Patience Not a Virtue for Lottery Teams

Patience Not a Virtue for Lottery Teams
Feb 05, 2004, 01:00 am
Submitted by Jeffrey Risdon

So your team lands in the lottery after missing the playoffs. Maybe it was a fluke season rattled with injuries, or perhaps it's an annual ritual. The point it your team needs help and it needs it quickly in order to become more competitive and earn those valuable playoff home gate recepits. Sadly, even winding up in the lottery virtually assures that the player drafted is a crapshoot. Of course there are the rare gems that can immediately contribute right away, no-brainer talents like Lebron, Carmelo, Yao, Shaq, Iverson, Duncan. Notice a theme there? All of those were consensus #1 overall picks, except Anthony, who in any non-Lebron draft would have gone #1 without much debate. And all of those players immediately had a major hand in raising their team way up in the standings.

Most of the time, though, players taken in the lottery make little immediate impact, even those taken top 3. There are many mitigating factors involved, not limited to being surrounded by inferior talent, inferior coaching, slow adjustment to NBA speed and physicality, and simply not having the talent. But as a paying fan, you demand instant improvement. If that improvement is slower than anticipated, the fans get restless or even belligerent. Coaches get fired, GMs get fired, ticket sales dwindle, all the while placing more pressure on the heralded youngster struggling to make an impact. Who wants to pay to watch a team that will struggle to win a third of their games?

For many players the pressure becomes too great or the expectations impossibly high and the solution becomes a trade that almost assuredly leads to more rebuilding and another trip back into the lottery. Cleveland, Atlanta, Golden State, Chicago, Denver, Washington, and the Clippers have followed this pattern for 5 years or longer, and all except Denver (and possibly Cleveland) are headed right back into the lottery again. All those trips to the lottery and promising draftees for those teams have produced exactly zero playoff wins. Other than the rare instant impact superstar that comes along about once every two years on average, most of the players drafted are either teenage projects or collegians that aren't quite dynamic enough to build a team around, not without a couple of like-talented players. But because of the impatience of trigger-happy GMs, disgruntled owners tired of not maximizing profit, relentless negative media attention, rarely can a team afford to get those like-talented players via the draft. This leads to overpaying for free agent band-aids, which in turn hamstrings the ability to resign the maturing talent, forces questionable trades, and the vicious cycle of lottery prayer continues.

This year's draft looks to be no different. Other than the lucky winner of the #1 pick, don't expect much of an immediate impact in the standings. Emeka Okafor is very reminiscent of Patrick Ewing during his Georgetown days and looks to have much the same impact in the NBA, a well-schooled, well-coached, seasoned big man who dominated right away on defense and kept improving offensively to where he should average 18 and 10 by the end of his rookie season.

Of course there are other players in the upcoming draft who will become All-Stars, maybe even lead a team to a title. Just don't count on it for your team right away, for the odds are not in your favor.

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