As the tanks return to their resting places, NBA fans of every stripe can look at the 2013-2014 NBA season and see if it really was Tankapalooza — or if it was simply the usual number of bad teams being blown out of proportion by a story hungry media and a fan base that wants to sound smarter than it is. Of course, whatever we find out is sure to be a victim to hindsight bias anyway. So, there’s that.
On the other hand, last night proved that there were definitely some winners and some losers among the might-be-tanking, and in an era where it wasn’t unheard of for fans to be actively pining for a loss, this new lottery order says a lot about whether or not that otherwise meaningless win over Philadelphia or Sacramento was something to cheer for.
Just kidding. No one should ever have to have second thoughts about rooting for their team to win. That’s a fundamental tenent of sports culture where all fans cheer for people they don’t know who are paid by people who take your money for merchandise. Preach about the long-term health of the franchise all you want, but winning games is fun, and supporting a winning team — even if it was just for 14 games — is the primal expression of what it means to dig sports. That said, here are the five teams that are the happiest with the way the cookie crumbled in the draft lottery.
5. The Charlotte Hornets
That’s right — in case you hadn’t heard, the Charlotte Bobcats have officially become the Charlotte Hornets, and assumed all the history of the franchise’s history in North Carolina. That means that Grandma Ma, ‘Zo, Muggsy, and those Starter Jackets are all going to be appropriated by the Charlotte Team, rather than the New Orleans team — which only has history for the time that it has played in the Big Easy, now.
Make sense? If it happened in Charlotte, it’s for the Hornets. If it happened in New Orleans, it’s for the Pelicans. What’s happened in Charlotte, though, is a pile of good fortune. Not only did they make the playoffs for the first time since 2010, they also finished the draft lottery with the ninth and the 24th picks in a very deep draft. That’s pretty good, considering the team is only two years out from the worst winning record in NBA history (7-59 in the 2012 lockout season.)
Then there’s the fact that with Al Jefferson, Kemba Walker, and some other up and coming pieces, the Hornets are well-positioned to try for at least a second round exit next season — and they’ll be doing it in teal and purple. Admit it, you’re stoked.
4. The Minnesota Timberwolves
The Timberwolves, who snagged the 13th pick in the NBA draft, didn’t end up winning the draft lottery because of where they’re picking. No, they won it because a whole bunch of teams that might be interested in the services of their soon to be departing star Kevin Love. No matter what he’s saying now, after six seasons and zero playoff appearances, Love has been ready to go to a different team ever since former GM David Kahn declined to offer him a max contract in 2012, instead offering a four year deal that soured the power forward’s relationship with the franchise, even if Kahn is no longer the general manager.
In recent weeks, Love has been linked to the Celtics (6th pick in the draft), the Lakers (7th pick), the Suns (14th) the Bulls (19th), and the Golden State Warriors (who don’t have a first rounder this year, but can offer Minnesota an exciting package of players and future considerations.) With the shakeup in the draft order, all those teams — and a couple others — are in positions to offer Minny a king’s ransom for Kevin Love, perhaps a better one than the organization received when they traded Kevin Garnett back in 2007.
The tricky part comes from the fact that Love isn’t going to sign an extension with any team — even if he wants to resign with them after next season. The new Collective Bargaining Agreement allows for Love to sign a much bigger deal in free agency than he’d be allowed to receive in a contract extension. So, essentially, any team that’s willing to trade for the All-Star power forward is going to have to prove themselves to him for the entire season, which means the Timberwolves could feasibly plunder a team’s assets and then watch Love sign with a third team. That’s a win.
3. The Milwaukee Bucks
At the outset of the season, the Milwaukee Bucks were determined to make the playoffs. They were also facing serious uncertainty, as the demands for a new arena by the NBA plus the age of their ownership seemed destined to result in the team being whisked off to Seattle in the near future. At the end of the draft lottery, the Bucks were looking at the second pick in a three superstar draft, a new ownership group that was dedicated to keeping the team in Wisconsin, and maybe a chance at building a team that’ll make it past the first round of the postseason.
Maybe. The Bucks have a long way to go, and while the final nail in their patchwork eighth seed protocol might have been hammered, the team is still not very good. That should be easier to fix though, with a very good chance to draft a projected All-Star. Fingers crossed, Milwaukee.
2. The Philadelphia 76ers
The standard bearing front office for tanking has got to be feeling pretty good right now. The 76ers — who aggressively relieved themselves of players capable of contributing to wins throughout the course of the season — have a pair of top ten picks in this year’s draft, hanging on to the number three pick and the number ten pick, snagged courtesy of New Orleans, who traded it with top 3 protection in the Jrue Holiday swap last year. Not a bad result for some of the worst basketball in recent memory, we suppose.
1. The Cleveland Cavaliers
The reaction to the Cav’s third number one pick in four years was, for anyone that wasn’t a Cleveland fan, complete disbelief and irate disappointment. Seriously? Cleveland, again? But, yes, Cleveland again it was, grabbing back to back first overall draft choices for the first time since the Orlando Magic back in 1992 and 1993. Those picks were used on Shaq and Chris Webber, who was later traded for Penny Hardaway. With just a 1.7 percent chance of winning the lottery overall, Cleveland, who has had an erratic drafting history (for every Kyrie Irving, there’s an Anthony Bennett) might do something to squander the pick, but for now they’ve come out on top.
Honestly, how lame is that? Sure, the chances of Cleveland landing two number one picks of their own — remember, Irving was picked with the Los Angeles Clippers pick acquired in the Baron Davis trade — in four years is close to astronomical, and rushing to change a system that’s far from broken because of a single set of unfavorable results seems shortsighted, but the Cavs are suffering through an embarrassment of riches right now because of their perpetual mediocrity, and that can sometimes seem fundamentally wrong. It’s all right for now, though. At least until they win it again in 2015.