NEW YORK — Pat Williams is pretty good at being lucky, and he’s got a hunch.
“I got a funny feeling that this could be another Magic year, here. For some reason, I’ve just got the feel,” Williams said.
Orlando sure could use it.
Following a difficult first season after trading Dwight Howard, the Magic are hoping Williams can bring them more lottery luck.
Armed with the best odds and their three-time winner back on stage, the Magic will try to jump-start the rebuilding process tonight by landing the rights to the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft.
Williams has won four times, including victories in 1992, ’93 and 2004 with the Magic. They used the most recent one to draft Howard, and no team since has entered with the best odds and won the lottery.
The Magic were back in the lottery the next two years but were busy playing in the postseason every spring since until this one, when they finished an NBA-worst 20-62 after sending Howard to the Los Angeles Lakers last August in a four-team deal.
That gives them a 25 percent chance at winning the rights to choose first in a draft that appears uncertain. Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel is considered the top choice, though he could miss the first two months of the season while recovering from a torn ACL.
Williams, the longtime team executive, thinks a victory would give the Magic and their fans a boost.
“And obviously, to be in that first slot, it gives you lots of flexibility,” he said. “Even in a year like this when there a lot of uncertainties with the draft — there doesn’t appear to be a franchise turner, but there are lots of good players in this draft who will have NBA careers.”
Williams, in good spirits and saying he feels well 2 1/2 years after being diagnosed with blood cancer, jokes about his lottery history. The Magic celebrate it, with pingpong balls in their trophy case.
He’s been so good that the NBA was forced to change the lottery process after Orlando’s second victory. The Magic won the 1992 lottery and picked Shaquille O’Neal, then barely missed the playoffs in his rookie season. Yet they won again with just one pingpong ball out of 66, swapping the rights to Chris Webber for Penny Hardaway, and starting with the 1994 lottery the NBA tweaked the system to give the worst team an even better chance to win and making it nearly impossible for the lottery team with the best record to pull the upset.
The biggest loser now has 250 chances out of 1,000 but keeps coming up empty. The Charlotte Bobcats had the worst winning percentage in NBA history last season but slipped to No. 2, missing their chance to pick college player of the year Anthony Davis.
Davis will be at the Times Square Studios tonight to represent New Orleans in the Pelicans’ introduction for much of the national audience. The former Hornets’ name change became official at the end of the regular season.
The Pelicans have the fifth-best odds at 8.8 percent. Charlotte is second at 19.9 percent, followed by Cleveland (15.6) and Phoenix (11.9).
The lottery has supplanted the playoffs as Cleveland’s offseason destination. The Cavaliers are in the lottery for the third straight year, a run that began when LeBron James packed his bags and headed for Miami
Cavs owner Dan Gilbert, who also has a string of casinos throughout Ohio, will be hoping for a little luck when the pingpong balls drop. The Cavs won the lottery in 2011 and used the No. 1 overall pick on point guard Kyrie Irving, who was named an All-Star this past season.
Last year, the Cavs picked fourth and chose Dion Waiters, who had a solid rookie season.
Cleveland has four of the top 33 picks — Nos. 19, 31 and 33 — in this year’s draft and intend to add some talent and depth for coach Mike Brown, who Gilbert has brought back after firing him three years ago.
The draft is June 27 at Barclays Center, home of the Brooklyn Nets.
Williams and the Magic have been gone so long that he isn’t even sure the setup in the new location, after it was held for years in Secaucus, N.J., at an old NBA Entertainment studio.
“We’ll have to see if we still have our Magic touch in the next decade,” he said. “But we’re ready, we come loaded for bear. We worked hard and earned our 25 percent chance through 82 games, and that puts us in the pole position here.”
AP Sports Writer Tom Withers in Cleveland contributed to this report.
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