The NBA season is still less than a month old, but a day can’t go by without another reminder of the 2014 draft and the stacked class of future stars that will be available. From tanks to tweaks and every other philosophy in between, general managers around the Association are trying to decide how to tackle the 2013-14 campaign while still keeping an eye on the future.
Kobe Bryant just signed a two-year extension with the Lakers for nearly $50-million, but the club is claiming that there will still be plenty of flexibility for them to wade into the free agent market next summer.
The Raptors are one game below .500, but they’re leading their division, and a post-season berth seems better than a freefall to the lottery.
In Chicago, yet another major injury to superstar point guard Derrick Rose leaves the Bulls’ path forward a little less clearly marked.
And what about the Nets and the mega-payroll in Brooklyn? Ownership spent some serious coin on Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett (not to mention the deals that were already in place for the likes of Deron Williams, Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson), and yet the borough is buzzing for all the wrong reasons right now as rookie coach Jason Kidd has led his injury-riddled team to a 3-10 record.
The Spurs (tied with Indiana for the No. 1 overall record) were supposed to start showing their age, and most expected the Suns, Sixers and Celtics to be among the league’s worst—thus far, they’re all battling.
Basically, all the planning in the world can’t change the fact that the NBA game is an erratic, inconsistent and unpredictable mistress. Whether you’re trying to win or lose doesn’t seem to matter to the basketball gods.
There is proof of that statement sprinkled throughout history.
It wasn’t that long ago that Miami was a 15-win team… with Dwyane Wade. A few short years later—and thanks in part to a Toronto trade that helped the Heat free up a whack of cash from their payroll (see: Jermaine O’Neal’s expiring contract in 2010)—the organization is in pursuit of its third-straight championship with LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Wade. Even botching a draft (with the selection of Michael Beasley in 2008) didn’t derail things in South Beach.
In 2007, Boston had a 19.9 percent chance of landing the No. 1 pick. The team had just endured one of its worst seasons in franchise history. Pierce was looking to leave and a young point guard named Rajon Rondo looked like a shadow of the player he would one day become. Instead of nabbing the top spot in the draft, the Celtics dropped to fifth and lost out on the chance to select Kevin Durant or the next great big man in NBA history: Greg Oden. Danny Ainge was on the hot seat in Beantown, but he pulled off two shrewd moves and the team, miraculously, won a championship the very next year with Garnett and Ray Allen in tow.
And how ‘bout the team that did get Oden, the young man who was expected to run roughshod over the league for years to come? Portland stayed average at best for a number of years, never able to make that push towards the NBA’s elite. Back in the summer, there were even rumblings that LaMarcus Aldridge had finally had enough and wanted out of the Pacific Northwest. But he ultimately stuck around, and 15 games into the season, the Blazers are 13-2 with the second-best record in the entire league. Go figure.
Indiana doesn’t have a player in the top six or seven of their rotation drafted higher than tenth overall (the spot they nabbed Paul George). But the Pacers have scouted well, traded and signed even better, and, without a superstar on their roster (though George is quickly becoming one), they’re being billed as a team that could upset Miami’s quest for a three-peat.
Washington and Charlotte (minus one blip of a season in 2009-10) have been lottery-bound for years and continue to struggle, while Minnesota finally appears to be turning a corner they first approached what seems like a lifetime ago.
Only two players in the history of the draft lottery have been selected first-overall and gone on to win a championship with the team that originally picked them—David Robinson and Tim Duncan.
There is no secret to success and no one way to assure losses. Human error in the boardroom or machine-like precision on the floor can stop or start any perceived plans. Just look at the 2013-14 standings.