BRIAN MAHONEY, AP Basketball
NEW YORK (AP) — After a painful wait for a new owner, the search for a new star was a breeze for the New Orleans Hornets.
All it took was a little luck of the draw.
And Anthony Davis can’t wait to play as a pro in the city where he won a championship in college.
The Hornets, recently sold by the NBA to Saints owner Tom Benson, won the league’s draft lottery Wednesday and the No. 1 pick overall — which they almost certainly will use to select the consensus college player of the year who led Kentucky to a national title.
He could be joined by another young piece, as the Hornets also have the No. 10 pick.
“I’m excited for our fans, especially those people who hung in there with us,” said coach Monty Williams, who represented the Hornets on stage and insisted his team keep playing hard as its difficult season was ending, even though it could have hurt its chances of landing a high pick.
“I’m excited for the Benson family. They bought this organization without knowing what pick we were going to have. And yet I’m mindful of all the work that is going to have to be done for us to be a good team. You can’t skip those steps. … Those two young guys can’t help us become a championship team overnight. We’ve got to address a lot of issues.”
So do the Charlotte Bobcats, who added one more loss to a historic season full of them. Michael Jordan‘s team had the best shot at the No. 1 pick after the worst season in NBA history, but instead fell to the No. 2 spot.
No such disappointment for the Hornets, whose good fortune comes after a difficult season in which they traded All-Star Chris Paul and a couple of years in limbo where they couldn’t do much to upgrade the roster while the league was looking for a buyer.
“Just a first step for us to winning it all,” Benson said in a TV interview after the lottery.
The Hornets moved up from the fourth spot, where they had a 13.7 percent chance, to earn the pick.
“Everything was surreal once they announced the fourth pick,” Williams said. “I said ‘This is pretty cool.’ I knew my wife and kids were home praying that things would go well and they did.”
The Bobcats had a 25 percent chance of grabbing the No. 1 pick after going 7-59, lowest winning percentage in NBA history. Instead they will have to take the best player after Davis, possibly his teammate, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Washington will pick third and Cleveland fell one spot to fourth.
The team with the worst record hasn’t won since Orlando drafted Dwight Howard in 2004.
“We will still take the best player available and when you win seven games you have a lot of holes,” Bobcats general manager Rich Cho said. “From a competitive standpoint and for anyone who has played sports or been competitive, you want to win and be No. 1. We know we’re still going to get a good player.”
Cho and team vice chairman Curtis Polk said shortly after the results they hadn’t heard from Jordan, the Bobcats owner.
“Being No. 2 isn’t terrible. We’ll be fine,” Polk said.
The league bought the Hornets from financially struggling owner George Shinn in December 2010 and the sale to Benson was completed in April. In between, the NBA was criticized for the conflict of interest of a league owning a franchise, particularly when Commissioner David Stern blocked a trade that would have sent Paul to the Lakers in December, then approved another that landed Paul with the Clippers.
The ownership uncertainty hindered the Hornets, but they were in a celebrating mood Wednesday after earning the No. 1 pick for the first time since 1991, when they were still in Charlotte and took Larry Johnson.
General manager Dell Demps said he pumped his fist in the room where the drawing took place after seeing that the balls had been drawn in the Hornets‘ favor.
“When our combination came up, it was an exciting feeling,” he said. “I got an incredible rush. … We knew what the odds were. We hoped for the best. It was nothing we could control. We’re just happy.”
The Hornets finished 21-45, winning eight of their final 13 games with a young roster. Williams and his players felt it would be wrong to do anything but try to win down the stretch, and they were rewarded.
“Obviously, we’re very excited,” Demps said. “This is a great day for the city of New Orleans, our fans. … This is the start of a new beginning.”
Though they didn’t officially say it, it’s expected to start with Davis. One of the most dominant defensive college players in years, he earned Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four even as he went 1 for 10 from the field in the championship game. He blocked a record-tying six shots and had 16 rebounds and three steals in the Wildcats’ 67-59 victory over Kansas.
“Davis is not LeBron. He’s not Tim (Duncan). But they were young once and Tim had four years of college,” Williams said.
The Nets were the other big loser when they stayed in the No. 6 spot. They owed their pick to Portland for this season’s Gerald Wallace trade unless they moved into the top three.
The Cavs beat the odds last year and moved up to take Kyrie Irving, the eventual Rookie of the Year, and tried to follow the same formula. Nick Gilbert, the 15-year-old son of owner Dan Gilbert, was back on the podium in his bow tie, and the Cavs’ traveling party that included Dan Gilbert, and former Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar and current Browns players Josh Cribbs and Joe Haden sported the same dress.
But there was no repeat, as the Cavs went backward this time.
“Still feel very good about (number)4 pick,” Dan Gilbert wrote on his Twitter page. “We are getting a great player there and good additions w/our other 3 picks. I believe.”
Sacramento rounds out the top five of the draft, to be held June 28 in Newark, N.J.
The Golden State Warriors stayed at No. 7, meaning they get to keep their pick instead of having to trade it to Utah. The Trail Blazers also will have two lottery selections, the Nets’ and their own at No. 11.
AP Sports Writer Brett Martel in New Orleans contributed to this report.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.