The Heat was in Indianapolis this time last year when those NBA Draft Lottery balls floated and hopped and landed in such an unlikely way it was almost too unreal to believe.
The Milwaukee Bucks had the best odds of landing the No. 1 overall pick, followed by the Philadelphia 76ers, the Orlando Magic and Utah Jazz. The Cavaliers, meanwhile, were ninth on the list of draft odds. In other words, the team that lost LeBron James to the Miami Heat in 2010 had but a 1.7 percent chance of winning the day.
The Cavaliers landed the top spot, of course, and later used that asset to put together its current team. A lot still had to happen for James to leave Miami and return to Cleveland, but perhaps the first twist of fate happened a year ago not on the basketball court, but with lottery balls.
In Indianapolis’ Bankers Life Fieldhouse, where the Heat was preparing for Game 1 of the 2014 Eastern Conference finals, James said he was happy for his former team a few hours before the Heat lost to the Indiana Pacers.
So, the Heat doesn’t have much of a chance of landing the No. 1 overall pick (1.1 percent, to be exact) when the 2015 NBA Draft Lottery takes place Tuesday in New York (8:30 p.m., ESPN), but it wouldn’t be unprecedented, either. Miami is most likely (86.97 percent) to get the 10th spot but is eligible for a top-three pick.
The particulars: Fourteen teams will participate in the lottery, with the Minnesota Timberwolves (25 percent), New York Knicks (19.9 percent) and 76ers (15.6 percent) most likely to grab the top spot. By NBA rule, the Heat is not in the running for the fourth through ninth picks, and if Miami has the unlucky fortune of falling to 11th or lower in the lottery, the 76ers get the Heat’s pick.
That deal is a carryover of the Heat’s blockbuster sign-and-trade for James, and it would be ironic if the NBA lottery exacted one last pound of karma for all that winning the Heat enjoyed for four straight years.
As chance goes, it has been a mostly luckless 365 days for the Heat since the last NBA Draft Lottery, but to call it all an exercise in misfortune would be wrong.
The Heat lucked up and signed center Hassan Whiteside last November, so an optimistic person might say the team found its lottery pick months ago. With Whiteside now a major part of the Heat’s plans for next season, the front office has the option this summer of looking outside the paint for players who might bolster the roster.
Team president Pat Riley and coach Erik Spoelstra will hope for the best, and they’ll plan for every scenario, but they would prefer to build teams from free agency. The draft lottery is for teams who want to win later. The Heat wants to win now. Take last year’s draft for example:
“If you really want to take a look at what the draft produces every year, I think in the first round, Jabari Parker from Milwaukee and Marcus Smart [Boston Celtics] were really the only ones on teams who were in the playoffs,” Riley said.
“Not one other pick in the first round, or even second-round picks, were on teams who are in the playoffs.”
And so fans of losing teams will fawn over young talent beginning Tuesday, but those players aren’t winning conference championship and NBA titles. Veterans win in the NBA, and the Heat expects its top rotation players to return for next season.
The team’s scouting department has been approaching this draft class with that in mind.
A perimeter player to back up either small forward Luol Deng or shooting guard Dwyane Wade would be ideal, but the Heat’s default when it comes to the draft is to take the best available player. There is plenty of talent to sift through.
In the words of Riley: “I would love to see standing strong Luol Deng, Hassan Whiteside, Chris Bosh, Goran Dragic and Dwyane Wade; Mario Chalmers coming off the bench with Josh McRoberts. ... [Udonis Haslem], the 10th pick, whoever that turns out to be, and some of our younger players.”
So, there’s your working blueprint for next season. More than likely, whatever happens Tuesday with those lottery balls will neither make nor break the Heat’s future.
Of course, don’t tell that to fans of the Cavs or their favorite player.