Here’s how bad the Cavs were last season: many people thought they were tanking.
Tanking? We’re talking about tanking?
The Cavs weren’t tanking. The Cavs were just that bad. You saw them. They were 19-63.
Unwatchably awful? Yes.
If the Cavs were legitimately tanking, they would have traded Kevin Love, their best player by about 8 miles. But they didn’t.
If the Cavs were tanking, they would have kept professional sideshow J.R. Smith around the team all year. But they didn’t. After he appeared in 11 games, 10 of them losses, the Cavs paid Smith to go away.
The Cavs were tanking about as much as the 0-16 Browns were tanking. There’s a difference between trying to lose and being incapable of winning.
The Cavs did trade three veteran players that people may have interpreted as tankage trades: Kyle Korver, George Hill and Rodney Hood. But the Cavs actually had better records without those players than they did with them.
The Cavs were 4-16 (.200) when they traded Korver on Nov. 29. They were 15-47 (.242) after that trade. They were 5-19 (.208) when they traded Hill on Dec. 7. They were 14-44 (.241) after that trade. They were 8-30 (.211) when they traded Hood on Feb. 4. They were 11-33 (.250) after that trade.
Sure, they did pick up some draft picks in those trades that might help them in the future. But it’s difficult to fairly charge a team with tanking when it made moves that — by the Cavs’ meager standards — made them statistically better.
So while this Cavs season may have superficially appeared to be a full-blown tank, it was not. Once LeBron James left, the Cavs were left demonstrably helpless. It was expected to be a train wreck and, for six agonizing months, a train wreck it was.
It left the Cavs in the kind of shape for which the NBA Draft was invented: to help the league’s tired, its poor, its huddled masses, the wretched refuse of its teeming shore, get back on its feet — or, at least, back on all fours.
The Cavs picked a bad time to become wretched basketball refuse. They got caught in the crossfire between the Tanking Police and the Hardcourt Halfway House.
The Cavs were not tanking losers. They were legitimate losers. Unfortunately, the new-look NBA Lottery chooses not to distinguish between the honest losers and the conniving losers. The Cavs were fresh-faced members of the former, thrown into the same dumpster as the unwashed latter.
Don’t ask me to explain how the lottery works. I’m not sure anyone, outside of commissioner Adam Silver’s pool boy, can explain how the new system works. Rumor has it that there are still ping pong balls flying around somewhere. There’s talk of participants being sequestered in a private room, although for how long, and whether hors d’oeuvres and bottled water are available is unknown.
After the passage of an unknown length of time, the sequestered are unsequestered, everyone moves into a larger room, where snappily dressed representatives of each of the shamed (i.e. lottery) teams are introduced and permitted to look uncomfortable. Then they turn on the lights and the TV cameras, throw it to Rachel Nichols, and it’s sham time, er, showtime.
Let’s put it this way: If the NFL Draft is the Senior Prom of our national sporting dog and pony shows, the NBA Lottery is the TV game show gone horribly wrong.
The only thing missing is the team representatives hitting their buzzers with their fists and blurting out the definition of an illegal defense.
None of us without a degree in advanced physics will know how it was arrived at, but when all the bells and whistles finally went silent, the No. 1 pick in the draft went to the New Orleans Pelicans.
New Orleans isn’t in the greatest need for the No.1 pick — i.e. Zion Williamson — because the Pelicans won more games than six of the teams in the lottery, including the Cavs. The Pelicans won 33 games, which is 14 more than the Cavs and Suns and 16 more than the Knicks.
The Pelicans had a 6 percent chance of getting the No. 1 pick, but they got it, thanks to the reconfigured lottery system that is now designed to not reward tankers — which penalizes non-tankers.
The non-tanking Cavs had to settle for the No. 5 pick, which is a bad place to be in a three-star draft, but a good place to be historically.
Hall of Fame players who were selected with the fifth overall pick: Billy Cunningham, Walt Frazier, Bobby Jones, Sidney Moncrief, Charles Barkley, Scottie Pippen, Mitch Richmond, and Ray Allen. Future Hall of Famers who were picked fifth: Kevin Garnett, Vince Carter and Dwyane Wade.
The non-tanking Cavs should be drafting higher, but they’re not.
For that, they can thank the tankers.
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