Kupchak compares Clarkson to Westbrook

May, 22, 2015
May 22
12:09
PM PT
Holmes By Baxter Holmes
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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Jordan Clarkson and Russell Westbrook Getty Images

Late last season, Los Angeles Lakers coach Byron Scott spoke of Lakers rookie guard Jordan Clarkson in the same breath as Oklahoma City star guard Russell Westbrook, saying that while Clarkson wasn't on the same level, he did at least play a similar style and have similar athleticism.

Now Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak is making the same argument.

"If there’s a player in the league that plays like him, it’s Russell Westbrook," Kupchak said during a Thursday radio appearance with ESPN's Colin Cowherd. "Now, I’m not saying for a second that Jordan Clarkson is the next Russell Westbrook, but he’s that kind of a ball-handling guard.

The Lakers acquired Clarkson with the 46th pick in the 2014 draft, and he earned considerable playing time last season with injuries decimating the roster.

In 38 games as a starter, many of them at point guard, Clarkson averaged 15.8 points per game on 45.8 percent shooting, with 5.0 assists and 4.2 rebounds.

Clarkson was recently named to the All-Rookie first team. But it’s hard to say if the Lakers believe they’re ready to give the reigns of the offense over to Clarkson next season.

“We drafted him [46th overall]; didn’t know he was going to have that kind of year,” Kupchak said. “But he played a lot of minutes on a team that wasn’t very good. So we’re very encouraged, but the jury is still out on him.”

There are questions about whether Clarkson is a point guard or a shooting guard, but Kupchak said he's a blend of the two positions, much like Westbrook.

“He looks to attack the rim," Kupchak said. "He’s aggressive offensively. He’s not going to walk the ball up the court, make an entry pass and cut through. He’s going to push the ball, look for a crack and try to get to the rim, try to make a play. When he comes off a pick, he’ll look to shoot. He’ll pass the ball, but I would agree -- he’s not the typical, prototype, ball-handling point guard.”

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Los Angeles Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said star guard Kobe Bryant has told the GM that the 2015-16 season will be Bryant's last with the Lakers.

"He has indicated to me that this is it," Kupchak said Thursday in a radio appearance with SiriusXM NBA Radio.

Bryant is scheduled to make a league-high $25 million in his final contract season -- his 20th -- with the Lakers. But there's speculation that Bryant could play beyond next season, and Bryant said he hasn't ruled out that possibility.

"I think first and foremost, he's on the last year of a deal," Kupchak told SiriusXM NBA Radio. "There have been no discussions about anything going forward. I don't think there will be."

Bryant will be 37 years old when next season begins, and his past three seasons have ended early because of injury. He played only 35 games last season before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury.

"A year from now, if there's something different to discuss, then it will be discussed then," Kupchak said of Bryant potentially playing beyond next season. "I talk to him from time to time ... and he is recovering. He's running. He's getting movement and strength in the shoulder. We expect a full recovery, but yeah, he's much closer to the end than to the beginning."

Bryant took to Twitter on Friday afternoon to say nothing has changed in regards to his plans for the future.

Because of the uncertainty about Bryant's future, Kupchak said he's unsure if there will be a farewell tour next season.

"It's kind of up to the player, if they want to do something like that," Kupchak said. "And it also may take away some options a year from now and put a player in an awkward position, but he will be recognized appropriately with great gratitude when it is time."


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ESPN Insider's Chad Ford and Kevin Pelton return to provide the kind of discussions that are happening in front offices around the NBA -- where scouts and statistical experts are breaking down NBA draft prospects using their "eyes, ears and numbers."

Following Tuesday's NBA draft lottery, we finally have the official order for the 2015 draft. Both Chad and Kevin have their own Big Boards and now it's time for them to play general manager, weighing in on the best fits for teams making the first four picks: the Timberwolves, Lakers, 76ers and Knicks. 

First up: the Minnesota Timberwolves


If you were drafting for the Timberwolves, whom would you take No. 1?

Kupchak: 'Looks as though' Lakers will use No. 2 pick

May, 22, 2015
May 22
9:24
AM PT
Holmes By Baxter Holmes
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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KupchakJayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY Sports

Will the Los Angeles Lakers keep or trade the No. 2 pick in the NBA draft on June 25?

Will they select either Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns or Duke’s Jahlil Okafor – or will they avoid one of the top two centers highly expected to be drafted first and second overall in some order and instead take a dynamic young guard?

Already, these questions and more are swirling among Lakers fans even though it has been only a few days since their team landed some very good luck in Tuesday’s NBA draft lottery held in New York.

In radio appearances Thursday, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak discussed the draft pick and what the Lakers might do with it, although he pointed out that it’s still early, that they’re still fielding calls from teams interested in the pick and that they still must work out and interview draft prospects in the coming weeks.

“It looks as though we’ll use our pick this year,” Kupchak said during a radio appearance with ESPN’s Colin Cowherd.

Kupchak didn’t commit to the idea that the Lakers would be taking a center, but his comments certainly leaned that way.

“Clearly, at the top of the draft at this time, there are two bigs, and we have the second pick,” Kupchak told Cowherd.

Of course, which center the Lakers might select depends on who is available.

At the moment, the Minnesota Timberwolves hold the first pick and it appears as though the Lakers will need only to choose whichever center the Timberwolves don’t take, meaning they’ll end up with either Towns or Okafor.

As much as the NBA was once dominated by centers, it is now dominated by guards. Look no further than the Western Conference finals matchup featuring the Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry and the Houston Rockets’ James Harden.

“You could argue that,” Kupchak told Cowherd. “The jury is still out, but you could argue that, and there’s no doubt that the game that’s being played today is very different from the game that was played eight to 10 years ago. It’s the 3-point shots, the drive-and-kick [style].

“Now, the teams that have had great success still have centers. San Antonio, they’ve done pretty well with a center there. Memphis has a great center. Although they didn’t advance this year, they have an excellent team. Golden State, they don’t use their center to score points, but they still have a 7-foot, 7-foot-1 guy.

“So you still need size in this league. You need a rim protector. A guy that takes space. A guy to pass the ball to run the offense through.”

Kupchak said there’s more pressure on the Lakers to rebuild quickly, which often means acquiring top-notch free agents. Building through the draft, he said, isn’t something the team has historically done.

That said, he admitted the team has had recent success with draft picks. The Lakers have built a core of young talent, specifically with guard Jordan Clarkson, who was recently named to the All-Rookie first team, and forward Julius Randle, the team’s seventh overall pick out of Kentucky in the 2014 draft who broke his leg in the team’s first game last season.

“If we do end up using this pick in the draft, and let’s just assume we get a big player – which if you look at our roster, you might say, well, that’s what they need -- then you can say, hey, they have three young players going forward that might be fun to build around,” Kupchak said during an appearance on SiriusXM NBA Radio with hosts Rick Fox and Jared Greenberg.

Kupchak said he sees several potential All-Stars at the top of this year’s draft, but he’s not sure if he sees any franchise-altering players.

“I do think that there are four or five players that are very, very good, and when you look back on [the draft] 10 years from now, I think they could all be All-Stars,” he told SiriusXM NBA Radio. “But I don’t think there’s anybody that next year will lead a team to champagne in June.

“If that does happen, particularly with us, then we’ll have to get lucky in the offseason, particularly with free agency. Kobe [Bryant] is going to have to come back and be very healthy, which I understand he’s on track for. But I don’t think right now that there’s anybody who can make that kind of difference right away.”

If the Lakers had fallen out of the top five in this week’s draft lottery, they would have lost their 2015 first-round pick to the Philadelphia 76ers because of the Steve Nash trade.

Not only did the Lakers stay in the top five, they moved up two spots from the No. 4 spot, where they were most likely to land after finishing with the league’s fourth-worst record (21-61) last season.

But the Lakers will almost certainly lose their 2016 first-round pick to the 76ers after next season -- unless the Lakers' pick falls in the top three picks, in which case the Lakers would keep it.

To even be in position for such an outcome to occur, the Lakers would need to have another calamitous season, and it appears as though they’ll now have the pieces to, at the very least, avoid a repeat of last season’s historically bad campaign.

Still, Kupchak said he didn’t think the fact that they’ll lose their first-round pick to the 76ers next year means they need to keep their first-round pick this year.

“It’s not the worst thing to be able to pick in the first round every other year,” Kupchak told SiriusXM NBA Radio. “If we do our job this year and we’re not a top-three bad team next year, then that pick does go to Philadelphia. And I don’t think that would be the end of the world. We’re just happy to get this year’s pick.”

Indeed, there was plenty of celebrating not only for Lakers fans but within the organization itself. The team posted a video of Kupchak popping the cork on a bottle of celebratory champagne after the No. 2 pick was secured.

“Well, I prefer to be doing the champagne about five weeks from now -- not celebrating the No. 2 pick in the draft,” Kupchak told SiriusXM NBA Radio. “But we had a season that was tough. We had two seasons that were tough. So it would’ve been just really difficult to not get a pick. We got the pick, and not only did we get the pick in the top five, we moved up to No. 2."

How valuable is that pick? Potentially very valuable, Kupchak said.

“Let’s just say there was a team that had the fifth or sixth or seventh pick, and they wanted to go to No. 2,” Kupchak told SiriusXM NBA Radio. “In that area of the draft, just to move up two or three or four slots, normally, it’s hard to do. And the price that that team would pay would be high, because they’ve targeted a player that they really want. Obviously the other team would know that, and they would have to pay for that.”

Top 10 backcourts in modern NBA

May, 21, 2015
May 21
6:25
AM PT
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With the Splash Brothers rolling into the conference finals, this is a good time to revisit the topic of the NBA's best backcourt combinations.

To rank the top 10 guard duos since the ABA-NBA merger, I started with my wins above replacement player (WARP) value statistic for each player, then added five wins for each All-Star appearance. Then, to make sure I highlighted the best combos rather than backcourts where one star far outshined his more limited teammate, I multiplied the totals for each player while the duo was intact and took the square root to come up with the backcourt score.

Alas, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson don't make it -- yet. They've played together only four years, and everyone in the top 10 spent at least six seasons together. But after both made the Western Conference All-Star team this year, the Warriors' backcourt already ranks 21st on the list, and they're surely coming for a spot in the top 10. Here's who they're chasing.

Top 10 backcourts of all time


1. Terry Porter/Clyde Drexler

Team: Portland Trail Blazers

Score: 134.2

Years: 9+ (1985-86 to 1994-95)

All-Star appearances: 10

(Drexler 8, Porter 2)

Championships: 0

The Blazers' duo probably isn't the first one fans imagine when they consider great backcourts, but few were more balanced. Drexler was one of the league's best all-around shooting guards and an All-Star fixture, but Porter was no slouch himself, making a pair of All-Star Games during a period when the Western Conference was loaded at point guard. Only one other combo -- No. 2 on this list -- had as high a rating for its second-best player.


2. Tony Parker/Manu Ginobili


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How the NBA distributes talent and stokes desire

May, 20, 2015
May 20
1:36
PM PT
Webb By Royce Webb
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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NBA DraftJesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images

NEW YORK – The NBA Draft Lottery, the league’s weirdest career-altering stunt, made peers of three people who will probably never be in the same room again: Sixers rookie Nerlens Noel, Lakers coach Byron Scott and Minnesota billionaire Glen Taylor. As the pageant reached its suspenseful conclusion on Tuesday night, the three stood onstage together as winners of the NBA’s biggest loser contest. They had just been told they were receiving the top three picks in the June 25 NBA Draft (ESPN, 7 p.m. ET).

Indeed, it was Christmas for losers, and the trio were here to accept gifts from the league on behalf of their teams, which this season collectively won 55 games, 12 short of the Golden State Warriors’ total.

For all of the failure that led to this night, the lottery was a giddy affair. Hundreds filled a curtained-off hotel ballroom in midtown Manhattan, on the floor and in the balcony. Onstage, 14 team representatives – from Larry Bird to Steve Mills to Russell Westbrook – waited with a mix of low-key resignation and high hopes.

On a nearby raised platform, ESPN’s broadcast team of Mark Jones and Jay Bilas narrated and evaluated, while on yet another platform, Cassidy Hubbarth served as a host of sorts when nothing else was going on. For the assembled crowd, she interviewed Willie Cauley-Stein, D’Angelo Russell and Frank Kaminsky, among other potential lottery picks. Off to the side, Heather Cox was dwarfed by Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor, perhaps the top two picks in this year’s draft, as they watched video of themselves on the big screen and then talked about their bright days ahead.

The number of NBA players in the room – future, current and retired - added buzz. Before the presentation, Scott, Westbrook and Kings VP Vlade Divac talked in a triangle, a friendly players-only chat that ran 20 minutes. Bird held court off to the side with any number of admirers, while Hall of Fame center Alonzo Mourning and Suns center Alex Len were eye-to-eye in conversation. After the event, reporters – with cameras, phones and recorders – swarmed team executives and athletes alike for instant reaction.

The main reason we were all there: to find out how the NBA’s pingpong balls had reshuffled the draft order, which has the power to shape franchises and lives for years.

The reason to reshuffle: To reduce intentional losing, a.k.a. tanking. (As Phil Jackson might tweet, “Seriously, how’s it goink?”) By taking away a little bit of the certainty that teams crave, this system is supposed to prevent them from losing on purpose. And yet, intentional losing appears to be practiced more systemically than ever.

The fact that tanking can be labeled “rebuilding” and the fact that it’s generally done at the franchise level rather than the player level has allowed league officials to ignore the issue to a large degree. Commissioner Adam Silver denies that teams are tanking.

On the other hand, he and a large group of owners tried last October to push through a change in the lottery system because they saw how certain teams – most prominently the Philadelphia 76ers – were able to use the NBA’s draft rules to gain these valuable prizes, these high draft picks. The rules change was voted down, although it might be revived. The question remains, if teams aren’t tanking, why do we need to continue to change the rules to prevent tanking? (As noted, the lottery exists because of tanking.)

One reason tanking isn’t synonymous with game-fixing or match-fixing (which is illegal in sports across the globe) appears to be that it’s so ingrained in NBA culture that we expect teams to try to lose to improve their draft position – to win by losing. Indeed, the anger in New York among Knicks fans on Tuesday night appeared to be directed at Jackson, coach Derek Fisher and the Knicks for winning a pair of games at the end of the season that hurt their lottery odds -- rage that had flared up even as the games were happening, to the point where Fisher had to make a statement defending himself and his team for winning.

At ESPN and elsewhere, there have been many recommendations for better, fairer systems than the current draft. Celtics exec Mike Zarren proposed “the wheel.” At HoopIdea, we put economists and others on the case. FiveThirtyEight crowdsourced solutions. This week Amin Elhassan became the most recent analyst to call for an end to the draft, which would encourage teams to try to win and put together the best team possible at all times.

But with the success of the lottery and the draft as one-night TV and media fan-friendly events, the league is reluctant to look for a better way, even when tanking is the reason for one of those events.

A few quick case studies from Tuesday night:

Minnesota Timberwolves

Official position: 1st pick in the draft

Unofficial position: Ironic, but about time!

The Timberwolves have still never moved up in the lottery in 17 tries. (Since the draft is about fairness: Is that fair?) The irony this time – they didn’t want to move anywhere.

The other irony was voiced by owner Glen Taylor, the Wolves’ rep, who admitted that he had attempted and failed to make it harder for the worst team, which turned out to be his own team, to get the No. 1 pick.

Talking to reporters after the lottery, Taylor said that he had expected Minnesota to be a playoff team this season. “I wasn’t planning on being here this year,” he said. “We really thought we would get into the 7th or 8th position in the playoffs.”

In fact, he said he was so sure the Wolves would not be in the running for the No. 1 pick that he supported the plan to reduce the lottery odds of the worst team. The effort failed, and so did the Timberwolves, thereby succeeding.

Los Angeles Lakers

Official position: 2nd pick in the draft

Unofficial position: We deserve it!

I grew up a huge fan of the Magic Johnson-era Lakers, I know the size and strength of Laker Nation and I understand intimately the appeal of having the league’s marquee franchise win more than, say, 21 games. But even so, it’s a bit sad to see the Lakers go on corporate welfare and be granted one of the most valuable prizes the NBA has to offer, especially after the half-hearted way they finished the season. Magic himself celebrated the outcome on Twitter.

The Lakers are worth an estimated 2.6 billion dollars, have won 16 NBA championships -- including two in the past six seasons -- and hold significant advantages over every other NBA team when recruiting players to join their franchise.

Now for the second straight year, they get an outright gift for failure – one of the most talented players coming into the league, on a rookie salary scale while the salary cap goes up and up.

The draft is generally understood to be an attempt to level the playing field and create competitive balance -- and particularly to provide small-market teams a way to compete. It’s an adjustment to the structural advantages that large markets naturally have. Given that, it’s amazing to see the league rewarding Los Angeles and New York for failure and incompetence by granting them the rights to the biggest prizes.

Scott and Kobe Bryant both said the Lakers deserved such a prize, though their takes were markedly different. Scott called the No. 2 pick in next month’s draft “a little bit of a reward” for all their recent misery. On Twitter, Bryant resorted to potty humor that hinged on the double meaning of “No. 2,” saying, “We played like crap all season.”

The draft is where crap turns to gold.

Philadelphia 76ers

Official position: 3rd

Unofficial position: It could’ve gone better, but we knew the math.

The 76ers are a lightning rod for critics because of their coldly methodical approach to creating a roster that, they hope, will eventually be able to compete for NBA titles. The Sixers have lost 127 games the past two seasons -- quite intentionally, many believe -- which has “earned” them a pair of high draft picks. Team president Sam Hinkie’s unorthodox moves, including trading away rookie of the year Michael Carter-Williams for a future draft pick, have annoyed some observers and puzzled others.

After the lottery, Hinkie calmly described the Sixers’ process to reporters, noting that for a bad team looking for talent, it was entirely normal to churn through a lot of players before finding the ones to keep. As he said, if a player he picks up has a 25 percent chance of becoming someone you’ll want for the long haul, you probably need four such players to find the one you are looking for.

Hinkie understands that one part of the rebuilding process -– perhaps the most important part of the process - is to take full advantage of the NBA’s offer of free talent via the draft (free, as long as you don’t mind a losing season). Hinkie wants to win championships, and to do that he needs stars, the kind of players that are hard to get most of the time, but much easier to get through the draft.

He is wary of getting stuck in NBA purgatory, reserved for teams not good enough to compete for a title and not bad enough to get high draft picks. He wants high draft picks and has shown himself adept at acquiring them – so adept that some teams and fans are bothered by the way Hinkie, who holds an MBA from Stanford, and the Sixers have conducted business the last two years. But that’s just what it is: Hinkie’s judgment about what constitutes good NBA business sense.

So on the one hand, Tuesday night was a success – Philadelphia got the No. 3 pick and a potential star. On the other hand, it wasn’t quite the blowout victory the Sixers might have hoped for. Philly had a chance on Tuesday to set an NBA record by winning three lottery picks, because they hold rights to protected draft picks from the Lakers and the Heat. But the balls didn’t bounce quite their way, and now they have to wait for those latter two draft picks, which might become less valuable over the years as those teams improve.

Hinkie understood this, and noted that he and his staff had run the numbers already, saying, “We never anticipated we’d get the Lakers’ pick this year. We spend countless hours trying to evaluate those sorts of things, those sorts of uncertain things in the future.”

If you want to know where Sixers-style losing gets you, we saw that on Tuesday night. Like it or not, this is the system the NBA has set up.

New York Knicks

Official position: 4th

Unofficial position: OK, we’ll take it. Anybody wanna trade us a star?

Phil Jackson wasn’t there – he sent Steve Mills. After the Knicks “fell” to fourth, Mills said, "It's not a setback at all. We went into this draft knowing we can get a good player, anywhere from 1 to 5 [in the draft].”

Emotionally, that didn’t seem accurate, but technically, it was – the fourth pick in a loaded draft is the equivalent of a big bonus after a bad year at the office. And yes, we did just see the NBA grant James Dolan a prized top-four draft pick.

The Knicks will surely explore how to get a star player in return for the pick, as Mills acknowledged on Tuesday.

Before and after the lottery, I surveyed some of the executives and others attending the affair, to ask: Do the Knicks and these other teams deserve a lottery pick? I asked about a variety of teams, including three from large markets: Los Angeles, New York and Philly.

The consistent answer, which matched NBA doctrine, was that yes, they did deserve a high draft pick after successfully losing and/or tanking their way into the lottery.

And I get that. Losing is painful, as one longtime NBA executive noted in our chat.

But to say that teams “deserve” a high pick is to reward failure. In Malcolm Gladwell’s critique of the NBA draft, he noted the “moral hazard” of rewarding losing. Rewarding failure is generally considered bad policy, whether in sports or other endeavors.

Perhaps fans themselves do “deserve” to be rewarded for their loyalty. The excitement and the potential that stems from the lottery and the draft do indeed give fans a reason to hope, a reason to believe. Of course, if some fans “deserve” such rewards, that implies that other fans deserve them less.

When it comes to the teams themselves, “deserve” might be entirely the wrong word. Perhaps it’s another d-word that keeps the draft going, that creates excitement and buzz around something as peculiar as the lottery.

Perhaps it’s desire. Desire to have a shot, deserved or not, at a transcendent talent that can change team and career trajectories.

Desire. Isn’t that always the fuel that makes a lottery go?

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Colin Cowherd gives his takes on the NBA draft lottery, including the outlooks for the Timberwolves, Lakers and Knicks.

Draft preview: Lakers get a shot at Towns or Okafor

May, 20, 2015
May 20
9:00
AM PT
Holmes By Baxter Holmes
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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Jahlil OkaforStreeter Lecka/Getty Images

The Lakers are more than relieved with how the lottery turned out.

Not only did they end up keeping their top-five protected pick, which they could have lost to the Philadelphia 76ers, but the Lakers were the only team to move up in the lottery, doubling up from No. 4 to No. 2.

And that outcome puts them in position to take one of the two prized big men in this draft, Kentucky's Karl-Anthony Towns or Duke's Jahlil Okafor. ESPN insider Chad Ford has the Lakers selecting Okafor in his latest mock draftInsider, and he would give the Lakers a potential franchise center who would pair well with their first-round pick from last year, power forward Julius Randle.

The tremendously gifted Okafor is bit of a throwback because of his rather polished low-post game, but that will help make him much more effective on the offensive end early on.

With Okafor, Randle and All-Rookie first-team point guard Jordan Clarkson, the Lakers could have a strong, young core. Now factor in whomever they're able to get in free agency and perhaps later in the draft -- they also have the 27th overall pick -- and the Lakers could go a long way in rebounding from their worst season in franchise history.

Jahlil Okafor: 'Hype about No. 1 is more for the fans'

May, 20, 2015
May 20
7:45
AM PT
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Center Jahlil Okafor doesn't seem to mind where he goes in the NBA draft as long as it's to a team that he feels is the right fit.

"I don't know that I should go No. 1," Okafor told SI Now. "I don't care. I just want to go to the right environment for me and the right team. I think the hype about No. 1 is more for the fans."

The 6-foot-11, 270-pound Okafor and former Kentucky center Karl-Anthony Towns are projected to be the top two picks entering the draft. Okafor led the Duke Blue Devils to the national championship as a freshman, averaging 17.3 points, 8.5 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game.

The Minnesota Timberwolves landed the first pick of the 2015 NBA draft in the league's annual lottery Tuesday. The Los Angeles Lakers will pick second, with the Philadelphia 76ers drawing the third choice, the New York Knicks the fourth and the Orlando Magic the fifth.

"We're going to get a great piece," Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders said after the lottery. "There are a lot of directions we can go. This gives us flexibility. We don't know who we're going to pick."

Former Lakers star Magic Johnson also was optimistic


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NEW YORK -- Representatives from the two teams sat side by side on the first of three rows, sharing a small table draped in black cloth. Just a few feet in front of the two well-suited men, in a clear glass drum about the size of an office water cooler, 14 ping-pong balls danced like popcorn in a microwave.

On the left sat John Black, the Los Angeles Lakers' vice president of public relations.

On the right, Brad Shron, the Philadelphia 76ers' executive vice president and general counsel.

The seating arrangement wasn't happenstance. Rather, it was based on record, and since the 76ers finished with the league's third-worst record while Lakers' finished with the fourth-worst, they were paired up.

But the mere image of them sitting a few inches apart truly symbolized -- and no doubt significantly heightened -- the already delicious drama between both teams entering Tuesday night's 2015 NBA draft lottery, held at the New York Hilton Midtown.

After all, if those white spheres bounced a certain way, the 76ers were going to swipe the Lakers' first-round pick, leaving them with nothing to show for the worst season in franchise history -- a disastrous scenario for the Lakers by any measure.

Both men seemed cordial after taking their seats inside the secluded lottery drawing room, a white-walled, green-carpeted conference room two floors below the stage where the picks would be announced on national television an hour later.

They were joined by 12 other representatives from teams who failed to make the playoffs, a dozen media members (including three Lakers reporters who flew in from Los Angeles), a handful of NBA officials and a small video crew with the league.

Guarding the door, as he has done for about two decades, was Clifford Cooper, a private consultant working security for the NBA. No one has tried to get past him to get the word out about the lottery's outcome before it's aired on television -- not that they would have much luck. Cooper spent nearly four decades working in law enforcement in New York City, retiring as Detective First Grade, and he once slapped handcuffs on notorious gangster John Gotti during an arrest.

On the left wall, eight large, white boards listed 1,001 possible four-ball combinations. The worse a team's record, the more combinations it had been assigned. If its combination came up first, then it won the lottery and the top pick. The Lakers had 119 combinations as ammunition.

Black tried to keep calm, but he feared the worst.

"I've been a nervous wreck," he said.

He said he hadn't slept in three nights thanks in part to constant jackhammering and an elevator near his hotel room here that kept dinging as it delivered people to his floor at all hours.

As he tossed and turned, he thought about what would happen if the Lakers fell out of the top five altogether, meaning their pick went to the 76ers as part of the Steve Nash trade.

"It's been on my mind the whole time I've been here," he said.

There was about a 17 percent chance of that situation occurring, but it was still enough to make the Lakers and all their fans sweat, especially after the Lakers twice beat the 76ers in the regular season, wins those same fans worried would come back to haunt their team on Tuesday.

Before Black entered the room, he spoke to Lakers coach Byron Scott, who was representing the team on stage. He told him he hoped when they saw each other again in an hour and a half, they would share a big hug.

Black wore a purple-striped tie, a dark charcoal gray suit and his ring from the Lakers' 2001 championship. "I never wear rings," he pointed out. But he said he chose that one because of the Lakers' dominance that postseason, going 15-1 en route to the second of three consecutive titles. And just who did the Lakers beat in the Finals that year? Why, the 76ers, of course, the same team they were up against Tuesday night.

Black hoped the ring would bring good luck.

If it didn't, he joked that he would throw it in the East River.


Air pushed the balls around the drum designed by a company that makes state lottery machines. After 20 seconds, Kyle Yelencsics, an associate coordinator with the NBA, clicked a purple stopwatch in his right hand and raised his left arm.

Then Lou DiSabatino, the NBA's vice president of events and attractions, pulled a small lever, causing one of the balls to be sucked up through a vertical tube to an opening.

Kiki Vandeweghe, the NBA's senior vice president of basketball operations, plucked the first ball and read it aloud.

After three more intervals, each lasting 10 seconds, a four-ball combination gave the Minnesota Timberwolves


(Read full post)


In Tuesday night's NBA draft lottery, the Minnesota Timberwolves held on to the No. 1 spot, while the Los Angeles Lakers -- despite having the fourth-worst record in the league -- jumped up to the No. 2 pick.

Kobe Bryant responded on Twitter:

This should surprise no one. It's also not the first bathroom-related comment Bryant made about these Lakers; Kobe famously called his team "soft like Charmin" during a midseason practice.

Magic Johnson? His reaction was a little more hopeful:

On the other end of the spectrum were the New York Knicks, who went from the second-best chance at the No. 1 pick ... down to No. 4.

Hey, at least one of the top prospects seemed to enjoy it ... we think.


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NEW YORK -- The Minnesota Timberwolves lost 66 games during the 2014-15 season.

But they won big Tuesday night.

The Wolves landed the first pick of the 2015 NBA draft in the league's annual lottery. Minnesota had an NBA-high 25 percent chance of landing the top pick based on its last-place finish in the leaguewide standings.

The Los Angeles Lakers landed the second pick, with the Philadelphia 76ers drawing the third choice, the New York Knicks the fourth and the Orlando Magic the fifth.

The top draft-eligible players include Kentucky big man Karl-Anthony Towns, Duke center Jahlil Okafor, Ohio State point guard D'Angelo Russell and Emmanuel Mudiay, a 19-year-old guard who played professionally in China this season.

The NBA draft will be held at the Barclays Center, home of the Brooklyn Nets, on June 25.

Minnesota president and coach Flip Saunders said Tuesday's lottery was a "very emotional" day for the franchise and its fans. He said that the team will consider all of its options with the pick. 

"Having the No. 1 pick gives us the opportunity to really evaluate everybody and really see what direction we want to go," Saunders said. "At this point, we're open. We'll pick the best player for us on June 25."

Added Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor: "I'm just really happy for the Minnesota fans because they've been so loyal and they've been so patient with us and this has been such a difficult year."

It is the first time Minnesota has ever had the No. 1 pick, though the team has Andrew Wiggins


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How the draft lottery works

May, 19, 2015
May 19
10:50
AM PT
Holmes By Baxter Holmes
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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NBA Draft Lottery MachineNed Dishman/NBAE/Getty Images

NEW YORK -- The Lakers have won more games than any other NBA franchise, so it's no surprise that they're rare visitors to the draft lottery. In fact, Tuesday’s 31st annual lottery will mark just their fourth appearance -- but second in a row -- since the NBA created it in 1985.

That’s the second-fewest appearances among NBA teams behind the San Antonio Spurs, who have gone three times but haven’t been since they drafted Tim Duncan in 1997.

For perspective, every other NBA team has made at least seven lottery appearances, and the Lakers’ fellow Staples Center tenants, the Clippers, have made an NBA-high 22 trips.

So if Lakers fans aren’t too familiar with how the whole process works, they’re forgiven. After all, they’re more used to their favorite team competing for a championship at this time of year than praying pingpong balls bounce their way.

But no worries. Here’s a quick step-by-step look at how it all works, as provided by the league.

It begins with 14 pingpong balls in a drum, one ball for every NBA team that did not reach the playoffs this year, numbered 1 through 14.

Fourteen balls means there are 1,001 possible four-ball combinations. Prior to the lottery, 1,000 of those 1,001 combinations are assigned to the 14 participating lottery teams. (The 1,001st combination isn’t assigned to any team.)

The number of combinations teams are assigned is determined by regular-season record.

For example, the Minnesota Timberwolves finished with the league’s worst record, so they’ll have the most combinations, 250, meaning they’ll have a 25 percent chance at the top overall pick.

The Oklahoma City Thunder, meanwhile, have the best record of any team in the lottery, so they’ll have the fewest combinations: five.

The Lakers have the league’s fourth-worst record, so they’ll have the fourth-most combinations, 119. That means they’ll have an 11.9 percent chance at landing the top overall pick. They also have a 12.6 percent chance at the second overall pick and a 13.3 percent chance at the third overall pick.

The procedure itself will take place in a separate room at the New York Hilton Midtown prior to the national broadcast on ESPN at about 5 p.m. PST.

In that room, select media, NBA officials and representatives from each of the lottery teams and the accounting firm Ernst & Young will be present. (John Black, Lakers vice president of public relations, will represent the team in the drawing room.)

The NBA says the lottery machine is manufactured by the Smart Play Company, a “leading manufacturer of state lottery machines throughout the United States.” Smart Play also weighs, measures and certifies the pingpong balls prior to the drawing, the league says.

All the balls are placed in the lottery machine and mixed for 20 seconds; then the first ball is removed by an official. The remaining balls are mixed in the lottery machine for another 10 seconds, and then the second ball is drawn. There is a 10-second mix, and then the third ball is drawn. There is a 10-second mix, and then the fourth ball is drawn.

[+] EnlargeJames Worthy
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty ImagesJames Worthy's presence couldn't bring the Lakers the luck they needed to move up in the 2014 draft lottery, where they ended up with the No. 7 pick.

The team that has been assigned that combination will receive the No. 1 pick. The same process is repeated with the same pingpong balls and lottery machine for the second pick and then again for the third pick.

If the same team comes up more than once, the result is discarded and another four-ball combination is selected. Also, if the one unassigned combination is drawn, the balls are drawn to the top again.

The length of time the balls are mixed is monitored by a timekeeper who faces away from the machine and signals the machine operator after the appropriate amount of time has elapsed.

After the first three picks are set, the remaining teams will pick in the inverse order of their record. So, Minnesota can pick no lower than fourth, New York (17-65) no lower than fifth and Philadelphia (18-64) no lower than sixth.

After the drawing, team logo cards are inserted into envelopes marked 1 through 14 by Denise Pelli, a partner with Ernst & Young, and the envelopes are brought onto a stage, where the announcement of the lottery results will be made by NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum. An additional representative from each team will be on stage. (Head coach Byron Scott for the Lakers.)

The team whose logo is in the envelope that is opened last will have the first selection at the June 25 draft, which will be held at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Kobe Bryant
PTS AST STL MIN
22.3 5.6 1.3 34.5
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsJ. Hill 7.9
AssistsK. Bryant 5.6
StealsR. Price 1.6
BlocksE. Davis 1.2