The way the 2003 draft lottery played out, the Cavaliers and Grizzlies were the final two teams with a chance at the No. 1 pick, which would undoubtedly be used to select LeBron James. The pick, and LeBron, went to Cleveland, of course, much to the chagrin of then-Grizzlies GM Jerry West. But, heading into the lottery that night, the team that had the best chance of keeping LeBron from the Cavs was the Nuggets.
Denver and Cleveland tied for the worst record in 2002/03. Under today's rules, a coin flip would have given one team a slight edge, but at the time, the Cavs and Nuggets had equal, 22.5% chances at the top pick. No other team had better than a 15.7% shot. The Grizzlies, with just a 6.4% chance of pulling it off, nearly did so, but the No. 1 pick, and the prize of a clear shot at LeBron, wound up in the hands of the Cavs.
The next year, the Magic converted their league-leading 25% odds into the No. 1 pick and Dwight Howard, but since then, no team with the best chance of winning the lottery has done so. The Magic once more have the best chance, at 25%, of coming away with the top pick, and we'll see on Tuesday whether they break a nine-year jinx for the team in pole position on lottery night.
In the meantime, here's a list of the teams with the best chances of winning the lottery, the team that actually won the lottery, and the No. 1 pick from each of the past 10 years. Feel free to wonder what it would be like if it were the Heat, instead of the Bulls team they just eliminated, who endured a season without Derrick Rose. Or how well the Grizzlies would be doing if they had secured the No. 1 pick in 2007 and used it on Kevin Durant, the superstar they just eliminated in the playoffs, instead of Greg Oden. Or whether former Timberwolves GM David Kahn, who endured heavy criticism after taking Ricky Rubio and Jonny Flynn back-to-back in 2009, would have hesitated to take Kyrie Irving in 2011.
Clearly, there's a lot of luck involved in the draft, and never more so than on lottery night:
Best chance: Bobcats (25.0%)
Winner: Pelicans (13.7% — 4th best chance)
No. 1 pick: Anthony Davis
Best chance: Timberwolves (25.0%)
Winner: Cavaliers (2.8% — 8th best chance)
No. 1 pick: Kyrie Irving
Best chance: Nets (25.0%)
Winner: Wizards (10.3% — 5th best chance)
No. 1 pick: John Wall
Best chance: Kings (25.0%)
Winner: Clippers (17.7% — 3rd best chance)
No. 1 pick: Blake Griffin
Best chance: Heat (25.0%)
Winner: Bulls (1.7% — 9th best chance)
No. 1 pick: Derrick Rose
Best chance: Grizzlies (25.0%)
Winner: Trail Blazers (5.3% — 6th best chance)
No. 1 pick: Greg Oden
Best chance: Trail Blazers (25.0%)
Winner: Raptors (8.8% — 5th best chance)
No. 1 pick: Andrea Bargnani
Best chance: Hawks (25.0%)
Winner: Bucks (6.3% — 6th best chance)
No. 1 pick: Andrew Bogut
Best chance: Magic (25.0%)
No. 1 pick: Dwight Howard
Best chance: Cavaliers and Nuggets (22.5%)
No. 1 pick: LeBron James
DraftExpress was used in the creation of this post.