The NBA Draft Lottery is set to begin on May 15th, 2018. This Tuesday, 14 teams will test their luck and compete for the elusive number one pick. With this pick, one lucky team will have an invaluable shot at drafting a potential cornerstone; and the opportunity to shift the tide of the NBA landscape for years to come. The 2018 NBA Draft is brimming with potential superstars such as Deandre Ayton, Luka Doncic, and Jaren Jackson Jr.; understandably, this makes attaining a higher draft slotting all the more important. However, for these five teams especially, attaining a top pick in the draft could have franchise-altering implications.
New York Knicks
While the Kristaps Porzingis injury saw New York’s brightest young star go down with a potentially career-threatening injury, the Knicks must salvage their season through its draft pick currently slotted with the 9th best odds of winning the lottery. Continuing to build off of the promising core of Kristaps Porzingis and Frank Ntilikina would bode well for the future. Thus, it is necessary to capitalize on the upcoming draft and surround Kristaps and Ntilikina with the talent to compete against the Eastern Conference elites. As of now, splurging a 4 year $71 million contract on Tim Hardaway and taking on Enes Kanter’s new contract ($18 million player option for 2018-2019) is simply not going to be enough to thrust the Knick’s into the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference.
Cleveland Cavaliers (via Brooklyn Nets)
It has become a common struggle for Cavaliers fans alike to live and die by Lebron James. With James’ free agency impending and all signals pointing him playing his way out of Cleveland, it is imperative that General Manager Koby Altman does not make the same mistakes as Cavaliers GM’s of the past. This year, the title-contending Cavaliers holds the 7th best odds of attaining the top pick of the draft. Leapfrogging a few slots up could allow the Cavs to draft potential superstars such as Marvin Bagley III, Jaren Jackson Jr., or Michael Porter Jr. Altman can motivate the King to settle down in Cleveland through an attractive young prospect and also ensures that cataclysmic failure does not befall the franchise if James does decide to jettison the team once again.
The Phoenix Suns’ rebuilding efforts, which has gone on since the failed three point guard lineup experiment failed miserably in 2014-2015, completely rides on the success of their pick. This year, the Sun’s hold the highest chance of winning the NBA lottery at 25%. This occurs only one year before the league reform that will see the bottom three teams have an equal chance of winning the lottery. So in the last legitimate year for purposeful tanking, the Phoenix Suns’ find themselves with the highest chance to win the #1 overall pick or a guaranteed top 4 pick. The success of this pick and the Suns’ rebuild relies heavily on the availability of 7-foot center Deandre Ayton, a prospect not only possessing roots in Arizona but also unparalleled physical tools and skill in the post. Deandre Ayton, further imbuing Phoenix’s front line with youth and potential, will add a secondary scoring threat from the low post as well as much needed rim protection.
The restricted free agency of Zach Lavine and the overreliance on Lauri Markennan and Kris Dunn indicate that the sweet smell of champagne will remain a foreign concept to restless Bulls fans. However, with Lavine’s free agency, Bulls’ GM Gar Foreman could see the payroll of the Bull’s team rise significantly, denying Chicago of the much-needed cap space vital during a rebuild. This makes exacting utility from their lottery pick (slotted at the 6th best odds of becoming the top overall pick) even more important. Lavine commanding a salary up to 9 figures will also mean that cheap inexpensive players outplaying their contract is imperative, as it frees up cap space to sign free agents to compliment the rebuilding core. Despite the rising salary, the Bulls roster is still a team in need of talent. Talent they can acquire through this year’s draft.
The Orlando Magic has the distinct recognition of being stuck in the unenviable position of a perpetual rebuild. The Rob Hennigan Era that proceeded Dwight Howard’s flameout in 2012 has yielded disappointing results. While promising prospects such as Tobias Harris, Victor Oladipo, and Domantas Sabonis were part of the rebuilding process, these pieces were lost before their value could be fully optimized. Oladipo, in particular, has seemingly ascended from a bench player in Orlando to an All-Star and likely winner of the Most Improved Player of the Year award. What now remains on the Orlando roster is a dearth of talent sprinkled with overpaid contracts and disappointing investments. Bismack Biyombo’s 4-years $72-million-dollar contract and Mario Hezonja’s selection 5th overall over players like Devin Booker, Terry Rozier, and Myles Turner are just some of the failures of the Orlando Magic between 2012-2017. Thankfully, with Hennigan’s regime coming to an end and John Hammond, a promising GM credited with building the Milwaukee Bucks team in 2015, seizing control, Magic fans can hope that Hammond can bring a cornerstone talent to Orlando with the 5th best odds to attain the top pick.