On the surface, it appears that the Phoenix Suns will have four prime picks in the 2016 NBA draft. They need at least one of those picks to become a future cornerstone player for the franchise if they are ever going to climb out of lotto doldrums. Picking at 4th - or even riding up into the Top 3 - will give the Suns their best chance at a star from the draft in a long time.
But the reality is that the draft lottery on May 17 could turn the Suns fortunes in ways ugly enough to make Suns fans feel... like Suns fans.
Right now, before the lotto balls are sucked into the tube, the Suns will have the 4th overall pick (their own), 13th (Washington's, for Morris), 28th (Cleveland's, for Thomas) and 34th (their own). A perusal of draftexpress.com comes up with the Suns adding a potential defensive and multi-talented force in small forward Jaylen Brown, a raw, athletic power forward in Deyonta Davis and a couple of draft stash big men with the later picks.
By picking early and late in the lottery, the Suns have the luxury of reaching for at least one high-ceiling project while also taking a safer, ready-now player for 2016-17 contributions.
There's little chance that GM Ryan McDonough will take two old players with the lottery picks (for example, 23-year old Kris Dunn at #4 and 23-year old Denzel Valentine at #13). While Dunn - assuming a trade that allows for playing time - and Valentine - think of a shorter Jared Dudley - would be ready to contribute immediately, they don't profile as McDonough picks. Alex Len, Archie Goodwin, T.J. Warren, Tyler Ennis and Devin Booker were all among the youngest available at their pick.
Yet, it's quite possible that if the Suns really love a ready-now player, they could take that player while also using the other pick for a long-term project to satisfy that itch. Or, McDonough could go full McD and take two long-term projects. He could roll the dice on a Dragan Bender at the top, then also take a Thon Maker or Marquese Chriss later on.
Don't forget the Suns are trying to bring over Bogdan Bogdanovic for next year too, so drafting a shooting guard is the least likely outcome of the lottery range of this draft.
If the Suns get lucky, and their 37% chance of jumping into the Top 3 pans out, they could walk away with a player more likely to become a franchise cornerstone. Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram possess skillsets that could make them very dangerous in the NBA for a long, long time.
Taking one of those players makes the late-lotto pick even more of a cherry on top.
Another benefit of having the 4th, 13th, 28th and 34th picks on draft night is the ability to shift around the draft board.
The Suns aren't the only team with a handful of picks in that range, though. The Celtics right now own the 3rd (thanks Nets!), 17th, 21st, 31st and 35th picks. The Nuggets have the 7th, 15th and 18th picks. The Sixers right now have the 1st, 24th and 26th picks.
None of the Suns, Celtics, Sixers or Nuggets will want to bring that many rookies to camp. Expect a few draft night trades to occur, but don't expect as much as these teams want. It's tough to move around significantly on draft night. Remember 2013 where McDonough desperately wanted to move from 30 and ended up barely moving one spot. And then in 2014, he wanted to move around with the 18th and 27th picks, but couldn't get anything done. And then in 2015, he tried to move up from 13 into the 9th or 10th spots, only to be rebuffed.
But I do think the Suns have ammo this year they didn't have in prior years: that 34th pick.
The 34th pick is valuable because it represents a non-guaranteed salary slot AND is not subject to rookie scale contracts for later draft-and-stash considerations. Most front offices consider high second-round picks more valuable than low first-round picks these days.
That means that maybe the Suns and Celtics, who have three of the top five second-round picks in their pocket, have ammo over the Nuggets and Sixers.
Of course, all this could go very south and leave the Suns with a much lesser chance to significantly improve their team, and it's all up to the lotto balls.
With ten teams (currently ranked 5th-14th) behind the Suns with their own lotto combinations, it's quite possible that the Suns could be leap-frogged three times, leaving the Suns with the 7th overall pick instead of 4th or higher.
And it's possible that one of those teams who jumps up is Washington, which would allow them to keep their pick this year and defer the Morris trade remuneration to next year (Top-9 protected).
And it's possible that the Lakers suffer the same fate as the Suns, and drop out of the Top 3, which would covey that coveted Laker pick to Philadelphia this year. You remember that pick, don't you?
If all those things happen, you could see the Sixers picking twice ahead of the Suns, and the Suns left with the 7th, 28th and 34th picks (instead of 4th, 13th, 28th and 34th).
For the coming decade, you could potentially watch Jamal Murray and Brandon Ingram light it up for the Sixers, while the Suns settle for Buddy Hield to fight Brandon Knight, Devin Booker and Bogdan for playing time.
Swallow hard, Suns fans. Get ready for worst-case scenario.