Sunday basketball notes

In NBA lottery, was the ‘fix’ in for the Hornets?

New Orleans Hornets owner Tom Benson.
New Orleans Hornets owner Tom Benson.

In New Orleans, it’s called a renaissance, a second opportunity to build a winner after difficult times in the Big Easy. In other cities, such as Charlotte and Washington, it’s being called “a fix,’’ as those teams missed out on the opportunity to draft Anthony Davis.

The Hornets have lived well the past few months. After being on the market for months with no serious buyer, they were saved when New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson stepped in. And last week, the Hornets won the draft lottery - defying greater odds than finding some peace and quiet during Mardi Gras.

The lottery win assures them of getting Davis, the potential franchise-changing center from Kentucky.


Of course, the conspiracy theorists flooding social media point out that the NBA owned the team before Benson bought it - and he has not officially taken over operations - so commissioner David Stern must have flipped a few more Ping-Pong balls into the bin to give the Hornets new life.

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Meanwhile, the Charlotte Bobcats, who finished with the worst winning percentage in NBA history, had a 25 percent chance of winning the pick. The Hornets had only a 13.7 percent chance.

But reporters and team executives who have witnessed the actual lottery process - which is no longer televised, as it was 25 years ago - say there is no way it can be rigged. Each of the 14 teams has a number of four-digit combinations - the number weighted according to their record, meaning the Bobcats have 25 percent of the combinations.

Stern, of course, laughs at the accusations.

“What I’m thinking in my mind, which shouldn’t pass my lips: You can’t win,’’ he said. “We’ve had a system, for those of you too young to remember, where the worst team would get the pick, and then it was a coin flip, so you had what we called the ‘race to the bottom’ to be in the coin flip.


“And then we did the lottery. And the lottery was, everyone had an equal pick.

“But then we went to more teams in the first round, and the lottery expanded, and so we changed the lottery to not be equal for everybody. But then Shaq [Shaquille O’Neal] and Penny Hardaway came, like, back-to-back [to the Magic], and everyone said, ‘Oh, you shouldn’t have a team like Orlando that’s going to have a chance to do so well and win two lotteries in a row.’

“So we remodeled it a bit, and so now we have our current system.’’

Honestly, there isn’t much the league can do with the draft lottery, unless it goes back to handing the No. 1 pick to the team with the worst record, which offers zero anticipation and excitement for the draft.

In this case, it’s best for Stern to stand pat with the current system. The team that has the best chance at the top pick will always cry foul when it loses.


“We always look at everything to see whether we can improve it,’’ said Stern, “but some of the suggestions, I just have a visceral negative reaction to. Like, ‘Why don’t you let all 30 teams be in the lottery, etc.?’

“We shall see. It’s a subject that will be continually studied.’’

The Hornets deserve some good luck after having their franchise uprooted and nearly lost because of Hurricane Katrina. Then a few years later, cornerstone player Chris Paul asked out because of the uncertain ownership situation, but Stern blocked a deal with the Lakers that appeared good for the Hornets, who had to settle for a lesser one with the Clippers.

Eric Gordon, the key acquisition from the Clippers, missed most of the season with a knee injury and will be a restricted free agent. But with more than $20 million in salary cap space (with Chris Kaman and Carl Landry coming off), the Hornets are in a position to improve quickly.

“I think our fans have been really supportive of our team, under some weird circumstances,’’ said coach Monty Williams. “We were always in good hands with Commissioner Stern, and I think as we move forward, they can commit to our team in a major way now.

“We’re going to be in New Orleans, we have ownership, we have the No. 1 pick. So many things to be thankful for.’’

Williams is not concerned about the perception that the Hornets received a “hookup’’ from the NBA. They endured a difficult season, with Williams having to patch together lineups in front of a fan base unsure whether the team would be headed for Seattle or Kansas City.

Now Benson has secured the franchise in New Orleans, and there are a couple of extra shrimp in the draft gumbo.

“I think our organization is in a good spot,’’ Williams said. “There was so much up in the air as far as who was going to own the team, whether we would stay in town. And now that all that stuff is out the way, we have the No. 1 and 10th pick, now we just have to work.

“And that’s what we stress from day one - we have a lot of work to do.

“It’s a good feeling, but yet as a coach, I’m already thinking about the steps I have to take to try to put this team into a position where we can be a top-four team in the league.

“And I’ve always felt, once you’re in that top-four category, you’re one or two plays away from being a champion.’’


Analyst backs Celtic reunion

Jeff Van Gundy has become a basketball guru of sorts since being removed as the Rockets coach in 2007 and joining the ABC/ESPN broadcast team, and he offered his astute thoughts on league issues, including whether Danny Ainge should break up the Celtics.

Ainge may try to go one more year with the Big Three, realizing there are few premium free agents on the market worth jettisoning Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen for. Van Gundy has watched the Celtics extensively through the postseason, and despite some slippage against the Heat, he believes they should stay together.

“Some people never consider that change can be bad for a team,’’ he said. “Radical change at that. If you don’t have anybody in free agency that you can target, bringing back Garnett for one year at big money makes complete sense. And then go at it again next year to see where you’re at.’’

It wasn’t so long ago that the Celtics attempted to go young, scrapping their free agency plans to build with Al Jefferson, Kendrick Perkins, Gerald Green, and Delonte West. That didn’t work out well, almost getting Doc Rivers fired.

“People forget right before they assembled this championship roster - with the drafting of [Rajon] Rondo, trade for Garnett, trade for Allen - they were a team that lost 18 in a row and they did it with some young pieces that are OK,’’ said Van Gundy.

“It’s a painful process to go through. If you can’t envision the road where you want to get to by changing a lot, then staying the course for an extra year could be a prudent option for Danny Ainge.’’

Said former coach Jack Ramsay, “I think they need to improve their bench more than their starters. Paul Pierce and KG certainly have some games left in them, and Rondo is a key player right now with a lot of years ahead of him.

“But that’s a very thin bench. It reminds me of the Lakers, who have a similar bench. They could improve their bench without blowing their team up.’’

Van Gundy’s brother, Stan Van Gundy, was recently fired by the Magic amid rumors that superstar center Dwight Howard suggested to management that he be removed. Orlando CEO Alex Martins said Howard had nothing to do with the firing and blamed Van Gundy’s people skills and lack of good relationships with members of the organization as the primary reasons he was removed.

Jeff Van Gundy had remained mum on his brother’s situation until last week, when he blamed the Magic for botching the situation.

“Sure it had an impact [on me], he’s my brother,’’ Van Gundy said. “I know the situation better, living it. I know in the three years before Stan came to Orlando, Dwight Howard had never had a winning record and he had never won a playoff game, and he had never been Defensive Player of the Year. He had never been an All-NBA player.

“So I know all those things. And so when [Stan] was fired, look, teams have the right to change coaches. But there’s a manner in which you go about changing that shows you have a dignity and integrity about you.

“When you see appeasement as a leadership strategy, I think it’s wrong. I think it’s wrong for the individual player. I think it’s wrong for the team and the franchise.’’


Warriors like their position

The Warriors tried to work a deal with Toronto before the draft lottery to retain their seventh pick in case they dropped down to eighth. Golden State would have lost the pick to the Jazz if it fell lower than seventh because of the Marcus Williams trade with New Jersey for a pick the Nets eventually traded to Utah.

New Warriors general manager Bob Myers is looking to move up in the draft, with the club hoping to get a legitimate small forward such as North Carolina’s Harrison Barnes or Kentucky’s Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.

But the Warriors may not have the players to deal for a higher pick.

Myers, a former UCLA player and sports agent, is in his first few months of running his own organization and was relieved to essentially win his version of the lottery.

“We hung on,’’ he said. “For us, that’s a great result, just hanging on. We didn’t want to be greedy, although greed enters your mind if you have a chance to go up to 1, 2, or 3.

“Once we saw Toronto called, it was all good from there. Keeping the pick, moving up, seeing the result was really good for us. It gives us a lot of options. We have four picks in this draft, which we’re really excited about.’’

The Warriors are geared to rebuild with four of the top 52 picks, including the final pick of the first round.

“I think the consensus in regards to the draft is that it’s a good draft, it’s a deep draft, it’s a draft that a lot of people want to be in,’’ Myers said. “So I think we’re in good shape.

“It’s a position that a lot of people would want to be in. It gives us another great asset, where we can either pick a player, or consolidate, make a trade. It’s good for us.’’

Last respects

The NBA lost two significant figures last week with the deaths of Jack Twyman and Orlando Woolridge. Twyman, 78, was a Hall of Fame player for the Cincinnati Royals but a better person. He became the legal guardian of former teammate Maurice Stokes, who hit his head on the floor during a 1958 game, fell into a coma a few days later, and was paralyzed. Twyman spent the next 12 years raising money for Stokes’s medical expenses until his 1970 death from a heart attack. Woolridge, 52, was a hulking forward who played with seven teams and eventually coached the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks. He returned to the NBA to enjoy a fine career after being suspended for part of the 1987-88 season for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.


The Celtics are one of the teams looking to nab St. Bonaventure big man Andrew Nicholson. They are seeking a space-eating big man, and Nicholson is high on their list. He worked out for Boston last week . . . Scouts are unsure about Austin Rivers, son of the Celtics coach, who was initially projected as a top 10 pick but now may fall into the mid-first round. Players such as Weber State’s Damian Lillard and North Carolina’s Kendall Marshall have moved ahead of Rivers. The question for Doc Rivers is whether he would select Austin if he is available at 21. Doc said the Celtics would not work out Austin because he was expected to go before 21. Austin, by the way, has signed with noted agent David Falk, who also has Jeff Green and Jared Sullinger as his clients . . . If you’re wondering who Anthony Davis’s agent is, he still has not hired one, making for one of the more intriguing pre-draft story lines. CAA, the agency that represents LeBron James and Chris Paul; Bill Duffy, who represents Rajon Rondo; and Jeffrey Wechsler, the agent for Kyrie Irving, are vying to represent Davis . . . The Clippers could lose the person responsible for their resurgence if Neil Olshey is selected as general manager of the Trail Blazers. Olshey does not have a contract for next season and is a top candidate to take over in Portland. His loss would make those outside the Clippers organization wonder about its direction. The Blazers have endured difficult times the past few years but have two of the top 11 picks in the June 28 draft.