In the 2003 NBA Rookie Draft, the Cleveland Cavaliers drafted LeBron James with the number one pick overall, which would change the franchise’s future for years to come. Cleveland certainly got this one right, but if you consider the number of chances the franchise had to strike gold in the draft, their history has not been one to envy.
The Cavs selected Anthony Bennet number one overall in 2006, a draft that was not stacked with talent but had Giannis Antetokounmpo on the draft board. More recently, they made a great choice selecting Kyrie Irving first overall but went with Texas Longhorn Tristan Thompson at number four instead of Klay Thompson or Kawhi Leonard. Don’t get me wrong, Thompson was a valuable piece in that 2016 championship run, but a potential franchise cornerstone at number four would have been nice for a rebuilding team. One choice we do not talk about enough, however, is the one the Cavs made in the year 2000. To start the millennium, Cleveland selected Jamal Crawford eight overall only to deal him to Chicago for Chris Mihm and cash considerations.
Jamal Crawford is far from being one of the best guards in NBA history, but he is certainly very much accomplished in his own right. The three-time Sixth Man of the Year was one of the most exciting guards this game has ever seen, one who contributed to bringing the creativity and swagger of streetball to make the NBA style of play more entertaining. Later on in his career, Crawford played a significant role as the sixth man of the Lob City Clippers alongside Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, even getting called up to play in the bubble after clamor from the NBA community to give him a shot at the age of 40. As for Chris Mihm, well save for a few good games with the Lakers as Kobe’s main big man, he didn’t do much in the league.
Imagine now if Cleveland had kept Crawford in 2000 and, since they wouldn’t have been much better with him right away, got lucky (which they have been through the years), secured the first pick in 2002, and selected Amare Stoudemire instead of Dajuan Wagner and then followed that up with the selection of LeBron James in the following year. All of a sudden, you have a squad. Of course, this is wishful thinking, but LeBron has always been successful with another playmaker that can shoot and a versatile big man who can run up and down the floor; Crawford and Amare could have been that, and maybe LeBron never leaves Cleveland, and they go on to win five or more championships with that core. With that, we would be having a very different conversation about the career of Jamal Crawford given his immense talent and surprising durability despite his skinny frame.
Nevertheless, 21 years ago the Cavaliers made the move they felt was best for their franchise. Chris Mihm did not end up making an impact in the league and championship or not, Crawford ended up playing 19 seasons in the NBA. That is just three seasons shy of the 22 cumulative number of seasons played by picks two to four in 2000 - Stromile Swift, Darius Miles, and Marcus Fizer.
Ultimately that is the lesson of this year’s draft, as is with many others, that the order in which players are picked means absolutely nothing. It is never about how they seem on paper, but it’s about the potential, which is more about adaptability and work ethic. We all may be talking about Cade Cunningham going to Detroit and where the rest of the top five lands right now, but in a few years we could be talking about how Golden State and San Antonio spotted something the other teams didn’t and struck gold outside the top five.
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