The NBA draft lottery is designed to help the league's downtrodden franchises improve, but it might have given a couple of powerhouse clubs a better shot to land Minnesota Timberwolves star Kevin Love in a trade.
So much for parity, huh?
That Love's situation was unsettled heading into the lottery is no surprise. After all, it was only May 18 that Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski reported Love would exercise the early termination option in his contract after next season.
It's still hazy now, even though we know where everybody's picking in the June draft. The fact that Wolves owner Glen Taylor is still insisting no big move is imminent has a lot to do with that.
"At this point, we're not talking to any teams," Taylor said, per Charley Walters of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. "I haven't heard from Kevin or his agents or anything like that. We're assuming that Kevin will be here next season, and we're working with that scenario. This isn't the time for us to do anything but to prepare for next year."
We don't know how aggressive the Wolves will be in handling this situation, and we also can't say which teams' interest in Love is legitimate. Anytime a guy of Love's quality becomes even remotely available, almost every team is reported to have "interest" in him. That's no different in this case.
But we learned a couple of things when the envelopes were opened at this year's lottery. A clearer picture emerged as to which teams would have the draft assets to use as a sweetener (or centerpiece) in a potential deal for Love.
Giving Up on Love
The Boston Celtics are rumored to have interest in the sharpshooting big man, per Wojnarowski's report. And what's more, they were willing to include their lottery pick in an offer for Love. But now we know the C's are selecting sixth in the first round, and it's hard to imagine the Wolves viewing that selection as valuable enough to be a key part of any deal for Love.
That has to sting Boston a little, especially amid a report from Ben Watanabe of NESN.com in which a source said Love would be open to playing for the Celtics.
The Los Angeles Lakers landed the No. 7 selection, and they're even less likely to snare Love than Boston. Even before the lottery solidified things, Love heading to the Lakers in a trade felt implausible. L.A. didn't have anything the Wolves would want, and Love would have had to suffer through a rough year with the Lakers before the team really got its rebuilding process underway two seasons from now.
The appealing angle of the UCLA kid coming home to start a new era with the marquee SoCal franchise still exists, but it'll likely be postponed until the summer of 2015 when Los Angeles can simply sign Love outright if he winds up on the free-agent market.
Lucky in Love?
The Cleveland Cavaliers thwarted the odds again, winning the lotto for the third time in four years.
That's right, folks; Cleveland is closer than ever to making those Uncle Drew Pepsi commercials with Love and Kyrie Irving into a live-action, 82-game affair.
But before anyone gets too excited, let's consider this situation rationally. The Cavs will certainly think long and hard about snatching up Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Joel Embiid or whoever else catches their fancy at No. 1.
It'll be hard to pass up a potential superstar on a rookie deal.
Then again, early indications are that Cavaliers general manager David Griffin is open to swinging a deal:
Griffin says #Cavs will be open-minded with pick, wouldn't rule out trading it.— M.S. Boyer/J. Valade (@PDcavsinsider) May 21, 2014
That top selection will be a major chip if the Cavs offer it to the Wolves as part of a package for Love, and you'd have to think Minnesota would be intrigued by the chance to get a new star on the cheap.
Unfortunately—Irving's talent notwithstanding—Cleveland isn't all that appealing as a destination for Love. The coaching situation is uncertain, the weather is just about as bad as Minnesota's and the team, overall, is a lot worse than the one Love would be leaving behind.
Remember, Love wants to win. And even if the Cavs have an easier path to the playoffs in the weaker East, he has to know they're not a team of real, objective quality. They won 33 games—fighting among themselves all the while—in a comically awful conference last year.
Love won't view that as an upgrade on his current situation.
Toss in a history of weak player development, an owner with a reputation for petulance (and Comic Sans hate mail) and the dubious quality of Irving's leadership, and it's hard to see Love committing to an extension with Cleveland.
And if the Cavs can't get an ironclad promise Love will stick around for the long haul, they'd be crazy to deal a No. 1 overall pick for him. You don't give up a coveted asset for what might be a one-year rental unless you're on the cusp of a championship.
Bold assessment: The Cavs are not on the cusp of a championship.
The Big Guns
That leaves a handful of already dangerous teams with a better-than-ever chance to get their hands on Love.
The Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets saw their odds improve by default. If the Wolves had leaped up in the lotto high enough to pitch Love on the franchise-altering potential of a top-three pick, maybe he would have reconsidered his plans to opt out.
If the Lakers or Celtics had snagged a top-three selection, maybe they would have been able to pull off a deal.
But those things didn't happen, and now the Dubs and Rockets are sitting there with a combination of qualities to offer Love that look pretty good. Winning situations, franchise stability, big markets, loads of talent and the assets Minnesota would want—they're all there in Golden State and Houston.
And now the competition is looking thinner than ever.
The Timberwolves aren't going to get a better offer than this.
David Lee is a double-double machine. If you're looking for a Love replacement that keeps you competitive at power forward immediately, Lee is perfect. He's productive and attainable. That's hard to find. ...
Bring in Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green along with Lee, and the Timberwolves have a core that keeps them somewhat relevant now as they figure out what's next.
Golden State is motivated to pull off a deal, and its new head coach has something particular in mind:
Kerr: “I did tell them I think this team could use a stretch 4. I think a shooting 4 could really make things difficult on the opposition."— Ethan Strauss (@SherwoodStrauss) May 20, 2014
I think we know who does the whole stretch 4 thing better than anyone else.
Don't expect flirtation with the tax or an aversion to splashy moves to get in the way, either. The Warriors have made boldness and creativity pillars of their organizational philosophy:
Jerry West to NBA TV: "Ownership has shown ability to let FO..be creative in trying to bring a player in that could help make a difference."— Diamond Leung (@diamond83) May 18, 2014
Houston can offer up Chandler Parsons, Omer Asik and whatever other outside-the-box assets sharp-minded GM Daryl Morey can think of. Like the Warriors, the Rockets are going to make a strong push for Love:
Another contender planning aggressive play for a Kevin Love trade, sources tell Yahoo: Houston. Kevin McHale has strong bond with Love.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) May 18, 2014
The key here is that all of those teams are in stable enough positions to give up assets and risk losing Love as a free agent. A guarantee he'll at least opt in to the final year of his deal would be nice, but all four of the aforementioned teams are close enough to contention to risk a one-year rental.
And because they're all positioned to win big for years to come, they might not even have to worry about appeasing Love enough to retain him. If they continue to win, Love might just want to stay anyway.
So, the draft lottery that was supposed to help the league's impoverished might have just made the rich richer.
The economic polarization afflicting American society is a real problem. But it sure makes the NBA more fun, doesn't it?