Despite only a 1.7% chance of landing the No. 1-overall pick, the Cleveland Cavaliers won the 2014 NBA Draft lottery.
No NBA franchise has ever had a streak of lottery luck like this.
It’s the third time in four years, and the fourth time in 11 years that Cleveland will have the No. 1 pick. The first of those No. 1 picks, in 2003, was LeBron James — who was considered the best NBA prospect ever before the lottery.
Somehow, the Cavaliers have squandered all of this good luck.
Through bad drafting, impatient trades, and irrational free agent signings, Cleveland mismanaged the LeBron era and screwed up the rebuilding process after he left.
There was a lot of sympathy for the Cavs after LeBron went to Miami in 2010. But in reality, they only have themselves to blame for his departure and the disaster he left behind.
We’ll break this down into two parts: (1) how the Cavs screwed up the LeBron years, and (2) how the Cavs screwed up the post-LeBron years.
1. How the Cavs screwed up the LeBron years
The 2003 NBA Draft was one of the best drafts ever. Winning the lottery in 2003 was a gift from the basketball gods. It should have set the franchise up for the next decade.
The Cavaliers drafted terribly after picking LeBron in 2003. The full list of draft picks:
- Luke Jackson (#10 pick, 2004): Didn’t start a game, averaged 2.7 points per game in 2 seasons.
- Shannon Brown (#25 pick, 2006): Averaged 4.7 points per game in 38 games with the team.
- Daniel Gibson (#42 pick, 2006): A serviceable back-up guard. Averaged 10.4 points per game in 2007-08.
- J.J. Hickson (#19 pick, 2008): Averaged 9.1 points per game in three seasons before leaving for Sacramento.
- Christian Eyenga (#30 pick, 2009): Didn’t play until 2010-11.
- Danny Green (#46 pick, 2009): Played 115 total minutes for Cleveland before getting cut and becoming a key part of the Spurs.
As we have seen with how the Oklahoma City Thunder built its team around Kevin Durant, sometimes the best strategy is to draft a star player, be stingy in free agency, and continue to construct a core group of young players through the draft.
Cleveland didn’t do that.
They drafted poorly, but they also only had one lottery pick Luke Jackson in 2004.
Early in the LeBron era, they tried to win immediately by acquiring veterans through trades and free agency.
Here’s a sampling of the guys they signed/traded for between 2004 and 2009: Kevin Ollie, Ira Newble, Drew Gooden, Eric Snow, Larry Hughes, Damon Jones, Donyell Marshall, Flip Murray, David Wesley, Wally Szczerbiak, Ben Wallace, Delonte West, Joe Smith, Sasha Pavlovic, Mo Williams, Anthony Parker, Shaquille O’Neal, and Antwan Jamison.
That’s not exactly a murderer’s row of acquisitions.
The best player LeBron ever played with in Cleveland was Carlos Boozer — who the team infamously let leave in free agency in 2004 after a “handshake” agreement fell apart. The second-best player was Mo Williams.
LeBron left Cleveland because the team around him was a haphazard collection of old, overpaid veterans that had no long-term future as a cohesive unit.
2. How the Cavs screwed up the post-LeBron years
Cleveland has gotten ridiculously lucky in the lottery since LeBron left. They got the No. 1 picks in 2011 and 2013, and the No. 4 pick in 2011 and 2012.
Whenever you pick in the top five, you expect to get a franchise-altering player. Yet only one of those four picks has worked out for the Cavs.
All the picks:
- Kyrie Irving (#1 pick, 2011)
- Tristan Thompson (#4 pick, 2011)
- Justin Harper (#32 pick, 2011)
- Dion Waiters (#4 pick, 2012)
- Jared Cunningham (#24 pick, 2012)
- Bernard James (#33 pick, 2012)
- Jae Crowder (#34 pick, 2012)
- Anthony Bennett (#1 pick, 2013)
- Sergey Karasev ($19 pick, 2013)
- Allen Crabbe (#31 pick, 2013)
Even though Irving has had trouble staying on the court, he’s a home run pick. The other guys … not so much.
Tristan Thompson is nothing more than an energy guy off the bench. Dion Waiters is a shooter who doesn’t particularly shoot that well, and also got in a much-publicized beef with Irving. Bennett had the worst rookie year of any No. 1 pick ever.
Even the Cavs probably can’t screw up this No. 1 pick. But they’re still a long way from becoming a championship contender, and they’re remarkably devoid of starting-quality players for a team that has been drafting at the top of the lottery for four years.
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