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Pistons hope to reverse lack of draft lottery luck for Detroit sports

Matt Schoch
Special to The Detroit News

Does it seem like Detroit sports teams never get draft lottery luck?

That’s because, technically, our teams have never hit the jackpot.

The NBA was the first league to implement a draft lottery in 1985 with the NHL following a decade later.

Chris Webber

Since then, the Pistons and Red Wings have combined to go 0 for 17 in lotteries, never moving up a single spot, but tumbling down the order a combined 13 notches. Players such as Jack Hughes and Chris Webber were prizes the Wings and Pistons missed on in years they moved backward.

The Pistons could use a reversal of fortunes in Thursday's lottery to help bolster their rebuild. Detroit, with the fifth-best lottery odds, has a 10.5% chance of landing the first pick and a 42.1% chance of moving up to the top four.

Ugly history for Pistons

The Pistons have come up empty in their unlucky 13 lottery spins.

Detroit joins Minnesota (22 trips), Milwaukee (16), Dallas (15), Denver (14), Miami (11) and Utah (eight) as teams that have never moved up in the lottery.

However, Minnesota and Milwaukee have both landed first overall picks in years they were the league’s worst team, obviously the best they could’ve hoped for that season. The current Charlotte Hornets franchise has also never moved up, though the older version did three times.

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Meanwhile, Philadelphia (net gain of 18 spots overall) and the Los Angeles Clippers (plus-10) have each moved up seven different times in draft lotteries. The Pistons have lost a net of five spots, moving down one slot in five different seasons and staying put in eight others.

But the best average lottery luck has been enjoyed by San Antonio, which has moved up all three times it has been in the lottery, selecting David Robinson, Sean Elliott and Tim Duncan. The Spurs return to the lottery Thursday for the first time since 1997 after snapping their 22-year playoff streak. They are slotted with the 11th-best lottery odds of 14 teams.

The Pistons only “won” a lottery in 1994, getting the third spot and taking Grant Hill. However, with the league’s second-worst record, landing at three was actually a net loss.

However, while it wasn’t technically them doing the moving that year, a case could be made that the Pistons had one of the most fortunate lottery turns of all-time once.

Luckiest lottery turns sour

The Pistons struck gold in 2003, only to blow it with a whiff of a pick.

The Memphis Grizzlies moved up from sixth to second but were forced to convey the pick to Detroit in the years-long aftermath of a 1997 trade where the Pistons sent Otis Thorpe to then-Vancouver for a conditional first.

Darko Milicic

The protections slowly loosened over the years, and going into the 2003 lottery, Memphis would only keep its pick if it was first overall.

That led to a dramatic TV moment where Memphis general manager Jerry West was one spot away from landing LeBron James but instead got nothing as the Grizzlies landed at No. 2.

It also meant the Pistons would pick second in maybe the best NBA Draft ever. They famously fumbled, taking Darko Milicic instead of Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh or Dwyane Wade, a move that has followed Joe Dumars around since.

Dumars is back in the lottery this year with Sacramento, as he was named interim general manager of the Kings last week.

The Kings have the 12th-best lottery odds.

Red Wings keep moving on down 

Most Detroit sports fans maybe didn’t even know there was an NHL draft lottery until recently.

The Red Wings made the playoffs 25 straight seasons during the lottery’s early days and were not eligible as the league’s early system moved the lottery winner up a maximum of four spots from 1995 until 2012.

The format has moved more toward the volatile NBA model since then, further hurting the league’s worst teams in an effort to discourage tanking. Since 2016, instead of one lottery winner, the top three picks were now up for grabs.

The following year, the Red Wings entered the lottery for the first time, and have been 0 for 4 since, moving down an average of two spots per year.

This year, the NHL’s worst team by 23 points, Detroit fell from the draft’s first position all the way down to fourth. The New York Rangers, who qualified for the NHL's bubble but missed the playoffs, moved into position to nab Alexis Lafreniere at No. 1.

Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.