College basketball takes center stage this time of year, but the NCAA Tournament might not have as much effect on what happens this June as the final six weeks of the NBA regular season will. Lottery position is in flux, as our Reverse Standings show, but a few teams that aren’t anywhere near the top of that table will jump up there at season’s end, thanks to trades that took place years ago.
The Nuggets are salivating with each Knicks loss, since New York owes Denver its pick, almost certain to end up in the lottery, from the Carmelo Anthony trade. The Nuggets’ own stumble from playoff contention is cause for smiles in Orlando, since the Magic get the least favorable of Denver’s own pick and the one the Nuggets receive from the Knicks. With New York and Denver having but a ghost of a chance at the playoffs, the Magic will almost certainly wind up with a lottery pick to go along with their own selection, which figures to be near the top.
The Jazz could also wind up with a pair of lottery picks, since the Warriors are surprisingly in a fight for one of the last playoff spots in the Western Conference. Golden State sent Utah its unprotected first-round pick this past summer. The Hawks also have an unprotected first-rounder coming their way, but the resurgence of the Nets has cooled Atlanta’s excitement.
All of the other traded 2014 first-rounders have protections attached to them. Following up on December‘s look at the likelihood each of those draft choices has of changing hands, here’s how they stack up with just a month and a half to go in the regular season:
Likely to change hands:
- Washington Wizards (to Suns if not in top 12). Current projection: 18th.
- Portland Trail Blazers (to Bobcats if not in top 12). Current projection: 26th.
- Indiana Pacers (to Suns if not in top 14). Current projection: 30th.
Indiana’s magic number to clinch a playoff berth is one, so the Pacers’ pick will soon be guaranteed to head to Phoenix. The Wizards appear to have accomplished what they set out to do in trading their 2014 first-rounder for Marcin Gortat, since they’re likely headed for the playoffs. The Blazers cooled a bit after their hot start, but they’re still among the elite in the Western Conference, and it would take a complete collapse for them to miss the playoffs by a margin wide enough to keep their pick from going to Charlotte.
Unlikely to change hands:
- Philadelphia 76ers (to Celtics if not in top 14). Current projection: 2nd.
- Sacramento Kings (to Bulls if not in top 12). Current projection: 7th.
The Sixers weren’t sniffing the playoffs even before they traded Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes at the deadline. The Kings have a reasonable chance to make up the four games separating them from Denver, which holds the 12th draft position, but there’s a nine-and-a-half-game chasm between Sacramento and spot No. 13.
Up in the air:
- Detroit Pistons (to Bobcats if not in top 8). Current projection: 11th.
- New Orleans Pelicans (to 76ers if not in top 5). Current projection: 10th.
- Minnesota Timberwolves (to Suns if not in top 13). Current projection: 13th.
- Charlotte Bobcats (to Bulls if not in top 10). Current projection: 16th.
- Dallas Mavericks (to Thunder if not in top 20). Current projection: 22nd.
The Pistons and Timberwolves are caught between uphill battles to make the playoffs and the prospect of keeping their lottery picks if they slide back far enough. There’s a strong chance that either team could wind up in no man’s land, without a playoff berth or a first-round pick. The Pelicans don’t have a realistic chance at the playoffs, but they’re three games up on the fifth draft position. The Bobcats have a three-game lead for a playoff berth and a three-and-a-half-game lead on the team with the 10th-worst record in the league. Dallas is in an unusual position, since the Mavs are fighting for a playoff berth even though they have one of the 10 best records in the NBA, thanks to the imbalance between the conferences. They could finish eighth in the West and still have to give up their pick.