Spurs, Cavs had to be lucky before they were good Print
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Sunday, 10 June 2007 11:14
NBA Headline News

 SAN ANTONIO (AP) -Fearing he had been jinxed, Spurs general manager R.C. Buford tapped the door behind him in the arena hallway. He had been asked a question that presumed a fourth NBA title was on the way, and this was no time to mess with karma.
Pure, simple luck is no small thing in sports. And the Spurs and Cavaliers well know it takes a healthy dose of it to build a contender.
``There's a lot of luck, a lot of luck involved in it,'' Cleveland coach Mike Brown said.
It's said that sometimes it's better to be lucky than good. But there was a slight twist on that in these NBA finals, which the Spurs led 1-0 entering Game 2 on Sunday night.
For the Spurs and Cavaliers, they couldn't be good until they were lucky.
Those teams walked away with three of the biggest prizes the NBA lottery has offered, with the Spurs winning the right to take David Robinson with the No. 1 pick in 1987 and beating the odds to move up and grab Tim Duncan 10 years later.
Cleveland was finally rewarded for all its losing in 2003 when it won the LeBron James sweepstakes and immediately injected some life into the franchise by drafting the high school superstar from down the road in Akron.
Sure, things like scouting and salary cap management help. But don't discount basic luck of the draw because Brown and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich certainly don't.
``Without LeBron it's obvious we wouldn't be where we are,'' Brown said. ``And Pop's said time and time again, without Tim or David he wouldn't be where he is.''
So if Greg Oden or Kevin Durant is as good as advertised, figure on seeing Portland in the NBA finals in a few years. Getting lucky at the right time, as the Trail Blazers did in winning this year's lottery, is the easiest way to go from basement to penthouse.
``Everything is luck,'' Buford said. ``If we don't have the lottery in '87 or '97, we're not the same franchise.''
The Spurs had gone four years without a winning record when they landed Robinson, the star center from Navy. They went 31-51 and 21-61 in the two seasons while Robinson was serving his military requirement, then made what at the time was the biggest one-season turnaround in NBA history, going 56-26 once the Admiral arrived.
They broke that record eight years later. San Antonio had fallen to 20-62 during the 1996-97 season, when Robinson was limited to six games by injury. Popovich took over as coach early in that season and had no idea he'd soon be diagramming plays for a star forward from Wake Forest because the Grizzlies and Celtics both had better odds of getting him.
``He wasn't even on our radar screen. We didn't even talk about him,'' Popovich said. ``I don't remember all the guys that were there, but I think Keith Van Horn was in that same draft and there was somebody else. There were two or three people we thought might have a chance.
``We were like third or fourth by winning percentage or record. We thought we were going to pick third or fourth, something like that. And we talked about all those guys and how they would fit with our team and what we had. I don't think we ever mentioned Tim Duncan's name until the lottery came.''
And when it did?
``A whole lot of things changed for a whole lot of people,'' Popovich said. ``I'm one of them.''
The Spurs bounced back with 56 wins the next season, won their first NBA title the following one and added two more in 2003 and '05. Duncan was the NBA finals MVP in all of them.
Meanwhile, the Cavaliers had become one of the NBA's worst franchises. During a stretch when 30 wins was a good season, Cleveland bottomed out in 2002-03 with a 17-65 record, matching Denver for the worst in the league.
But the Cavs knew all about the high school stud who used to come to their arena. And when they won the right to draft him, it was one of the biggest victories ever for a city that had become accustomed to nothing but painful losses.
``I knew that we had a good chance of getting him,'' center Zydrunas Ilgauskas said. ``But, really, just like this year's lottery shows, you have no guarantees. And with LeBron being a local kid, it was a big deal in Cleveland. At that point, I kind of thought maybe we're not cursed.''
James needed only four years to get Cleveland to their first NBA finals. And even if they fall short against Duncan's Spurs, the Cavaliers have reason to believe they'll win one at some point.
Maybe it will be against the Trail Blazers.
 

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