2022 NBA Draft Lottery: Behind the scenes of the Orlando Magic victory

CHICAGO — “We’re going to get this ball rolling,” said NBA deputy general counsel Jamin Dershowitz, an unwitting pun that kicked off one of the league’s most elaborate — and perhaps a little absurd –

CHICAGO — “We’re going to get this ball rolling,” said NBA deputy general counsel Jamin Dershowitz, an unwitting pun that kicked off one of the league’s most elaborate — and perhaps a little absurd – post-season events. The NBA Draft Lottery has been around since 1985, when David Stern, annoyed by a handful of teams openly losing to secure a better spot in the draft order, implemented a new system. It’s evolved since then, from envelopes to ping pong balls, from weighted odds to flatter, but for nearly four decades the lottery has been a big night on the NBA schedule.

Here’s how it works: fourteen ping-pong balls are slipped into a plastic container and set in motion by air pumped from the bottom. The balls – each weighed, measured and certified by SmartPlay, a lottery integrity company and sealed in a zippered case – are inserted one at a time by Ernst & Young partner Peter Rosenbaum. There are 1,001 possible four-digit combinations, with the three teams with the worst record – Orlando, Houston and Detroit – getting 140 each. The drawing itself is carefully organized: each ball is sucked in at precise ten-second intervals, at the behest of an NBA official standing across the room with his back turned.

It’s just after 5:30 p.m. when the doors to the show, located this year inside the McCormack Place Convention Center, burst open. Each team sends a representative. They range from top executives (David Griffin of New Orleans, Tommy Sheppard of Washington) to behind-the-scenes employees (Clay Allen, Rockets general counsel, John Kehriotis, one of Sacramento’s minority owners). For years, the NBA has allowed a few members of the media…IF was one of them — to watch. Electronic devices, from cell phones to digital recorders, are checked at the door. Byron Spruell, the league’s president of operations, hosts the event, which is overseen by members of NBA security.

Once started, the drawing progresses quite quickly. 14 1 3 6. Joel Glass, Orlando’s longtime public relations chief, has expired. It wasn’t Glass’ first time at the show. The last, he recalled, was in 2017, when the Magic walked away with the sixth pick, which they used on Jonathan Isaac. From a backpack, Glass pulled ping-pong balls from Orlando’s most successful lottery trips: 1992, when the Magic won the right to recruit Shaquille O’Neal, 1993 when Orlando, taking over the first place traded Chris Webber for Anfernee Hardaway, and 2004, when lottery luck allowed them to draft Dwight Howard. As Glass, eager for another memory, stared at the ping pong balls in the case, Sheppard wrapped an arm around him. “You’re the new Pat Williams,” exclaimed Sheppard, referring to the former Magic executive who was on hand for Orlando’s previous lottery wins.

The drawing continued. 2 7 14 9. Sam Presti, Oklahoma City’s top executive, sat motionless. In his pocket were two stones. A gift from his seven-year-old son, Nicholas, two years ago, another an emerald green crystal his wife gave him more recently. Nicholas’ rock is normally on Presti’s desk in Oklahoma. He takes it with him on walks or, in this case, whenever he needs a little luck. Presti’s last trip to the living room was in 2009, when the Thunder jumped up a spot, positioning the team to sign a dynamic guard from Arizona State named James Harden. This time around, Oklahoma City moved from fourth to second, securing the Thunder, who added Josh Giddey to a growing young core last season, another top-notch prospect. As Presti noted earlier today, “‘Luck plays a much bigger role in all of our lives than we’d like to admit.’

It continued. 1…12…6…3. Rockets executive Allen smiled. It’s been an interesting two years in Houston. The James Harden era ended ugly and the seasons since have been a rollercoaster. In the hours leading up to the lottery, the Rockets canned several members of Stephen Silas’ coaching staff (Silas was okay with the decision, a source told SI). Jalen Green, the second overall pick last season, proved he could score, but needed polish. Kevin Porter Jr. has been racking up the numbers, but what do you pay an overtime-eligible player who left the team in a tough game mid-season? And Houston still has to figure out what to do with John Wall. Rockets general manager Rafael Stone has hinted the team will take offers for the pick – one executive said he views the draft as eight deep, with no clear No. 1 – but otherwise it will be essential to add the right piece to this mix. “We’re really excited,” Stone said. “Whether it’s picking third or by trade, I think we’re going to be a more talented team this year than we were last year, and that’s exciting.”

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Finally, the fourth choice. 4 7 9 ten. If there was ever a team that needed a little luck, it was Sacramento, which jumped from seventh place. It’s been 16 years since the Kings last playoff experience — most players in this year’s draft are too young to remember — which turned out to be the last season Sacramento finished above 0.500. There are solid pieces in Sacto. De’Aaron Fox still has All-Star potential and Domantas Sabonis was acquired last season to provide muscle alongside him. But the Kings need a star and general manager Monte McNair, who is in the final year of his contract, may not have a better chance of nabbing one.

It is a strange scene after the drawing. To preserve the integrity of the broadcast, no one is allowed to leave the room. Team officials really want to talk to journalists, but there is nowhere to hide from them. Sandwiches were brought. The beer, unfortunately, was not. Conversations often turn to broader NBA topics. Some executives feel the draft is too much like free agency, with agents wielding power over where a player lands by refusing to let the player train for an unwanted team or refusing to make him available for a physical .

When the show begins, attention turns to the stage. Glass noted that Magic team president Jeff Weltman was originally supposed to take Orlando’s place on the podium, only to have head coach Jamahl Mosley replace him because, Glass said, “Mosley s felt lucky”. Presti assigned Collison — officially referred to as a “thunder legend” — to the scene, noting that Collison “guaranteed success.” “He’s going to want a statue,” Presti said. “But it will not be him who will play. It will be of him holding a card.

When the lottery ends, the doors open. Phones are extracted from bundles. Team officials rush to join their groups. For one night, a dozen non-playoff teams (sorry Lakers, Clippers) have hope for the future. “It’s a relief,” says Glass. “I hope I never come back.”

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