Ping-pong balls fall Wolves' and Lakers' way

By Jason Inocencio

Posted at May 25 2015 05:09 PM | Updated as of May 26 2015 01:09 AM

Owner Glen Taylor of the Minnesota Timberwolves poses for a photo with the draft card after winning the 2015 NBA Draft Lottery. Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images/Agence France-Presse

Franchise-changer. When a team becomes a part of the NBA Draft Lottery, it means they’re looking for players who will change the fortunes of their franchise for the better. After all, the NBA Draft makes the best players eligible to be drafted available for teams to improve themselves. With just the right combination of numbers printed on ping-pong balls, a team’s entire fate can improve or fall even further.

At stake with the No. 1 and No. 2 picks are a pair of 6-foot-11 big men with tremendous potential and extremely hungry fanbases looking at the 2015 NBA Draft to give their teams a real shot at being contenders.

Entering the 2015 NBA Draft Lottery, several marquee franchises were in the spotlight because they weren’t used to being here. The 16-time NBA Champion Los Angeles Lakers were in the lottery for the second straight year after the worst season in team history.

With only 21 wins and 61 losses to show after the retirement of Steve Nash and the uncertainty surrounding Kobe Bryant’s mindset heading into next season, the franchise’s hopes were placed squarely on the Draft Lottery but with a caveat. If the Lakers didn’t end up with any of the Top Five, their pick would end up with the Philadelphia 76ers as a result of the Nash trade from Phoenix and a subsequent Suns-76ers deal.

Actually, the Sixers had a shot at securing three picks in this year’s Draft Lottery. A trade with the Miami Heat could have given them the No. 11 pick, the Lakers’ aforementioned pick outside the Top Five, and their own pick in the Top Five. Alas, the team that most have called out for sabotaging their regular season for the past few years, resulting in drafting injured big men Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid, will have just the No. 3 pick in this coming draft.

Knicks-Lakers switcheroo

The New York Knicks, who made a splash last off-season by hiring Phil Jackson to run their basketball operations and Derek Fisher to be head coach only to crash and burn, were also aiming for a high pick to team with recovering star Carmelo Anthony.

Despite Jackson’s pleas for fan patience in the Big Apple, the high price of tickets and the perpetual pressure in New York usually means whoever is in charge of the Knicks has to deliver fast. With only 17 wins to show, if all the ping-pong balls fell into place, New York could climb from the No. 2 spot to the first. Instead, they fell to the fourth slot.

What was bad luck for the Knicks meant good luck for the last team Jackson coached: the Lakers. The first good thing that happened to Los Angeles was that they ended up in the Top Five, effectively taking away Philly’s plot for another pick. The Lakers then leapfrogged the Knicks and Sixers from the No. 4 spot up to No. 2.

And the big winner at the 2015 NBA Draft Lottery was the team with the worst record this past season, the Minnesota Timberwolves.

High hopes in Minnesota and LA

For the first time in their team history, the Timberwolves wound up with the top pick in the coming June 25 NBA Draft. In an amazing twist of fate, the Wolves are set to have the No. 1 pick of the 2013, 2014, and 2015 Drafts on next year’s roster. This is a direct result of the Kevin Love trade that had the former All-Star move from Minnesota to Cleveland, who then shipped underperforming 2013 top pick Anthony Bennett and 2014 top pick (and eventual Rookie of the Year) Andrew Wiggins to Minneapolis.

It’s an unprecedented confluence of events that have resulted in this good fortune for a team that has just one Western Conference Finals appearance in its 26-season history. The addition of what will most likely be a top flight big man in addition to Wiggins and Spanish playmaker Ricky Rubio and 2015 Slam Dunk Champion Zach LaVine might give the Wolves a solid foundation in the highly-competitive West.

Consider the Lakers the happiest to shout, “We’re Number Two!” after the Draft Lottery. All the pressure not to screw up the pick falls on Minnesota now, and the Lakers practically can’t go wrong with the second overall pick. You can’t really blame Lakers coach Byron Scott for the wink he gave when the Lakers suddenly found themselves in the Top Three of the Draft Lottery, leading some to wonder if it was fixed for the NBA’s glamour team.

Top prospects

The reasons the Wolves and Lakers are salivating are the pair of centers who are projected to go 1 and 2 in the coming Draft. Jahlil Okafor out of Duke and Karl-Anthony Towns from the University of Kentucky are the consensus best players in the Draft who are blessed with height, talent, and that impossible to quantify factor that is potential.

At their best, either can be an Anthony Davis or Tim Duncan, a shot-blocking machine that will own the paint and anchor his franchise for at least the next decade. At their worst though, they could end up being Michael Olowokandi, Kwame Brown, or Darko Milicic, laughingstocks and cautionary tales for NBA general managers not to be enamored with size when choosing a talent.

There are, of course, other talents in this coming NBA Draft. Ohio State combo guard D’Angelo Russell has been making noise, as has Congolese-American point guard Emmanuel Mudiay (who skipped college last season to play professional basketball in China). Latvia’s 7-foot power forward Kristaps Porzingis is the mysterious European in the draft, while several of Towns’ teammates from Kentucky such as Willie Trill Cauley-Stein, Justise Winslow, and twins Andrew and Aaron Harrison all hope to be selected in the first round.

For the teams whose fates will be intertwined with these picks, the right or wrong selection might just be enough to make them either relevant for the foreseeable future or also-rans doomed to return to this scenario.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.