You know how at the beginning of every NFL season, everyone is 0-0 and has a chance at the Super Bowl? That is not true in the NBA. For fans of five to 10 teams every year, the NBA draft lottery is the Super Bowl.
No other sport decides its future like this — with an uncomfortable, surreal 30-minute raffle, basically — and that's what makes it so great. In the span of 30 minutes, jammed in before some conference final game every year, the directions of entire franchises can change one way or the other. For instance, 2013 marks the 10th anniversary of the most insane lottery night of all time ...
... when Memphis nearly landed LeBron James, only to end up with nothing (its pick was protected as no. 1 overall but otherwise the Grizzlies had to send it to Detroit). Instead, we walked away thinking Cleveland had just fallen into a dynasty, Detroit was about to extend its dynasty another decade with Darko's frosted tips coming to the Midwest, and the Nuggets were getting Bernard King 2.0 for the next 15 years. Meanwhile, the Grizzlies were destined to remain in NBA no-man's-land, wondering what might have been.
I was one of eight or 10 media members who got to watch the lottery last night from inside the television studio where the NBA draft order is filmed. It’s not quite as cool as being in the secret locked-down room where the lottery actually happens, but it’s an experience — a bizarre event filled with odd moments, awkward silences, uncomfortable people, team representatives wearing ridiculous amounts of makeup, endless commercial breaks where everyone on the dais just sort of sits there, Jay Bilas, and other strangeness. Some quick observations from TV land:
• The Cleveland Cavaliers contingent at these things is just very weird. They make a party of the lottery, and the party treads the line between quirky and unseemly. They bring at least a dozen people every year, and there is always a local celebrity or two among them; Bernie Kosar came last year, and he was on the list again this year. He didn’t show, but a rapper named Machine Gun Kelly, who does not know how to tie a tie, filled the celebrity void.
We interrupt Part 2 of the NBA Trade Value column to explain the travesty known as the 2009 NBA draft. That night, Minnesota drafted two of our top-30 trade value guys (Ricky Rubio with the fifth pick, then Ty Lawson with the 18th pick) and passed up a third top-30 guy (Stephen Curry) to take Jonny Flynn. Trust me, this was just as ridiculous at the time. (Check out my thoughts at 5:10 of the '09 Draft Diary.)
That same night, Minnesota quickly traded Lawson to Denver for a future protected first-round pick that became the immortal Luke Babbitt (2010's 16th pick). What happened to Babbitt? It flipped his rights, along with Ryan Gomes, to Portland for Martell Webster, who had already been gift-wrapped a more-than-generous four-year, $20 million deal.
What happened to Webster? Turned out he was damaged goods — Webster needed two back surgeries to repair a bulging disc (including one before he ever played a T-Wolves game), struggled through two injury-plagued seasons before Minnesota released him, then became the centerpiece of a contentious compensation process that was only recently resolved (terms were not disclosed).
Amid the buzzer-beaters, heartbreak, and drama in the NCAA tournament, NBA teams are using college basketball’s biggest stage to fine-tune their evaluations of some of the league’s future stars. For someone like Ben McLemore of Kansas or Marcus Smart of Oklahoma State, a brilliant stretch in March will allow them to stake their claim as the no. 1 overall pick in next year’s draft. Regardless of where they are selected, both McLemore and Smart — should they declare — will move on from successful college programs to teams in the professional ranks that aren’t exactly synonymous with winning. During the past two seasons, no team has represented this perennial lottery dweller quite like the Charlotte Bobcats.
After a historically bad season that was partially obscured by a lockout-shortened schedule, the team has continued its futility again this year. In 11 of its past 13 games, Charlotte has been blown out by 14 or more points, an embarrassing stretch that has helped make the team owners of the league’s worst record. Or, in other words, things are going exactly as planned in Charlotte.
Welcome to life in the NBA, where every spring brings not only the excitement of the playoffs, but the unsavory notion of tanking. In a league that rewards losing and incompetence with valuable high draft picks, it pays to be bad. So with organizations like Charlotte, Orlando, and even Portland actively looking to avoid respectability, it’s time to restart the conversation about what tanking does to the competitive nature of the league.
With the 2012 NBA draft completed and free agency now under way, several teams have given us glimpses into the direction of their offseason strategy. Let’s take a look at a few.
You! No, You! OK ... You!
Similar to a desperate man prowling Lavo after last call, the Nets spent the beginning of the week searching frantically for someone willing to spend the night in their spanking-new Brooklyn industrial space (really, the yet-unfinished Barclays Center resembles an oxidized armadillo carcass). As other teams cuddled on banquettes with players already under contract, the Nets bought $16 vodka sodas, disingenuously complimented gladiator sandals, and negotiated cab-fare deals to convince a potential partner to ride over that bridge. Exactly like real life.
If Dwight Howard listens to the Jalen Rose Show, he might want to skip this one. Jalen went in on Dwight for his recent public statements and questioned Howard's desire to win an NBA championship. Then we turned our attention to the other big names on the market: Deron Williams, Gerald Wallace, Jeremy Lin, Steve Nash, and even Omer Asik. After that, Jalen shed light on what NBA players really do in their offseasons and why life at home with the family doesn’t come naturally for professional athletes — and often ends poorly. He then broke down the 2012 draft and did some singing. Lots of singing.
On today's final Overdose of the season, The Basketball Jones break down the winners and losers of the 2012 NBA draft: David Stern's WWE moment, mom tattoos, surprise picks, bulging dicks, and Twitter spoiler alerts. We also look ahead to free agency by separating the realistic rumors (Odom to the Clippers) from the impractical (Josh Smith to the Lakers).
All that, plus Deron Williams's birthday, the problem with instant replay, 2K13 cover stars, flying phobias, Pun-Gun fun, and Leigh's final "Tweet of the Weak." Single tear.
Of all the possible moments that could be miked up, David Stern welcoming newly drafted first-round picks into the NBA never is. So I was forced to imagine. (Shout out to Jose3030 for help with the pics)
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Thurday.
Lukas Rosol, virtually unknown in the tennis world, upset Rafael Nadal in the second round at Wimbledon, prevailing with a spectacular fifth set on center court. Things took an ugly turn late in the fourth set when Nadal began to "accidentally" dump clay that he keeps hidden in various parts of his body onto the Wimbledon grass.
In their eight years of existence, the Charlotte Bobcats have drafted three players from UNC, one from Duke, and one from Boston College, a school that plays up to seven games a year in the state of North Carolina. They have drafted one player from Texas, a Naismith runner-up from Gonzaga, and two UConn greats. Outside of trading for Alexis Ajinca’s draft rights in 2008, the Bobcats have found nearly every undersized or questionably athletic college star in the country. Some, like Jared Dudley, turn out to be valuable players on other teams. Others, like Sean May, quickly confirm that college post moves sometimes don’t translate to the NBA. The Bobcats haven’t fully developed a player since their inception in 2004. They handcuffed Raymond Felton, they didn’t tell the managers of all Charlotte-area Waffle Houses to stop serving May, they turned Gerald Henderson into the worst version of Kobe Bryant in the history of versions of Kobe Bryant.
With respect to Harrison Barnes’s decision-making, Perry Jones III’s passiveness, Terrence Jones’s tendency to look uninterested, Royce White’s anxiety, Meyers Leonard’s maturity, and Austin Rivers’s hubris, the biggest question mark in this year’s draft has to be how much Jared Sullinger’s back is going to affect his career. Had he put his name in last year’s draft, the two-time first-team All-American almost certainly would’ve been taken in the first five picks, but thanks to a variety of factors, he wasn’t even invited to the green room for this year’s draft and figures to not even be drafted in the first 20 picks. He’s the quintessential example of why even though many consider it noble and loyal for a surefire lottery pick to return to college, the smart play is always to go after the NBA riches. Because while an extra year of college is nice and admirable, you can’t make it rain on strippers or light a fatty with an extra year of college like you can with briefcases full of Benjamins.
Last year, the Sacramento Kings got lucky with their second-round pick. With the 60th and final pick, they selected Isaiah Thomas. By the end of the season, he was an effective starter for them. Every team hopes they will choose guys who can make an immediate impact. Here are three guys who won't go early, but could really help their future team.