CHICAGO – Phoenix general manager Ryan McDonough was on stage moments after the NBA draft lottery ended, talking about the future of the Suns and mentioning how they had the best odds of picking No. 1 overall.
And then he stopped to correct himself.
“We have No. 1,” McDonough said. “I’ve got to adjust to that.”
It’s an adjustment that he and the Suns will happily be making.
The worst team in the league this season will pick first in the NBA draft on June 21, after the Suns won the draft lottery on Tuesday night. It’s the first time the Suns will have the chance to make the first overall selection.
“It’s great for our franchise,” said McDonough, whose club went 21-61 this season and missed the playoffs for an eighth consecutive year. “It’s something that you say coming into it, you don’t have any control over it so you’re not going to get nervous. And I was here dying. I could barely breathe. I needed an oxygen tank.”
The Suns have three great candidates for No. 1, all with ties to either Arizona or new Phoenix coach Igor Kokoskov. Arizona freshman center Deandre Ayton is widely expected to be a strong candidate to go No. 1 overall, and he was at the lottery to watch the Suns win the pick. So was Duke’s Marvin Bagley III, an Arizona native.
And Kokoskov is particularly familiar with Slovenia’s Luka Doncic, who will be coming to the NBA from Real Madrid. Kokoskov coached Slovenia – and Doncic – to the gold medal at the European championships last summer.
“We have a small target grouping in mind, but we’re not going to rule anything out at this point,” McDonough said. “I think we’ll have a great choice, no matter who we select.”
The Suns were big winners.
So were Sacramento and Atlanta.
Sacramento will pick No. 2 and Atlanta got the No. 3 pick – both of them moving up and bucking some odds to get there. The top three spots were determined by the lottery, and then spots 4-14 fell in line of reverse order of record.
Sacramento had a 18.3 percent chance entering the lottery of moving into the top three, while Atlanta’s move-up was really just a slightly bigger upset than a coin-flip – the Hawks came into the night with a 42.3 percent chance of getting picks 1, 2 or 3.
“No big deal. It’s a deep draft,” Kings vice president and general manager Vlade Divac said. “We’re going to do our job and obviously, I’m glad that we played the last two years to develop guys and try to win games. You cannot develop guys if you don’t teach them how to win.”
The Hawks, like the Suns, got their lottery result one day after introducing a new coach. Lloyd Pierce is taking over in Atlanta, with a reputation of helping great young talent develop – he’s worked with Joel Embiid, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and LeBron James, among many others.
“For Hawks fans, it’s a big deal,” said Hawks owner Jami Gertz, who represented the franchise on stage at the lottery. “I say to Atlanta, we are on our way. Championships down the road, sooner than later. Let’s go.”
The rest of the slots, in order, went to No. 4 Memphis, No. 5 Dallas, No. 6 Orlando, No. 7 Chicago, No. 8 Cleveland, No. 9 New York, No. 10 Philadelphia, No. 11 Charlotte, No. 12 and No. 13 Los Angeles Clippers, and No. 14 Denver.
The draft is June 21 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
The lottery has been around since 1985, was tweaked to a weighted system in 1990 and will be changing again next year in an effort to discourage teams from tanking.
Going forward, the three teams with the worst regular-season records will all have 14 percent chances of winning the No. 1 pick, the fourth-worst team will have a 12.5 percent chance and the fifth-worst 10.5 percent. So there will still be a benefit to being bad, but the odds will be so similar among the bottom five teams – a 3.5 percent differential in the race for No. 1, instead of the 16.2 percent gap like this year – that the reward for losing might be lessened.
“I don’t like that word, what is it, tanking?” Divac said. “I hate it.”
Josh Jackson, who just completed his rookie season with Phoenix, represented the Suns on the stage, for the public announcement of what was drawn in secret about an hour earlier. Only a handful of team representatives, NBA officials and media knew the outcome of the lottery before it was revealed publicly and they were all sequestered until the results were aired.
Jackson said he thinks the Suns need a big man. That means his vote, for now anyway, is Ayton.
“He’s got so much potential,” Jackson said.
The Suns feel the same way about themselves. They have three picks in the first 31 in this draft, plus have some cap room to work with this summer. The plan, McDonough said, is to add some veterans to mold what will be a young core led by the likes of Devin Booker, Jackson and potentially whoever the No. 1 pick is next month.
With some more luck, Jackson won’t be going to more lotteries.
“Hopefully we won’t be sitting up here too much longer,” Jackson said.