Most NBA fans understand that tonight's 2011 NBA Draft Lottery establishes the order of June's actual NBA Draft. The problem is in understanding the details that go beyond that. Hopefully, we can help you sort out the details of the draft process and tell you what to expect tonight.
The primary question that comes from most people is why not just use a standard reverse order of standings as most leagues do. The MLB, the NFL, the NHL all have a draft system in place where the worst team from the previous year enjoys the first pick in the following year's draft. Give the NBA points for trying to address a problem and spice up the drama, at the very least.
The history comes from teams being accused (specifically the Houston Rockets in 1984) of losing games on purpose in order to secure the first overall selection. Fan bases were being robbed by teams supposedly throwing games. Enter the draft lottery in 1985, where the New York Knicks won the draft lottery to select Georgetown alum Patrick Ewing. The lottery system has endured a few changes since then, but the general reasons and processes were established then.
The current lottery system is a weighted system that's actually quite complex to explain here (for those interested, you can click here for a full explanation), but suffice to say that the worst team, this year's Minnesota Timberwolves, holds a 25 percent chance of landing that first choice and can pick no lower than fifth overall. The second to last team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, hold a 19.9 percent chance and can choose no lower than sixth. It goes that way through the end of the top 13 overall selections. Those teams at the fringes of the lottery are given a rare chance to earn a Top 3 selection, but otherwise must be content with the few spots at the end of the lottery portion of the first round.
The NBA Draft Lottery can be seen on ESPN tonight starting at 8:30 ET/7:30 CT, and the process will be drawn out a la most reality television programming. So for those expecting to tune in at the appointed time to see a quickly unveiled order, that's not the case. Still the intrigue of the fortunes of franchises being changed by a complex series of ping pong balls is interesting to watch -- even for the faces of the teams' representatives.