Lucas: Cavs tanked to get LeBron

Former Cavs coach John Lucas claims that the franchise tanked the 2002-03 season to try to get LeBron James.

“They trade all our guys away and we go real young, and the goal was to get LeBron and also to sell the team,” Lucas told AOL FanHouse. “I didn’t have a chance. … You can’t fault the Cavaliers for wanting to get LeBron. It was hard to get free agents to come there.”

The Cavaliers finished the 2002-03 season with a 17-65 record, tied with the Denver Nuggets for the worst record in the NBA. Cleveland won the NBA’s draft lottery and selected James with the No. 1 pick. Lucas was fired midway through that season.

Gordon Gund, who was then the team’s principal owner but is now a minority owner of the Cavs, denied Lucas’ claims. He also told the Web site that the Cavaliers weren’t for sale during that season. The team didn’t get sold until 2005.

“You don’t try to get the No. 1 pick,” Gund told AOL Fanhouse. “That’s why the lottery was designed. To not allow that. We had a young team that we were developing. … We did not tank the season. … To lose to get LeBron James, we would never do that. I wouldn’t do that. I couldn’t do that.

“In the very last game of the season, we had nothing to gain and we were in sole possession of last place [in the NBA]. But we beat [the Toronto Raptors] and that left us tied with Denver [at 17-65]. … The chances of getting the first pick were only [22.5 percent].”

While tanking at the end of the season is rather commonplace in the NBA, tanking an entire season has been, to this point, unheard of. Even the worst franchises would like to make the playoffs for the first half of the season. It’s not until after the All-Star Game that we generally start seeing teams give up trying to win.

Gund has a point about the Cavs winning the final game of the season, but I’d bet that the Cleveland front office was upset after that victory, as it decreased the chances that the team would win the lottery. It’s not like the GM tells the players to lose games. The players go out and try to win. Like Herm Edwards says, “You PLAY to WIN the GAME!” When teams tank, the front office simply puts the team in the worst position to win. They shut down semi-injured stars and they start giving minutes to young players so they can “evaluate what they have.” They don’t go in the locker room and tell the players to lose the game.

Don’t kid yourself, we’re going to see tanking at the end of this season. John Wall is far and away the best prospect in this summer’s draft, and teams that are out of the playoff hunt will be tripping over each other trying to lose to increase the chances that they’ll win the #1 overall pick in the lottery. The lottery is supposed to eliminate tanking, but even though the chances of winning the #1 pick only increase incrementally with every loss, they still increase. There is still incentive to lose, so teams will lose.

For the ’03 Cavs, there was no upside to winning games late in the season. Every loss meant that they were that much closer to getting LeBron. This is why the lottery system is broken.

The only way to fix it is to give every non-playoff team an equal shot at the #1 pick. This is the way that it used to be, and under such a system, a fringe playoff team will sometimes win the lottery. So be it. Why are we so focused on rewarding incompetence?

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom.

Related Posts

One response to “Lucas: Cavs tanked to get LeBron”

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>