By Lang Whitaker, NBA.com
NEW YORK CITY — Against all odds, the Cleveland Cavaliers did it again.
After successfully winning the NBA Draft lottery in two of the last three years, and three times in the last decade, on Tuesday night the Cavs once again won the NBA Draft lottery. Despite having just a 1.7 percent chance of landing the top choice, the ping-pong balls once again bounced Cleveland’s way.
“It was incredible when Cleveland didn’t pop up at nine,” said newly appointed Cavaliers general manager David Griffin. “I knew obviously we’d moved up, and I had to gather myself for a second. Just a remarkable, remarkable feeling.”
Three years ago the Cavs landed in the lottery with a first-round choice acquired from the Los Angeles Clippers, and selected Kyrie Irving. Last year they used their own pick to draft Anthony Bennett first overall.
While at the moment the Cavs are still without a coach — Griffin termed the search in its “infancy” — Cleveland will be able to pair its top pick with an athletic young core led by former lottery picks Irving, Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson and Bennett. The Cavaliers have several options with the first overall pick, with the ability to choose from a pool of quality players including cream of the crop Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Joel Embiid.
“I don’t think there’s a clear cut No. 1 in most drafts,” Griffin said. “And I think people when they say that, they have a really strong feeling for one player over another, but I don’t think it’s necessarily a consensus in most drafts.”
Of course, having all these first overall picks is a nice luxury, but being in the lottery year after year also signals you’re regularly missing the playoffs. At some point, the talent the Cavs have stockpiled has to coalesce into a playoff team. Perhaps that time is now.
“We’re very open-minded,” Griffin said. “We’re going to try to get radically better, much quicker. We really feel like there’s a sense of urgency about improving our team as a whole, and we’re going to look for the right fit in that, and we’re very open-minded about what that means.”
Representing the Cavs in the sealed room where the actual drawing took place was Jeff Cohen, the team’s Vice Chairman and the man who has been in the back room for the drawings the last four years. Cohen said he went into the draft clinging to a maxim from what he termed “a book of isms” that said, “You can believe it when you see it.” So as the ping-pong balls ricocheted around the machine, Cohen tried to visualize the Cavs’ winning numbers being drawn.
When the numbers 13, 7, 9 and 14 were drawn, it was announced that this combination would give Cleveland the first pick. Cohen’s hands went to his head, which slowly shook back-and-forth, trying to process their good fortune. He saw it, but he couldn’t believe it. “It was surreal, just … surreal,” Cohen said.
For his own good luck charm, Griffin had a lucky bow tie belonging to Nick Gilbert, son of Cavs’ owner Dan Gilbert, tucked into his jacket pocket out on the television set. (“I didn’t wear it because nobody else could swing Thor’s hammer,” said Griffin.)
Other than the Cavs leaping to the top of the draft, the rest of the picks fell as planned, which meant some premier franchises such as Boston and Los Angeles weren’t able to leapfrog into the rarefied lottery air.
“You’re sitting over there, pretty much naked, and there’s nothing you can do about it,” said James Worthy, a former No. 1 pick who sat on the podium as a representative of the Los Angeles Lakers. “Most of the guys who are sitting up there, when you’re under the pressure they respond by making a great play or shooting a big basket. But when you’re sitting over there, you’re just a sitting duck waiting.
“You get nervous, my heart started pounding a little bit,” Worthy added. “But then we came up at seven, I was like, ‘Damn!’ But nevertheless, it is what it is.”