Bill Simmons may be bulletproof in the eyes of various ESPN employees, but that didn’t stop a few high-profile ones from coming out and defending Cleveland in the wake of the 2014 NBA Lottery results. When it was revealed that the Cleveland Cavaliers—once again—have the first pick in the NBA Draft, Simmons quickly took to the airwaves to say that the league “needs new rules” and that he was done with “karma for Cleveland.” You know, as if the town has so much to hang their hat on in the way of championship banners.
Nevertheless, ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt and Ryan Russillo kicked off Wednesday afternoon’s radio show with some shots fired back in defense of the lakefront city.
Van Pelt: Cleveland got the pick—got the No. 1 pick. And I was just amazed at how mad everyone was. Like so many people were mad at Cleveland. Here’s [Bill] Simmons—and again, Simmons, you got a lot of nerve, Simmons, getting mad at Cleveland, like they’ve had such great luck in life.
[Simmons sound byte]
It’s funny, and I love—he’s got the sort of status where he can say and do anything, which is great. It must be fun to have a bulletproof shield, and he’s got it.
Russillo: Yeah, but that’s why he’s on the [NBA pregame] show. He represents the guys at home watching the lottery. he’s not some hardcore journalist or a former NBA guy worrying about his next job. It’s a perfect role.
Van Pelt: Yeah. Also, Grantland worked, and “30 for 30” is good and he’s a giant earner for the company so he’s earned the right to be bulletproof. But it’s funny. I take issue with this—they weren’t rewarded. The ping pong balls, that’s what they got. Philly would have been rewarded for, as you said earlier, trotting out a garbage roster all year. Better not to reward that. Cleveland got lucky.
Now if you want to get mad about last year, who were they supposed to take? They didn’t pass on Hakeem Olajuwon, Michael Jordan and Patrick Ewing to take [Anthony] Bennett. I’m not telling you Bennett’s good; he was lousy. Maybe Nerlens Noel is going to turn into a good player. I’ve seen people suggest they should have taken him. Alright, I don’t know that—
Russillo: But wait. People are only suggesting that because they didn’t see him play and watched all the other draft picks play.
Van Pelt: Exactly. The same reason everyone loves [Dante] Exum in this draft class is because he’s the one guy no one has seen. So if you want to be mad that they didn’t take the right guy in a draft class when there was no obvious guy, OK. The Mike Brown piece—I have no arguments for that. And if it’s all about saying, “Hey, we don’t think LeBron [James], in the future, would be psyched about this—let’s do everything we can to lure LeBron back,” then that’s a separate topic. But as it relates to just this, and Cleveland getting lucky, I just shrug and say, if any city deserves just a little bit of good fortune in their life, it’s Cleveland. Because they’ve had zero. Forever.
Later in their show, Van Pelt and Russillo had NBA legend and TNT analyst Charles Barkley on to discuss the NBA Finals and LeBron. As has been the case for much of the last four years, Barkley was on Cleveland’s side.
“I’ve always thought he was going to go back to Cleveland. Nobody dislikes LeBron. I think LeBron made a huge mistake with that ‘Decision’ crap. He’s come back and since admitted that. That’s the only thing people hold against LeBron. He’s a great player, a great person. I hope he goes back to Cleveland. Those fans in Miami are not real fans, those fans in Cleveland are real fans. I’ve always hoped he would go back to Cleveland. That would be a great way to finish his career.”
Simmons, though bulletproof, hasn’t tweeted since the night of the Lottery. The last piece he wrote for Grantland.com was about his “NBA Draft Lottery Karma Rankings,” where he had the Cavaliers ranked dead last.
Photo: Jon Cole/WFNY