No longer a threat to go deep into the playoffs, the Lakers begin the unusual, if not awkward, process of retooling in May, turning their attention temporarily from Phil Jackson to an unfamiliar world of ping-pong balls and probabilities.
The Lakers have the 10th pick in the draft June 28, but tonight's lottery gives them a 1.4% chance of getting the top selection. The Clippers, more familiar with lottery protocol, have the 12th pick and a 0.7% chance of getting No. 1.
If the minute percentages don't hammer home the long odds facing the Lakers and Clippers, history probably will: No team has jumped more than six spots above its final-standings finish to take the No. 1 pick since the system was implemented in 1994. The New Jersey Nets jumped from No. 7 to No. 1 in 2000 and ultimately selected Kenyon Martin.
The Lakers have not been in the lottery since taking Eddie Jones with the 10th pick in 1994, but their return was cemented after a 2-19 finish in a 34-48 season during which little went well for them.
Executive Vice President Jeanie Buss will represent the Lakers tonight -- the Clippers will send Coach Mike Dunleavy -- in an attempt to turn misfortune into opportunity.
Buss said she would pack into her purse eight Laker championship rings and a stuffed animal that looked like her Maltese pooch, Princess.
"I'm asking Laker fans to tune in, sit in their lucky chair and put on their lucky hat," she said. "I believe in the power of positive thinking. The fans have been very supportive in what has been a disappointing season. This is the start of next season.
"Even if we don't move up, having a pick where we are is pretty good. I do believe we will get a good player. But there's a little chance to move up and that always makes the plan much easier if that happens."
Buss asked Jackson, whom she has dated for six years, to go with her to Secaucus, N.J., the location of the NBA's TV studios and a relatively affordable cab ride from New York City.
"As much as he likes New York, he turned down my request," she said. "I will be going alone."
The top players will include Utah center Andrew Bogut, North Carolina forward Marvin Williams, Wake Forest point guard Chris Paul and Illinois point guard Deron Williams. All left college early.
The lottery will be conducted before tonight's Western Conference playoff game between the San Antonio Spurs and Phoenix Suns. Members of the Ernst & Young accounting firm will verify the process, and NBA Deputy Commissioner Russ Granik will reveal the results on ESPN via the traditional unsealing of the envelopes.
The process starts with 14 ping-pong balls numbered one through 14 in a drum. There are 1,001 possible combinations when four of the 14 balls are drawn. Before the lottery, 1,000 combinations are assigned to the participating teams.
The Atlanta Hawks, the league's worst team this season, will be assigned 250 combinations, and the Minnesota Timberwolves, the lottery's best team, will have five combinations out of 1,000.
The Lakers have 14 combinations and the Clippers have seven. (If the one unassigned combination is drawn, the balls are redrawn.)
Four balls will be drawn to determine the first four-digit combination. The team assigned that combination gets the No. 1 pick. The balls are put back in the drum and the process is repeated to determine the No. 2 and No. 3 picks, and then the lottery is over.
The draft is still five weeks away, but the Lakers are looking for a big man and depth at point guard via the draft or free agency. The Clippers, last in the league in three-pointers attempted and made, would like to add a long-distance threat.
The Clippers have had 17 lottery picks, more than any other team, from Benoit Benjamin in 1985 to Shaun Livingston last June, although owner Donald T. Sterling stopped having his annual lottery parties years ago.
Unless they move up, this will be the first time since 1997 the Clippers will not have a top-eight pick. They have twice had the top pick, taking Danny Manning in 1988 and Michael Olowokandi in 1998.
"We're prepared for any contingency," Clipper General Manager Elgin Baylor said. "It's not in our control, so all you can do is be positive and hope for the best."
Last year, the Clippers were the only team that improved its draft position, moving from fifth to second. They traded the pick to the Charlotte Bobcats, taking Livingston with the No. 4 pick they obtained in the deal.
Times staff writer Jerry Crowe contributed to this report.
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NBA draft lottery probabilities
Probabilities for winning the top three picks in tonight's 2005 NBA draft lottery (5:30 p.m. PDT, ESPN):
*--* Team Record Chances 1st Pick 2nd Pick 3rd Pick Atlanta 13-69 250 25.00% 21.46% 17.74% New Orleans 18-64 178 17.80% 17.36% 16.46% Charlotte 18-64 177 17.70% 17.29% 16.42% Utah 26-56 119 11.90% 12.58% 13.25% Portland 27-55 88 8.80% 9.64% 10.64% Milwaukee 30-52 63 6.30% 7.09% 8.09% Toronto 33-49 36 3.60% 4.16% 4.90% New York 33-49 35 3.50% 4.04% 4.77% Golden State 34-48 14 1.40% 1.65% 1.99% LAKERS 34-48 14 1.40% 1.65% 1.99% Orlando 36-46 8 0.80% 0.95% 1.15% CLIPPERS 37-45 7 0.70% 0.83% 1.01% Charlotte* 18-64 6 0.60% 0.71% 0.87% Minnesota 42-40 5 0.50% 0.59% 0.72%
*from Cleveland (42-40)