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The Globe and Mail

Lottery set to shake up Eastern Conference

Tuesday night in suburban New Jersey the lottery balls will tumble and life in the NBA will be very different for the Toronto Raptors.

Win the draft lottery and the Raptors would be an 'it' franchise again. Unfortunately, the more likely scenario is the opposite - no lottery surprise and a long stretch of competitive irrelevance as a franchise on the outside looking in.

But there is a chance, though not much of one (as the 13th worst team in the league the Raptors' odds of winning the lottery are 0.6 per cent), of coming home with the No. 1 pick.

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In a class considered both talented and deep, the emerging consensus is that the best player is John Wall, the electric freshman at the University of Kentucky who, in a skipped heartbeat, would provide the Raptors - or whoever ends up picking No. 1 - with the kind of pace-changing, game-changing, penetrating, scoring point guard essential in the 'look ma, no hands' school of defence mandated by the league now.

To let imaginations run wild for a moment, Wall would instantly be on the fast track to becoming the Raptors franchise player, whether free-agent-to-be Chris Bosh stays or not. Although if Wall did end up in Toronto you can be sure Bosh would too.

That's fantasy stuff to be sure. Chances are the Raptors will be picking 13th, with a chance to find some useful talent, but hardly a franchise player.

But that doesn't mean the Raptors won't be watching with interest. The whole NBA will, as the league heads into an unprecedented period in which a handful of people will hold the competitive balance of the entire enterprise hostage.

If the lottery unfolds as expected, the New Jersey Nets will pick No. 1, compensation for their 12-70 regular season embarrassment. They'll take Wall. Then things get interesting in a way the landscape of the NHL was interesting when Alan Eagleson had his fingers in every pie, or the way major league baseball's off-seasons are interesting when super agent Scott Boras is holding all the cards.

It works like this: Wall was coached at Kentucky by John Calipari. Calipari is represented by Creative Artist Agency (CAA), the same outfit that LeBron James's agent, Leon Rose, works for. And yes, it seems more than a coincidence that Rose and Calipari were sitting together courtside at Game 5 of the Cavaliers second-round series against Boston. Further twisting the plot: Henry Thomas - the same Henry Thomas who represents Dwayne Wade - sold his agency to CAA earlier this year. Thomas, for those keeping score at home, is also Bosh's agent.

Lurking behind it all is William Wesley, long known in NBA circles as one of the sport's most influential power brokers, though one who has traditionally operated in the shadows. But word is Wesley is going public, running CAA's coaching division. His first client? That would be Calipari.

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If the lottery balls fall just right, the Nets - now owned by Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov (along with minority shareholder, Rap mogul and James mentor Jay-Z) - pick Wall, use their massive dollops of cap space to sign James and perhaps one other star-calibre talent (Bosh maybe?) to create a budding dynasty just in time for the Nets move from the swamplands of Jersey to the cool confines of Brooklyn, with Calipari as James's hand-picked coach.

If they don't? There are other possibilities: Calipari also coached emerging Chicago Bulls star Derrick Rose. The Bulls also have enough cap space to add James and another piece or two, as well as some promising young talent (Joakim Noah; Taj Gibson) that might provide the framework for Eastern Conference domination. Maybe it's a matter of James installing Calipari as head coach in Cleveland, replacing Mike Brown. The Knicks have cap space to sign James and another star; as do the Miami Heat. And any scenario involving James and Wade will inevitably impact on Bosh and the Raptors.

It's dizzying, really, but the fact is the look of the Eastern Conference and the NBA is due for a major makeover; one that threatens to affect the competitive balance of the conference for years to come. The fate of nearly a half-dozen franchises in the hands of James and his small band of merry men.

For the Raptors, it makes tonight's NBA lottery more like the weekly lotteries most people play. Yes they have a ticket, but what are the odds they win anything, really?

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