There are a lot of "What ifs" for the Cavaliers in the past 10 years that you could examine. Unfortunately, most of those scenarios would make us all cry.
The obvious one is "What if LeBron James had stayed in Cleveland?" But there's a whole slew of other depressing questions that Cavs fans can ask. What if Mo Williams didn't forget how to shoot in the postseason? What if Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu weren't cheating during the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals? What if Antawn Jamison were just slightly better at defense? What if the Cavs really had traded JJ Hickson for Amare Stoudemire? What if the Cavs drafted anybody other than Luke Jackson? I could go on and on. But I won't. Instead, I'll focus on something a little happier. This is one that actually did go Cleveland's way.
What if the Cavaliers didn't land the #1 pick to draft Kyrie Irving?
If you've been paying attention at all this offseason, you know that the Cavs are getting some pretty good hype going into the 2013-14 season. Just three years after having absolutely zero assets and a horrific basketball team, the Cavs have rebuilt a strong young core and the future is bright. Chris Grant and the rest of the front office deserves credit for that -- but they also got pretty lucky.
Almost every great team has gotten lucky at one point or another and it's kind of scary to think of where the Cavs would be if they hadn't. In the 2011 NBA Draft Lottery, the Cavaliers' own draft pick landed 4th overall. As you know, the Cavs took Tristan Thompson with that pick. The draft pick that landed 1st overall had previously belonged to the Los Angeles Clippers. Cleveland got that pick by trading Mo Williams and Jamario Moon for Baron Davis' enormous contract. Chris Grant gets credit for making the trade that brought another first round pick to the Cavs, but the fact that it landed 1st overall was just dumb luck. The Clippers' pick had the 8th best odds of ending up first overall -- a 2.8% chance. But that's exactly what happened.
Cleveland's own pick had the 2nd best odds of landing first overall, but ended up falling to 4th (actually, it's a weird quirk of the system -- even though the Cavs had 2nd best odds, the most likely outcome for their pick was 4th). There was a 72.5% chance that the Clippers pick stayed in it's normal spot at 8th overall. The fact that that pick jumped all the up to #1 was incredibly lucky and entirely changed the way that we think about Cleveland's rebuilding efforts.
For the sake of this exercise, let's imagine that the ping pong balls bounced another way and the Clippers' pick stayed put at #8. And let's pretend a different team (not the Cavs) won the first pick instead. So the Cavs have the 4th and 8th picks in what was considered a pretty weak draft. Without their point guard of the future in hand, I doubt Cleveland picks Tristan Thompson with the 4th pick. They probably go with Brandon Knight or Kemba Walker instead. And then with the 8th pick, jeez what's left? They might have ended up with Jan Vesely if the Wizards took Tristan at #6. Can you imagine if the Cavs walked away from the 2011 draft with Brandon Knight and Jan Vesely? Maybe Tristan falls all the way down to 8th and Cleveland still picks him. Kemba Walker and Tristan Thompson is far less sexy than Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson.
Obviously, there are endless things that this would impact. It's the butterfly effect, but far more direct. The Cavs probably would have had a worse record in the next year's draft, right? They wouldn't end up with same ping pong balls that landed them 4th to draft Dion Waiters. After a rough rookie season from Knight or Walker, maybe they'd go with Damian Lillard to get their point guard in that draft instead. It's basically impossible to figure out what the Cavs' roster would look like right now if they hadn't gotten lucky enough to draft Kyrie Irving. Although it's pretty safe to say that they would not be looking forward to a playoff push this season. Would Dan Gilbert get too impatient with the rebuild and convince Chris Grant to sign big dollar free agents a year earlier instead of patiently building through the draft?
I'll let you guys speculate on what the Cavs would look like in this awful scenario. I'd rather enjoy the current construction of the Cleveland roster. But for now, I'll leave you with this thought: what if, because the Cavs were drafting 4th and 8th overall, they ended up taking Jan Vesely at #4 and Jimmer Fredette at #8? Now that would truly be the darkest timeline.