While the playoff hopes of some teams are still alive and others can celebrate another strong season, there are a few NBA franchises that suffered through some miserable seasons. It's tonight that the fan bases and front offices of the Minnesota Timberwolves and Cleveland Cavaliers cross their fingers in hopes of winning the 2011 NBA Draft Lottery. Of course, so are the Sacramento Kings, New Jersey Nets, Toronto Raptors and several others.
More than any other, the league is built on having at least one or two impact players in order to compete. Watch the Bulls with Derrick Rose or the Mavs surging with Dirk Nowitzki and it's easy to see why it's essential to have that one player who can carry the franchise. The Cavs surrounded LeBron James with spare parts and role players and rode him deep into the playoffs each season. That's what tonight's franchises are hoping for the rights for.
Both the Cavs and the Wolves hold the designation as the team with the most need. Even some of the other losing franchises have signs of life, from John Wall's arrival with the Washington Wizards from last year's draft to Toronto's burgeoning talent with Andrea Bargnani and DeMar DeRozan. The Wolves have some impressive muscle underneath with Kevin Love, but the guard play of a team that used two Top 6 selections on point guards just two drafts ago is miserable. Ricky Rubio never showed in the States to play and honor the selection. Jonny Flynn has been a complete bust due to lack of effort and injuries.
The Cavs hold the media underdog card, so many general fans will be rooting for them to win the pick as well. Conspiracy theorists might even predict the draft to be rigged in their favor if they win the overall first pick, a la the Knicks for Patrick Ewing. Yet no one can fault the Cavs for such a need. After LeBron left, the entire franchise fell apart. A trade for Baron Davis still couldn't bring life to a franchise filled with role players. Antawn Jamison picked up some of the scoring slack, but this is a team of complementary veterans that needs a superstar around them.
Someone is going to be happy tonight to have the first overall choice in the 2011 NBA Draft and the ability to pick a cornerstone player to move forward. The drama of the lottery will be interesting to see if a sleeper team comes through and takes a spot so needed by another franchise. It will curse one of these two teams for the long haul if so, but it's also the reason we watch a series of ping pong balls in the first place.
The NBA Draft Lottery airs tonight at 8:30pm Eastern Time on ESPN.