Tanking should really be a thing of the past. In order to win the NBA draft lottery, teams shouldn’t try to lose the most games and stockpile Ping Pong ball combinations because the winner of the No. 1 pick is not going to be the team with the worst record. It’s going to wind up being the team that endured the most excruciatingly painful and drama-filled season.
Misery might love company, but the last two years, the NBA lottery has loved misery right back.
The Wizards were destined to win the rights to draft John Wall last year following a campaign in which they endured the death of longtime owner Abe Pollin and embarrassment of Gilbert Arenas bringing guns into the locker room. And the Cleveland Cavaliers were set on the path toward winning the top choice on Tuesday almost the moment LeBron James decided to break up with the team, almost Jerry Springer style, and announced that he was headed to Miami on an ESPN special.
And did anyone else notice the other link between the past two lottery winners? Yep. Antawn Jamison had to endure much of the suffering on both teams.
The Cavaliers were rewarded for a despicable campaign in which they lost an NBA-record 26 consecutive games and for accepting the undesirable contract of Baron Davis in order to get an unprotected lottery pick from the Los Angeles Clippers. That pick wound up being No. 1 overall, which sort of falls in line with Clippers luck.
And, Washington dropped from fourth to the sixth pick, which sort of falls in line with Wizards luck. Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld didn’t appear to be too distraught with the outcome. “It’s the luck of the Ping-Pong balls,” he said. “That’s the way the situation goes, but we’re prepared for any situation and I think we’ll get a solid player that will be a part of our core for now or down the road. I think it turned out fine.”
The Wizards got bumped back by unlikely leaps of the Cavaliers, who overcame 2.8 percent odds to win the big prize, and the Utah Jazz, which lucked up by getting third with the pick acquired from New Jersey in the Deron Williams trade.
As he sat in the back room, Grunfeld said he realized his team was in trouble when those two teams moved up, but he still believes that it can get a good player at six. The sixth pick certainly isn’t ideal, but it has produced two all-stars in the past 10 years in Brandon Roy (2006) and Chris Kaman (2003).
The Wizards are out of the running for Arizona forward Derrick Williams and most likely Turkish big man Enes Kanter, but they still have several options in center Jan Vesely from the Czech Republic, San Diego State forward Kawhi Leonard, Texas forward Tristan Thompson or Lithuanian forwards Jonas Valanciunas and Donatas Motiejunas.
“It all depends on what teams do in front of us. And that will determine who’s left for us to pick at the sixth spot,” Grunfeld said after the lottery. “We’re going to go home and do the work that we’ve started already and we’re going to continue to research it and we’ll pick the player that’s highest ranked on our board, according to how they will help our situation for now and down the road. Everybody ranks players different, and everybody’s needs are a little different.”
The Wizards will leave on Wednesday for Chicago, where other league executives will converge at Tim Grover’s Attack Athletics facility to scout prospects and interview them at the NBA draft combine. Most of the top European players won’t be in Chicago, but will be evaluated at a similar camp in Treviso, Italy, during the first week of June.
Unless the Wizards find a player at six that they truly like -- and I don’t know enough about the European big men to dismiss them, though I have heard some good things about Valanciunas – they have to seriously consider moving up in the draft. They have an additional first-round choice from the Kirk Hinrich trade (18th overall) and that could be attractive for a team that needs more young talent. Grunfeld sounded like he was open to almost any scenario before the lottery when he said, “We just have to see what opportunities present themselves.”
The Wizards have seven players under contract for next season and only two of them are older than 24 (Andray Blatche and Rashard Lewis). Since taking over as general manager of the Wizards in 2003, Grunfeld has had three lottery picks and kept just one -- Wall -- so it is not a stretch to think that he might be willing to move this one, even with the Wizards’ stated goals of building through the draft and developing young talent.
But, the Wizards don’t necessarily need to get more young players; they need to get another stud to pair with John Wall. Williams looks like he could be a potential difference maker but also an odd fit for Minnesota and Utah, two teams that have smallish front lines and might not have room for a 6-foot-9 tweener.
“He could help us out,” Wall said before the lottery. “He’s in between the three and four position. He’s a versatile big man who can shoot the ball, put it on the floor and is very athletic. Somebody who can finish at the rim and is athletic.”
The Cavaliers will likely take Duke point guard Kyrie Irving with the top pick, and they can get another quality player at fourth, which should help fans of that franchise get over James’s departure and a miserable 19-win season.
It seemed like it was going to be their night when cameras swung toward Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert’s son, Nick, who was born with a rare neurological disorder that causes tumors to grow on his body at any time. Dressed in a bow tie with glasses, Nick Gilbert certainly was the good luck charm and helped his father take steps toward fulfilling his promise to build a contender in his emotionally-charged and bombastic letter written in the aftermath of James’s “Decision.”
“It’s been a roller coaster ride,” Gilbert said. “Shocking events took place last summer for not just myself, but a lot of people in Ohio. It was a slow, long, painful haul to get through it, and maybe this will be the final straw in getting over the hump, getting to the other side, and having a lot of hope for the future. That’s what we need.”
The redemptive tale of the Cavaliers’ rebound was tad too perfect for Minnesota General Manager David Kahn, whose team finished second. The Timberwolves, who had the highest odds of winning the No. 1 pick after going 17-65 last season, are one of five teams at the lottery to never win the top pick, along with Detroit, Utah, Charlotte and Phoenix. The team with worst record hasn’t won the lottery since Orlando got Dwight Howard in 2004 and before the ceremony, Wall joked that since Minnesota was the worst team, “I don’t think they are going to get it.”
Kahn insinuated afterward, in a joking manner, that the whole lottery process was a sham, saying that he knew Minnesota had no shot of winning when he shared the final stage with Jazz general manager Kevin O’Connor and the “what’s not to love” kid, Nick Gilbert. “This league has a habit, and I am just going to say habit, of producing some pretty incredible story lines,” Kahn told reporters. “Last year it was Abe Pollin’s widow and this year it was a 14-year-old boy and the only thing we have in common is we have both been bar mitzvahed. We were done. I told Kevin: ‘We’re toast.’ This is not happening for us and I was right.”
Kahn chuckled, but it wasn’t happening for the Wizards, either. They only won 23 games. And though the Wizards experienced a 25-game road losing streak of their own, the season wasn’t nearly as miserable as the one in Cleveland, where the team couldn’t win a third of the games it won the previous year with James. The Wizards season certainly wasn’t miserable enough to trump the Cavaliers for the top pick.