Before Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals between the Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors on Tuesday night, the annual NBA Draft Lottery took place in New York. With college superstars and NBA team executives and players looking on, the Minnesota Timberwolves, the worst team in the NBA this season, were awarded the 1st overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft.
The Los Angeles Lakers, Philadelphia 76ers, and New York Knicks round out the top selections. The Lakers and the Knicks were the only two teams who will not be picking in the spot they technically earned.
It was nice to finally see the right team get the first pick in the draft; however, even under new NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, the league still had to rig the order somewhat in arguably the most rigged event in professional sports. I don’t necessary want to play conspiracy theorist, but the evidence against the NBA is just too much to ignore:
The Cleveland Cavaliers have had the first overall selection three of the last four years despite very small odds last season. Why? The league had a big need to break up the powerhouse that the Miami Heat had put together. By giving the Cavs three first overall picks, the league encouraged LeBron James to return home to Cleveland.
The one season that the Cavaliers did not receive the first overall pick was 2012 when the New Orleans Hornets heard their name called as the big winners. The Hornets didn’t earn the top pick with their record; but with their original owner pulling out of the organization and the team under the control of the league while they searched for a new owner, New Orleans was given the first selection (Anthony Davis) in order to increase interest in the franchise amongst potential buyers.
The evidence is hard to ignore, and it’s hard to say that the last four years have all just been a big coincidence. The NBA Draft Lottery was accused of being rigged right from the beginning in 1985.
Then-Commissioner David Stern called for the first NBA Draft Lottery in 1985, the same year that “once in a decade talent” Patrick Ewing declared for the draft. With a 24-58 record, the Knicks would have simply had the 3rd overall pick—not early enough to draft Ewing, the center the team desperately needed.
Stern, a well-known Knicks fan, made the selection in the lottery by grabbing an envelope out of a big ball. He clearly threw the top few aside to go straight for the Knicks envelope. Given Stern’s history with rigging NBA basketball events (i.e. the 2002 Western Conference Finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Sacramento Kings) before and after the 1985 season, it’s hard to say that Stern wasn’t trying to bring some life back to one of the league’s biggest markets.
Fast forward to Tuesday night. Silver, in an attempt to rescue the NBA’s image, gave the Twolves, a very small market compared to the other three teams in the top four, the top pick that they ‘earned’ by their poor play throughout the season.
Silver wasn’t free from the sins of the previous administration, however. The Lakers jumped from the 4th pick to No. 2, replacing the Knicks.
“But the Knicks are a huge market, why wouldn’t the NBA want them to have the 2nd overall pick?”
Well, let’s face it—the Knicks suck. They need a lot of help; and with everything going on there and everything Phil Jackson has done so far, the top pick in the draft really won’t do much. It’ll help, but it certainly will not mean a playoff berth.
The Lakers on the other hand have a lot going for them by moving up to No. 2. Kobe Bryant will be returning from injury, the team will have a fantastic rookie to play, and then big names like Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook could very easily find themselves in L.A. by the end of the offseason.
Rumors that Love and Westbrook will try to team up again on the Lakers have been swirling around for most of the season. Bringing in one of the best college players will only help draw big name free agents there. No one is interested in playing for the Knicks either way.
I’m sure the Draft Lottery was legitimate some years; but until they let the public watch the drawing itself, it is hard to believe that they aren’t simply picking the teams in an order that is most beneficial for the league as a whole (makes the most money for the owners in big markets) in their eyes.