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Tuesday, May 22, 2007
Updated: May 30, 9:54 AM ET
Not every team deserves Oden or Durant

By Bill Simmons
Page 2

On Monday morning, I flew cross-country to watch the NBA draft lottery back home in Boston. Why? Because I still blame myself for screwing up the Duncan lottery. Instead of watching such a pivotal, franchise-defining moment with my father -- the guy who carried me into the Boston Garden since I was 4 years old -- I blew him off to spend a weekend on Cape Cod with a blonde sorta-girlfriend who couldn't understand why the NBA lottery didn't just work like Megabucks.

Bad move. Baaaaaaaaaad move.

LOTTERY COVERAGE

Odds by team

Ford: How good can Oden be?

Ford: Five reasons Oden is No. 1

Ford: Five reasons Durant is No. 1

Ford: Top 100 prospects

Vote: Oden or Durant

Complete draft coverage

After the Celtics failed to get Duncan, I dumped the blonde a few weeks later, mostly because I never forgave myself for watching the lottery with her. (Don't worry, we wouldn't have lasted -- sorta-girlfriends never do.) Ten mostly depressing seasons later, with Duncan headed for a fourth ring and the long-suffering Celtics hitting another fork-in-the-road moment, I couldn't take any chances. I had to come home. I had to watch the NBA lottery with my dad. If only for karmic purposes.

That got me thinking ...

If you approached tonight's lottery from a karmic standpoint, which two teams most deserve a top-two pick? Are the 2007 Celtics even worthy of two potential franchise superstars like Kevin Durant or Greg Oden? To figure this out, I created a "Which Lottery Team Built Up the Most Positive Karma?" scoring system, creating eight categories and evaluating each lottery team accordingly. Here's a description of the categories, with points ranging from 0-10.

1. Bad Luck -- How much of a role did injuries and bad breaks play during the 2006-07 season for each team's lottery appearance? Ten points for the most bad luck.

2. Front Office Competency -- How much of a factor did organizational incompetency play in each team's lottery appearance? Ten points for the most competent front office.

3. Loyalty/History -- How loyal is each team's fan base and how rich is its history? Ten points for richest loyalty/History.

4. Level of Devastation -- If it doesn't get Oden or Durant, how catastrophic will the damage be for each team's fan base and organization? Ten points for most catastrophic.

5. Overdue Good Karma -- Considering everything good and bad that's happened to each lottery team for the past generation (15 years), how overdue is each team for a break? Ten points for most overdue.

6. Tanking Karma -- How much of a role did tanking play for the Ping-Pong positioning of each team? Ten points for the least tanking.

7. Rigging Potential -- We'd never insinuate that the NBA could ever rig the lottery because, obviously, that would be a felony. But if the league WAS to rig the lottery, which lottery teams would be the most appealing destinations for Oden and Durant (factoring in television ratings, merchandising, history, caliber of roster, franchise security and general media buzz). Ten points for the most rigging potential.

8. Entertainment Value -- For the average fan, what's a best-case scenario for the top-two lottery winners in terms of "Which teams would become fun to watch right away", "What would make the best sports story" and "Would the results cause rioting in New York?" Ten points for the most entertainment value.

Which two lottery teams deserve Oden and Durant? Let's count them down in reverse order from lowest points to highest points:

14. CLIPPERS
(No. 14 in the Ping-Pong order)

Bad Luck -- 3 (out of 10)
Front Office Competency -- 4
Loyalty/History -- 2
Level of Devastation -- 0
Overdue Good Karma -- 3
Tanking Karma -- 10
Rigging Potential -- 3
Entertainment Value -- 10

Final karma score: 35

Comments: Which event is less likely -- the Clippers' jumping into the top two with less than a .05 percent chance, or my renewing my season tickets after they finished 40-42 and bumped prices across the board by 25 percent?

(The answer: It's a tie. Neither one is happening.)

13. HORNETS
(No. 13 in the Ping-Pong order)

Bad Luck -- 7
Front Office Competency -- 5
Loyalty/History -- 3
Level of Devastation -- 0
Overdue Good Karma -- 3
Tanking Karma -- 10
Rigging Potential -- 0
Entertainment Value -- 7

Final karma score: 35

Comments: Nabbing Oden/Durant would give New Orleans an emotional lift along the lines of Drew Brees and the Saints a few months ago. Unfortunately, their remote Ping-Pong percentages work against them from a "rigging potential" standpoint. Imagine if the Hornets catapulted into the top two during the summer before they move back to New Orleans and host the All-Star Game? And you thought Ewing landing on the Knicks was sketchy. Also, they can't get more than three points for "overdue good karma" -- not even after Katrina -- because they lucked out so remarkably in 1999 (hopping from No 13 to No. 2 and getting Baron Davis) and 2005 (when Chris Paul improbably dropped to them at No. 4). Sorry.

12. HAWKS
(No. 11 in the Ping-Pong order, via the Pacers)

Bad Luck -- 3
Front Office Competency -- 1
Loyalty/History -- 8
Level of Devastation -- 8
Overdue Good Karma -- 3
Tanking Karma -- 8
Rigging Potential -- 2
Entertainment Value -- 3

Final karma score: 36

Comments: The Pacers keep the pick if it's top-three; 11 or lower and it goes to Atlanta. With all due respect to the Basketball Jesus, few teams made more shaky decisions over a three-year span: teaming up Artest and Jackson; not selling high on Artest; re-signing Tinsley for big bucks; sacrificing a potential lottery pick for Al Harrington in a loaded draft; and especially, making that incomprehensible Golden State trade in which they gave up the best two guys in the deal. They deserve to lose this pick.

(Hold on, give me a second to duck the lightning bolt.)

(Hold on ... )

(Heeeeeeeeeeee-yah!)

(That was close. OK, back to the column.)

11. KINGS
(No. 10 in the Ping-Pong order)

Bad Luck -- 2
Front Office Competency -- 4
Loyalty/History -- 8
Level of Devastation -- 3
Overdue Good Karma -- 3
Tanking Karma -- 8
Rigging Potential -- 6
Entertainment Value -- 2

Final karma score: 36

Comments: They're in no man's land at No. 10 because of their curious choice to stand pat while the 2007 team imploded (an implosion that was 3-4 years coming). Strangely, the Maloofs seem more interested these days in promoting the Palms, giving feature interviews, making commercials and appearing in reality shows. Hey, fellas? Quit the Dean Martin routine for a few months and start worrying about the Kings. You're creeping us out. Also, I'd move to sunglasses in public at all times. Just a thought.

(Note: I gave the Kings a "6" for rigging potential just in case the league wants to grease the skids for a Vegas move by giving them a young superstar to sell in Sin City. You never know.)

10. BULLS
(No. 9 in the Ping-Pong order, via the Knicks)

Bad Luck -- 0
Front Office Competency -- 10
Loyalty/History -- 8
Level of Devastation -- 0
Overdue Good Karma -- 0
Tanking Karma -- 10
Rigging Potential -- 0
Entertainment Value -- 10

Final karma score: 38

Comments: If this spot comes up and Chicago's logo isn't in the No. 10 envelope, it immediately becomes the most dramatic lottery moment of all-time. Every Knicks fan would cease breathing for the rest of the lottery. That's no exaggeration. Whether they'd ever start breathing again remains to be seen. Still, does it seem fair that a top-eight playoff team with a great future -- the same franchise that launched two rebuilding plans in four years and made nine top-seven picks in seven years -- could stumble into a franchise player by fleecing the most incompetent GM in recent NBA history? I say no.

(Note: I had to give the Bulls a "0" for rigging potential simply because there could be rioting in Manhattan if Isiah caused the Knicks to lose either Oden or Durant. It would be like the Ewing lottery, only the exact opposite. You might even see Knicks fans storming MSG holding fire torches with their shirts tied around their heads. I'm assuming the league wants to avoid this scenario.)

9. BOBCATS
(No. 8 in the Ping-Pong order)

Bad Luck -- 6
Front Office Competency -- 5
Loyalty/History -- 0
Level of Devastation -- 3
Overdue Good Karma -- 1
Tanking Karma -- 10
Rigging Potential -- 5
Entertainment Value -- 8

Final karma score: 38

Comments: Given that the NBA misfired so badly with Charlotte as an expansion city, watching the Bobcats land Oden or Durant would be more frustrating than watching Zach Braff make out with Scarlett Johansson. On the other hand, is there a goofier nucleus than Ray Felton, Gerald Wallace, Emeka Okafor, Sean May, Walter Hermann, Matt Carroll, Adam Morrison and Durant/Oden? I'm giving them an "8" for entertainment value just in case it happens. Can't help myself. It's like somebody threw together a fantasy team and bought them uniforms, a coach and a crowd.

8. TIMBERWOLVES
(No. 7 in the Ping-Pong order)

Bad Luck -- 2
Front Office Competency -- 0
Loyalty/History -- 5
Level of Devastation -- 6
Overdue Good Karma -- 10
Tanking Karma -- 1
Rigging Potential -- 8
Entertainment Value -- 8

Final karma score: 40

Comments: Nobody deserves a stroke of lottery fortune less than Glen Taylor and Kevin McHale, the NBA's version of Bush/Rumsfield for 8-10 years. Of course, nobody deserves a stroke of lottery fortune more than KG, one of the few superstars with too much pride to ever bail on a sinking ship. Either that, or they're blackmailing him with a sex tape so he'll stay. But wouldn't it be nice to see KG play the David Robinson to Oden's Tim Duncan for the next 5-6 years? Hence, 10 points for "overdue good karma."

(Note: If the T-Wolves really wanted good karma, they'd put KG out of his freaking misery and trade him to Chicago or Phoenix. This makes me mad. Let's just move on.)

7. BLAZERS
(No. 6 in the Ping-Pong order)

Bad Luck -- 4
Front Office Competency -- 4
Loyalty/History -- 7
Level of Devastation -- 4
Overdue Good Karma -- 4
Tanking Karma -- 8
Rigging Potential -- 5
Entertainment Value -- 7

Final karma score: 43

Comments: They've been all over the board this decade: They were the Oh-So-Close Blazers, then the Jail Blazers, then they were so desperate to rebuild around character guys that they passed up Chris Paul or Deron Williams for Martell Webster, then they built a likable young core around Zach Randolph and Darius Miles, which is like watching one of your buddies announce that he's quitting booze and cigarettes, switching to a Vegan diet and training for triathalons ... but he's going to keep snorting heroin. You figure it out. I certainly can't. But considering the Blazers were consistently competitive from 1976 to 2001, can you really argue that their fans have "suffered" that badly because they limped through a few bad seasons with some bad guys? Probably not.

(Note: Maybe I'm in the minority here, but I miss the Jail Blazers. When's the next time we'll see a team feature a registered sex offender who wasn't even one of the top three craziest guys on the team? They made the 2006 Bengals look like a bunch of prep school kids egging houses on Halloween.)

6. SUNS (via the Hawks)
(No. 4 in the Ping-Pong order)

Bad Luck -- 3
Front Office Competency -- 0
Loyalty/History -- 1
Level of Devastation -- 9
Overdue Good Karma -- 10
Tanking Karma -- 3
Rigging Potential -- 8
Entertainment Value -- 10

Final karma score: 44

Comments: I find it immensely entertaining that this pick goes to Phoenix unless Atlanta jumps into the top three. Imagine a college stud like Corey Brewer, Mike Conley Jr. or Joakim Noah coming off Phoenix's bench next season? Yikes.

Can Atlanta generate enough karma to pull off a top-two pick? Ideally, the NBA wants a quality young Eastern team to land Durant or Oden (for conference balance and TV purposes), and they'd definitely love to see basketball take off in Atlanta after centuries of apathy (hence, the nine points for rigging potential). Still, the Hawks cheated the lottery system more than anyone over the past few years, making consistently dumb decisions and embarrassing the league with poor attendance and legal struggles. If that's not enough, they tanked as egregiously as anybody but the Bucks down the stretch. They deserve to lose this pick. It's only fitting. Although it would also be fitting if they landed No. 2 and picked Mike Conley Jr. over Durant by explaining, "Look, we really needed a point guard, you guys have been killing us for this for years!"

(Follow-up note from my old intern Kevin Cott, a diehard Hawks fan: "What's really scary is that Billy Knight is the one GM capable of doing something as insane as taking Yi Jianlian out of f-ing nowhere -- he's probably making Yi's translator a promise as we speak." And these guys deserve a top-three pick? Even their own fans are terrified of them!)

5. BUCKS
(No. 3 in the Ping-Pong order)

Bad Luck -- 9
Front Office Competency -- 5
Loyalty/History -- 4
Level of Devastation -- 8
Overdue Good Karma -- 2
Tanking Karma -- 0
Rigging Potential -- 7
Entertainment Value -- 10

Final karma score: 45

Comments: Even though they fit the "talented young Eastern team" criteria, the Bucks disgraced themselves by dubiously shelving Bogut and Villanueva, then yanking the crunch-time minutes of their best players around for a series of suspect defeats. Eventually, everyone had to follow suit. They were like the Patient X of the tanking epidemic. If that's not enough, they won the Bogut lottery two years ago -- so much for being overdue for a big break. Besides, when's the last time you met a long-suffering Bucks fan? Didn't Kareem flee this city once upon a time? Doesn't everyone in Wisconsin care about the Packers, the University of Wisconsin, Marquette and the Brewers in that order?

(Note: I can't support the Bucks' candidacy for a top-two pick. Not this year. And not even Brian Logan could change my mind.)

4. GRIZZLIES
(No. 1 in the Ping-Pong order)

Bad Luck -- 7
Front Office Competency -- 8
Loyalty/History -- 0
Level of Devastation -- 9
Overdue Good Karma -- 9
Tanking Karma -- 4
Rigging Potential -- 0
Entertainment Value -- 8

Final karma score: 45

Comments: Can you think of a less appealing scenario than Oden or Durant landing in Memphis when (A) the Grizzlies are trying to sell the team, (B) nobody believes it's a viable NBA market, and (C) they're in the Western Conference? If the Grizzlies land a top-two pick, we'll know for sure that the draft lottery can't be rigged.

3. SIXERS
(No. 12 in the Ping-Pong order)

Bad Luck -- 1
Front Office Competency -- 0
Loyalty/History -- 7
Level of Devastation -- 3
Overdue Good Karma -- 7
Tanking Karma -- 10
Rigging Potential -- 10
Entertainment Value -- 10

Final karma score: 48

Comments: The only lottery team that kept playing hard, winning games and ignoring the Ping-Pong ball ramifications right through Game No. 82. If you're a Sixers fan, you couldn't help but feel proud of your guys for gritting out a promising finish, right, even as they were foolishly squandering any reasonable chance at Oden or Durant. But hey ... maybe the groundswell of good karma can propel them into the top three! If Philly gets lucky tonight, I just hope Billy King commemorates the occasion by immediately announcing a six-year, $50 million contract extension for Shavlik Randolph.

2. CELTICS
(No. 2 in the Ping-Pong order)

Bad Luck -- 7
Front Office Competency -- 2
Loyalty/History -- 10
Level of Devastation -- 10
Overdue Good Karma -- 10
Tanking Karma -- 0
Rigging Potential -- 10
Entertainment Value -- 10

Final karma score: 59

Comments: You're sitting there thinking, "that bastard rigged the grades so the Celtics would profit from his stupid scoring system." Not true. Name me a team that suffered more trauma since the mid-'80s: Lenny Bias and Reggie Lewis, the demolition of the Boston Garden, the M.L. Carr era, the Duncan lottery, the Pitino era, the Paul Pierce stabbing, the Vin Baker trade, Red Auerbach's death, Doc Rivers' second life. ... After 16 titles in 30 years, it's been a preposterously brutal stretch of bad luck.

Now ...

I want you to zoom through the 14 lottery teams again. With the possible exception of Seattle (for reasons we're about to explain), find me a group of fans who'd be more devastated tonight if they didn't land No. 1 or No. 2. Name me a better home for Oden or Durant from the NBA's standpoint. Name me a young team that makes a leap more quickly than the Celtics with a Pierce-Jefferson-Oden/Durant nucleus. Compared to the other perennial screw-ups and basketball coldbeds on this list, how could you argue against the Celtics' karmic rights for a top-two pick? We're due, aren't we? Please tell me we're due. For the love of God, TELL ME WE'RE DUE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

1. SONICS
(No. 5 in the Ping-Pong order)

Bad Luck -- 6
Front Office Competency -- 4
Loyalty/History -- 8
Level of Devastation -- 10
Overdue Good Karma -- 10
Tanking Karma -- 5
Rigging Potential -- 7
Entertainment Value -- 10

Final karma score: 60

Comments: Three points of contention here ...

1. Their fans definitely slacked the past two years, but only because their billionaire owner kept threatening to move if they didn't help him pay for a new arena. Would you vote for a tax increase to help out someone who owns every Starbucks on the planet? I didn't think so. Anyway, I gave them eight points for loyalty/history -- that's been a great NBA city and one of the better playoff crowds I can remember.

2. Landing Oden or Durant would save pro basketball in Seattle -- after all, how could they move under those circumstances -- but we're not sure if Team Stern believes this would be a good thing or a bad thing, so I'm giving them seven points for "rigging potential" as a compromise grade. No franchise has more riding on those Ping-Pong balls tonight. If they don't get a top-two pick, they're almost definitely gone.

3. A run-and-gun team of bombers built around Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis and Durant would be exceedingly entertaining to watch, right? The mere thought of those three guys trading 25-footers earns them 10 points for "entertainment value."

So those are my top-three karmic picks. The Sixers deserve a break because they kept playing hard down the stretch, Ping-Pong balls be damned. The Celtics deserve a break after their fans suffered through two decades of bad luck and poor planning. And Seattle deserves a break because it's a good basketball city that's being held hostage by some latte-drinking billionaire dipwad who sold the team to the ultra-conservative Oklahoma hick with no soul. Check out the final list along with my mock picks for each team. Yeah, that's right ... it's a mock draft of a mock karmic lottery! Have some of that, Chad Ford!

Anyway ...

14. Clippers -- Al Thornton
13. Hornets -- Spencer Hawes
12. Hawks (via Pacers) -- Acie Law IV
11. Kings -- Roy Hibbert
10. Bulls (via Knicks) -- Joakim Noah
9. Bobcats -- Mike Conley Jr
8. Timberwolves -- Julian Wright
7. Blazers -- Jeff Green
6. Suns (via Hawks) -- Corey Brewer
5. Bucks -- Brandan Wright
4. Grizzlies -- Yi Jianlian
3. Sixers -- Al Horford
2. Celtics -- Kevin Durant
1. Sonics -- Greg Oden

And you know what? I'm fine with that list. Sign me up.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to throw up on my dad.

Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. His book "Now I Can Die In Peace" is available in paperback.