Orlando Magic President Pat Williams has been in the NBA for 46 years, and the Draft Lottery is still the most dramatic event with which he’s ever been involved.
“It’s the most nerve-racking, tension-filled event that I’ve ever been a part of,” Williams said on The Morning Show. “More so than any games. More so than the draft itself.”
And no, that’s not hyperbole.
“In the draft itself, you know what’s going to happen,” Williams explained. “You’ve got a pretty good idea. Teams talk to each other.”
But sitting there powerless and pondering ping-pong possibilities? Terrifying.
“You’re sitting there at the mercy of all of this,” Williams said. “You have no control. None. Zero.”
And the entire future of your franchise could hinge on it. Need proof? Look no further than San Antonio, which has used its draft-lottery winnings to take David Robinson and Tim Duncan.
Williams called Gregg Popovoch a “fine coach,” but added, “he was not a genius until those two guys came along.”
“For 20 years, San Antonio has ridden the Robinson/Duncan thing based on the excitement and the adventure of winning those lotteries when they had two great big men coming along,” Williams said. “And you can’t always make that call. Many years you win it and there’s not a dominant player.”
Michael Olowokandi. Kwame Brown. The list goes on.
“There have been some picks that just didn’t get it done for you,” Williams said.
But not for San Antonio.
“Gregg Popovich goes to the Hall of Fame because two ping-pong balls bounced the right way in the right year,” Williams observed.
Looking at this year’s lottery, the Magic did okay for themselves, collecting picks 4 and 12. Williams predicts that Cleveland, which had just a 1.7 percent chance of getting the first overall pick, will take Joel Embiid, with Milwaukee taking Jabari Parker second. He also thinks that Philadelphia will take Andrew Wiggins third and pair him in the backcourt with Michael Carter-Williams “for the next decade or so.”
“That’ll be a handful,” Williams said.
Orlando has always made great use of the first overall pick, which it has had three times. The Magic took Shaquille O’Neal in 1992, Chris Webber in 1993 and Dwight Howard in 2004. Webber was immediately sent to Golden State for Penny Hardaway.
“Our fans were ballistically angry,” Williams recalled.
Williams said that the Magic had decided to take Webber but received a phone call from Hardaway the day before the draft. “I get the feeling you’re not going to take me, but you should,” Williams remembered Hardaway saying. “I will do whatever you want to be your pick.”
So Hardaway flew to Orlando and worked out for the Magic. He hit a game-winning three in a scrimmage and looked at Williams and others as if to say, Is there anything else you’d like to see?
Orlando, however, took Webber – and promptly traded him for Hardaway and three future first-round picks.
Not too shabby.
Williams, 74, was also asked about his relationship with Donald Sterling.
“From the beginning, Donald has been a handful – just the way he’s handled himself, the way he’s run his club,” Williams said. “Don’t lose sight of the fact that for decades, the Clippers were just inept – seemingly with no plan. They just were inept. They never could get over that. And in the process, Donald could be just so cruel to people.”
Williams stands by Adam Silver’s decision to fine Sterling and try to force him to sell his franchise.
“Adam Silver had no choice,” Williams said. “First of all, his players were absolutely going to rebel. Everybody in America was stunned and shocked. The organization was traumatized. And in a league that’s 80 percent African-American, you just can’t stand for that.”
Williams saw Silver at the draft lottery Tuesday and told him he’s doing a remarkable job. Silver said thank you.
“He stepped in here as a leader very early with some very bold decisions that he’s had to make,” Williams said. “And he’s holding firm here.”