The NBA Draft lottery is tonight. The Mavs are certainly in a position of relatively unfamiliarity as they will be a participant in the lottery. The ping pong balls could alter the path the Mavs take this offseason in a dramatic way. Though it’s unlikely that they’ll find their name being announced last, giving them the No. 1 overall pick, the lottery represents the official start of the offseason. Dallas will have more information than they had the previous day and be able to really chart a path to their offseason, starting with a draft pick. On top of that, it’s commission David Stern’s last lottery. Insert your emotional response here.
For those who don’t know, Donnie Nelson will represent the team at the drawing. Assistant general manager Keith Grant will be with Nelson in New York.
With all of this in mind, a very knowledgeable man has stepped up to the plate and delivered a very thorough recap of the Mavs’ lottery past, giving you a look back as you prepare for the next chapter. That man is Mark Followill. If you have no clue who he is, what’s wrong with you? Followill is the television play-by-play voice of your Mavs. He’s been chopping it up, talking about the Mavs and other sports in the metroplex since the mid-90′s, so he’s more than just another guy when it comes to this bit of information.
With that in mind, enjoy the trip down memory lane. Enjoy reading this while listening to Followill’s golden tones in your ear, or your own.
The last time we watched a draft lottery because it determined where the Dallas Mavericks would be drafting, Bill Clinton was in the White House. I know the decade plus of success and a championship have brought a lot of new fans to the Mavs. Those new fans may not know and even the longtime MFFL’s may not remember from back in the day the Mavs have never improved their potential draft position in the lottery. With the Mavs hours away from hoping their combination of ping-pong balls comes up for the first time since 2000, let’s look back and see why history says it won’t happen or why perhaps they are finally due!
1986: Before the Draft Lottery there was a coin flip between last place teams in each conference for the top pick. Dallas even won one of those in 1981 and drafted Mark Aguirre. Accusations that teams were losing deliberately to have a chance at the No. 1 pick led to the creation of the lottery. Starting in 1985, envelopes with the logo of the seven non-playoff teams were placed in a hopper and drawn at random to determine the order of the top seven picks. In 1986 the Mavs were a participant because it was the last of four straight years of first round picks they had pilfered in trades from then Cleveland owner Ted Stepien. The Cavs had the 3rd worst record but there still wasn’t the weighted system that exists today to favor the worst of the lottery teams. It was just a 1-in-7 chance for anyone to get the top pick. In a closed door dress rehearsal two hours before the Mavericks actually won the No. 1 pick. GM Norm Sonju would say after he knew that meant they would end up 7th when the real one took place and sure enough they did. Dallas took Roy Tarpley, whose immensely promising career was derailed by substance abuse.
1989: After taking the Lakers to seven games in 1988 Conference Finals, the Mavs plummeted out of the playoffs, ending up with the 8th worst record in the NBA. The lottery was still envelopes drawn out of a hopper, but by then the lottery was only for the top three picks. After those picks were selected the remaining non-playoff teams drafted in inverse order of record. With expansion franchises Charlotte and Miami added in 1988 the lottery included nine teams now. As we know, the Mavs did not jump into the top 3 and with the 8th pick set out to right the wrong of passing on a certain power forward out of Louisiana Tech four years earlier. That night I listened to Norm Hitzges (who I have the pleasure of working with again on this year’s NBA Draft coverage on The Ticket) dissect the draft on 570 KLIF. Excitement rose in Norm’s voice when David Stern announced Indiana at No. 7 had surprisingly taken Florida State’s George McCloud. The man the Mavs wanted at No. 8 would be there! Unfortunately Randy White was never a poor man’s Karl Malone and just washed out after five non-descript seasons.
1990: Before plunging into the abyss of the 90s, the Mavs had one last swim through the playoffs but were swept out in the opening round by the Portland Trail Blazers. However, there was hope. The trade of Jay Vincent in 1986 to the Washington Bullets had netted them a first-round pick in 1990. That year ushered in the era of weighting the lottery to give the poorest teams a better chance at acquiring the top pick. Now the worst team had about a 17 percent chance of landing the first pick. The worst team (the Nets) did get No. 1, but Seattle leapfrogged from 10th to No. 2 and drafted Gary Payton. The pick from the Bullets, instead of being 8th , fell to 9 because of that and after the lottery Dallas decided they were better off with a vet who could help right then. They dealt the pick to the Nuggets for Fat Lever, who was never anywhere close to the great player he was in Denver. Miami ended up with that pick and used it on Willie Burton, who does hold the notoriety of being one of the more unlikely players to score at least 50 points in a game.
1991: After a 28 win season, the Mavs had the 6th worst record and 6th is where they would stay. The Mavs selected Doug Smith of Missouri, who like Randy White experienced a career of five unremarkable seasons.
1992: The story of 1992 has been told before. Owner Don Carter wanted his team to finish on a high note and the inspired Mavs closed the season with wins over Houston and Denver. Those two wins moved the Mavs past Orlando in the standings to the 3rd worst record and the Magic had the 2nd worst mark. Orlando won the lottery and the right to draft Shaquille O’Neal. For the second straight year, Charlotte’s ping pong balls came up moving them to a top 3 spot, and after landing Larry Johnson at the top spot the year before they selected Alonzo Mourning at number 2. Dallas fell to No. 4 and drafted Jim Jackson. There was a contract squabble and by the time the Mavs signed him in March they were 4-50 and needed a late season push to avoid the worst record in NBA history.
1993: After the disastrous 11 win season, surely Lady Luck would shine on Dallas, but not only did the 17 percent chance of the top pick not hit, it went to Orlando who defied the odds with a 1-in-66 chance of winning the lottery. Philadelphia and Golden State also jumped past Dallas. Chris Webber, future Mav Shawn Bradley and Penny Hardaway went 1-2-3. The Mavs dropped to No. 4 and drafted the second of the three Js, Jamal Mashburn.
1994: That year saw another terrible Mavs season (13 wins) and another change in the lottery. The system was weighted to improve the odds even more for the bottom teams. Now the team with the worst record had a 25-percent chance of selecting first. However, Milwaukee, one of three teams tied for the second worst mark at 20-62 jumped to number one (and took Glenn Robinson). The Mavs did end up at No. 2 and of course the prize was Jason Kidd. After two-plus seasons, he was traded to Phoenix for Michael Finley among others. Fortunately that story ended happily with Kidd’s return to Dallas and his vital contribution to the 2011 Finals winning squad.
1995: A late surge in Jason Kidd’s rookie year brought Dallas briefly into the playoff race. That push fell short but with a 36-46 record optimism existed this would be Dallas’ last time in the lottery for a while. Only one of the eleven non-playoff squads were better! The Mavs didn’t jump up into the top 3 and with expansion Vancouver and Toronto being awarded picks at six and seven, the Mavs ended up with the 12th pick. They drafted Cherokee Parks of Duke and as I recall watching in Reunion Arena that night the announcement resulted in a loud chorus of boos from fans in attendance.
1996: The excitement of the 3 J’s fizzled, Dallas dropped to 26 wins and the 6th worst record. They didn’t improve in the lottery and before draft night traded that pick and next year’s first rounder to Boston for Eric Montross and the Celtics pick in 1996 at No. 9 which Dallas used on Samaki Walker – enough said. The 1997 first round pick Dallas traded to Boston didn’t improve in the lottery and the Celtics used the No. 6 pick on Ron Mercer.
1998: With the Nelsons’ in charge now, the Mavs had just completed a 20-win season but surprisingly to me looking back there were five other teams who were worse. The Mavs didn’t improve their number six spot in the lottery and then used the pick on Tractor Traylor. Then the big moment arrived as he was traded to Milwaukee for the rights to some 20-year old German kid taken at No. 9. While the lottery drawing did not pay off that year, the wheeling and dealing of draft night did. Not only did Dallas acquire Dirk Nowitzki, they traded next year’s first round pick to Phoenix for Steve Nash. The lottery produced no improvement in that pick in 1999 and, by the way, Charlotte struck again! They had the best record of non-playoff teams but jumped up to third and chose Baron Davis. The Mavs pick traded to Phoenix, slid from 8 to 9 and the Suns landed an eventual staple of the Mavs title team, Shawn Marion.
2000: This is the only year a Mark Cuban owned Mavs team experienced the lottery. Dallas finished with the 12th worst record and stayed there on lottery night. On draft night, they took Etan Thomas and also traded for a pick owned by Orlando at 13 and selected Courtney Alexander. A few months later both were part of a mega trade for Juwan Howard.
From 2001-12 the Mavs never finished out of the playoffs and so never took part in the lottery. In 2004, they did make a draft night trade for a lottery pick of Washington’s, which predictably was a pick that had been pushed down to fifth based on lottery results. The pick was Devin Harris, who was a few years later traded for Jason Kidd. See, it all comes full circle. After all of that bad luck, the Mavs finally achieved the dream in magical fashion, so all in all the ride was well worth it.
Since it’s been a while, here’s how it works tonight. With the 13th worst record of those who missed the playoffs, the Mavs have a 96 percent chance of staying there. They have a 2.2 percent chance of moving into a top three spot and a 1.8 percent chance of Utah jumps into the top 3, thus pushing Dallas to 14. As I have said many times, I don’t believe in jinxes and superstitions and such. But just in case, maybe MFFLs can help with a rabbit’s foot, a horseshoe or maybe that lucky pair of socks you wore in the title run. At least history says it can‘t hurt.
You can follow Mark Followill on Twitter (and you definitely should) @MFollowill.