Danny Ainge is dominating the NBA demolition derby with both eyes planted squarely on the distant horizon.
The Jazz officially entered full rebuild mode after sending All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell to the Cavaliers for Collin Sexton, Lauri Markkanen, Ochai Agbaji, three unprotected first-round picks and two future pick swaps.
This marks the second All-Star blockbuster trade Utah has pulled off this offseason after sending Rudy Gobert to the Timberwolves in return for five first-round picks and a group of rotation players.
Why did they do it? In short, two words: Victor Wembanyama.
After years of piling up regular season wins only to underwhelm in the playoffs time and again, the Jazz decided that Wembanyama is the type of franchise talent worth starting over for. You could make an argument for Zion Williamson or Anthony Davis, but Wembanyama certainly has a case as the most-hyped NBA prospect since LeBron James.
Yes, the hype is that real.
Since the NBA changed the lottery odds so the three worst teams all have a 14 percent chance of winning the No. 1 pick, the team that finished with the worst record has yet to win the lottery.
MORE: Complete history of NBA Draft Lottery winners
In 2019, the Pelicans won the lottery with a long shot six percent chance. In 2020 (MIN), 2021 (DET) and 2022 (ORL), the teams that won the lottery all had 14 percent chances, but none of the winners had the worst record in the NBA the previous season.
With all of that being said, it’s no longer as simple as trying to tank your way to the No. 1 pick. There’s some added luck involved now, but having multiple picks — or chances — in a single draft lottery, of course, increases your odds. As the saying goes, luck favors the prepared.
Which teams have stacked the most assets to gain the best chance at landing Wembanyama next offseason? Without getting too lost in the weeds of protections, here’s a closer look at the four leading contenders to land 2023’s ultimate prize.
There is no team in a better position to make an irrefutable offer for next year’s No. 1 pick than the Thunder, and that’s if they don’t win the lottery themselves.
Oklahoma City has an unfathomable amount of draft capital over the foreseeable future with 10 first-round picks over the next three drafts. I can’t think of a better way to maximize their assets than packaging as many picks as it takes to ensure they land Wembanyama with the No. 1 pick next year.
Now don’t get me wrong, there is a great chance that whichever franchise wins the lottery will simply refuse to trade the pick, knowing the type of franchise-altering player Wembanyama could be. But the Thunder could get really reckless (shrewd?) and offer a trade that other franchises simply cannot match.
Don’t be surprised if OKC pushes all its chips into the middle of the table ahead of next year’s draft.
Future first-round picks:
After moving off of Gobert and Mitchell, the Jazz have officially thrown their name in the hat for the Wembanyama sweepstakes.
MORE: 2023 draft prospect Scoot Henderson is more than a consolation prize to the Wembanyama sweepstakes
Acquiring a combined seven first-round picks and two pick swaps in trades for those two All-Stars, the Jazz now have a serious war chest of draft capital to play with when it comes to making an offer to land next year’s No. 1 pick. And like I said for OKC, that’s if Utah doesn’t win the NBA Draft Lottery outright, which is certainly a possibility after trading away its two best players.
The Jazz’s new CEO of Basketball Operations, Danny Ainge, is known for taking big swings (see: the Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett trade that landed the Celtics both Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown). It only took one offseason for him to completely blow up everything Utah previously had in place.
Ainge clearly has a direction here – put all of the Jazz’s eggs in the Wembanyama basket and the future.
Future first-round picks:
The Rockets’ rebuild got underway when the franchise traded James Harden to the Nets shortly after the 2020-21 season began. At the time, their return of three first-round picks and four first-round pick swaps already seemed like a great return for a player who no longer had an interest in playing for the franchise.
Now, that deal looks even better considering things haven’t unfolded the way you would have expected in Brooklyn, with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving’s tenure leading to nothing but shortcomings thus far.
Even though both stars have verbally committed to the Nets for this season, would it surprise anyone if trade talks bubbled up again around the trade deadline?
And if either or both of those stars are on the move, the Rockets would come away as huge winners, owning rights to Brooklyn’s first-round picks for the next five (!) drafts.
Not only would that jack up the value of those future first-rounders for trade bait, but it potentially gives Houston two really good chances at landing the No. 1 pick in next year’s draft.
All Rockets fans can do is set back and wait for the first domino to fall in Brooklyn.
Future first-round picks:
The Spurs traded Dejounte Murray to the Hawks this offseason in return for three future first-round picks and a first-round pick swap.
Why would the Spurs trade a 25-year-old franchise cornerstone and floor general who is coming off of a breakout, All-Star season and perfectly fits the timeline of the current roster for nothing but future draft compensation?
A two-word educated guess: Victor Wembanyama.
From Atlanta, San Antonio received the Hornets’ 2023 first-round pick, the Hawks’ 2025 and 2027 (unprotected!) first-round picks and a right to swap first-rounders in 2026.
That gives the Spurs two first-round picks in next year’s draft, as well as two fairly valuable first-rounders in the future since they’re unprotected.
San Antonio will likely make a run at the worst record in the NBA next season, which already gives it a good shot at landing the No. 1 pick. But if the Spurs wanted to package their pick with the Hornets pick and one of Atlanta’s future first-rounders, they could make an enticing deal to try and acquire the first overall pick next season.