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The NBA Lottery Ripple Effect

Ping-pong balls and draft slots might not be the only pieces moving as a result of the draft lottery

(Getty Images/Ringer illustration)
(Getty Images/Ringer illustration)

The most important lesson we learned from Tuesday’s NBA draft lottery, it turns out, was that putting a camera on Joel Embiid doing anything for 60 minutes makes for quality live TV. Add to that a heavy undercurrent of conspiracy theories, and Alonzo Mourning mourning, and it bakes to a golden-brown half hour of television. It proved that nongame NBA events can still being entertaining — shockingly, no Drake necessary — but it also gave us immediate trade anxiety.

Just the thought of the Celtics selecting first and the Lakers going second could shake up both rosters enough to bring back all the unease from the trade deadline. Here are four players who could be moved as a result of Tuesday night’s lottery results:

1. D’Angelo Russell

A giant television market, David Stern’s successor, Magic Johnson, and ping-pong balls all walk into a bar … stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Despite ending the regular season on a 5–1 roll — which left the Lakers with a 53.1 percent chance that the Sixers would snag their pick — Rob Pelinka can now make LaVar Ball’s will align with reality.

After securing the no. 2 spot, Magic told TMZ that he doesn’t "know who we’re gonna take right now." Though, considering Lonzo Ball is widely regarded as the second-best player in the draft, and given Father Ball’s declaration that his son will only work out for the Lakers, it would be a surprise if Los Angeles didn’t keep its pick local.

So where will the pending selection of Lonzo leave Russell, a similarly ball-dominant point (also taken second overall)? Though tanking tints our perception of progress, Russell’s ceiling looks less appealing. A trade, however, might be the change that makes the 21-year-old: The two years left on his rookie contract (the second year is a club option) is enough time for both a team to try him out at a low price and for him to show enough upside to pad his second contract.

D’Angelo — we hate to see you go, but we would love to Snapchat you leaving.

2. Jimmy Butler

Facing Butler (well, Butler with Rajon Rondo) in the first round was as validating an experience for some members of the Celtics community as it was scary for the rest — rather, those who believed not trading for the Bulls All-Star before the deadline was a mistake. Of course, Boston lived to advance. And after nabbing the first pick in the draft the same week as qualifying for the Eastern Conference finals, Boston is not only still living, but also thriving. If Brad Stevens is the president, then right now Danny Ainge is the Holy Spirit.

But nothing rescinds divinity faster than messing up the draft (right, Vlade?). There already seems to be a consensus no. 1: Markelle Fultz. Boston trading for Butler is again a possibility, especially coming from an organization with perpetual leverage thanks to this, uh, promising New York startup. Ainge was reportedly stingy at the last deadline — there were even rumors of Boston refusing to give up Terry Rozier (hey, that worked out!) — but the timing for a Butler deal is salivatingly perfect.

3. Ricky Rubio

Two facts: Kris Dunn’s rookie year was packed with more turbulence and turnovers than planned, and Minnesota, at seven, has yet another high draft pick.

The last time the Wolves picked seventh was in 2007. Corey Brewer became a Minnesotan, Randy Wittman had just been hired as head coach, and the team went 22–60. Ten years, 226 wins, and six coaches later, the Wolves return to the seventh selection neither better nor worse, but, horrifically, exactly the same.

Last year’s Dunn pick at the five slot suddenly made 50-win predictions realistic enough to publish, tweet, and speak about outside of the Twin Cities. Instead, a routine Timberwolves season followed, dotted with a bad record (familiar), tanking (familiar), and rumors of trading in Rubio’s contract for Derrick Rose’s expiring one (a byproduct of Thibs).

The Rose exchange never happened, and Rubio survived the yearlong trade speculation. Still, the Wolves look more desperate for a veteran, two-way shooter than another draft pick. Rubio ended the year on a scoring uptick, producing more shooting highlights than the rest of his career altogether, and as for Dunn, well, we’re still waiting. But Rubio — and Rubio’s contract — seems most likely to be packaged with the pick. The real reason for the 50-win predictions — namely, the young core of Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, and Zach LaVine — is a bit too shiny, appealing, and overflowing with upside to let go of.

4. Isaiah Thomas

Back to Boston for a final thought: Just drafting Fultz wouldn’t be all sugar and spaghetti, either. Selecting a (likely) franchise point guard just a season before your current franchise point guard is due for a hefty raise is, in a word, tricky. Thomas’s historic year — highlighted by fourth-quarter heroics and MVP chants at the line — played out on a team already drunk with guards and intoxicated by small ball. But both Fultz and Thomas have seen the writing on the TD Garden wall and are preemptively PR-blitzing their way into coexisting.

Exhibit A: In March, Thomas said on The Bill Simmons Podcast that Fultz is "special," and if the Celtics did select first, to "go get him." Thomas then told The Boston Globe that if the Celtics drafted the point guard, "we’d be playing together." He added, "Nobody’s taking my minutes" or his "spot." The 5-foot-9 (roughly) guard also noted that he can "play off the ball."

Exhibit B: Just last week, Fultz said that he and "Isaiah Thomas would be a great backcourt," and repeated that IT could "play off the ball, where I think he’s better at it."

And most recently, on Tuesday, Exhibit C: Ainge selling the backcourt to himself. "Isaiah can play with anybody. … He can play whatever. He’s just a basketball player. He can score." Oh, and also — "he’s a great off-the-ball player, as well."

Those three testimonies, not to mention the utter devotion of some 650,000 Bostonians, make the very thought bubble of trading Isaiah blasphemous. Nevertheless, dealing Isaiah, noted 2-guard, is, technically [dodges thrown chairs] an option.