SECAUCUS, N.J. - The Chicago Bulls expected to be in the playoffs, not the lottery.
This will ease the sting a little. The Bulls won the NBA's draft lottery Tuesday night, giving them the right to choose between star freshmen Michael Beasley and Derrick Rose. Coming off a miserable season and still without a coach, the Bulls vaulted from the No. 9 spot, where they had just a 1.7 per cent chance of landing the top choice.
"After this season, we needed a break and I think we just got one tonight," said Steve Schanwald, the Bulls' executive vice president of business operations who represented them on the podium.
Chicago will almost certainly choose between Beasley, the Kansas State forward who averaged 26.5 points and an NCAA-best 12.4 rebounds, or Rose, the point guard who carried Memphis within minutes of the national title.
"We'll have an opportunity to get close to those guys. We'll really take a long look at what makes the most sense for our basketball team," executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson said on a conference call. "Having the pick puts you in a unique position to make your team better.
"I certainly understand this was pure luck. Now it's our job to make the most of it."
The Miami Heat, who had a 25 per cent chance of landing the top pick thanks to their NBA-worst 15-67 record, fell to second. The Minnesota Timberwolves will go third.
The Seattle SuperSonics, who moved up to No. 2 last year to pick Rookie of the Year Kevin Durant, fell from second to fourth. Memphis will pick fifth, followed by New York, the Los Angeles Clippers, Milwaukee, Charlotte and New Jersey.
Indiana has the 11th pick, followed by Sacramento, Portland and Golden State. The lottery settled the top three spots. The remainder of the first 14 picks are determined inverse order of their record.
The NBA draft will be held June 26 in New York.
Chicago came into the season with high expectations after reaching the Eastern Conference semifinals last season. But the Bulls never recovered from a dismal start and finished 33-49. They fired coach Scott Skiles on Christmas Eve and have already decided not to retain interim coach Jim Boylan.
The Bulls failed to land the coach they wanted, Mike D'Antoni, but the position became much more appealing Tuesday, giving them a chance to draft first for only the second time. The Bulls, who took Elton Brand No. 1 in 1999, could turn this time to hometown star Rose, who D'Antoni said was like Jason Kidd with a jump shot.
"Everybody was picking us to go to the conference finals last year, actually to the NBA finals because we won 49 games the year before and pushed the Detroit Pistons to six games in the second round last year and we have a very exciting good corps of young players, and we added Joakim Noah to that mix," Schanwald said. "Now we will get a chance to add another great player, a really great player. So it is very exciting for us."
Chicago got the No. 2 and 9 picks the last two years from New York as a result of the trade for Eddy Curry. Schanwald gave a fist pump early on when he realized he would move up, then took a deep breath and pumped both fists after beating out the Heat, represented by All-Star guard Dwyane Wade.
Only twice have teams with the worst record won the lottery since the current format began in 1994. Though the lottery is weighted to give teams with the poorest records the best chance to win, the long shots keep finding a way.
Last year, Portland and Seattle moved up to grab the top spots, taking Greg Oden and Durant. Again, two star freshmen are the top prizes.
"Obviously the lottery as a precursor to the draft is a time of great hope," commissioner David Stern said.
The Bulls already had a busy off-season planned. Besides hiring a coach, they have to make contract offers to restricted free agents Luol Deng and Ben Gordon.
Now they've got another decision: Beasley or Rose?
"As I sit here tonight, what I think is again you've got two players who are different and unique," Paxson said. "One is point guard. The point guard is a natural leadership position on a team. It's something every team covets. And the other ... just has the unique ability to put the ball in the basket, just will be a go-to scorer.
"I'm certainly not going to throw myself into this thing and do something quickly."
Nor will the Heat. President Pat Riley likes both players, but implied the pick could even be traded.
"Based on their performance and what they did in one season, both of them showed that they can help their team win," Riley said. "Both showed enough physical maturity to be dominant at times as a 19-year-old. All of the intangibles when it comes to competitive desire and when it comes to leadership and character and all of those things, we still have a lot of work to do in terms of a lot of players in the draft."
The Bulls' surprising victory should quickly restore interest in the underachieving team. Interviewed immediately following the result, Schanwald read the number for callers to buy season tickets.
"I thought it was a waste of time. I thought coming here was an absolute waste of time. I knew I would get a great meal out of it, but I thought it was a waste of time," Schanwald said of the Bulls' chances.
"I'm on top of the world. I feel great. It's the most exciting day of my life."
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