Posted May 17 2011 10:54PM
SECAUCUS, N.J. -- Cleveland Cavaliers vice chairman Jeff Cohen was waiting for a 1 or a 2.
He was seated in the front row of Conference Room 3A at NBA Entertainment headquarters in Secaucus along with a representative from each of the other 11 Lottery teams, about to learn who would win the No. 1 pick in the 2011 NBA Draft.
With the league's second-worst record, the Cavs' 199 Lottery combinations were on the lower end of the 1,001 possibilities when four balls are drawn from a group of 14. The Cavs' lowest combination was 1-7-13-14 and their highest was 2-6-12-14.
So Cohen needed to see NBA president of league and basketball operations Joel Litvin pull either a 1 or a 2 out of the Lottery hopper for the Cavs' pick to be the first in the 2011 NBA Draft.
First ball... 14.
Second ball... 13.
Third ball... 7.
Fourth ball... 8.
Cohen quickly flipped through the eight-page list of combinations.
"I was going through the Cleveland numbers and I'm not seeing 14," he said afterward. "I'm thinking 'Oh Lord, this isn't good.'"
But before he could figure out who owned the lucky numbers, it was announced to the room that the 7-8-13-14 combination was one of only 28 that belonged to the Los Angeles Clippers, who traded their pick, along with Baron Davis, to the Cavs in February.
"When I heard 'Cleveland Cavaliers' it was a rush that came over me. An incredible feeling," Cohen said.
Naturally, Cohen was ready to celebrate with team owner Dan Gilbert and the rest of the 10-person contingent that the Cavs brought to Secaucus. But he had no choice but to wait. Not five minutes, 10 or 30. Cohen had to wait 97 minutes before he could share his joy.
The actual drawing took place at 7:14 p.m. ET, and the pick wouldn't be announced until 8:51. Until deputy commissioner Adam Silver actually pulled that Cavaliers logo out of the final envelope on the stage two floors below, Cohen and the other team representatives were sequestered in 3A with no ability to communicate with the outside world.
"It's painful," Cohen said of the wait. "It is absolutely excruciating. I want to scream from the rooftops we've got [picks] 1 and 4."
If the wait was painful for Cohen, the reveal was probably worse for the Clippers. They gained some financial flexibility in the Davis trade, but they had no clue that they were giving up the No. 1 pick.
Hindsight, of course, is 20-20. And the trade is now looking like a brilliant one for Cavs general manager Chris Grant, because Cleveland didn't have to trade a star to get that pick, unlike the Utah Jazz, who acquired the New Jersey Nets' pick in a trade that sent Deron Williams east.
The Nets' pick landed third, so the Jazz will make their selection after the Cavs and Minnesota Timberwolves, whose combination came up second. The Cavs' own pick will be fourth, so they will have two of the first four picks in the draft and a great opportunity to accelerate their rebuild.
Representing the Cavs on the Lottery stage was Gilbert's 14-year old son Nick, who is living with Neurofibromatosis (NF), an nerve disorder that causes tumors to grow anywhere in the body at any time. As a result, he has lost sight in one of his eyes and undergone brain surgery and chemotherapy.
The Cavs would have preferred to be in the playoffs, but they were happy to use this opportunity to raise awareness and funds for the Children's Tumor Foundation, for which Nick is an ambassador. By promoting his appearance at the Lottery, Nick raised more than $22,000 dollars for the foundation in the last two days. And his father plans to match that donation dollar for dollar.
This wasn't quite the same as winning the Lottery in 2003, when the prize was a once-in-a-generation star like LeBron James. But the Cavs are happy to back into the No. 1 spot a year after James took his talents to South Beach, putting them through a torturous season in which they lost an NBA record 26 straight games.
"I don't know if it makes up for it, but it certainly makes it worth the pain that we all went through," Dan Gilbert said.
The Cavs owe Davis more than $28 million over the next two years, and if there's an amnesty clause in the next collective bargaining agreement, Davis would seemingly be a prime candidate to be waived. But the Cavs have given Davis nothing but rave reviews in his three months with the team. And they want him to be a mentor for their young core.
That will likely include Duke point guard Kyrie Irving, thought to be the best player in the draft and Davis' eventual replacement. In an unprecedented scenario, Irving, a New Jersey native, actually attended the Lottery with his agent, Jeff Wechsler, calling it a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
If the Cavs take Irving, the Timberwolves will be looking hard at Arizona forward Derrick Williams. And after that, things will get interesting, especially since the Jazz don't have an obvious need.
The Cavs need just about everything. And though this draft is thought to be relatively weak, they're going to get two building blocks for the price of one painful season.
"One and four is an unbelievable opportunity for this organization," Cohen said. "Hopefully we don't have to come back to this room for a long, long time."
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