Just so there is some perspective: the Orlando Magic did the same thing, they won the Draft Lottery in back to back years. In 1992 they selected Shaquille O’Neal with the #1 pick. In 1993 they selected Chris Webber with the #1 pick and then they traded him on draft day for Penny Hardaway. But, of course, there was no Twitter then, no Facebook, no social media to record the deafening screams because the draft lottery ended in disaster and everyone was asking: did that really happen? Did the disastrous Cleveland Cavaliers get the #1 pick in the draft lottery? Again? They messed it up in 2103 with Anthony Bennett and now a Get Out of Jail Free Card drops in their lap. Really? They get a do-over? Just because the NBA wants to keep Kyrie Irving in a small market?
Everyone hates Cleveland today. Everyone hates the D student who gets to go to the front of the class just because the draft lottery says so. The Cavs have been a consistently inept organization. They couldn’t find a way to hang on to Lebron. And once he was out the door their owner embarrassed himself by guaranteeing a Cavs title before Lebron was a champion. That went over well. Some two years later the Cavs drafted a transcendent talent in Kyrie Irving. They had another pick that year and drafted Tristan Thompson. But they could have had Kenneth Faried. Or Klay Thompson. Or Kawhi Leonard. In 2012 the Cavs drafted Dion Waiters who did not even start on his college team (Syracuse). He and Kyrie have an explosive chemistry- okay, they hate each other. They Cavs could have had Harrison Barnes to plug in the empty small forward hole that Lebron James left vacant. But they are the Cavs, right. And then the icing on the cake in their history of delusional thinking and pathetic choices was the drafting of Anthony Bennett in 2013 who is often referred to as ‘Fat Tony.’ He has been a disaster (4 points, 3 rebounds). Bennett is doing something that was considered impossible. He is making everyone forget how miserable Kwame Brown was in his rookie year (7 points, 6 rebounds).
But just because the Cavaliers as an organization don’t know the difference between a penny and a dollar, does that mean the draft lottery needs a massive overhaul? Is it the lottery’s fault that the Cavaliers don’t know what they are doing? Is it the lottery’s fault the Cavaliers are lucky?
Is the lottery supposed to make teams better?
No. The draft lottery is a talent delivery system. It gives teams the opportunity to upgrade. But there is a distinction between having an opportunity at talent and building a talented team. Team building is done through free agency, trades, the lottery, and of course luck and intelligence. The saying, a dumb person can build a bridge, a smart person knows several ways to cross it, applies here. The Sacramento Kings have been in the lottery six straight years. These have been their lottery choices: Ben McLemore, Thomas Robinson, Bismack Biyombo, Jimmer Fredette, DeMarcus Cousins, Tyerke Evans, Jason Thompson. In that same time frame these are the traded players/free agents they have acquired: Donte Green, Bobby Jackson, Sam Cassell, Drew Gooden, Andres Nocioni, Rashard McCants, Sean May, Desmond Mason, Hilton Armstrong, Larry Hughes, Dominic McGuire, Darnell Jackson, Antoine Wright, Eugene Jeter, Luther Head, Marcus Landry, Hassan Whiteside, Travis Outlaw, Chuck Hayes, Aaron Brooks, Quincy Acy, Aaron Gray, Rudy Gay.
Is the lottery fair?
Is it fair that David Robinson missed most of the 1996-97 season and a good Spurs roster added Tim Duncan. Was it fair that the Miami Heat won 15 games in 2008 and the Los Angeles Clippers won 23 games in 2008 but a 33 win Chicago Bulls team who was four losses from making the playoffs won the lottery and the prize of Derrick Rose? Of course it is not fair. No one gets what they deserve.
Because the lottery isn’t fair doesn’t that even the playing field and make general managers have to build their teams in other ways?
In theory yes. In practicality there are a lot of bad front offices who don’t know what they are doing. They don’t have a philosophy, a plan or an agenda. It’s like throwing oatmeal up against the wall and seeing if it sticks. There is a reason teams are consistently in the lottery. It is because their front office put them there. Complain about the Cavs all you want but if your team was in the lottery this year and last year look in the mirror. Chances are you did something wrong.
Will the lottery wheel help avoid what happened yesterday?
Yes. A lottery wheel has predetermined picks and no one is excluded. One year the defending champion could have the #1 pick. Another year a 6th seed could have the #1 pick. It is a meritocracy or socialism, however you want to think of it. But its major flaw is that talent is not distributed among the working class. The rich get richer. No one wants the Lakers or Bulls or even the Thunder to win a title and then get a transcendent player who will dominate the league for the next decade. There is value in having a team with little talent get better through the draft. A lottery player makes destinations attractive. Whoever lands Jabari Parker this year, that team’s stock will rise with next year’s free agent class. Season ticket holders can be wooed. If you change all that, a city like Milwaukee or a city like Minneapolis would struggle to attract free agents if the cupboard is empty of young talent. Young talent is the lifeblood of a team.
Aren’t front offices ultimately responsible for the talent on their team?
Yes. They have to build the roster. They have to evaluate the players. They have to figure out the best chemistry. But every year there are only, on average 2 All-Stars per lottery. The Lebron draft with 5 All-Stars was an anomaly. The Kobe draft with 7 All-Stars has never been repeated. But too many front offices use the lottery as a crutch; they sell it to their fans as their way out of a black hole and into the playoffs instead of the first of many strategic moves by a committed organization.
Will this be the last straw to change the system, as one GM noted?
Possibly. But there will be just a tweak, some sort of mechanical adjustment. Adam Silver has openly said he has wanted to fix the lottery. But he has his hands full with the couple from hell, Mr. and Mrs. Sterling. Maybe next year after the Clippers are sold. Until then…the Cavs are on the clock.