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Ping-pong Potential: Breaking Down the Most Interesting Outcomes of the 2018 NBA Draft Lottery

Either of the East finalists has a chance to win the jackpot, Mark Cuban might gain a premium asset to deal, and the Knicks could land the Luka-Kristaps combo we all deserve

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

It’s the most wonderful time of the year: The playoffs are in the conference finals round, summer is on the horizon, and the hilarious, arbitrary exercise of bouncing ping-pong balls around in order to determine the future of the NBA is upon us. Here are some of the most interesting potential outcomes heading into Tuesday night’s drawing, which features a trio of playoff teams, including two of the NBA’s final four:

Cavs Get No. 1 Pick (From Nets)

LeBron will dominate the news cycle and the NBA transaction world this summer, so it is even more significant that his current team, which is trying to keep him, could have an ace in the hole with the pick that it received from Boston in the Kyrie Irving trade. Should the Cavs somehow land the no. 1 slot in the lottery (they have the eighth-best odds, at 2.8 percent), or end up with a top-three pick (9.9 percent chance), it will add kerosene to the rumor fire. Cleveland would then have a viable way to get another star by (a) trading the pick in a package deal for a win-now player, which would be seen as a clear attempt to convince LeBron to stay, or (b) should he go, by acquiring a young player to try to build around.

Landing a top-three pick instead of the eighth overall pick (where the pick would be if the lottery stayed in order) likely wouldn’t be the reason LeBron would decide to stay in Cleveland, but it would allow the Cavs to map out a course for immediate improvement next season. Let the team-building (and LeBron-catering) begin. (As a plus, it would be perfect conspiracy-theory fodder if the Cavs were to somehow land another no. 1 overall pick after getting three of them in the past eight years.)

Celtics Make Finals, Get Second Overall Pick

Boston is up 1-0 in the Eastern Conference finals as of this writing, and the Celtics will have a chance to go up 2-0 on the same night that they’ll get a shot to nab the no. 2 or no. 3 overall pick. As part of the Markelle Fultz trade with the Sixers last summer, Boston will get the Lakers’ pick if it lands in either of those spots. The odds are not in the Celtics’ favor (about 2.9 percent), but that this is even a possibility is striking. The Celtics will welcome back Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward next season, adding them to a team that might make the Finals this season. Throwing a top-tier prospect into that mix—say, a big like Deandre Ayton—would push the balance of power in the East further in Boston’s favor.

If this pick doesn’t yield dividends this season, Boston will get the Kings’ top-1-protected first-rounder next season, which could certainly be a top-10 pick (if it doesn’t convey, the Celtics get the Sixers’ pick). As Boston’s current team is thriving, Danny Ainge’s treasure trove of assets may bring yet another piece. The rich get richer, and this time, it isn’t the Warriors.

Sixers Get Top Pick

Speaking of the rich getting richer, the Sixers head into the offseason with two of the most talented young players in the league, cap space, and a slim, but not insignificant chance at getting the top overall pick (via the Lakers) in Tuesday’s lottery. A 1.1 percent chance, to be exact. Yet as long as the Lakers’ pick doesn’t land at either no. 2 or no. 3 and go to Boston, Philly most likely will at least have a top-10 pick. But let’s imagine a world where the Sixers do have the top selection. Can I interest you in pairing Luka Doncic with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons? What about packaging that no. 1 pick and a couple of players for Kawhi Leonard? Really, this scenario would open up myriad possibilities for this team, and if their young stars can stay healthy, it could put them on a direct path toward the Finals both in the near- and long-term future.

Mavericks Get No. 1 Pick, Mark Cuban Can’t Help but Trade It

Self-explainable, really. The Mavericks already have one of the three best odds to land the top pick and a near-50 percent chance of at least getting a top-3 pick. Given their personnel and ownership, the Mavs are the only team in the top seven that isn’t quite rebuilding. “I don’t see us re-doing the entire roster at all,” Cuban said recently. I already see the report on the ticker in my head: “Mark Cuban open to trading no. 3 overall pick for ‘win-now’ player.” I can’t wait for the rumor mill to begin churning.

The Kings or Magic Get Lucky

With the exception of Orlando’s no. 2 overall pick in what was a truly abysmal 2013 draft, neither the Magic nor the Kings have had much lottery luck. Both teams are in the lottery every year, but they’ve landed around the 5-12 range every time. De’Aaron Fox and Victor Oladipo (whom the Magic traded) notwithstanding, Sacramento and Orlando have produced no stars from four straight seasons of lottery picks. To grab a potentially franchise-altering prospect, the Kings and Magic will need to get lucky and jump into the top 3. The Kings have the seventh-best odds (18.3 percent for a top-3 pick, 5.3 percent for the top pick), and the Magic have the fifth-best odds (29.1 percent for a top-3 pick, 8.8 percent for no. 1).

The Clippers Get One Pick in the Top 3, Plus Another Lottery Pick

The Clippers have two lottery picks this year thanks to the Blake Griffin trade, which looks more favorable for L.A. by the day, and their own pick for missing the playoffs. The pick from the Pistons is top-4 protected, but the Clippers’ pick has a 2.2 percent chance of landing in the top 3. The Clippers are in an interesting position: They have plenty of talent to aim for an 8-seed, are eyeing the market for Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, and yet don’t have the same cachet or number of assets as the Lakers do. One lucky ping-pong ball could change all of that.

The Knicks End Up With No. 1 (or Top-3) Pick, Pair Luka Doncic With Kristaps Porzingis

My personal wish, and I’m not even a Knicks fan. This has a 1.7 percent (6.1 percent top-3) chance of happening, but I don’t care. Make this duo happen, please.