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The Jackpot
Ian Thomsen
June 02, 2003
Landing the top draft pick instantly transforms the woeful Cavaliers
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June 02, 2003

The Jackpot

Landing the top draft pick instantly transforms the woeful Cavaliers

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How does LeBron James help the Cavaliers? Let us count the ways. Because he grew up 40 minutes away, in Akron, where he played at St. Vincent-St. Mary High, he'll instantly turn moribund Gund Arena into Cleveland's hottest spot; as a Magic Johnson-like point guard hell fill the team's most gaping hole; and his presence ensures that the Cavs will be able to hire Jeff Van Gundy or Paul Silas rather than some lesser light as coach next season.

Team insiders say that Van Gundy was interested in the Cleveland opening before last Thursday's lottery, though owner Gordon Gund had to reassure him that—despite rumors to the contrary—the team is not for sale. The arrival of James only reinforces Gund's desire to keep the Cavs: After enduring a five-year playoff drought, he isn't about to unload the franchise now that it has the most ballyhooed No. 1 pick since 1992, when the Magic drafted Shaquille O'Neal.

The other jackpot winner in the lottery was Detroit. The Pistons' disappointing performance in the Eastern Conference finals was offset by their moving up from the sixth spot to the second with a pick they obtained from the Grizzlies in 1997; Memphis could have kept it only if it had turned out to be the No. 1 choice. Then Detroit G.M. Rick Sund acquired the selection for power forward Otis Thorpe, who was 35 at the time and demanding a trade. "I always felt the way you get a high first-round pick is to make a trade for one several years into the future," said Sund, now the Sonics' G.M., who over his 29-year career has made seven or eight such deals, including a couple with bungling Cleveland owner Ted Stepien in the 1980s.

Dick Versace replaced Stu Jackson as the Grizzlies' general manager in 2000, and two seasons ago he almost acquired a first-round choice that would have satisfied Memphis's obligation to the Pistons, thus allowing the Grizzlies to keep the No. 2 pick last week. Versace represented Memphis backstage as the Ping-Pong balls went through the lottery machine, 95 minutes before the results were announced on live television. It became an agonizing bit of reality TV for team president Jerry West, who sat on the stage having his hopes of landing the top selection raised and then dashed—while Versace and other team, league and media observers already knew the outcome.

Detroit must now choose between 6'8" freshman Carmelo Anthony, a potent scorer who led Syracuse to the national title, and 17-year-old center Darko Milicic of Serbia-Montenegro, who would ease Ben Wallace's burden up front. Detroit would seem to have a greater need for Milicic, but G.M. Joe Dumars could also trade the pick (and dump an unwanted salary) for a high-scoring frontcourt veteran who could help the Pistons reach the Finals next season.

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