NBA meets MIT today when pro basketball's personnel types put away their scouting reports and take out calculators in hopes of doing the impossible, understanding the annual lottery.
The algebraic equation that passes for determining the order of the first 11 selections in the June 29 draft is part game show, part Las Vegas in trying to beat the odds and is complicated beyond reasonable explanation. In a nutshell, three teams will be chosen via a Ping-Pong ball lottery for the first three choices, then the remaining eight will be put in inverse order of their 1993-94 records. That protects the Dallas Mavericks, the league's worst team, from drafting worse than fourth.
The actual process will be done behind closed doors, where each team will be represented, and then all those people will be sequestered until the process is completed.
On stage a bit later, Commissioner David Stern, who will have no knowledge of the results, will open the envelopes containing the team logos and show them to a second set of representatives and the live television audience.
Rookies at this sort of thing, the Lakers have turned to their walking good-luck charm, Bill Sharman. He was the general manager on a three-way conference call with the league when the Chicago Bulls called the wrong side of the coin in 1979, thereby giving the Lakers first choice and the rights to Michigan State's Magic Johnson. A few years later, fresh off a championship but in a lofty drafting position because of a trade with Cleveland, Sharman made the right call in a flip with the San Diego Clippers, resulting in James Worthy.
Now, as team consultant, he will have the backstage role while Frank Mariani, a longtime friend of owner Jerry Buss and CEO of California Sports Marketing, an arm of the Laker parent company, will take the visible role. General Manager Jerry West, who decided against the trip because "frankly, I don't feel very good about us being here," sent Sharman off with simple marching orders: Don't come back if you don't win.
"I don't hold a whole lot of optimism at this time with the way it is set up," West said, returning to a serious note. "But we have a chance, and that's the only thing we can hope for."
The Clippers will be represented again by General Manager Elgin Baylor, with Cary Collins, manager of communications, backstage.
"It's uncomfortable because, to tell you the truth, I don't want to be there," Baylor said. "We'd rather be in the playoffs than the lottery. . . . (But) I'm always optimistic, so since I am going back there, I believe I'll get the first, second or third pick. I believe it."
The Clippers have a 4.4% chance of getting the top prize, the right to take Purdue's Glenn Robinson, a 5.09% shot at No. 2 and a 6.02% possibility for No. 3, the two spots that figure to belong to Grant Hill of Duke and Jason Kidd of California. The Lakers are at 0.8%, 0.96% and 1.18%, respectively.
Only one team is thrilled to be part of the lottery, the Seattle SuperSonics. They got in by trade and will inherit the lower of the finishes today by Philadelphia and Charlotte, which--odds say--will be the Hornets.
The San Antonio Spurs have been given permission to talk with Mitch Kupchak, the Lakers' assistant general manager, about succeeding Bob Bass as personnel director. . . . The Clippers will have their own first-round draft choice and, while yet to give official notification, have all but decided to take Atlanta's first-round pick this year instead of in 1995. That would be No. 25. The option came in the Danny Manning-Dominique Wilkins trade.