Just in case you still don't believe what happened last night, just read this AP News Alert as many times as you need to for the news to sink in. The Wizards have the top pick in the 2010 Draft.
Whether you're in the Wall camp, or the Turner camp, you have to be feeling really, really good about the position the Wizards are in right now. The last four guards taken with the top overall pick are Derrick Rose, Allen Iverson, Mark Aguirre and Magic Johnson. Guards that are good enough to be taken with the top overall pick don't come along often, but when they do, they have a pretty remarkable success rate. After getting the top pick in a draft littered with landmines, the Wizards have the top pick in what appears to be a bust-free draft this year.
I'm sure the cynical part of every Wizards fan is secretly wondering how the Wizards will manage to mess up this pick, but don't dwell on that right now. The Wizards have the top pick in the NBA Draft, and for now, that's enough reason to be genuinely excited about the future of Wizards franchise, something fans haven't been able to do for a long, long time.
For a team that hadn't much luck this past season, it wasn't surprising Washington Wizards general manager Ernie Grunfeld reflexively reacted in disbelief when his team won the NBA Draft Lottery on Tuesday. "No!" Grunfeld blurted after Jamin Dershowitz, an attorney with the NBA, announced that the numbers 3-7-11-4 matched those held by the Wizards. Yes, Ernie. You and your Wizards will have the chance to make John Wall the No. 1 overall selection in the NBA Draft on June 24.
I sat in the back room last season to witness how the lottery works, so I know it is next to impossible to rig the gusts of wind that boost ping-pong balls out the drum. But after the Wizards overcame 89.7 percent odds against winning the lottery, I had to wonder if the balls that formed the Wizards' number combinations were perhaps a little lighter than the others. "I'm not that shocked," Leonsis said immediately after landing the rights to get either Kentucky point guard John Wall or Ohio State forward Evan Turner. "I just feel lucky. That's how I believe. That's how I behave. You get what you deserve. We deserve the first pick."
Ted Leonsis is charmed. I mean, charmed like magically delicious. How do you walk into Alex Ovechkin and John Wall like that? I mean, this is the Wizards we're talking about, one of the most cursed pro sports franchises in America, and five minutes after he takes over, he's getting the No. 1 pick?
Curse? What curse? Screw that curse! Holy effing crap, dudes and dudettes! The Washington Wizards just won the NBA Draft Lottery and will be able to select Kentucky point guard John Wall or anyone else they want. [They'll want John Wall.] Some are going to say the team already has Gilbert Arenas so what would they need with another point guard? Well, we’ve already seen how reliable Gilbert Arenas is. Besides, Wall is a true point guard, unlike Arenas, and true point guards of his ability are so rare that you grab one whenever get the chance. It almost doesn’t matter what you’ve got, you take a John Wall talent every time.
This is the first really positive thing to happen to the Wizards since … um, I don’t know. A long time, for sure. Maybe since they traded Kwame for Caron five years ago.
To say it hasn’t been an easy year for the Washington Wizards, would be an understatement of epic proportions. From the death of owner Abe Pollin, to the gun-in-the-locker-room situation with Gilbert Arenas, to the trades of Jamison, Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood, its been quite a rough seven-month stretch for the Wizards. And I did not even mention their dismal 26-56 record. But a little white ping pong ball may have changed that string of bad luck.
In one of her final acts as majority owner of the Wizards, Irene Pollin arrived in Secaucus, paid homage to late husband Abe, and left behind some luck for the franchise they owned for more than 45 years. Before heading to a room at NBA Entertainment studios to represent the organization at the draft lottery, Pollin lifted her right hand to reveal the Washington Bullets' 1978 championship ring that Abe Pollin wore on his right hand every day until he died last November. "I didn't think of it as a lucky charm," Irene Pollin said. "I just know that he never took this off. I figured, I wanted a part of him here today."
But consider this: As was written, Irene Pollin spoke before the fourth quarter of the last game of the season. The Wizards, down by six and looking everything like a 25-win team heading into the final 12, came back to beat the Indiana Pacers by one point. Flip Saunders played his most inexperienced, least talented squad down the stretch. But little used Cedric Jackson bucked and scored the last five points of the game. That win, much to the chagrin of tanking proponents at the time, tied the Wizards with the 26-56 Golden State Warriors and not the 25-57 Sacramento Kings. Who knows what would have happened if the Wizards had a tie-breaker with the Kings. Just know that the Wizards lost their tie-breaker with the Warriors and jumped both Golden State and Sac-Town on their way to No. 1.
"Fans are fickle. But I think this is a wonderful thing for our fans who have really stuck by us," Pollin said. "They really have been through a very, very tough year. Actually when I got up and spoke to them, I was thanking them for sticking by us and being so supportive even though we had all the problems." Now they hope the No. 1 pick can help spark a quick turnaround under Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis, who is close to completing a deal to buy the franchise from the Pollin family. Leonsis met with some NBA owners earlier Tuesday, and the sale is expected to be completed early in June.
Mrs. Pollin wasn’t the only member of the organization that had a good feeling about the lottery. Wizards President/CFO Peter Biche wore a pair of cuff links that Mr. Pollin gave to him and team President/General Manager Ernie Grunfeld brought along a gold chain with a ball attached; a gift his father gave to him at age six in Romania. Just hours before the lottery Grunfeld was asked if he was feeling lucky and he responded, "Yes, absolutely." This will mark the third time in franchise history that the Wizards will own the number one overall pick. They chose Walt Bellamy number one in 1961 and Kwame Brown with the top pick in 2001.
For the Wizards, a team still trying to forget their last number one draft selection in Kwame Brown, today is best left as a day of potential. It was indeed a historical moment for the ball club, and Wall paired with Arenas gives Washington possibly the best backcourt in the NBA should they choose to play both together, or Wall gives Leonsis another reason to can Arenas after his poor decisions last season.
The Wizards managed to nab the first overall pick on just a 10-percent chance, credited to the spirit of the late Abe Pollin and his wife Irene donning his ‘78 championship ring for luck. A storybook turn of events to say the least, but now Washington must answer the question on everyone’s mind: John Wall or Evan Turner? If it comes down to it, I take Evan Turner. He did more at Ohio State with less of a supporting cast than Wall and won the Naismith College Player of the Year award, which Wall was projected to win early in the season. Of course, it is impossible to go wrong with either Turner or Wall.
This has been called "the John Wall lottery," but Grunfeld isn't declaring the Kentucky guard his pick just yet. "We're not going to talk about that," he says. "There are some good players out there." About the boldest proclamation he would make was the rebuilding Wizards would use, and not trade, the pick.
Defying the odds and at the same time communing with the spirit of late Wizards owner Abe Pollin, Washington jumped from the fifth best odds to claim the first pick in the June 24 NBA Draft - giving them the rights to claim Kentucky freshman point guard John Wall. Some others may say Ohio State's Evan Turner will have a chance, but it's pretty clear for now that the draft board doesn't look that way.
Even though the Wizards still have the embattled Arenas under contract, point guard John Wall is at the top of everybody's draft board and is expected to be selected first overall after his lone season at Kentucky. An Arenas-Wall backcourt could be devastating, and if nothing else Wall's presence would give incoming majority owner Ted Leonsis (pictured above with current majority owner Irene Pollin) options should the team choose to trade Arenas or buy out the remainder of his contract.
Magic himself, sensing I was undervaluing what had just happened for the Wizards, said: "No, no, no, no! The Wizards have got to take John Wall. They must take this kid. "When he's got the ball in his hands, he causes excitement. You can always get an Evan Turner. He's a very, very good player. But there will be an Evan Turner in next year's draft. The game has changed. ... There are no more huge big men you have to stop, no back-to-the-basket guys. The big guys are all shooting fadeaways and playing 15 feet from the basket.
Fegan said he just wanted for Wall to get a "good opportunity. This is a big market with a good opportunity. I've been in situations where we wonder what the teams are going to do. This one is 'wow.' " "Wow" might also describe the Wizards' season as the team finished with the second-worst record in the East at 26-56 under coach Flip Saunders in his first year with the team.
Wall has a chance to be a superstar, and rest assured that the Wizards will work harder than ever to find a trade for Arenas. It won’t be easy with the $80 million left on Arenas’ contract; they’ll have to take back someone else’s issues. Philadelphia’s Elton Brand(notes), perhaps? Nevertheless, the Wizards will give Wall a locker on one side of the room with Arenas completely across the way. Truth be told, there will be tension between the old and new guard until Arenas is moved. With his suspension for most of the past season and the knee injuries that ravaged the two prior ones, NBA teams will need to see Arenas show some staying power. He’s a tough sell, but he’s still talented and perhaps he’ll prove himself worthy of redemption.
At the risk of hyperbole, or bestowing god-like powers upon an untested 19 year-old college freshman, John Wall could very well help decide who goes where this summer. That starts at the top, with LeBron James himself -- the player who has taken the greatest interest in Wall. Whether or not the ex-Wildcat is actually going to sign with LeBron's marketing agency LRMR, the fact remains that the two have been sniffing each other out for a minute now. James recognizes how good Wall could be, as both a player and a commodity, and sees the advantages of some sort of partnership, mentorship, or just plain relationship. Here's the why-the-lottery-really-matters part: Since this is the summer of superstar alliances, James -- and possibly others -- are likely to see Wall more as a peer than a hot-shot rookie. If they're building dynasties here, a point guard like Wall is a key piece in a year or two. Rajon Rondo, anyone? That's not to say that Wall decides his destiny, or anyone else's. But if James or someone else is interested in playing with Wall, it's safe to assume that these heralded "discussions" we've heard so much about will not freeze out Wall or his people.
If you eat and breathe the Washington Wizards as much as I do, you’ve considered the slim chance of crazy scenarios like the Wizards getting John Wall (via winning the draft lottery) followed by LeBron coming to play with his boy Wall in front of President Obama in D.C., along with Gil, ‘Dray, ‘Vale, Quinton, Nick and Al, and also joined by some veteran free-agents willing to sign for cheap within the remaining cap space*. After all, LeBron is boys with Caps/Wizards owner Ted Leonsis (well, at least LBJ offered a testimonial on the back of Leonsis’ book, The Business of Happiness) and he just might realize the potential benefits of playing in an international city and forming a basketball/hockey MVP conglomerate with Alex Ovechkin.
I reached out to Nick Young Tuesday night after the Wizards found out they hold the #1 pick in the NBA Draft, and Nick’s initial reaction was simply, "it was shocking." He went on to say that, "it feels good to have the #1 pick, and you can do what you want with it." I asked Nick Young, what his thoughts were on the chance of having John Wall in a Wizards Uniform next season, "He’s a great player, and I hope he can become a good ambassador to this team."