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ESSAY: How Wembanyama draft lottery could affect Nets off-season

The Nets weren’t on the dias Tuesday night when the Draft Lottery went down, but what happened could affect them.

NBA: G League-Boulogne-Levallois Metropolitans at Ignite Lucas Peltier-USA TODAY Sports

The crowds in San Antonio were ecstatic. In bars and in cars along Commerce Avenue, the city’s main drag, they were celebrating winning the NBA Draft Lottery. Victor Wembanyama will be theirs as of June 22. In Charlotte and in Portland there was not so much celebrating despite moving up in the lottery. The Hornets now have the No. 2 pick and the Blazers No. 3. The eyes were on the prize, the 7’5” (in shoes) Frenchman.

The Nets of course were not at the table in Chicago waiting for Mark Tatum to reveal the draft order. In fact, the last time the Nets were in the lottery was 2010 where despite having the worst record in the league (12-70) finished third.

That said, if the Nets do indeed have interest in Damian Lillard, the lottery could probably be considered good news. Perhaps if the Blazers got Wembanyama, Damian Lillard might have been tempted to stay. But will Brandon Miller or Scoot Henderson fill the bill, keep him in Portland? Seems doubtful. He has said he doesn’t want any part of a rebuild at age 32, going on 33.

The Blazers, of course, would like to hang on to Lillard who averaged 32.0 points a game last season and has been the face of the franchise for a decade. But they’ve been warned.

“I’m just not interested in that. That’s not a secret,” Lillard said in April when asked about adding another young player. “I want a chance to go for it ... “And if the route is to [build through the draft], that’s not my route.”

Lillard said then that he isn’t looking for more “19-year-olds.” He’s looking instead for players who “move the needle” and for more veterans around him.

And Joe Cronin, the Blazers GM, seemed to say last night that the Blazers haven’t decided whether to keep the pick, take the third best player, in the Draft or move it and get a player who Lillard would be happy to play with...

“There is going to be some really good players at 3 that could be great for us or somebody else, depending on how we approach this draft.” (Emphasis added.)

“We’re a team that’s trying to win and trying to maximize Damian’s timeline,” he added in talking with Yahoo! Sports.

We’re a team that’s trying to win and trying to maximize Damian’s timeline. This was an important night for us,” Cronin told Yahoo. “Front offices around the league think highly of this draft, so you would think that a lot of teams that were sitting (on stage) tonight will be getting a lot of calls from teams trying to move up and maneuver.”

Jason Quick, who has covered the Blazers for the entirety of Lillard’s career, wrote Wednesday that Lillard has a reputation for being thoughtful about what he says. Quick believes that Cronin is going to seek a complementary star for Lillard.

If we are to take Damian Lillard and what he says seriously, the Portland Trail Blazers will trade the No. 3 pick that was just awarded to them Tuesday at the NBA Draft Lottery.

Depending on a lot of things, getting the right value for the pick might be difficult. There are questions about both Miller and Henderson. Although the 2023 Draft is considered strong, there is a big drop-off after Wembanyama is taken. On the other hand, teams faced with financial and flexibility concerns under the new CBA might want to take a chance. By all accounts, it’s going to be a hectic off-season all around the league.

If Lillard does decide it’s time to move on, there are a number of reasons to believe that the Nets will be in the mix. He is very close to Mikal Bridges who he regards as the best small forward in the NBA. After Lillard showed up at Game 3 of the 76ers sweep, rumors swirled. Despite a claim that he was in New York to discuss his next album — and couldn’t get Knicks tickets — it was the first time in his career that he had attended another team’s game. Then after the game, Bridges partied with Lillard. League executives believe that the Nets will, if given the opportunity, pursue Lillard with one league source telling NetsDaily that Brooklyn has “heavy interest.”

There will be competition. Lillard even hinted last night that he might want to team up with Wembanyama in San Antonio!

In response to CBS Sports’ Steve Futterman’s tweet asking, “Could it be Vic and Dame??” in the Alamo City, Lillard replied with a simple yet cryptic “If so”.

Getting Lillard of course would cost the Nets in draft picks and in talent. One league source speculated the package would have to include a lot of the picks the Nets acquired in those deadline deals for Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving and he added the Blazers would want Nic Claxton, maybe even a sign-and-trade of Cam Johnson, in return.

Would going down the superstar road appeal to the fan base. Lillard is a great player who lest we forget had a 71-point game this season, but he played only 87 games the last two season. That’s 15 less than KD.

Of course, at this point, the fan base is divided, with some pushing for Lillard, others suggesting the Nets take a middle course of winning while retooling and still others want Brooklyn to go into full rebuild mode. That last option seems like the least likely based on Sean Marks remarks at the end-of-season press conference. But things can change. They may very well have last night.