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Monday, May 21, 2007 - Page updated at 02:02 AM

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Sonics hope to hit jackpot on Tuesday

Seattle Times staff reporter

Bryan Colangelo figured he'd play it straight and let the chips or ping-pong balls fall where they may.

The newly minted Toronto Raptors president didn't carry any four-leaf clovers or rabbit's feet to last year's NBA draft lottery. He didn't tuck a lucky penny or horseshoe in his pocket or stash a charm in his briefcase despite the urging of staff members.

Knowing their team had an 8.8 percent chance of landing the No. 1 pick, several Raptors fans urged Colangelo to make a side trip to a local clergyman or toss a coin into a wishing well before arriving at the NBA Entertainment headquarters in Secaucus, N.J., for the lottery.

"I know a lot of people go in there with high hopes, anticipation and lots of discussion of what their good-luck charm is, but I took the opposite approach," Colangelo said in a telephone interview. "I remember some guys saying they wore their lucky suit and JoJo White [of the Boston Celtics] said he brought his lucky cigar and lucky underwear. I took the approach of, if it happens, it happens."

The lottery took place behind closed studio doors, 90 minutes before the drawings were announced on television. Jim LaBumbard, Raptors director of media relations, witnessed the proceedings and knew his team had parlayed the fifth-worst record into the top pick.

"What many people don't know is, we actually won the second pick also," LaBumbard said. "They draw for No. 1 and No. 2, and we had both of them. It's just an unbelievable feeling."

The Sonics enter Tuesday's lottery where Toronto was a year ago.

They have the fifth-worst record and will be assigned 88 of 1,000 four-digit numbers. The winning numbers will be produced by a combination of numbered ping-pong balls and Seattle has an 8.8 percent chance of landing the top pick. It has a 9.65 percent chance to get the No. 2 pick and 10.67 percent of landing the third pick.

The Sonics cannot land the No. 4 pick and they have a 26.15 percent chance at the fifth pick, 35.92 percent for No. 6, 8.44 percent for No. 7 and 0.38 percent for No. 8.

No lottery team can select more than three spots lower than where they start, which guarantees the Sonics will have their highest draft pick since taking Gary Payton second overall in 1990.

"Knowing that you're at the top of the draft takes a lot of guesswork out of [scouting]," president Lenny Wilkens said weeks ago. "We know we're going to get a good player and somebody that can come in and help us."

Since the lottery was revamped in 1994, teams that started fifth in the lottery have improved their position seven times.

Golden State leaped into the No. 1 spot in 1995. That year, owner Chris Cohan designated a Manhattan-based reverend as the team's witness to the lottery. The Warriors, however, weren't so lucky in drafting Joe Smith ahead of Kevin Garnett, Rasheed Wallace, Jerry Stackhouse and Antonio McDyess.

Seven years later, Houston started fifth in the lottery and came up to No. 1, winning the Yao Ming sweepstakes.

"Now that we've drafted him, there will be an amazing economic impact," Rockets owner Leslie Alexander told the Houston Chronicle in 2002. "This is a very significant moment in the life of the organization."

Philadelphia (1997) and Vancouver ('98) parlayed the fifth-worst record into the No. 2 picks, Atlanta (2001) leaped to third before making a draft-day trade with Vancouver, and the Los Angeles Clippers ('04) moved one spot to No. 4.

Two teams have remained at No. 5, four teams dropped to sixth place and no team that has started fifth has selected lower than sixth.

The lottery, which was introduced in 1985, turns 22 on Tuesday. Despite several format tweaks, there's still plenty of debate about the effectiveness of the ping-pong-ball format, largely because underdogs have won so much.

Orlando is the biggest longshot winner in lottery history. In 1993, The Magic had a 1-in-66 chance (1.52 percent) of securing the top pick and bucked the odds to win the lottery and get Penny Hardaway. The NBA changed the system the next season, installing a weighted format, which improved the chances of teams with the worst records and decreased the chances of teams with better records.

Still, the team with the best chance to win the lottery has landed the top pick just three times since the system was modified 13 years ago. More often, longshots prevail.

New Jersey had the seventh-worst record and a 4.4 percent chance in 2000, but managed to win the lottery and get Kenyon Martin.

In 2005, Milwaukee had the sixth-worst record and 6.3 percent chance for the top spot but rose in the draft order to select Andrew Bogut first overall.

The team with the third-worst record has won the lottery four times, the most of any position, while no team entering with the fourth-worst record has picked first in the draft.

Colangelo downplayed the importance of selecting first in a year when he chose Italian Andrea Bargnani or when Milwaukee took Bogut in 2005.

"Some years there's more at stake than others," Colangelo added.

This is one of those years.

This draft class, led by Ohio State center Greg Oden and Texas forward Kevin Durant, could potentially rival the 2003 crop that included future All-Stars LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh.

If the Sonics win Tuesday's lottery, chairman Clay Bennett said "it would be transformative for us and an enormous shot in the arm."

Bennett also alluded that a player like Oden or Durant could also get the dialogue going on an arena debate that has been stagnant since state lawmakers killed a financial package for a proposed new arena in Renton last month.

"It would bring an energy and excitement and a new vision and new look and new way forward," Bennett said.

Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company





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