While LeBron James seeks an NBA title, the Cleveland Cavaliers are searching for a new franchise player.
A month after doing his part to save pro basketball in Sacramento, Mayor Kevin Johnson is coming back east in hopes of helping the Kings find a savior.
And the Minnesota Timberwolves, perennial lottery losers, have the best odds of finally claiming that elusive No. 1.
The NBA holds its draft lottery Tuesday in Secaucus, N.J., with a lucky team earning the right to make the first pick in next month’s draft.
The Timberwolves have a 25 percent chance of winning, thanks to their league-worst 17-65 record. But they shouldn’t design a jersey with the name of Duke’s Kyrie Irving, Arizona’s Derrick Williams or whichever other player they would consider with the top pick just yet.
The Wolves have gone backward seven times and stayed put the other six in their 13 previous lottery opportunities, falling to the No. 4 pick last year despite entering with the second-best odds of winning. In their only other chance from the pole position, they took a costly two-spot dive in 1992, missing out on Shaquille O’Neal and settling for Christian Laettner.
And the lottery has been no help at all lately to the teams that need it most. Not since 2004, when Orlando won and grabbed Dwight Howard, has the team with the worst record landed the top pick.
Cleveland won the year before and selected James, who led the Cavaliers to their greatest success. But he bolted for Miami last summer and Cavs tumbled from a 60-win team to the worst in the Eastern Conference with a 19-63 record.
They have a 19.9 percent chance of winning with their own pick, plus a 2.8 percent chance of turning a pick owed them by the Los Angeles Clippers from the Baron Davis trade into the No. 1 selection. Cavs owner Dan Gilbert’s team will be represented on stage by his 14-year-old son, Nick, who was born with Neurofibromatosis (NF), a nerve disorder that causes tumors to grow anywhere in the body.
Toronto (15.6 percent), Washington (11.9 percent) and Sacramento (7.6 percent) round out the top five.
The Kings have lost ground in the lottery two years in a row but could have a winner in Johnson, who led the drive to keep them in Sacramento at least one more season. He came to New York last month and impressed NBA owners with a pitch that highlighted millions of dollars in sponsorship commitments, and team owners Joe and Gavin Maloof decided not to file for relocation to Anaheim.
Johnson said he was honored when the Maloofs asked him to represent the Kings. He took it as a sign of goodwill that the city and team can work together to finance a new arena.
Although Johnson played almost his entire career for the Phoenix Suns, he said when he was elected mayor of his hometown in 2008 that the Kings would forever be his favorite team.
“I’m going to negotiate with the Maloofs that if we get the No. 1 pick, then they’re going to have to sign me to a 10-day contract so I can wear a Kings uniform,” he said. “That’s my price of admission on this.”
The 14 teams that missed the playoffs are in the lottery. The lottery sets the top three picks, with the next 11 spots being determined in inverse order of a team’s record. So the Wolves can do no worse than No. 4.
Utah also has two chances of winning. The Jazz own the Nets’ pick, currently No. 6, from the Deron Williams trade, and their own spot is currently 12th.
The NBA draft is June 23 in Newark, N.J.
AP Sports Writer Antonio Gonzalez in Sacramento, Calif. contributed to this report.
Brian Mahoney on Twitter: http://twitter.com/briancmahoney.