After a season that saw the death of longtime owner Abe Pollin and a gun conviction for leading scorer Gilbert Arenas, the Washington Wizards hit the lottery.
The Wizards, coming off a 26-56 campaign, won the National Basketball Association’s draft lottery last night and an opportunity to select University of Kentucky point guard John Wall with the top pick in the June 24 draft.
Washington had a 10.3 percent chance of getting the top pick, fifth best among the 14 non-playoff teams in the lottery. The New Jersey Nets missed out on the No. 1 choice after going 12-70 this season, the worst record in the NBA.
“It was almost disbelief when our name came up,” Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld said during a media conference call.
The Nets will pick third, with the Philadelphia 76ers moving up to get the second selection.
The team with the league’s worst record hasn’t won the lottery since 2004, when Orlando selected Dwight Howard. The NBA’s worst team has landed the No. 1 choice four times since the lottery started in 1985.
Nets new owner Mikhail Prokhorov, the Russian billionaire whose $200 million purchase of the club was approved last week, was on hand for the team last night at the lottery in Secaucus, New Jersey. Representing the Wizards was Pollin’s widow, Irene, whose mouth dropped open when Washington got the No. 1 pick. On her right hand was the 1978 championship ring that her husband wore every day until his death in November of a brain disease.
The Wizards finished in last place in the Eastern Conference’s five-team Southeast Division last season.
Arenas missed the final 50 games of the campaign after receiving a felony conviction for bringing guns to the locker room. Grunfeld later began overhauling Washington’s roster by trading away Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson.
“What better way to rebuild than with the No. 1 pick,” said Grunfeld.
This year, the projected No. 1 choice is Wall, a 6-foot-4 point guard from Raleigh, North Carolina, who led Kentucky to a 35-3 record as a 19-year-old freshman last season.
“The opportunity to be drafted by any team means a lot,” Wall said in an interview with ESPN. “I’m just going to come in and work hard and try to make the team better.”
Wall averaged 16.6 points, 6.5 assists and 4.3 rebounds for the Wildcats, who lost to West Virginia in the final eight of the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament.
“He’s an outstanding player,” Grunfeld said of Wall. “He’s very competitive, a great defender, plays with high energy and he’s a winner.”
The Minnesota Timberwolves, who finished with the second-worst record in the league and had a 19.9 percent chance at the top choice, will pick fourth.
They’re followed by the Sacramento Kings, Golden State Warriors, Detroit Pistons, Los Angeles Clippers, Utah Jazz, Indiana Pacers, New Orleans Hornets, Memphis Grizzlies, Toronto Raptors and Houston Rockets. The weighted lottery system determined the top three selections, with picks four through 14 decided by regular-season records.