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Clippers' ship comes in

Clippers' ship comes in
This time of year, there's always room for optimism in the NBA.

For the four teams still remaining in the playoffs, an appearance in the NBA final, and maybe a chance to hoist the Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy, are tangible goals.

The rest of the league is busy getting a head start on preparations for the June 25 entry draft - a planning process that got a lot clearer last night at the draft lottery for the 14 teams that missed the postseason, the Toronto Raptors among them.

The big winners last night were the Los Angeles Clippers, who won the right to select first overall. The big losers were the Sacramento Kings, who had the best odds of securing the No. 1 pick, but slipped to fourth.

As projected by the pre-lottery odds, the Raptors - who had just a 1.7-per-cent chance of gaining the top pick and an even smaller chance of moving backward - stayed in ninth.

This year's draft class is considered low on potential star content, with a sharp drop off after University of Oklahoma Sooners power forward Blake Griffin, Spanish point guard Ricky Rubio and Connecticut Huskies centre Hasheem Thabeet. After that? A lot of unknowns.

As one NBA front office executive put it: "If you want to be positive, you could say there are a lot of players the same level after the top three picks. If you want to be negative, you could say there are a lot of players at a certain level after the top three picks."

Do the Raptors have cause for optimism?

Club president and general manager Bryan Colangelo thinks so, even though the draft lottery Ping-Pong balls fell just as predicted.

"Ideally, we would have won the lottery and moved up to the top pick, but other than that, it worked out. No one behind us moved up, the teams in the East that could have moved up didn't and I think we'll get a good player at [pick] nine, I've done it before," Colangelo said.

Colangelo chose both Shawn Marion and Amar'e Stoudemire ninth while he was with the Phoenix Suns, but a longitudinal analysis of player performance by draft order at suggests the Raptors are more likely to get a role player picking ninth (a 35-per-cent chance) than some version of a star (30 per cent); and are nearly as likely to get a player who doesn't contribute at all (25 per cent).

One thing is certain: the Raptors need players that can contribute, and not just because they finished a disappointing 33-49 in 2008-09.

The half-full approach suggests that a tweak here and there and a full season under head coach Jay Triano should get the Raptors back above .500 and firmly in the playoff mix for 2009-10.

The half-empty take offers a lot less reason for hope.

With shooting guard Anthony Parker and small forward Marion free agents, and franchise cornerstone Chris Bosh unwilling to commit to the club after next season, when he's eligible to become a free agent, the Raptors could easily lose three starters this summer.

With some luck, the Raptors might be able to get a player in return for Marion by way of a sign-and-trade deal, but those are not easy to facilitate.

Bosh won't be traded without the Raptors getting some true assets in return. Though if he goes, it will be hard to make happy faces around the idea the club will have lost arguably the best player in their history just as he's entering his prime.

And Parker? He may have been overmatched as a starting guard at 34, but he's a serviceable asset and the Raptors risk getting nothing from him if decides big money in Europe - nearly double what he could expect to make in the NBA - would be worth moving his family overseas one more time.

No wonder the Raptors , according to team sources, are actually looking hard at buying a second pick even if this year's draft is more about role players than star power.

The Raptors need players, of any stripe, and, hopefully, ones that can step in and play 10 or 15 minutes a game on the perimeter right out of training camp.

"This year, there will be picks for sale," one league insider said.

"With the economy and the salary cap shrinking, there will be teams looking to get rid of a pick rather than have to carry another guaranteed contract."

So with the draft order firmed up after last night, the Raptors gain clarity on where they will be picking and just maybe on where they'll be buying, if it comes to that.

What's not clear is what they'll be getting and what they'll have left.

Basketball REPORTER



Order of picks for the 2009 NBA entry draft on June 25, as determined in yesterday's NBA lottery.

Author: Fox Sports
Author's Website:
Added: May 20, 2009


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