Hampton v Duke

Lottery brings Cleveland some building blocks, not a cornerstone


This is a night to celebrate if you’re a Cleveland Cavaliers fan.

After a rough summer and a record losing streak this season, the Ping-Pong balls bounced your way. You won the draft lottery, so pop open a Great Lakes Brewing Company Edmond Fitzgerald porter and celebrate.

Rebuilding can be a long, slow painful process and the chance to get the No. 1 and No. 4 picks in one draft is a jumpstart in the process.

The question is just how much of a jumpstart for Cleveland. Because this is a down draft.

Cavs owner Dan Gilbert was high on winning the lottery and was not trying to tamp down expectations.

“We do happen to think there is significant talent at the top of this draft…” Gilbert said half an hour after finding out he would have two of the top four picks. “We do think we’re going to get two excellent players who will be building blocks.”

Building blocks? Yes. Franchise cornerstones? Probably not. If you are thinking a Derrick Rose or John Wall or a man-whose-name-shall-not-be-mentioned-in-Cleveland, then this draft is going to disappoint. There’s talent, but there is not that kind of talent.

The top pick is going to be Duke’s Kyrie Irving. Gilbert danced around the “who are you going to draft?” question after that lottery and Cleveland’s front office will do the same for weeks. But short of injury or him wearing an “I love the Taliban” T-shirt to his team interview, Irving is a lock. Coach Byron Scott has had success with Chris Paul and Jason Kidd and he needs a strong point guard to run his system.

While some scouts think Irving is a franchise changer, a majority tend to think he is a future borderline All-Star — a good player but a guy you are going to need more people around of quality. Basically, rather than Chris Paul think Stephen Curry or Chauncey Billups in terms of impact.

Then at No. 4 the Cavs will likely end up with one of the European big men, either Enes Kanter, Jan Vesely or Jonas Valanciunas (here is our man Steve Alexander’s mock draft at Rotoworld). All quality future rotation players, maybe eventually starters in the NBA. But not dominant big men inside. Kanter has shown real upside (which is why he may not fall to the four slot) but there are questions about a guy who basically has not played organized ball in two years.

Combine these to picks with the athletic J.J. Hickson and a returned Anderson Varejao and there are a few nice building blocks. That’s a team likely on its way to being something like the Indiana Pacers — good but lacking the one superstar player the team needs.

So celebrate Cleveland, winning the lottery is a big help in rebuilding. But there are a lot more steps to take.

James Harden: “I am the best player in the league. I believe that.”

James Harden, Stephen Curry
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James Harden was the MVP last season — if you ask his fellow NBA players.

The traditional award (based on a media vote) went to Stephen Curry (in the closest vote in four years), and that was the right call (in my mind). But from the time it happened Harden did not buy it. And he still doesn’t buy it. In the least — and he’s using that as fuel for this season. That’s what he told Fran Blinebury over at NBA.com.

“I am the best player in the league. I believe that,” he said. “I thought I was last year, too.”

Well, it’s a more realistic claim than Paul George’s.

“But that award means most valuable to your team. We finished second in the West, which nobody thought we were going to do at the beginning of the year even when everybody was healthy. We were near the top in having the most injuries. We won our division in a division where every single team made the playoffs.

“There’s so many factors. I led the league in total points scored, minutes played. Like I said, I’m not taking anything away from Steph, but I felt I deserved the Most Valuable Player. That stays with me.”

That’s very Kobe Bryant of you to turn that into fuel. Defining the MVP Award is an annual discussion that nobody agrees on.

I could get into how Harden was the old-school, traditional stats MVP, how that ignores how Steve Kerr used Curry, and how that opened up the Warriors’ offense to championship levels. Curry put up numbers, but he was also the distraction, the bright star that Kerr used to open up looks for Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and others. Curry’s strength was not just what he did with the ball in his hands, but his gravity to draw defenders even when he didn’t. Did the Warriors stay healthier than the Rockets? No doubt. Should Curry be penalized for that?

It’s simple for Harden — if he can put up those numbers again, if he can be the fulcrum of a top offense, he will be in the discussion for MVP again. And, if he can lead the Rockets beyond the conference finals, nobody will talk about that MVP snub anyway.