Draft lottery again becomes everything to Cavaliers

Sam Amico

For general manager Koby Altman and the Cleveland Cavaliers, the fun tentatively begins Aug. 25.

That's the tentative date for the 2020 NBA Draft Lottery. But hey, tentative is something, and if you're the Cavs, you'll settle for anything.

As you know, the NBA is in the process of resuming its 2019-20 season and offseason calendar. As you also know, the Cavs were eliminated from playoff contention long ago.

The league made it official by telling the Cavs not to bother making the trip to Walt Disney World and finishing the season.

And it's hard to blame the NBA. The Cavs were 19-46 and in last place in the Eastern Conference at the hiatus (March 11).

Still, there is time to win, and the contest is something at which the Cavs have gotten good during the non-LeBron James years. That would be none other than the lottery.

Since 2003, the Cavs have finished first in the lottery FOUR times. With luck like that, they should probably stop playing the NBA lottery and turn their attention to Mega Millions.

After landing James in 2003, the Cavs again won the lottery in 2011 (Kyrie Irving), 2013 (Anthony Bennett) and 2014 (Andrew Wiggins).

As an aside, none of those former No. 1 overall picks are still on the roster, and Bennett isn't even in the league. So maybe it's best if they don't win this year.

And that could happen. The Cavs, Golden State Warriors and Minnesota Timberwolves are tied for best odds to finish first ... but the Cavs could also finish as low as sixth.

Imagine that. Or don't. But the reality is the Cavs could end up selecting much lower than first in a draft that's projected to produce one or two real difference-makers.

It wouldn't be the first disappointment.

Back in 2012, the Cavs won a pre-lottery tiebreaker over the New Orleans Pelicans (via coin flip), and all of Cleveland celebrated. But then that "losing" Pelicans ping pong ball leaped to No. 1. They selected Anthony Davis.

Then there was last year. The Cavs had the third-best odds and finished ... fifth. This was the draft of Zion Williamson and Ja Morant. The Cavs got Darius Garland.

Don't misunderstand. The Cavs like Garland. He undoubtedly showed some nice upside. It just undoubtedly wasn't the upside displayed by Zion or Morant.

Like Davis, Williamson also went to the Pelicans -- and their current chief of basketball operations, David Griffin, Altman's old boss with the Cavs.

But at least the Cavs won't have to worry about the Pelicans this year. 

For one, the Pelicans will be one of the teams fighting for a playoff spot in Orlando. And only the Cavs and seven other teams not invited will participate in the lottery this year.

For another, the Pelicans were owed the Cavs' lottery pick if it fell out of the top 10. But the odds of that actually happening ended by, like, January. By then, the Cavs had already proven they were one of the league's five worst teams.

So the lottery is scheduled for Aug. 25 and the draft for Oct. 12. Those are the two dates Altman and his staff are focused.

One thing to keep in mind with all this is that no matter where the Cavs land, they can always trade the pick. They already have a talented young backcourt trio in Garland, Collin Sexton and Kevin Porter Jr.

The idea of the Cavs trading the pick isn't based on any inside information. But if they did, it wouldn't come as a major surprise. Sometimes, the unknowns of draft night offer a team a major advantage.

In lieu of finishing the season on the court, the Cavs will take it.