In Cleveland, the next draft always seems to be the most important event in franchise history. The Browns were at yet another precipice and holding three early picks this year, and the 2012 Draft was expected to define this regime. With their second quarterback selection in three years, this is likely the draft that will make or break the front office. They’re running out of time, and they’re all in.
The Cavaliers landed their franchise piece last season and are in a much more comfortable position, but that doesn’t make this draft any less important. Cavs’ fans are well aware that time is a valuable commodity in the NBA. In this era of player movement, a championship contender can become a lottery team overnight. Dan Gilbert says we’re now building “with” players instead of “around” them. Regardless of semantics, the clock still ticks on a build.
In the recently announced All-NBA teams, four of the five first-team players have a teammate on either the second or third team. The Cavs, as we know, are not going to attract a superstar troika of free agents to Cleveland so everything must be done through the draft, with the gaps filled in by prudent free agent signings. The Cavaliers are sitting on two picks in each round of a deep draft, with the first pick coming no later than No. 6.
Plenty of NBA writers and fans love to talk about the OKC model, but luck plays an equal part in the process. The Thunder won some high lottery picks, landed the right franchise guy, and built around him with the right running mates and wise role pieces. Sam Presti is heralded by the mid-market wannabes, but the Thunder model always seemed like an unattainable talking point for the hopelessly optimistic underdogs. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are often Brandon Jennings and Andrew Bogut.
Well, the Cavs got their stroke of lottery luck last year, and hit on their pick with what absolutely looks like a cornerstone franchise player.
This season was a great mix of circumstances. The Cavaliers showed dramatic improvement with Irving, creating hope for the future. But the club also dealt with a slew of injuries, which led to a tumble out of the middling existence on the edge of the playoffs and the lottery.
With a player such as Irving leading the team, and continuing to improve, how many more times will the Cavaliers be at the top of the lottery? If he’s everything we think and expect, the Cavaliers will be trending towards or arriving at the middle very soon.
Winning an NBA Championship is unlike any other in professional sports. It’s not subject to the whim of a hot pitcher or goaltender, which could push less talented rosters through a postseason series. It’s rarely subject to the parity and lack of home field of advantage in the NFL – where injuries, turnovers, and the random bounce of the ball can often push the Wild Cards through to the Super Bowl. In the NBA, you either got the horses or you don’t.
The lottery isn’t quite as important this year for the Cavaliers as it was last year. Last year, with 2 lottery picks and a complete lack of talent on the roster, the lottery felt like a do or die scenario. Now, the Cavaliers already have their franchise player, which alleviates much pressure.
Obviously, it’s always more important to get the first piece. You can’t build anything without a foundation. But where you go next with that foundation is what defines your success as a franchise. I trust the folks doing the building, and sometimes, thanks to the bounce of a ping pong ball, these decisions take care of themselves. But the pressure is still there for Gilbert and Chris Grant, and while it’s early, the clock is always ticking. This is a momentous opportunity to wind it back a bit. With four selections, including a potential top 3 pick, this is the time to seize the dream of the “OKC model.”
Brendan is a weekend editor at WaitingForNextYear. He has been writing for the site since March of 2009. He went to college in Boston during a run of insufferable Beantown championships that only served to reinforce his Cleveland allegiance and fandom which he transcribes to you here at WFNY.