The NBA Lottery is tonight. I will watch, don’t get me wrong. Following the festivities, I will leave with different emotions than those I had entering the evening. I will start monitoring workout schedules and making phone calls to obtain information that may shed some light on who the Cleveland Cavaliers may have an interest in. But in the end, I am tired of celebrating despair.
With the utmost respect to Sacramento1 and Charlotte and New Orleans and Phoenix and Detroit and Washington, you represent a crowd with whom I no longer want to be associated. The NBA, try as they might, have a way of making the annual lottery show an event. A half-hour show, the actual revelation of which team will have the top spot in the upcoming draft takes all of a minute.
We watch as a team which was supposed to be toward the bottom of the list suddenly has their name passed over, signaling that they defied the odds and will have their name among the top three slots. We watch as Nick Gilbert, the son of Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, sits hunched over on the team’s podium, bow tie and all. We watch as we will be one step closer to finding out where, exactly, the Cavaliers will be selecting come this summer thus tightening the speculation on who, exactly, the Cavaliers will (or should) draft. But in the end, the night will serve as a reminder that the Cavaliers, entering the third year of their rebuilding process, were once again one of the worst teams in the National Basketball Association.
This year, I avoided the Not-so-Big Boards. While I watched many collegiate basketball games, focusing on players more than the teams for which they represent, it was increasingly difficult to muster any sort of excitement for the impending summer. Two years ago, the Cavaliers needed to win the lottery, ultimately landing their cornerstone in All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving. Last spring, the excitement surrounded who Irving would be paired with—the Westbrook to his Durant, says the narrative—as the team continues their ascent. This time around, despite my forecast of just 27 wins for the season (a total that would undoubtedly land the Wine and Gold in the lottery), I’m done. I’m done donning a party hat with the hopes that my team gets to take the next calculated risk. If the Cavaliers land the top spot and queue up their marketing department for High-top Fade Night at Quicken Loans Arena2, I’ll be the happiest Cavs fan you will find3. But in the end, all it will be is a reward for perpetual poor performance.
In 1997, the San Antonio Spurs won the lottery and the chance to pair Tim Duncan with David Robinson. In 2008, the Chicago Bulls stunned the world by winning the lottery and selecting Derrick Rose, subsequently surrounding him with talent selected later in drafts and free agency. Both teams are now perennial title contenders. The Cavs, who finished (once again) with the third-worst record in the league, have a 15.6 percent chance of winning the No. 1 slot. Their odds of drafting second or third are very similar, falling in at 15.74 percent and 15.58, respectively. Unfortunately, given the potential for any of the teams below them to leapfrog the pack (as they did in 2011), they have a 22.56 chance of dropping to No. 4, and a 22.48 chance of falling to No. 5. The worst the Cavaliers can draft is sixth. Flying smack in the face of math is history, which is on Cleveland’s side—the third spot has won the NBA lottery the most times, last year just being the most recent.
The good news is that there isn’t much of a perceived drop-off from the third spot to the sixth. The bad news, once again, is that this draft is largely considered to be weak from a talent pool perspective4.
Andrew Sharp penned a pretty poignant piece over at Grantland yesterday, discussing the perils of selecting high in the lottery and the hindsight involved when a player your team passed on succeeds with his postseason-bound pals. The poster boy for the story was San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard, the big-handed, tough-nosed, defensive-minded forward who suits up for Greg Popovich and buries three-balls in the eye of Dion Waiters. It’s easy to say that he should not have been passed on by the several teams who selected others instead, but it’s easier to say that his career arc would have been substantially different had he been forced into a larger role with a more toxic environment. Same can be said for Klay Thompson or Serge Ibaka or Paul George5. If Cody Zeller falls to Philadelphia and flourishes while Nerlens Noel collects a bigger paycheck and turns into the next Tyrus Thomas, it doesn’t make one a mistake and the other rooted in genius. Pardon me for not rallying around such a crapshoot.
Certainly, much of sport is laced with luck. If everything was based on paper, they wouldn’t play the games. It’s what makes each game exciting, it’s what history-based channels like ESPN Classic are founded upon. As the four-digit combinations are revealed and the representative stands on the stage holding their team logo in one hand and the No. 1 in the other, 13 teams and their respective fans will have a greater sense of closure as they head into the draft on June 27. Me? I won’t be attending the Cavs’ lottery party. I’ll likely just switch back to the Indians game and hope for the days where, instead of watching the lottery, I can pen a column on an upcoming contest within the Eastern Conference Finals. I’m done celebrating despair.
(Image created via my first and only lottery machine attempt. Why ruin a good thing?)
- Seven straight seasons in the lottery. Gross. [↩]
- Held after Christmas, of course [↩]
- I’ll mostly be shocked due to the fact that the conspiracy theories all but have the Sacramento Kings and their recent tribulations locked as the winner. [↩]
- This is the third straight year that the draft has been given such a negative connotation. Count me in as concerned for the quality of the league in a few years when the upper class starts to age and this generation is expected to take over. [↩]
- Who also grew two inches after being drafted… [↩]