CHICAGO — With a franchise-changing and perhaps a generational talent in Duke forward Zion Williamson as the top prize, the 2019 NBA Draft Lottery was unquestionably the most important since LeBron James turned professional out of St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in 2003.

Unfortunately, with a player capable of accelerating the Cavaliers' rebuild at stake, their extraordinary run of good fortune failed them for the second consecutive year.

In Tuesday night’s drawing at the Hilton Chicago, the pingpong balls did the Cavs no favors. Trying to win the lottery for the fifth time in 16 years, the Cavs ended up with the fifth pick. The New Orleans Pelicans, with former Cavs General Manager David Griffin directing their basketball operations, landed the top pick and the opportunity to choose Williamson.

The Cavs (19-63) finished in the league’s bottom three and tied with the New York Knicks and Phoenix Suns for the best odds, 14 percent, of getting the No. 1 overall pick. The Cavs also had a 40 percent chance of landing in the top three. Yet even though they stood second after winning a tiebreaker with the Suns, the Cavs slipped.

"It's tough. Everybody is invested in this thing. It's obviously a big to-do and everyone wants to jump to that top spot," Cavs General Manager Koby Altman said afterward. "We're really bullish on the draft. It's going to be an exciting draft, there's a lot of talent and we're going to get someone really good."

In the odds breakdown, the Cavs' best chance (27.8) was to select No. 5, which proved prophetic. Their other percentages were 13.4 for the second pick, 12.7 for the third, 11.9 for the fourth and 20.1 for the sixth.

Altman tried to downplay the fact that not drafting No. 1, or even in the top three, on June 20 will slow down the Cavs' return to playoff contention. He believes new coach John Beilein, the former University of Michigan coach who agreed to terms of a five-year contract Monday, will have much to do with how long that process takes.

"Wherever we would have landed, you still have to be patient. It's also why we hired coach Beilein — to put things in place that we need foundation-wise, to be a culture-driver, to be a teacher," Altman said. "We're going to need that influence.

"Does it slow down the timeline? We don't know. But we're going to get somebody good and excited for them that their first experience in the big league is going to be with Coach."

Williamson, Murray State guard Ja Morant and Duke forward RJ Barrett are considered near locks for the top three spots, but draft analysts believe the talent level drops off considerably after that. Candidates for picks four through six include Vanderbilt guard Darius Garland, Virginia forward De’Andre Hunter, Texas Tech guard Jarrett Culver and Duke forward Cam Reddish.

Altman said he disagrees with the notion that this is a three-player draft.

"I don't think that's fair to them. There's some really accomplished players in this draft," Altman said. "We're going to go deep like we always do and find someone for the Cavaliers that embodies what we're about — attitude, work ethic and someone who really wants to play for the Cavaliers.

"The great thing about it is I want to find someone for Coach's system," he said of Beilein. "To learn his values and his ideals and his system and the skill set that helps him I think is a big deal."

The Cavs also have the 26th pick, acquired from the Houston Rockets at February’s deadline in a three-way trade with the Sacramento Kings and Rockets that also netted the Cavs two players.

The Cavs had their good-luck charm on stage as Nick Gilbert, the 22-year-old son of Cavs owner Dan Gilbert, represented them.

The younger Gilbert appeared at the lottery from 2011-13 and in 2018 and had seen the Cavs get No. 1 twice. Gilbert was not present in 2014, but then-GM Griffin wore Gilbert’s trademark bow tie as a handkerchief in his suit jacket. Nick Gilbert shook his head in disappointment when the fifth pick was announced; he and Griffin are now tied with two No. 1s in their appearances.

Assistant General Manager Mike Gansey represented the Cavs in the room for the lottery drawing.

It was the second year of lottery disappointment for Altman and the Cavs. A year ago with the coveted “Brooklyn pick” received in the Kyrie Irving trade with the Boston Celtics, the Cavs had a 2.8 percent chance of getting No. 1 and 9.9 percent odds of drafting in the top three, but they remained at eighth, where they were slotted. They went on to select Alabama guard Collin Sexton.

Marla Ridenour can be reached at mridenour@thebeaconjournal.com. Read the Cavs blog at www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.