Friday, May 20, 2011

A Teen And A Ping Pong Ball Symbolize Change For Two NBA Franchises

14-year-old Nick Gilbert sits quietly by with a stoic look in his eyes behind his dark, obsidian-black framed glasses. His bowtie sits neatly above his button-up white dress shirt and midnight-navy blue blazer, with all ten fingers interlacing one another perching above the table top of the Cleveland Cavalier’s podium.

A small smirk creeps just slightly upward to the left of his mouth as they introduce him as the representative for the team and the owner (who happens to be his father).

After the presentation for the rest of the other NBA Lottery team’s representatives commences, the league proceeds with the selections for the order of the 2011 NBA Draft. Little Ping-Pong balls with a black number imprint bounce around in a device like the machines at movie theaters with hard, yellow kernels bursting into fluffy, white popcorn.

Each team rep sits with an uneasy, stone face with hope that their selection would be the shocker to nab one of the top picks. Yet, Gilbert sat idly by with a tranquil demeanor on his face and belief that his team would be in one of those lucky slots. He understood the chances were high for his father’s franchise; they had the second (19.9%) and eighth (2.8%) possibility that their ball would pop out as that number one pick.

The selections went in order for picks fourteen through nine. Then came the result for the eighth pick, which pops up as the Detroit Pistons. The Cavaliers now have a guarantee that their lowest selection would be a top three pick, along with their highest probability winner for the top pick. That would eventually garner the fourth spot for the upcoming draft.

Gilbert is now one of the three final reps that stands before the cameras prior to the unveiling for the order of selections three, two, and one. The team logo for the third pick flashes without the words Cleveland or Cavaliers on it (Utah would win that choice). Even though his father’s team now has a 50% chance for the top pick in the NBA Draft, Gilbert is chilling atop the stage, his hands in his pockets, with the same coolness he was exuding all night.

That would quickly change when the Minnesota Timberwolves are the winners of the second overall pick, and the young teen throws up his hands in triumph. His father’s Cleveland Cavaliers are now the sole owners of the first pick in the 2011 Draft.

Not only can they thank their good luck charm, the owner’s son, and the a miniscule ping pong ball for their victory, but also the Los Angeles Clippers.

In a swap that was formulated at the NBA Trade Deadline, the Cavaliers sent PG Mo Williams and swingman Jamario Moon over to the Clippers for PG Baron Davis and that would-be number one pick. Thinking the pick would be of little use to them because of their chances (again, a 2.8% probability to get the number one pick) and a weak draft class, as well as the need to dump Davis’s exorbitant contract and the chance to upgrade his spot with a younger, former all-star point guard; Los Angeles figured they were on the winning end of this trade.

That is, until a little ball bounced in favor of the Cavalier’s young teen representative.

As of now, the trade will still point to the Clippers as the winner, but it may drastically come back to haunt them in a few years. Losing the contract and baggage of Davis will be a load off the franchise’s shoulders, but Williams is not as great an upgrade as some might think.

The eight-year guard was at his best during the two-year period he played with LeBron James, but any player will benefit greatly playing alongside the most dynamic player in the league. The lone all-star appearance can be attributed to the fact that, along with being James’ sidekick, he was the second option on the top franchise that year. He was the only player who could merit the selection out of the rest of the roster. His career averages for points (13.9) and assists (5.0) are pedestrian at best and don’t highlight him as an elite player at his position.

This illustration is important because of the position Los Angeles could have been in with the top selection. Although the draft pool is limited with possible stars, there is one player who has the chance to be great: Duke PG Kyrie Irving.

Standing six feet, two inches tall and 185 pounds, the 19-year-old freshman breakout star may not be in the discussion as an upper echelon point guard (a group that features Derrick Rose, Chris Paul, and Deron Williams), but he has the tools and potential to reach that point somewhere in his career. He was the most dominant player on the Duke squad this season and showed consistency running such a veteran team as a first-year player.
(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
His potential to be great is certainly higher than that of Williams and his style of play fits the current roster of the Clippers better as well. Irving loves getting up-and-down the court and can get great looks for his teammates, which would have been the perfect complement to the freakish athletic ability of Blake Griffin and the sweet, shooting stroke that Eric Gordon is armed with.

Aside from the upside and ability edge Irving has over Williams, there is also the age factor. Irving is a much younger player (19) than Williams (28), which would have created a great young nucleus with Griffin (22), Gordon (22), and DeAndre Jordan (22). With the younger Irving at the point, Griffin would see the potential of his team and most likely sign an extension a few years down the road. Yet, it will take Williams to play at the high level he performed at during his All-Star season to keep the Clippers’ superstar power forward to believe his franchise has the right components to be competitive in the future.

Although Clippers’ owner Donald Sterling may live to regret the day he watched the younger Gilbert strike a pose after the Cavaliers’ ping pong ball came up with the top pick, those symbols may be the start of a revival in Cleveland.

After the departure of King James, the Cavaliers lineup was left for despair with more holes than a whole pack of Swiss cheese. Decent role players are sprinkled at various positions (Williams, Anderson Varejao, Ramon Sessions, J.J Hickson, Daniel Gibson, Jamario Moon), but James represented everything to this team and the sum of their parts could never equal his greatness.

So the team decided to take a chance and trade their best asset, Williams, and a player with significance, Moon, and received Davis and the Clippers’ 2011 first round pick in return.

The gamble was well understood when they pulled off the trade back at the deadline; they’ll get an often injured, usually out-of-shape, 31-year-old point guard who will cost them $30 Million over the next two years. The big seller of the trade was the pick, which was probably going to be in the top ten, and the ability to pair it up with their own selection, which would probably end up be in the top five given their record at that time.

Their own pick was in the top five, but the Clippers’ one vaulted over everyone to be number one.

Now, the Cavaliers control their own destiny for the future. They can grab the coveted Irving and have him become the new face of their franchise. They can then complement their top selection with any of the other top players in the draft (Derrick Williams if he falls that far, Enes Kanter, Donatas Motiejunas, Jan Vessely) or trade that pick for extras selections or to a team willing to swap an impact player.

While a drastic change of improvement may not be on the horizon for Cleveland anytime soon (even with the first and fourth pick in the draft), there is now a glimmer of hope breaking through the metropolitan in Ohio.

In the end, both teams may look back at that late February trade as the moment that altered their franchise’s future. Yet, it was ultimately the composed demeanor of a teen and the lucky bounce of a Ping-Pong ball that will forever be remembered as the moment everything changed.

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