Cavaliers coach Larry Drew took a tanking question after practice and he understands the premise.
But Drew is not in the business of being a loser. At least, not willingly.
“I really don’t listen much to what people want,” Drew said. “I just know what my job is, and I take every game as a game that we’re going out there to compete and play at a high level.”
Drew paused for a split second, then hammered home his point.
“And win,” he said.
The Cavaliers (12-46) return to action Thursday in another Lottery Bowl matchup, this time against the visiting Phoenix Suns (11-48). The loser of this one will potentially come one step closer to being a winner when it really counts — in the draft lottery in May.
For the Cavs and Suns and several others, May is when they can be ecstatic to say, “We’re No. 1.”
Until then, it’s all about developing and auditioning for next season.
Don’t misunderstand. Drew knows all this. He is well aware winning too much could mean removing the Cavs from the best possible scenario when it comes to landing top draft prospects such as Duke stars Zion Williamson or R.J. Barrett.
But never have coaches on the sidelines or the men in uniform cared about that sort of thing. They are competitors first, last and everywhere in between.
“Certainly I know people are looking at the future,” Drew said. “But me personally, I have to look at the present.”
These developments are not surprising to the front office. Nor are they worrisome. After all, the lottery rules are different this season.
In an effort to discourage hard-core tanking, the NBA has made it so the teams with the three-worst records all have an equal shot to win the lottery. The teams with the fourth- and fifth-worst records aren’t far behind.
For instance, if the Cavs finish with the worst record, they still only have a 14-percent chance of landing the No. 1 pick. The other two worst finishers will have those same odds.
The difference between the top three-worst finishers and the fourth is a paltry 1.5 percent. That’s basically nothing. (See the diagram at the bottom of this post for complete percentages.)
Now for some good news for the tank-or-bust crowd.
Truth is, even when the Cavs put their best foot forward, the results are usually the same. They play smart, play hard … and lose.
That’s been the storyline for most of the season and it’s not likely to change in the final 24 games.
But Drew intends to have the Cavs play a determined and energized brand of basketball anyway.
“There will be no slippage (in effort), regardless of our record, regardless of the situation,” he said. “We’re going to continue to be a professional team and conduct ourselves in a professional manner.
“Every time we step in between those lines, we’re going to be ready and we’re going to play as hard as we can.”
- Under the modified NBA lottery format, each team will be assigned the following odds: