If the Cleveland Cavaliers can't show you, the NBA Draft and included lottery both have a lot of luck involved. In football and just about every other professional sport in the world, the worst team gets the first pick. It's a balance to try to recreate parity on a yearly basis. But not in the NBA - any team that doesn't make the playoffs has a chance at the number one pick, which is how the 33-49 Cavaliers have next year's top selection, over the 15-67 Milwaukee Bucks.
Getting the top overall pick three out of four years like the Cavs have now done? That's crazy lucky. The Charlotte Hornets, turned Bobcats, turned back Hornets haven't been as fortunate.
And I don't mean just a couple of unlucky draws. The Hornets and Bobcats were just one pick away several times from getting a franchise-changing talent.
Draft Picks Just Missed
That table is tough to look at, especially as a Charlotte fan. The Bobcats had three years in a row of Okafor, Felton, and Morrison instead of Howard, Paul, and Aldridge. Sometimes one draft position is the difference between a franchise-changing player and top-five dud. To add salt to the wound, CP3 went fourth in 2005 to the New Orleans Hornets, the very same franchise that left Charlotte just a few years prior.
Look at those second picks. In the three years that they were fortunate enough to get that high of a pick, they were the years in which there was a clear top prospect at number one, and then a pretty steep drop off even just one pick after. The years where they got the second pick were the same ones where the three most transcendent centers of the last 25 years went first. And the instances they didn't have a top-five pick were the years that LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kevin Love, and Russell Westbrook were in that range.
Sure, Alonzo Mourning was no bust, but the Hornets only got three years out of him. He left due to internal conflicts within the organization, and then later won a championship with the Miami Heat. Even if he had stayed, having Shaq instead would’ve been a franchise-changing scenario.
In 1996, Kobe Bryant was selected by the Charlotte Hornets with their 13th pick in the draft. The word is that Kobe pulled an Eli Manning – he and his agent said they wouldn’t play in Charlotte, forcing the Hornets to trade him for Vlade Divac. Vlade was a good player, but no Black Mamba.
As always, hindsight is 20-20, and who knows if the Hornets or Bobcats would have selected the All-Star during the prior pick if they had been in that spot. But this much unfortunate luck and track record deserves notice, and brings up many “what-if” questions. If Kobe had been willing to play in Charlotte, would the franchise have stayed instead of moving to New Orleans? If they had gotten Chris Paul, would he have spent his whole career there since he’s from North Carolina? If they had selected Anthony Davis, would they be competing for titles in a couple of years?
Finally, Some Luck
The Cleveland Cavaliers were the luckiest team during the most recent NBA Draft Lottery, but the Hornets got some luck as well. The Detroit Pistons owe them a first-round draft pick, but it was top-eight protected. That means if the Pistons picked in the top eight, they got to keep the pick. If it fell between 9 and 30, it went to the Hornets. So when the Cavs moved up into the first pick, it bumped the Pistons into the nine spot, sending the pick to Charlotte.
This comes at an exciting time for the Hornets franchise that hasn’t seen many exciting times over the past decade. Kemba Walker looks like a viable starting point guard in the league, Al Jefferson was a top-three center this year, Cody Zeller started to show flashes of potential at the end of the season, and Ben Gordon's contract finally comes off the books.
Even though they were routed in four games in the first round of the playoffs by LeBron and the Heat, just making it to the playoffs was a step in the right direction for the franchise. The East will be down again next year, and the Hornets should be right back in the mix of the things again.
If they can get a solid shooting guard with their ninth pick, like Michigan State’s Gary Harris, for example, Charlotte fans will have a lot to look forward to in the future. Sure, it’s not the same as trotting out Anthony Davis, Chris Paul, or LaMarcus Aldridge every night, but you have to start somewhere, right?