CHICAGO — Disappointment and elation came together in a touching scene after the NBA Draft lottery concluded Tuesday night.
New Orleans Pelicans executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin stood on the stage at the Hilton Chicago, having just won the No. 1 pick and the right to select Duke star Zion Williamson. Cavaliers General Manager Koby Altman, stung after slipping from second to fifth in the lottery, approached and embraced his predecessor and former Cavs boss in congratulations.
Griffin, who parted ways with Cavs owner Dan Gilbert in the summer of 2017, has now landed two No. 1 picks. He represented the Cavs on stage in 2014, and although they had only a 1.7 percent chance of winning, they got the top spot and selected Andrew Wiggins, who was traded to Minnesota in the deal that brought in Kevin Love.
That night, Griffin used good-luck charm Nick Gilbert’s trademark bow tie as a handkerchief in his suit jacket and had his grandmother’s pin as the angel on his shoulder. The younger Gilbert, 22, represented the Cavs when they won the 2011 and 2013 lotteries and there again Tuesday.
“We talked about it in the GM meeting today. I told some people I’m friendly with that I’ve already seen it, we’re getting 2,” Griffin said after the lottery. “So if Cleveland could get 1, I would have been OK. If Nick could have pulled 1, I would have been fine.”
It may be mere coincidence, but Griffin is a big believer in good luck charms and had two with him this year. Assistant general manager Mike Gansey, the Cavs’ representative in the room as pingpong balls decided the draft order, had none, according to ESPN’s Zach Lowe, who witnessed the process.
The Pelicans revealed on Twitter Monday that season ticket-holder Connie (Halphen) from Metairie, La., had won their Lucky Charm Sweepstakes and that Griffin would take her 56-year-old wooden angel statute to Chicago for the lottery.
“Connie was our angel here today,” Griffin said on ESPN afterward.
That wasn’t all the Pelicans had. According to Lowe, Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry sported a black tie with silver and gray stripes worn by former Cavs vice chair Jeff Cohen when they won the lottery three times from 2011-14 with Cohen representing the team during the drawing.
As Lowe wrote, Griffin called Cohen before the lottery and asked for a good-luck charm. Although Cohen scoffed, Griffin asked him to send him the tie. Gentry told Lowe it will be framed with the winning lottery balls and hung in the Pelicans’ practice facility.
To try to eliminate tanking, the NBA revised the format for the 2019 lottery, giving the teams with the three worst records an equal 14 percent chance of getting the top pick. The change did not favor the New York Knicks, Cavs or Phoenix Suns.
The Knicks had the worst record but ended up with the third pick, the Cavs (who won a tiebreaker with Phoenix) stood second but will select fifth and the Suns dropped from third to sixth.
A year ago, the Knicks would have had a 25 percent chance of getting No. 1, the Cavs 19.9 percent and the Suns 15.6 percent. Under the old format, the worst spot the bottom three could have received was fifth, sixth and seventh, respectively.
Although their 19-63 record would have helped the Cavs more in past years, Altman did not criticize the change.
“We wouldn’t have had the worst record, either. It’s tough,” Altman said. “When the NBA went to this rule model I think it was for the betterment of the league, so I totally get it.”
For those who believe this year’s draft is top heavy, the fact that three of the top four picks went to teams in the Western Conference (Pelicans 1, Memphis Grizzlies 2, Los Angeles Lakers 4) provides hope as the Cavs try to get back in Eastern Conference playoff contention under new coach John Beilein. That nugget was noted by a member of the Cavs front office.
Not all of the Cavs’ contingent moped out of the Hilton Chicago. One left with the team’s No. 5 card, saying: “He could be a great player. Steph Curry went No. 7.” The Golden State Warriors selected the two-time league MVP out of Davidson College in 2009.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Cavs blog at www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.