State’s fortunate canine — Joe Lacob’s canine — that Curry referenced on the broadcast with Rachel Nichols is Larry O’Brien Lacob. Larry was one in all greater than 100 pets the Miami Heat and Warriors helped relocate to the Bay Area when Hurricane Irma hit South Florida in 2017.

• There is skepticism amongst staff executives that this draft will happen as scheduled on Oct. 16 — partly as a result of there may be much more skepticism throughout each sector of the league that free company will start as scheduled two days later. (See extra in this report from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.) Obviously, every part about this case is fluid.

There is doubt the league and National Basketball Players Association can conform to a agency wage cap for the 2020-21 season by both date. Free company can not start with out that quantity. The cap is decided by the league’s total income projection — which relies on income from the prior season. The league and union have to compile that for the present season. That is difficult.

Projecting ahead, subsequent season will deliver a large income downturn. No occasion needs the cap to fall in sync with that. It is unhealthy for gamers and groups. It has been extensively reported, together with at ESPN, that the most handy resolution could be carrying over this season’s cap determine — $109 million — into 2020-21, and putting a a lot bigger proportion of every participant’s wage into escrow in order that gamers don’t find yourself with greater than their assured share of precise income.

That sounds easy, however it’s not. It requires thorny negotiation between the league and union, and amongst the gamers. (A one-year wage discount, through escrow, may penalize some gamers greater than others.) It may find yourself requiring a wholesale rewriting of main components of the CBA, although no one needs that, both.

Point is, there are many folks round the NBA ecosystem who do not count on free company to begin till someday in November, or maybe even early December. (Again: Everything is fluid; nobody is aware of something.)

The remaining cap quantity often is available in simply earlier than free company — and after the draft — however the league supplies groups a strong estimate forward of the draft. This 12 months, there are solely 48 hours between these occasions. Can you’ve gotten a draft with out an correct cap estimate?

The draft is one in all the league’s three busiest commerce durations. How are you able to commerce veteran gamers — on contracts of various quantities and lengths — with out realizing what the cap is? Do you actually need to draft with out realizing rookie scale salaries with at least 90% certainty?

A number of executives have spitballed about tweaking this one draft in order that groups may commerce solely picks — and never present gamers. The enchantment could be getting rookies in the door, corresponding to they’re allowed in any door, as early as attainable. But the draft and free company are related; groups navigate the draft with a watch on what comes subsequent.

The league could favor to maintain the present draft date to capitalize on momentum popping out of the bubble. They may full some frantic negotiation that will at least result in a preliminary cap estimate. They may additionally simply say, “Tough.” Teams have drafted below nice uncertainty earlier than — together with with lockouts looming.

• Let’s be well mannered and say the Delete 8 (hat tip: John Hollinger) are relieved none of the bubble groups moved up. Non-bubble executives have been already upset about lacking out on the microwaved chemistry course of the Phoenix Suns seem to have loved in Orlando, although one wonders how upset they might be if Phoenix went a quiet 4-4. One GM described a bubble staff leaping the non-bubblers as “our worst nightmare” in the lead-up to the lottery.

• If you need to know why the Cavs dropped three spots Thursday and the Pelicans failed to maneuver up, you will discover the reply in the dwelling of Jeff Cohen — former vice chair of the Cleveland Cavaliers and confidante of Cavs’ governor Dan Gilbert. Cohen represented the Cavaliers in the drawing room in every of their three lottery wins from 2011 by 2014 — the biggest stretch of lottery luck in NBA historical past. He wore the similar black tie with silver-gray striping to every lottery. I started referring to him as a warlock.

Then LeBron got here again, the Cavs left the lottery, and Cohen vanished. In the lead-up to final 12 months’s lottery, David Griffin, the Pelicans’ government vice chairman of basketball operations and a Cavs government throughout these halcyon lottery years, referred to as Cohen requesting a good-luck allure. Cohen despatched the tie. Griffin requested Alvin Gentry, New Orleans’ drawing room rep final 12 months, to put on it. New Orleans leapt to No. 1.

Griffin had the tie framed, and hooked up a plaque commemorating its illustrious accomplishments. The body is now in Cohen’s dwelling, Griffin stated.

• R.C. Buford, the San Antonio Spurs longtime GM and now their CEO, had no superstitions deliberate — no trinkets, or fortunate shirts — for the staff’s first journey to the lottery since touchdown Tim Duncan in 1997. Buford vividly remembers watching that lottery from his workplace in San Antonio. “I think I leaped a foot off my chair when we won,” he stated.

He recalled Sam Schuler, the Spurs’ rep in the drawing room that night time, relaying to Buford and Gregg Popovich that the Spurs had really gained twice — the pingpong ball machine had spit out one other four-ball mixture belonging to San Antonio after the profitable draw. (The league discards such repeats and strikes on.)

“Sam told us the rest of the room was pissed,” Buford recalled, laughing. “And then they were really pissed.”

• The combos are organized in order that the worst groups have all combos that includes 1, 2, and three. It is legitimately thrilling when the first two or three numbers are excessive. For 20 stomach-churning seconds, every part is in play. Case in level: The first two numbers drawn for the No. 1 decide have been 5 and 13. Eight groups nonetheless had a shot. Then got here a 2, and the suspense dwindled.

Likewise: The drawing for the No. Three decide went 7, 11, 12. For 10 seconds, everybody however Sacramento, New Orleans, and Memphis was alive. The remaining quantity — 5 — earmarked the decide to the Hornets. Charlotte followers wanted this.

• Jami Gertz, the famed actor and spouse of Atlanta Hawks governor Tony Ressler, made her third look on the dais — “and hopefully my last,” she instructed ESPN this week. Over the earlier two lotteries in Chicago, Gertz had developed one lottery day custom: consuming one slice of chocolate cake from RL Restaurant in Chicago.

That was not attainable in the pandemic lottery. Gertz baked her personal chocolate cake, with chocolate frosting. She has explored baking once more throughout the pandemic, and lately baked cheesecake for the first time in 30-plus years of marriage to Ressler, she stated. “I knew he loved me,” Gertz stated, “but the cheesecake definitely took me up a few notches.”

• There are few lottery issues funnier than seeing somebody on the dais when their staff doesn’t find yourself with a decide. It was in some way funnier this season, when Tatum introduced the Boston Celtics in the No. 14 spot — just for the digicam to chop (with mainly no rationalization) to a stone-faced Elliot Perry, who was representing the Memphis Grizzlies. (The Grizzlies owed their decide to Boston with top-six safety.) That most likely represented a best-case state of affairs for Memphis, however the visible nonetheless drew chuckles in the atrium.

• Here’s hoping the lottery is restored to its regular glory subsequent 12 months.

MORE: NBA mock draft — all 60 picks



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