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.

Watch the Alex Caruso to LeBron James alley-oop

LeBron Caruso
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images
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One of the keys to Denver having a shot in the Western Conference Finals: Keep the Lakers out of transition.

That did not go so well to start.

Denver had seven second-quarter turnovers, which allowed the Lakers to get out an run and the result was this highlight, Alex Caruso to LeBron James for the monster alley-oop.

The Lakers added more points per 100 possessions in transition than any other team in the league, and the Lakers have started a higher percentage of their offense in transition than any other team in the playoffs (16.5% of their plays start that way, stats via Cleaning the Glass). Denver has improved halfcourt defense this postseason, but their transition defense has struggled in the playoffs. That is potentially a bad combo for the Nuggets.

 

Report: Heat tried to trade Goran Dragic away in Jimmy Butler deal

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The Miami Heat are not in control of the Eastern Conference Finals — just two wins from the NBA Finals — without the combination of Jimmy Butler and Goran Dragic. They are the shot creators, the two penetrating into the paint, breaking down the Celtics’ defense, then kicking out to shooters. Butler is an All-NBA player, and Dragic is playing like the All-NBA player he was six years ago.

That pairing almost never happened.

Michael Lee at the Athletic told the story.

What’s hilarious about the Dragic-Butler partnership – a bromance that has found them bonding in the bubble over bottles of Michelob Ultras, cups of Big Head coffee, and singing the “Bad Boys” theme song from “Cops” – is it nearly didn’t happen. The initial three-team trade [Heat president Pat] Riley facilitated to get Butler involved sending Dragic to Dallas. Dragic would’ve teamed up with his Slovenian little homie, Luka Doncic, but would’ve said farewell to what he intended to do with the Heat.

The Mavericks had no interest in taking on Dragic – a 30-something hobbling on a surgically-repaired knee whose best years were way in the rearview – so the Heat had to get more creative, while remaining stuck with seemingly damaged goods. Again, nothing went according to plan.

We knew this at the time, consider this a reminder. Also, don’t blame Dallas on this one. Dragic played 36 games last season, had knee issues, and had looked like a shell of the All-NBA player he used to be, and on top of it he was getting paid $19.2 million. There were not a lot of teams looking to get in the Dragic business before this season started.

Instead, Dragic stayed, got healthy, accepted a sixth-man role (until the playoffs, before that Kendrick Nunn started and Dragic was the change of pace off the bench), and found his stride.

In the bubble, Dragic has taken off as the second scoring/shot-creating option in the Heat offense. Erik Spoelstra, as he does, has put Dragic in positions to succeed.

And, after these playoffs, get paid this offseason when Dragic is a free agent.

Brad Stevens hosts late night meeting with Smart, Brown, Celtics’ leadership

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A frustrated Marcus Smart yelled and vented at teammates after Boston’s come-from-ahead loss to Miami to go down 0-2 in the Eastern Conference Finals. Jaylen Brown reportedly snapped back that the team needed to stick together and not just point fingers. Things reportedly were thrown around in the Celtics’ locker room.

Boston coach Brad Stevens knew he had to get everyone back on the same page before Game 3 on Saturday, so he had Smart, Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Kemba Walker meet and talk through their issues, reported Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

It was a smart move by Stevens, and it apparently worked. The Celtics have moved on from the incident, reports A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston.

But one source within the bubble told NBC Sports Boston that the emotions of Thursday night are “water under the bridge now” as the team prepares for a must-win Game 3 on Saturday.

The Celtics need to match the Heat’s “do whatever it takes to win” intensity on Saturday. It would be a help if Gordon Hayward plays, which appears possible (he is officially listed as questionable but seems to be moving toward playing.

Everything that happened before to Boston needs to be a lesson on what it takes to win at the highest level. Miami is confident and rolling, plus they have the relentless Jimmy Butler in their corner.

One of the four players in Stevens’ room Thursday night — Boston’s leaders — has to be the one to step up and match that intensity. If not, the Celtics will be watching the Finals from home like the rest of us.

Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo: Agents will position me to succeed ‘with the team or another team’

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Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s moment has arrived.

He won Most Valuable Player, yes. But he’s also the center of speculation as he approached 2021 unrestricted free agency. He could head that off by signing a super-max extension with the Bucks this summer.

In the meantime, every word he says will be scrutinized for clues about his future.

That includes grainy video today from Greece, where – because Milwaukee already got bounced from the playoffs – Antetokounmpo conducted a conference call with reporters and an interview on NBA TV about his award.

The Bucks’ season is so far in the rearview mirror, Antetokounmpo already met with Bucks ownership and returned home. Now, attention turns to his long-term outlook.

Antetokounmpo:

I have two great agents that help with that, and I know they’re going to put me in the best situation to be successful with the team or another team. But at the end of the day, I had a great conversation with the owner. And as I know so far, we’re on the same page. And I want to be in Milwaukee for the rest of my career. But at the end of the day, we’ve got to want the same thing, which is a championship.

As long as everybody is on the same page and as long as everybody is fighting for the same thing … every single day, which is to be a champion, I don’t see why not be in Milwaukee for the next 15 years?

I believe Antetokounmpo prefers to find a way to stay with the Bucks. But even while professing his loyalty, Antetokounmpo had made clear he doesn’t hold blind allegiance to Milwaukee. Antetokounmpo’s agent, Alex Saratsis, said in February, “Everything is open.”

Yet, this is the first time I recall Antetokounmpo himself so directly mentioning the possibility of joining “another team.”

The other time he supposedly said something like that, he claimed he was misquoted.

Of course, you could focus on other portions of his responses today like: “I want to be in Milwaukee for the rest of my career.” Yet, there’s that “we’ve got to want the same thing, which is a championship” caveat.

Two major questions:

1. How willing are the Bucks to pay the luxury tax to maximize Milwaukee’s title chances?

2. Even with a financial commitment from ownership, how equipped are the Bucks to win after a couple years of shortcuts?

Antetokounmpo must evaluate.

But he’s not just putting the onus on the organization. He spoke about working to continuing to improve, doing his part to achieve his main goal.

When talking about his 2019 MVP, Antetokounmpo said at the time, “Please, after this day, don’t call me MVP because until I win it again next year.”

Is he ready to be called MVP now?

Antetokounmpo:

Don’t call me MVP. Don’t call me two-times MVP until I’m a champion.