Dear NBA Lottery, I think we should see other people

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?)

  1. Seven straight seasons in the lottery. Gross. []
  2. Held after Christmas, of course []
  3. 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. []
  4. 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. []
  5. Who also grew two inches after being drafted… []

  • Bob T

    I was supposed to go to the draft lottery party tonight….changed my mind and heading to Progressive field instead. I went Friday and Sunday too…not sure my voice can take another game, but with Detroit in town, it’s hard to pass up. I’m sure someone will text me the Cavs lottery position. Roll Tribe!

  • Vindictive_Pat

    I’m actively routing for the Cavs to get the #2 spot tonight. I do not want Nerlens Noel. The #1 pick is worth too much to spend on a guy who will be a younger version of Chris Andersen.

    Flame on, Noel backers.

  • JK

    I think Noel will still be good but I too would rather have someone else (McLemore)

  • Vindictive_Pat

    Sticking with my comparison, I agree, a young Chris Andersen is a very nice piece to have, especially for the Cavs who need defense and rim protection, but I just don’t like the value at #1 overall when you have guys like McLemore and Porter there.

  • FearTheRoo

    I’m expecting a 3-5 pick. Since our luck picking first a few years ago I don’t see it happening again. I also hope Detroit avoids a high pick.

  • Harv 21

    I agree, Scott, and think this attitude is objective and healthy. But compare to how we feel about the Browns draft positioning. This site was virtually exploding with excitement in the weeks leading up to the 2012 draft, when Browns had fourth overall and another first rounder.

  • Steve

    They could always get the #1 and be assured of the guy you do want.

    And the Heat just went 42-4 after adding Anderson, compared to 24-12 before. I’ll take a guy who can do something like that for our defense.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    It’s true, I have no idea if Noel would even be the Cavs’ target at #1… just going on a hunch right now. I see Andersen as a solid backup big. He does help push an already great team a little more over the top, but that’s not the guy I want with the #1 pick. Miami actually has a slightly better +/- when Andersen is off the floor.

  • humboldt

    Yes, and now a film is literally being made to dramatize draft day in Cleveland. That said, I think it’s fine to celebrate the festivity surrounding the NFL draft – it is an absolutely fascinating secular ritual in the US.

    In my opinion, it is more compelling than the NBA for a variety of reasons:

    -Football is far and away the most beloved sport in the US right now, which means fans track high schoolers to college and then to the pros, with the draft being the culminating point in their journey.
    -Unlike the NBA lottery, the NFL draft is entirely merit-based and ‘fair’ from top-to-bottom.
    -There are simply greater quantities of known players drafted in the NFL, whereas the NBA is an international league and fans are often subjected to a dozen esoteric European picks in the two rounds.
    -The NFL marketing machine just has built such a powerful narrative for the draft, and there are cottage industries (i.e. Mel Kiper) built around the event that drum up excitement throughout the year.

  • Steve

    Where is your data from? Just asking, as I’ve got them at +9.6 per 100 possessions with and +8.6 without.

    I just see Noel as a great fit for this team, even better than Porter. They need defense badly, and especially on the interior. Just as I said last year about Drummond, I think adding an athletic big to run pick and rolls with Irving will be a big boon to the offense too. With Waiters on the roster now too, I’d rather add a guy who can efficiently score by playing off others than who wants the ball in his hands to initiate his offense.

    I’m not saying Noel is a multiple all-star by any stretch, and the injury is a big concern. But I think you have to take the upside in what is hopefully your last chance to draft a great player, and that he fits so well is just icing on the cake.

  • Steve

    And, looking at the alternatives, I’d rather draft Noel and overpay Tony Allen and a corner 3 specialist than draft Porter and overpay for FA big men, which always seems to be a fool’s errand.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    What, what, what what…sorry couldn’t resist!

  • Harv 21

    agree with all except your point about Euro players; that intrigue of the unknown actually has made it more interesting for me. I would add that the NFL draft produces more contributing players – the third and fourth rounds produce starters and, periodically, an all-pro. By mid-second round of the NBA draft no one cares.

    But my point was about the Cleveland mentality. There was excited chatter about Beau Bell the year Savage took him in the 4th round. It’s an illness.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    It comes down to personal preference, but I just really like the wings at the top of this draft so much more than Noel, particularly for where the Cavs are right now. I’d like to have Noel, but I just don’t want him so early when I think there are more complete players that could perfectly fit a need (Porter). I also think the defense will improve simply because Mike Brown is teaching them now. Tristan Thompson should be a more dominant interior defender than he is, and I think Mike Brown can help him get to that level.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    I got that stat from, but I took it from the snapshot of the roster… I see where you pulled your stat and mine is wrong. They’re better by a point with Andersen on the floor. I guess my point is still that I just don’t know if a one-way player like Noel/Andersen is worth the value as the top pick… I think Porter could theoretically be a guy who locks down an LBJ or Durant and gives you similar rebounding while providing much more on offense. I also think Porter is definitely a guy who doesn’t need the ball in his hands to be effective, which is why I like him so much… he can sit in that corner and shoot 3s and 2s with a high percentage, or he can cut to the basket and finish at the rim off of an assist (he’s not a good leaper at all, but has a knack for hanging in the air to get his shot off either finishing or drawing a foul on the play). I really, really like Porter.

  • humboldt

    Interesting. Perhaps we can refer to Euro-intrigue as the “Sasha Khan” effect. To me, it feels deflating when we draft an amorphous Serbian late in the second round and stow him in Europe for his whole career. That sort of throwaway pick just doesn’t happen in the NFL, nor do drafted players get shelved in the D-League.

    Agree with your point about mid- and low-round yields in the NFL being a reason to continue holding viewers’ interest. That would also go a long way in explaining the utter transfixation on Beau Bell, Martin Rucker, and other ‘gems’ of that draft. [shudder].

    I think the draft does inspire irrational/farcical hope, but it also a festive ritual signifying renewal in mid-spring. Culturally speaking, it is truly fascinating to behold.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    Not to jump in late here, but there is no D-league for the NFL… if the NFL did have a minor league setup like this, you can bet your sweet bippy that NFL teams would send players there. They would stash guys in Europe too if that existed… I think teams would much rather have Denard Robinson and Terrell Pryor working on their new position somewhere else with real playing time, but they don’t have that luxury. The closest they have is their practice squad.

  • khalid

    So, do you think Irving and Waiters were the right choices in 2011 and 2012? Is there anyone in this year’s draft that can make Cleveland a “perennial title contender”?

  • Petefranklin

    Cavs are a 5/1 shot to win lotto.

  • Steve

    I don’t see Noel as a one way player at all. The guy can finish at the rim, and getting him moving towards the basket after screening for Irving is going to create a ton of easy baskets.

    Tony Allen can lock down top scorers, there are always a few guys on the market who can hit open jumpers from the corner. I don’t like giving up a lot for them. I really like Porter too, but as a third option on offense his potential to you is greatly diminished.

  • Kildawg

    As Scott implied in the footnotes, Sacramento would be the top spot to grab Noel. Then the Cavs can get Porter 2-6.

  • Natedawg86

    Will Cribbs be there tonight?

  • Really looking forward to Dan Gilbert’s son Mayer Hawthorne being on camera for a while tonight.

  • I had Drummond above Waiters in my final ranking last season. Irving was undoubtedly the top guy in 2011. I am on record with having Noel at No. 1 this season, but wouldn’t count out a trade for a veteran who *can* help now.

  • bridgecrosser

    “With the utmost respect to Sacramento 1 and Charlotte and New Orleans and Phoenix and Detroit and Washington, you represent a crowd with whom I no longer want to be associate”