Entering Tuesday night, the Timberwolves never had improved their position in the NBA’s annual game of chance, the May draft lottery.
They still haven’t.
This time, they dropped down in the draft order for the ninth time in their 19 lottery trips, and they will select seventh overall rather than sixth in the June 22 draft.
Turning back the calendar, Tuesday night’s big winners were the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers, just like the NBA of the 1980s.
The Celtics will draft first, the Lakers second and Philadelphia will select third after a past trade enabled them to swap picks with Sacramento.
Two point guards — Washington freshman Markelle Fultz and UCLA freshman Lonzo Ball — are generally considered the draft’s top two prospects. Kansas’ Josh Jackson, Duke’s Jayson Tatum and Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox complete a consensus top five.
If the Wolves don’t trade the pick for a veteran or move down or up in the draft, they likely will choose from among Florida State forward Jonathan Isaac, Arizona forward Lauri Markkanen and possibly Kentucky guard Malik Monk with the seventh overall pick.
At last week’s NBA draft combine, Wolves coach/president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau called shooting his team’s biggest need and all three players — Monk and Markkanen, in particular — would address that need.
A blind draw with New York slotted the Wolves sixth in the draft after each team finished with identical 31-51 records, but the Wolves gave up that one slot when the Kings leapfrogged them by finishing third, if only long enough to swap with the Sixers.
“If the question is would I rather be sixth than seventh, then yes I would,” Thibodeau said last week. “But it comes down to we have to study, we have to prepare and we have to determine what will fit us best … Obviously, we have a lot of needs. We’ll determine who’s the best available player and how they fit, thinking about where we are and where we want to go.”
The Wolves have drafted seventh twice in their history: They took center Luc Longley in 1991 and swingman Corey Brewer in 2007.
The Eastern Conference finalist Celtics turned its lottery-best 25 percent chance into the draft’s first pick, thanks to a lopsided trade once upon a time with Brooklyn that gives them the league-worst Nets’ pick next month.
On Wednesday night, they’ll play Cleveland in the Eastern Conference finals’ opener. On Tuesday, they won the draft lottery armed with the best odds thanks to a 2013 trade that sent aging Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to Brooklyn for a package of draft picks that already has rewarded Boston with rookie Jaylen Brown and next month’s top pick.
The Celtics got the first pick 20 years after they lost out on the chance to win it and draft Tim Duncan.
“I wish I could see that well into the future,” Celtics general manager Danny Ainge said winning the No. 1 pick. “Never in our wildest imagination did we think we’d get a player like Jaylen Brown and the No. 1 pick in this draft. I remember at the time we made that trade, I was envious of Brooklyn, where they were headed and where we headed. But never did I imagine this would happen.”
The Lakers and new basketball boss Magic Johnson kept their pick, which would have been forfeited to Philadelphia had it not been among the first three picks.
By finishing second Tuesday, the Lakers kept their pick, but Johnson still finished second to Boston, just as he did by losing once and winning twice in three NBA Finals meetings three decades ago.
“I still hate them,” Johnson told reporters after the lottery was conducted at a New York City hotel.