Even as the Cleveland Cavaliers sat on the sidelines and had nothing at stake in the NBA Draft Lottery, they still came out lucky following Tuesday’s drawings.
None of their division rivals could land the No. 1 pick in the lottery. The San Antonio Spurs ended up with the No. 1 pick, all but cementing their place in selecting forward Victor Wembanyama out of French club Metropolitans 92.
“I’m very excited. My heart’s beating,” Wembanyama said on Tuesday. “… (I’m) a team player. I’m gonna make everything to win as many games as I can. I’m trying to win a ring ASAP, so be ready.”
The Cavs can breathe a small sigh of relief knowing they won’t have to face Victor Wembanyama at least four times per year. The lottery may not have given their division rivals as much as they had hoped, but there is still plenty of time for them to try for a turnaround before the start of the 2023-24 NBA regular season.
How did yesterday’s lottery affect the Cavaliers’ Central Division opponents? And what will these outcomes mean for Cleveland in the future?
Fortune did not favor the Detroit Pistons in last night’s lottery.
Detroit ended the 2022-23 season with the worst record in the NBA. Their losses to the Chicago Bulls and the Brooklyn Nets towards the end of the season all but sealed a 17-65 record, putting them 10 games behind the Hornets for last place in the East.
Even as the Pistons were tied with San Antonio and the Houston Rockets for the highest lottery odds, everything seemed set for Detroit to land Wembanyama and take a massive leap toward the end of their rebuilding seasons.
But fate had other plans for the Pistons.
Detroit would end up falling to the No. 5 pick. The Spurs, Rockets, Portland Trail Blazers and Charlotte Hornets took spots ahead of them. It would have been the Pistons’ second No. 1 pick in three seasons and the fourth in franchise history.
The Pistons may be down. But they aren’t entirely out just yet.
They could have used one final piece in Wembanyama to push them back into playoff contention for the first time since the 2018-19 season much sooner than expected. But the Pistons’ front office will still have a wide variety of talented players to select at No. 5. Its core group features a bright young guard duo in Cade Cunningham and Jaden Ivey. Center Jalen Duren had a productive rookie season for Detroit in his 67 appearances and 31 starts, gaining averages of 9.1 points, 8.9 rebounds and 0.9 blocks in 24.9 minutes per contest.
Detroit will also have plenty of head coaching options to sort through before what can be, or at least should have been, a new era in Pistons basketball.
The Cavs swept the Pistons last season. They officially ended the regular-season series between the two squads with a 114-90 Cavs win at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse, highlighted by a 21-point outing from Cleveland guard Darius Garland and a 20-point double-double from Pistons forward Marvin Bagley III.
“They’re a good team,” then-Pistons head coach Dwane Casey said. “This team is going to be in the running at the end of the year, during the playoffs.
“(Cavs head coach J.B. Bickerstaff) ‘s done a good job with this group. They’ve got a superstar in Donovan Mitchell, and Garland is right behind him. Allen and Mobley fit right in with the way they want to play.”
The continued growth of Ivey and Cunningham, among the team’s other bright young options, can make the Pistons a more difficult matchup for the Cavaliers as time progresses. But, again, at least the Cavs won’t have to face Detroit with Wembanyama on its side.
Aside from the Pistons’ drop, not much changed for the Indiana Pacers when the draft lottery came to a close.
Indiana ended with the No. 7 pick, exactly where they were slated to pick before Tuesday. The choice still puts the Pacers in range to potentially select talented players who can strengthen them where they need it the most, like Houston forward Jarace Walker or UCF forward Taylor Hendricks.
Walker finished the 2022-23 season with 11.2 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game for Houston last season. His defensive capabilities could make him an ideal fit for a team that finished with the league’s 26th-highest defensive rating of 117.1. A duo of Walker or the versatile Hendricks, along with center Myles Turner and Indiana’s talented guard duo in Tyrese Haliburton and Bennedict Mathurin, could provide a solid base to build around for at least the near future.
Turner and guard Buddy Hield possess the most expensive cap figures for the Pacers in the 2023-24 season, according to Spotrac. Mathurin, Haliburton, forward Jalen Smith, guard Andrew Nembhard and forward Aaron Nesmith make up some of the younger options on Spotrac’s 2023-24 salary grid for Indiana.
Cleveland went 3-1 against the Pacers last season, taking both wins at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse and earning a 1-1 split at Gainbridge Fieldhouse. While the Cavs were able to put up a good fight against Indiana on its home court, 29 points from Haliburton and 23 from Mathurin off the bench all but sealed a 135-126 Pacers victory in December.
“They’re a pesky team,” Cavs head coach J.B. Bickerstaff said following the loss. “They’re a well-coached team. But, again, we know how we have to play to win. For whatever reason, we decided we wanted to play Pacers basketball.”
The battles between Cleveland and Indiana’s bigs and the continued improvement of Cavs guard Darius Garland, Mathurin and Haliburton could make the Pacers a team to look out for in the future. But only time will tell if the Pacers will be ready to continuously compete with the Cavaliers by as soon as next season.
The Chicago Bulls were hoping for a miracle in the lottery.
The Bulls took risks in 2021 to ensure they could quickly stand with the Eastern Conference’s most formidable competitors and beyond with a trade for center Nikola Vucevic, along with sign-and-trades for forward DeMar DeRozan and guard Lonzo Ball.
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Like all risks, however, the desired outcome is not always guaranteed.
Chicago ended its last two seasons with a combined record of 86-78. They made the first round of the NBA Playoffs during the 2021-22 season, but fell to the Milwaukee Bucks in five games. They went 1-1 during the 2022-23 Play-In tournament, defeating the Toronto Raptors before losing to the Miami Heat.
The Bulls sent over their 2023 pick in exchange for the then-All-Star center in Vucevic. The pick was protected in the top-4, but having the selection stay at No. 11 means Chicago will have to convey to the Orlando Magic.
If it wants to continue pushing for potential playoff appearances, Chicago will have its work cut out for it. The Bulls do have their first-round pick in 2024. If they didn’t move up in the lottery in 2023, they will have full rights to their choice in 2024, according to Pippen Ain’t Easy.
Chicago will have DeRozan and guard Zach LaVine, a promising young forward in Patrick Williams and their 2022 first-round pick in guard Dalen Terry locked down for their 2023-24 campaign. Hometown guard Ayo Dosunmu, who scored 19 points as the Cavaliers took a 103-102 win over the Bulls in late December, is listed as a restricted free agent in 2023.
The Milwaukee Bucks did not have a spot in the lottery.
But, like the Cavaliers, they too will be affected by a division with the potential to have more competitive rosters in the near future.
The Bucks will have the 58th pick in the 2023 NBA Draft. They have forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, guard Jrue Holiday, forward Bobby Portis and their 2022 first-round pick in forward MarJon Beauchamp under contract for the 2023-24 season. Both forward Khris Middleton and guard Jevon Carter are listed with player options for next season, according to Spotrac.
Cleveland earned a 2-2 split with the Bucks last season, taking two wins at home and two losses on the road. Whether Milwaukee can continue to be a competitive matchup for the Cavs will depend on if it can keep its playoff-caliber core together for the foreseeable future.