Tanks for nothing: Top pick usually not franchise-changer

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OK, so Cleveland won the NBA Draft lottery again, and a couple thoughts come to mind. The first is that it was somewhat fun to see Milwaukee and Philadelphia — two teams that sure seemed to be tanking games last season — not get rewarded. That was a bit like seeing someone who cuts in line at the airport get stopped and sent to the back.

In truth, the lottery has rarely rewarded the worst team. Only three times in 25 lotteries (since the NBA changed the system to weigh the odds) has the worst team won the first pick in the lottery. Even that’s misleading: The 2003 Cavaliers, the year they got LeBron James, were tied with Denver for the worst record.

In 12 of the 25 lotteries — just about half of them — the No. 1 pick went to a team with fifth-worst record or better. The odds are supposed to be STRONGLY against those better teams, but maybe the power of the basketball gods (who loathe tanking — I know, I’ve talked to them) overwhelms the strength of mathematical odds.

MORE: Wiggins goes No. 1 in first Rotoworld mock draft

Or maybe, you know, it’s could just be randomness. Either way, this trend does not seem to have stopped teams from tanking.

The second thought is that the NBA Draft Lottery is auctioning off the wrong thing. The real luck isn’t in getting the No. 1 pick. The real luck is getting the No. 1 pick in the RIGHT YEAR. That is: to get the No. 1 pick in a year when a franchise-changing basketball player is coming out. In most years, having the No. 1 pick is not necessarily better than having the No. 9 pick. In 1998, for instance, the Los Angeles Clippers had the No. 1 pick. The Dallas Mavericks traded for the No. 9 pick.

The Clippers got Michael Olowokandi.

The Mavs got Dirk Nowitzki.

That Clippers team, with the third-worst record in the NBA, would have been WAY better off not getting the first pick. But even more to the point, they would have been WAY better off getting the first pick in the draft one year earlier, when even Donald Sterling’s traveling circus would have known to take Tim Duncan.

It’s fascinating to look at draft by draft since the lottery went into place. How often has the No. 1 pick changed a franchise?

1990: New Jersey Nets select Derrick Coleman.

Best player available: Gary Payton (No. 2)

Result: Coleman was a good player for the Nets, and the team did get better. But Coleman was not a franchise changer..

 

1991: Charlotte Hornets select Larry Johnson

Best player available: Dikembe Mutombo (No. 4)

Result: Johnson did put the Hornets on the map somewhat with his whole Grandmama act.

1992: Orlando Magic select Shaquille O’Neal

Best player available: Shaq.

Result: Franchise-changer (until they lost him to the Lakers)

 

1993: Orlando Magic select Chris Webber

Best player available: Probably Webber

Result: Magic traded Webber to Golden State right away for Penny Hardaway, who was a super fun player until injuries wrecked him. Webber had a fine career but was only in Golden State for a year.

 

1994: Milwaukee Bucks select Glenn Robinson

Best player available: Jason Kidd (No. 2)

Result: Robinson was a bit of a disappointment, but he and Ray Allen did lead Bucks through an often magical 2000-01 season.

 

1995:  Golden State Warriors select Joe Smith

Best player available: Kevin Garnett (No. 5)

Result: Joe Smith didn’t pan out for Warriors and ended up playing for — this will look like a misprint — 12 different NBA teams.

 

1996: Philadelphia 76ers select Allen Iverson

Best player available: Kobe Bryant (No. 13)

Result: Bryant, Steve Nash and Ray Allen all might have been better picks. But, for better and worse, Iverson did change the Philadelphia franchise.

 

1997: San Antonio Spurs select Tim Duncan

Best player available: Duncan

Result: The all-time lottery franchise changer.

 

1998: Los Angeles Clippers select Michael Olowokandi

Best player available: Anyone else, but Nowitzki (No. 9) and Paul Pierce (No. 10) might have been good places to start.

Result: Biggest bust in lottery history. So far.

 

1999: Chicago Bulls select Elton Brand

Best player available: Shawn Marion (No. 9)

Result: Good player but little to no impact on the Bulls — they traded him after two years.

 

2000: New Jersey Nets select Kenyon Martin

Best player available: Maybe Hedo Turkoglu (No. 16). Weak draft.

Result: Martin, when healthy, was a good player. He was a key player in the Nets’ back-to-back finals appearances in 2001 and 2002.

 

2001: Washington Wizards select Kwame Brown

Best player available: Pau Gasol (No. 3) or Tony Parker (No. 28)

Result: No that didn’t work out.

 

2002: Houston Rockets select Yao Ming

Best player available: Yao when healthy; Amar’e Stoudemire (No. 9) has had a good career.

Result: Yao was a wonderful player and a game-changer when healthy.

 

2003: Cleveland Cavaliers select LeBron James

Best player available: James.

Result: Not just a franchise-changer, he was a franchise-saver. Until he took his talents to South Beach.

 

2004: Orlando Magic select Dwight Howard

Best player available: Howard

Result: Franchise changer for sure but only once, in 2009, has his team made a serious playoff run.

 

2005: Milwaukee Bucks select Andrew Bogut

Best player available: Chris Paul (No. 4)

Result: Bogut hasn’t stayed healthy enough to be impactful, though he has been a strong rebounder and defender when on the court.

 

2006: Toronto Raptors select Andrea Bargnani

Best player available: Probably LaMarcus Aldridge (No. 2) or Rajon Rondo (No. 21)

Result: Bargnani, now with New York, has played well at times, but his impact on Toronto was almost zero.

 

2007: Portland Trail Blazers select Greg Oden

Best player available: Kevin Durant (No. 2)

Result: Unfortunate.

 

MORE: The star-struck career of Greg Oden

 

 

2008: Chicago Bulls select Derrick Rose

Best player available: Kevin Love (No. 5) or Russell Westbrook (No.4).

Result: My thought is Rose IS the best and most impactful player out of that draft. But you can’t impact games when you’re not on the court.

 

2009: Los Angeles Clippers select Blake Griffin

Best player available: Griffin, James Harden (No. 3) or Steph Curry (No. 7)

Result: I think everyone is still waiting on the result. The Clippers franchise HAS changed for the better, and Griffin is a huge reason. Still, I think, going forward, I’d rather have Curry.

 

2010: Washington Wizards select John Wall

Best player available: Paul George (No. 10)

Result: This year was Wall’s first 82-game season. And this year he showed signs of turning around the Wizards fortunes.

 

2011: Cleveland Cavaliers select Kyrie Irving

Best player available: Maybe Irving. Maybe Kawhi Leonard (No. 15).

Result: Too early to tell. Irving is a very good player but the Cavaliers franchise has not taken a step forward since Lebron’s departure.

 

2012: New Orleans Hornets/Pelicans select Anthony Davis

Best player available: Probably Davis

Result: Too early to tell. Pelicans do seem to be getting better slowly.

 

2013: Cleveland Cavaliers select Anthony Bennett

Best player available: No way to know yet. Maybe Michael Carter-Williams or Tim Hardaway or Mason Plumlee.

Result: One year isn’t enough to tell much, but Bennett did look badly overmatched.

 

So, I would say in the 25 years of this lottery, there have been eight or nine franchise-changers taken No. 1 — 10 if Portland had selected Kevin Durant —  which means most of the time the No. 1 pick has NOT altered a franchise.

And chances are that this year’s No. 1 pick will not be a franchise-changer. There are probably three choices — Duke’s Jabari Parker, Kansas’ Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins. Three choices suggest that (A) There isn’t a clear-cut choice which is often a bad sign and (B) if there is one franchise-changer in here, the Cavaliers only have a 33 percentchance of picking him. There is new management in place but let’s be honest: The Anthony Bennett selection last year doesn’t inspire confidence that the Cavaliers will get it right.

Maybe the Cavaliers will have a lottery to determine who should be their first pick. If there’s one thing the Cavs are good at it’s winning lotteries.

Sixers’ Ben Simmons fully cleared to play basketball

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Finally, some good news on the health front for Philadelphia.

Ben Simmons, the No. 1 pick a year ago, has been fully cleared for basketball activities about a month before training camp opens, reports Tom Moore of the Bucks County Courier Times.

Simmons was healthy enough to dominate a random pickup game in Australia against a bunch of 5’10” guys this week. We’re desperate enough for good signs that we will take that as one.

Also, Markelle Fultz is expected to be fully healthy for training camp after his ankle sprain.

So much for the good news. There is no updates on the status of Joel Embiid, which is concerning only in that all health news about Embiid feels concerning.

The source said center Joel Embiid hasn’t been cleared for fullcourt scrimmaging “as of yet.” Embiid, who is from Cameroon, worked with children as part of the NBA Africa Game earlier this month, but didn’t play in the Aug. 5 game.

For the sake of the game, we need the Sixers healthy this season and starting to show us how a team with so much promise and potential starts to pay off. Please let us see it. The Basketball Gods need to smile more fortune and the feet and ankles of the Philadelphia 76ers.

Report: Cavaliers called Warriors about Kyrie Irving-Klay Thompson trade

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The Warriors rejected a Klay ThompsonPaul George trade offer from the Pacers.

What about Thompson for Kyrie Irving, who’s younger than George and locked up for an additional season (the same amount of time as Thompson for a similar price)?

Apparently, Cavaliers general manager Koby Altman inquired before sending Irving to the Celtics for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and the Nets’ 2018 first-round pick.

Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated:

It would be hard to believe that Altman could have landed a better trade than the Boston one. He did call the uninterested Warriors about Klay Thompson, a source said.

I’m not sure what this trade would’ve accomplished for either team.

The Warriors obviously already have a point guard in Stephen Curry. Though Irving isn’t the best distributor, his handles and defense push him to point guard. Curry and Irving would have been a tough fit together. Golden State knows Curry and Thompson are a championship-caliber pairing.

Thompson would have been a big upgrade at shooting guard in Cleveland, but the Cavs would have been woefully undermanned at point guard. Derrick Rose, Jose Calderon and Kay Felder wouldn’t cut it. At least the Cavaliers have decent options at shooting guard with J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and Kyle Korver.

The Warriors would’ve never said yes, which is fortunate for the Cavs. They did better in their trade with Boston, anyway. Thomas can step in at point guard while Crowder still provides much-needed wing depth – plus Zizic and that sweet, sweet Nets pick.

After Kyrie Irving trade, here are five biggest threats to Warriors

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Let’s be honest: The blockbuster Kyrie Irving trade to the Boston Celtics likely means the NBA Finals goes five games instead of four.

The Golden State Warriors can be that good. They won 67 games last season with the NBA’s top offense and second-ranked defense, now they have been in the system for a year as a unit, know each other better, and made some good offseason additions. The Warriors will be better. And they still have Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson. The Warriors are the clear favorites to repeat as NBA champions.

But life rarely follows the script. So who are the biggest threats to the Warriors? Here are the top five.

1) The Houston Rockets. Houston won 55 games last season with the NBA’s second-ranked offense and a style of play that can hang with the Warriors — then they added Chris Paul to the mix. Plus GM Daryl Morey added quality veteran wing defenders such as P.J. Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute, guys picked up in part to match up with the Warriors firepower. On paper, Houston is the NBA’s second best team and the one best poised to challenge the Warriors. It’s fair to wonder if Chris Paul and James Harden can share the backcourt and the ball — and if they can find a tempo that works for them — but coach Mike D’Antoni isn’t worried. It’s also fair to question if this team can be good enough defensively, even though they added good defenders. Still, the Rockets are a threat and a contender.

2) The Cleveland Cavaliers. The reason they are here is not the trade, it’s LeBron James. He remains the best player on the planet (although Durant is close). But the trade helps. In terms of pure offensive production, Isaiah Thomas matched or even bested Irving last season, IT is an All-NBA player for a reason. Also, the Cavaliers pick up the kind of “3&D” wing they have desperately needed in Jae Crowder. And if another player they really want/need comes available, they have assets in Ante Zizic and that Brooklyn first round pick to get him. Cleveland gets this spot because they are the clear favorite to win the East again, and if they are back in the Finals they have a shot despite an aging roster. The Cavs have beaten the Warriors in the Finals before.

3) The Boston Celtics. Admittedly, there is a bit of a drop off after those first two. I see Boston as more of a threat in two seasons (2018-19) and beyond, but after this trade they have quality players at key positions — Irving at the point, Gordon Hayward on the wing, and Al Horford in the paint. Boston also has one of the best coaches in the league in Brad Stevens, who will put Irving in better situations (so long as Irving buys in and doesn’t just force isolation action, as he did at times in Cleveland). What Boston needs is guys like Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum to develop, and Marcus Smart to step up, to become real contenders. They also need to show they can defend, they traded away some of their best defenders this summer. That and a stronger defensive presence in the paint. All that said, Boston has a legitimate shot to beat Cleveland and come out of the East, and if they reach the Finals, then the Celtics at least have a puncher’s chance against the Warriors.

4) The San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs won 55 games last season, had the best defense in the NBA, and with Kawhi Leonard they have their own superstar. The Spurs are going to execute and make plays. They will miss the depth that Dewayne Dedmon and Jonathon Simmons brought, but they added the scoring punch of Rudy Gay off the bench. What we know is the Spurs will not beat themselves, that they will be in the hunt, and we should know by now not to sleep on them.

5) The Oklahoma City Thunder. I think this is a dark horse contender. What we know is that the Thunder should be a top five defensive team — they were 10th in the NBA last season, they brought back their core guys (Andre Roberson and Steven Adams are key here), and they added an excellent wing defender to the mix in Paul George. The Thunder will get stops. If George and Russell Westbrook can figure out how to play well together on the offensive end — last season the Thunder were middle of the pack offensively with the Westbrook show — and get in the top 10, they become a team that could surprise some people.

Thon Maker, all 7’1″ of him, sat in economy class to get flight going

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If you are six-foot or taller, economy class on a modern airline feels cramped. But at least the airlines make up for it with a delicious full meal a bag of peanuts and a free movie.

Can you imagine a 7’1″ guy in economy?

The Bucks’ Thon Maker did it on a recent United flight and the passenger next to him Paul Kuzma posted about it on Facebook (hat tip to onmilwaukee.com).

Well, a missed #United flight found me on a rebooked one. After ending up in an upgraded Economy Plus (yay!) middle seat (not so yay!), volunteers were asked one by one, row by row, if one would relocate to the last row of the plane, middle seat….

My heart leapt again when I came to the last row and BOTH the middle AND aisle seats were open! I stowed my gear in the middle seat area but sat in the aisle seat, hoping.

Alas, it was too good to be true! Moments later, a 7’1″ tall young man who could not even stand completely straight in the aisle of the plane made his way our direction. My heart sunk, not for me, but for him! I saw him emerge from an Economy Plus window seat!

I told him I was so sorry, knowing this would be uncomfortable for him. He nonchalantly said it was worth it to get this delayed flight going. He had practice to attend in the morning and had a 2+ hour drive to get where he was headed after landing….

I had to ask how in the world he ended up in the last row. He also had missed a flight and was rebooked on this one. He was assigned his original FIRST CLASS seat. He had settled in there when a flight attendant told him the person who had paid for that seat on THIS flight had shown up, albeit very late. They had to move him to Economy Plus.

Once there for a while, his story mirrors mine. Requests were being made for someone to move to the last row and no one was volunteering. So he volunteered, wanting the flight to begin.

He couldn’t even fit his knees into the Economy seat! Every time the snack cart came by or someone had to use the restroom, he had to get up and move out of their way.

The entire flight, there was not a hint of resentment in his voice. He was even happy to allow me a picture with him and an autograph. Class act, Thon!

Somewhere a cranky old NBA player is saying “we always used to have to fly commercial…” and sorry old man, but that doesn’t make it easy or right. There’s a reason NBA teams moved away from that (and it wasn’t to save money).

Good on Maker for being willing to sacrifice when plenty of other normal-sized people couldn’t be bothered.

And if the name Kuzma is familiar, the author says his is the second cousin once removed of the Lakers’ rookie Kyle Kuzma.