Sure, there's hope, but little believing

The Wolves, and some folks with insight on luck, aren't predicting an upgrade in the team's draft lot.

By Kent Youngblood, Star Tribune

Last update: May 21, 2007 – 11:46 PM

There will be no talismans for Kevin McHale. The Timberwolves vice president used to play basketball, but he never thought much of ping-pong.

But, of course, he'll watch.

For the 11th time, the Timberwolves will take part in the NBA's draft lottery. The hope at Target Center is that the team, currently seventh, will improve its draft lot for the first time.

Randy Foye will be representing the Wolves in Secaucus, N.J. tonight, toting holy water from Lourdes, France ... but McHale definitely will not be clutching a lucky charm while he watches.

"They do it like a bingo machine," McHale said. "I'm not a big believer in that bingo machine luck. What will happen will happen."

The Wolves have been disappointed when it comes to the draft lottery. Remember? They had the league's worst record in 1992, but dropped to No. 3 when Shaquille O'Neal and Alonzo Mourning were available. Hello, Christian Laettner. A year later, the league's second-worst record turned into a No. 5 pick. Indeed, in 10 spins in the NBA lottery the Wolves never have moved up.

Could this be the year? There are two players everyone has atop the list: big men Greg Oden and Kevin Durant. The 7-0 Oden is an athletic shot-changer and rebounder, two skills McHale would very much like to add. At 6-10 Durant is drawing comparisons to Kevin Garnett and Dirk Nowitzki.

The Wolves have a 5.3 percent chance of moving into the top spot and a 6 percent shot at No. 2. So break out the lucky charms right after dinner. Or not.

"We'll find out," McHale said. "Talking about ping-pong balls is like ... well, that's all blind luck. I don't believe wearing a charm will help whatsoever."

Perhaps not. But in search of insight into the Wolves' immediate future, the Star Tribune asked three people to lend their expertise: Phylis Breth who, along with 15 co-workers dubbed the Holdingford Lunch Ladies, split a winning Powerball lottery ticket back in 2003; Douglas N. Arnold, director of the Institute for Mathematics and its Applications and a professor of mathematics at the University of Minnesota; and a professional Twin Cities astrologer named Moonrabbit, whose chart on the team could be revealing.

Shining stars

So is good fortune in the stars for the Wolves?

To find out, we asked Moonrabbit to chart the team, using the day the NBA awarded the franchise as the birth date. The results?

"They were started under a pattern of energy that makes them tend to feel like 'victims of circumstance' or scapegoats," Moonrabbit reported. "The team pattern falls into 'giving their power away' to external forces rather than having a sense of inner power. They also have a tendency to repeat mistakes."

So what about the team's chances for tonight?

"The stars indicate a major disappointment," she said. "I'm afraid there is no immediate change in store for them."

The cold, hard facts

Forget thoughts of conspiracy, Arnold said. Just look at the numbers. Even back in 1992, when the Wolves lost out on Shaquille O'Neal, the chances of the team with the worst record getting the first pick was only 16.7 percent. (Though it should be noted that, starting the following year, the NBA tweaked the lottery so that those odds improved to 25 percent.)

Even today, odds are far greater that the Wolves will stay put or move down rather than jump up.

"Did you know that every single team in the lottery, except for the top two, has a better chance to move down than move up?" Arnold said.

Of course, that doesn't stop people from looking for ways to influence their luck.

"Now you're talking psychology," Arnold said. "We all know about the experiments where you teach rats to push a bar to get food. Well, they've done experiments where they gave food at random moments. Whatever they were doing at that time, they do it more. You start getting some weird behavior; one rat spins in circles to get food."

That doesn't mean that something against the odds won't happen. Indeed, it's likely. Roughly speaking, the Wolves' chances of moving into the top three are akin to someone tossing a die and getting the number they're looking for. "Now, if there are a bunch of people sitting around throwing dice looking for a number, somebody's going to get it."

So maybe this is the Wolves' year.

Go with the flow

Four years after getting her slice of the Powerball pie, Breth still has her feet firmly on the ground. She still works at the local high school and still puts 25 cents a week into the lottery pool.

So does a former lottery winner have some advice for the Wolves? Well, for starters, don't worry about the past. Because before her big win, Breth wasn't particularly lucky herself.

"Even now I'm not that lucky," she said.

She cited a local fundraiser for proof.

"They were selling chances and I bought probably 113 chances and didn't win a gol-dang thing," she said. "So do you think that's lucky? My daughter and her husband bought maybe three and they won something."

So, does Breth have some advice for the Wolves?

"Jeepers, I never thought of this," she said. "I believe their ship will come in. Just go with the flow and things will work out."

Kent Youngblood •