Last night, when the NBA's new Deputy Commissioner, Mark Tatum, revealed that the ninth pick in the 2014 NBA Draft would belong to a team other than the Cleveland Cavaliers, everything changed. At that moment, it was assured that the Cavs would be picking in the top three, meaning that one of the three guys who are considered the consensus best players available -- Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid, or Jabari Parker -- would be available. It also meant that the pick had significantly more value as a trade piece. The Cavs were guaranteed either a blue chip prospect, or deal that brought a quality NBA player in return.
And then something even more unlikely happened: Not only did the Cavs receive a pick in the top three, they were awarded the number one overall selection. Again.
It's become a running joke that drafts (and draft lotteries) are Cleveland's playoffs, at least as far as the Cavs and Browns are concerned. But that's not really true. We know what the actual playoffs are like. We've been there. We screamed in disbelief as Daniel Gibson made it rain threes against the Detroit Pistons in the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals. We cheered against long odds as our team pushed the 2008 Boston Celtics to seven games. And we all died a little bit every time the Orlando Magic knocked down yet another three-pointer during the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals.
We're all old enough to remember the euphoria, and the pain, of those recent playoff runs. No matter how badly each one ended, it was always worth it because of how much fun we had along the way. As exciting as last night was, it doesn't really compare to how exciting meaningful basketball games can be.
The draft and the lottery are about hope: the hope that our team might get back to that place again, sooner rather than later. Hope is a powerful thing, especially for fans who have rooted for a team near the bottom of the conference for the last four seasons. Hope is all we've had. But it won't be enough anymore.
Last year, Dan Gilbert promised that his team would not be returning to the lottery. He was wrong. This time, he doesn't need to make any public proclamations; he just has to make sure that last night really was the last visit to the lottery for a while.
There aren't any excuses left for the Cavs to make. Pairing Kyrie Irving with whichever prospect they draft (assuming they keep the pick) means that they will have two legitimate young studs to build around. Throw in their other recent lottery picks, their cap space, and the future draft picks they still hold, and they have more than enough assets to build a team that should make the playoffs next season. That is David Griffin's mission, and failure cannot be an option.
Plenty of people have said that this organization doesn't deserve all of the luck they've had. Maybe that's true. But I know this: Cavs fans absolutely do deserve it.
This fanbase has been through a lot. We suffered through a record losing streak, the disappointment of some questionable draft picks, and the frustration of an ill-fitting and sometimes unwatchable team. Yet, we kept showing up. Quicken Loans Arena was filled with an average of 17,329 people per game last season, up slightly from a respectable 16,192 the year before. Not bad for a rebuilding team in a small, football-obsessed market.
Through it all, we've never stopped believing. We've never given up our hope, and last night we were rewarded with a fresh injection of it. Now, it is time for Gilbert and Griffin to deliver what they've promised.