A tale of two franchises

The NBA draft lottery was this past Tuesday and there were more eyes on it than usual due to Victor Wembanyama's presence. Some have called Wemby the most hyped or best draft prospect since LeBron James or possibly ever. The lottery came down to the Charlotte Hornets and San Antonio Spurs, the two teams that I most wanted to land Wembanyama.

The Spurs ended up getting the top pick, as they've conveniently done now in three drafts with transcendent big men, while Charlotte ended up the bridesmaid yet again in three drafts of their own with franchise altering bigs. The Spurs it seems either make the playoffs or they hit the jackpot in the lottery. First with David Robinson in 1987, next with Tim Duncan in 1997, and now with Wembanyama two days ago.

Meanwhile the Charlotte Hornets, formerly the Bobcats, hit second in 2004 and 2012 missing out on Dwight Howard and Anthony Davis respectively. Their consolation prizes were Emeka Okafor and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Yes a good amount of the Bobcats/Hornets woes has been due to poor management from Michael Jordan and the front office decision makers they've had underneath him, but add a David Robinson, Tim Duncan, Dwight Howard, or Anthony Davis to your team and it's a lot easier to build a contender (or in the case of Charlotte just make the playoffs).

The Spurs on the other hand have been masterfully run. Yes a lot of their success is due to them winning that 1997 Duncan lottery, but they've also hit repeatedly outside the lottery. Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and George Hill (who was turned into Kawhi Leonard) to name a few. Charlotte on the other hand has drafted poorly, but LaMelo Ball is a young All-Star point guard and it wasn't hard to see a 'Melo/Wemby duo turning Charlotte's fortunes around.

Charlotte hasn't been NBA relevant since the days when everyone was wearing their Starter jackets back when they had their original franchise. Even that version of the franchise was cursed with a what-if when they got the 2nd pick during the Shaquille O'Neal draft. Their consolation prize was no slouch, Alonzo Mourning, but Shaq was Shaq, and one can only imagine what a young Shaq, Larry Johnson, Kendall Gill, and Mugsy Bogues team could have done. Even more Starter jackets would have been purchased for one thing.

As I mentioned the Hornets failures are not solely to blame on bad luck. They seem allergic to the playoffs and you don't need a Duncan or Howard just to make the playoffs. They've been very mismanaged and while a 'Melo/Wemby duo would have been a no brainer, there's already fear that they will pass on the 19 year old Scoot Henderson, the consensus 2nd best player in this draft, and someone who would go #1 in other years, for the 21 year old Brandon Miller.

LaMelo is a point guard and so is Henderson, so Miller appear to be the better fit. That's the thinking which made Golden State pass on LaMelo for James Wiseman. Not drafting the best player available is dumb in and of itself in the NBA draft. But at the top of the draft it has even worse consequences. You can make trades and use free agency to fill holes or needs. Getting young cost controlled stars is pure gold though. The Hornets would be fools to pass on Henderson. But that's the reputation they have.

Even worse the Blazers with the #3 pick are shopping that pick hard with the carrot that the team that acquires it can draft the 2nd best player in the draft in Henderson. If the Hornets really didn't want Scoot, they'd be much better served to trade the pick for a bounty which would be worth considerably more than Miller. But they're the Hornets, so don't be surprised to see them draft Miller at #2 and then after another season or two of going nowhere, they'll be forced to trade LaMelo when he wants out.

Meanwhile, while no drafted player is a sure thing, no current player is as well due to injuries (See Penny Hardaway and Grant Hill. Or more recently Kawhi Leonard). Greg Oden is the name people like to bring up as a can't miss guy who was a "bust." Truth be told he wasn't a bust, he just couldn't ever stay healthy. The one stretch he did, Portland had a great record.

Wembanyama's height is the only thing that scares me. Him being skinny doesn't matter; he will fill out. Kevin Garnett entered the league rail thin. Kevin Durant as well. Once players grow to 7'3" or taller they do seem to have more serious injuries, but Kareem played 21 years in the league. I think the fact that Wemby is skinny is a good thing. Bigs don't get injured because they're too skinny. They get injured carrying too much weight. Zion Williamson is just 6'6" but his weight is what's derailing his career.

I'd argue that previous very tall NBA players like Rik Smits and Yao Ming may have had their careers shortened by putting on a bunch of weight like everyone demanded. But its a different game nowadays and you can be 7 foot (like Durant) or over 7 feet and play on the perimeter. You don't have to battle with behemoths down low as they have become extinct. Bigs nowadays need to either stretch the floor or being uber athletic. Wemby is an ideal modern big.

I have no doubt that Greg Popovich and RC Buford will have the Spurs contending again much sooner rather than later. While Charlotte fans now need to hope the team doesn't blow this draft and can retain LaMelo. Coming in 2nd in the draft can reap rewards like Alonzo Mouring, but when you come in second during Shaq, Howard, AD, and Wemby years that's pretty rotten luck.