Why Spurs fans should pause and praise the lottery tonight

David Stern’s annual role as a game-show host rolls around tonight as he hosts the league’s draft lottery to determine which team will earn the No. 1 pick in the June 23 draft.

The league’s previous system of picking envelopes is long gone away. No longer does Stern face allegations of grasping any alleged frozen envelope when the order is sorted out tonight.

Even though the system is flawed — the worst team doesn’t necessarily get the best player — the league has continued with the lottery system since NBA teams blatantly began throwing games to get a shot at the best player in the mid-1980s.

There will be 14 balls in a lottery machine, with the numbers 1-14 on them. It will result in 1,001 potential combinations that can come out as order does not matter, with 1,000 of those combinations assigned to teams.

The lottery machine will spit out four balls and the team with that combination will get the first pick. The process will be repeated two more times for the second and third pick. After that, the draft will go in order of record with the worst team first. 

Drew Carey or Pat Sajak couldn’t do it better.

No team has benefitted from the current lottery system in place more than the Spurs. Luck has played a huge factor in the success of the franchise over the years.  

After finishing with the fourth-worst record in the league in 1987, the Spurs  won the lottery and the chance to pick David Robinson. If they had picked fourth that season, they would have had the opportunity to pick among Reggie Williams, Scottie Pippen, Kenny Smith, Kevin Johnson and Reggie Miller. Pippen, Johnson and Miller had great careers. But none was as dominant as Robinson.

And in 1997, after finishing with the third-worst record in the league in Gregg Popovich’s first season coaching the team, the Spurs again won the lottery and picked up the chance to pick Tim Duncan. If they were picking third, they would have had their choice of Chauncey Billups, Tony Battie, Antonio Daniels and Ron Mercer. Tracy McGrady was the only player in the draft to average 20 points during his career other than Duncan. No player in the draft had the career of Duncan.

Here are the chances tonight for  the No. 1 pick among the teams that are eligible.

1. Minnesota Timberwolves 25 percent chance of getting the top pick (they have 250 combinations)
2. Cleveland Cavaliers, 19.9 percent chance
3. Toronto Raptors, 15.6 percent chance
4. Washington Wizards, 11.9 percent chance
5. Sacramento Kings, 7.6 percent chance
6. Utah Jazz (from New Jersey Nets), 7.5 percent chance
7. Detroit Pistons, 4.3% chance
8. Cleveland Cavaliers (from L.A. Clippers), 2.8 percent chance
9. Charlotte Bobcats, 1.7 percent chance
10. Milwaukee Bucks, 1.1 percent chance
11. Golden State Warriors, 0.8 percent chance
12. Utah Jazz, 0.7 percent chance
13. Phoenix Suns, 0.6 percent chance
14. Houston Rockets, 0.5% chance

Tonight’s lottery will mark the Timberwolves’ 14th time in the lottery. Minnesota has gone backward seven times and stayed in the same position the other six times in their 13 previous lottery appearances. And not since 2004, when Orlando claimed the pick and the right to select Dwight Howard, has the team with the worst record picked up the top pick.

So while Stern and the NBA honchos determine who gets the shot at Kyrie Irving of Duke in this year’s draft, Spurs Nation might pause for a few moments to be thankful that the current system brought them who it did and when it happened.

Because it’s not a stretch to think if the Spurs didn’t win the lottery in either of those two seasons, the team now likely could be playing somewhere else.

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