When the Cavaliers traded LeBron James to the Miami Heat last summer, they included language that went largely unnoticed at the time, but could come into play as this labor battle drags into its fifth month.
As part of the sign-and-trade, the Cavaliers have the right to swap picks should the Heat finish with a higher selection in the 2012 draft. It was scoffed at and dismissed at the time of the deal, since the Cavs are rebuilding and the Heat are one of the elite teams, but it becomes much more intriguing if this entire season is abolished by the lockout.
If the players follow through on recent threats to decertify the union, there is a legitimate chance this entire season will be lost. Messy, lengthy antitrust lawsuits will inevitably follow and a deal that was so close to completion only a week ago will crumble. If that happens, it will send the logistics of next summer’s draft into limbo.
No one is sure yet how an NBA Draft without a season would be handled. What’s clear is the Cavs will not have the first and fourth picks again, since the No. 1 pick that netted Kyrie Irving came from the Los Angeles Clippers as part of the Baron Davis trade. That deal was for one draft pick; it didn’t include the Clippers’ pick in 2012.
When the entire 2004-05 NHL season was lost to a work stoppage, every team was included in the following draft lottery. In order to be diplomatic, teams’ cumulative records from the previous three seasons were used to factor draft odds.
The NBA certainly doesn’t have to adopt that same system, it’s simply a viable example. It’s also a scenario that would cripple the Cavaliers, since they finished with the league’s best record the two years prior to James leaving. But they could be aided by the Heat, who were a middle-of-the-pack playoff team for two years before James’ arrival and would have slightly better odds at a higher pick than the Cavaliers using the NHL’s example.
Should the Heat find good fortune with a higher pick in the draft, the Cavs can snatch it away.
They do not outright own the Heat’s pick in next summer’s draft because the Heat traded away their 2011 first-round pick to the Toronto Raptors as part of the sign-and-trade for Chris Bosh, and league rules prevent teams from trading first-round picks in consecutive years.
Cavs General Manager Chris Grant wanted the Raptors to negotiate the sign-and-trade with Bosh first so he could ask for more from the Heat in return for James. The Raptors received two first-round picks, so Grant took the Heat’s first rounder in 2013 and the rights to another future first rounder. He also got two second-round picks and the clause that gives the Cavs the right to swap places with the Heat next summer.
The NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins used a similar scenario to vault from doormats to champions. Financial woes made them one of the league’s worst teams early last decade, allowing them to take goalie Marc-Andre Fleury first overall in ’03 and center Evgeni Malkin second overall in ’04. Without playing another game, they won the post-lockout lottery in ’05 and were rewarded with Sidney Crosby.
Four years later, they won the Stanley Cup.
The Cavs are hoping for a similar stroke of luck regardless of how this lockout ends. They’ve already overcome incredible odds once to land Irving and Tristan Thompson with two of the top four picks in last year’s draft. Another high pick in a talent-rich draft next summer could really set up something special.
Nobody could’ve predicted it when James left town, but they just might use the Heat’s help to get there.