- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 20, 2009

SECAUCUS, N.J. | Well, so much for a franchise-changing consolation prize.

The Washington Wizards lost out on a chance to land the No. 1 or No. 2 picks in the NBA Draft lottery, and for the second time since 2004 wound up with the fifth pick.

The Los Angeles Clippers, who held the third spot in the lottery — one spot behind the Wizards — had the pingpong balls bounce their way, landing the top pick in the draft. That pick is expected to be Oklahoma’s Blake Griffin. The Memphis Grizzlies were awarded the second pick, which is expected to be Spain’s Ricky Rubio. And the Sacramento Kings, who finished with the worst record in the league at 17-65 and had the best chance of winning the lottery, instead wound up with the fourth pick.

The Wizards found themselves in the NBA Draft lottery after enduring an injury-plagued 19-63 season that ranked them second-worst in the league.

The Clippers actually posted an identical record. Because of that, a tiebreaker was held to determine which team would earn the second-highest number of combinations in the lottery, which is a pingpong ball system featuring 1,000 different combinations divided up among the teams with the 14 worst records.

Washington won that tiebreaker and was awarded 178 chances (or, a 17.8 percent chance of landing the top pick). The Clippers, meanwhile, were given 177 combinations (a 17.7 percent chance).

But that victory ended up being a loss, and the Wizards became the 11th consecutive team to have the second-best chance in the lottery but miss out on the top spot since 1998.

Now the Wizards — who when healthy have a rather deep team, featuring three All-Star-caliber players in Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison, a blend of veteran players and six players under the age of 23 — head toward the draft with a predicament. What to do with the fifth pick?

After Griffin and Rubio, the remaining players in the draft are viewed as developmental prospects. The top prospects expected to be available at the No. 5 spot are American prep-to-Italian pro PG Brandon Jennings, USC shooting guard DeMar DeRozan, Arizona State’s James Harden or Davidson’s Stephen Curry — all talented, but each has their share of question marks as well.

The Wizards, according to league insiders, are hesitant to take on yet another project player and would rather use that draft pick as part of a package to trade for a veteran that could contribute immediately.

The last time the Wizards had a top five lottery pick was 2004, when fresh off a 25-57 season, they were awarded the fifth pick. Grunfeld, however, packaged that pick (which ended up being Wisconsin’s Devin Harris) with Jerry Stackhouse and Christian Laettner to acquire Jamison from the Dallas Mavericks.

The Wizards were represented at the lottery by new coach Flip Saunders, who his last time on stage at Secaucus represented the Minnesota Timberwolves in 1995. Ironically, Minnesota wound up with the fifth pick in that year’s draft. Saunders, reflecting on that memory, said the Wizards still could find an unexpected star in this year’s draft if they decide to keep the pick.

“At the time, everybody was saying, ‘Nobody’s taken a high schooler in 25 years, and going into the lottery,” Saunders said, also noting that Garnett at that point had yet to work out for teams. “The four main guys were Joe Smith, McDyess, Rasheed Wallace and Stackhouse. And when we got fifth, we thought we had been left out of the pool, because we weren’t even sure [Garnett] was going to stay in the draft. So, there were a number of unknown factors at that time.”

Whether the Wizards keep the draft pick or not, they feel comfortable with the position in which they stand because of their multiple options.

“[The pick] is like icing on the cake,” said Saunders, who carried a good-luck silver medallion with an angel engraved on it. “You’ve got a good foundation and we’re going to be able to add to it. We have the luxury of being very flexible. Ernie’s put himself in a position to be very flexible. You’ve got the pick, you’ve got players that have expiring contracts. You know, the pick in the second round [32nd overall] is a good pick too. A lot of people like having those high second picks because you don’t have to guarantee players for all that time and you can get a pretty good player there.

“It gives our management team a lot of flexibility, but it makes them really have to do their homework,” Saunders added with a chuckle.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide