There is the slimmest of hope that a ping-pong ball might save the 76ers.

There is a 1-in-20 chance that an airless golf ball might tidy the mess the Sixers have become.

On May 18 in Secaucus, N.J., the NBA will hold its draft lottery. The Sixers hold a handful of ping-pong balls - far fewer than teams such as the New Jersey Nets and Minnesota Timberwolves. The Sixers have a 5.3 percent chance of winning the No. 1 pick in the 2010 NBA draft.

A 5.3 percent chance of earning the right to draft Kentucky point guard John Wall, a stroke of luck that would spin the franchise to safety from its current ledge.

Without a fortuitous bounce, the Sixers will remain a mismatched roster with no coach, a franchise run by a general manager without ownership's backing, a team that continues to be one of the NBA's least desirable locations for free agents.

If odds hold true, the Sixers will have the No. 6 selection June 24, date of the 2010 draft. It would be the team's highest draft position since it selected Keith Van Horn with the No. 2 pick in 1997.

If odds break against them, the Sixers can drop to No. 7 or 8 - even No. 9, if things bounce remarkably unpredictably.

Essentially, the Sixers are like a gambler who has hit bottom. Either the final bet with their final dollar - a flier taken on the roulette wheel while shuffling out of the casino - will miraculously resurrect them, or they'll be forced to do it the old-fashioned way: through a decent draft pick, trades, maneuvering, good coaching, some game-planning, and of course, hard work.

And it will take years.

Come June 24, the Sixers must draft one of two positions: shooting guard or center.

Shooting guard is the more pressing need, but because Ohio State's Evan Turner is a near-lock to be drafted at No. 2, and since the Sixers have a habit of drafting not by need but by best available, it's likely they'd consider Cole Aldrich, a 6-foot-11 center from Kansas.

Most mock drafts have the top five slots filled by Wall, Turner, 6-10 forward Derrick Favors from Georgia Tech, 6-11 center-forward DeMarcus Cousins from Kentucky, and 6-7 forward Wesley Johnson from Syracuse.

Turner is the guy the Sixers need: a 6-7 shooting guard who can easily create his own shot, a talent unlike anyone on their roster.

After Turner, the draft's pool of shooting guards - Kansas' Xavier Henry and Oklahoma State's James Anderson should be mid-round picks - is much shallower than its collection of big men. Eight of the draft's top 15 prospects are listed at 6-10 or taller.

The Sixers' starting center, Samuel Dalembert, will be in the final year of his contract next season, a fact about which most of the team's fans are ecstatic.

That combination of big-man talent and Dalembert's expiring contract might leave Sixers brass with no choice but to select a big man and then forge into the NBA's off-season wilderness with the single-minded focus of getting a starting shooting guard.

Right now, the Sixers feel like a desperate franchise. And chances are that on May 19, they still will be.

But there are some small, white, plastic balls that could turn that desperation into relief.