Mere seconds after the New Orleans Hornets won the NBA Draft Lottery -- and, of course, the right to select presumptive franchise fortune-changer Anthony Davis with the number one pick -- my Facebook mini-feed came alive with accusations of conspiracy. Joe Bernardo and John Reyes-Nguyen, dedicated Diss-cussants and lifelong Lakers fans, began to grumble about the outcome of the lottery. "Sternball at its finest!" Bernardo exclaimed. Reyes-Nguyen agreed, and added his opinions. "I believe Bill Simmons' suggestion that Stern offered the No. 1 pick to [new Hornets owner Tom] Benson to entice him to buy. Stern has hit a new low. I might not watch the NBA ever again." But he quickly added, "I changed my mind, I'm watching again." Good to know.
I have no interest in leveling accusations of tomfoolery at David Stern, or anyone else in the NBA's headquarters. I've made my peace with Boss Stern, the gatekeeper of the NBA. My anger at Stern, and all members of the NBA's brass, burned brightest during the 2011 Lockout, and has waned considerably since then. That fight is over, and we are winding down one of the more entertaining NBA seasons in recent memory. David Stern was the roadblock that nearly prevented the season from happening in the first place, but also the key that finally unlocked labor peace and allowed for 66 games of basketball to occur. I'm not ready to invite him to my wedding or anything, but I'm also not particularly compelled to put a slab of pork in his matzo ball soup. No one will ever prove (or disprove) any of the accusations that Bill Simmons throws out there to stay at the top of the pile. My fight isn't with him.
However, I do feel like I need to stand up for the New Orleans Hornets, who now are seeing perhaps the greatest day in their franchise's history marred by accusations of a league-orchestrated conspiracy. The suspicions aren't surprising. Yes, the Hornets were owned by the league (not David Stern; he is not the owner of the NBA, simply its commissioner) for about two years after the franchise failed to find a majority owner to take over George Shinn's majority stake in the team. Yes, the Hornets lost their star player, Chris Paul, who was going to follow in the footsteps of LeBron James and Chris Bosh, and leave the team that drafted him with nothing in return. Yes, Stern played a key role in Paul's departure when he nixed a potential trade with the Lakers and instead approved a trade with the Clippers. And yes, Stern just worked overtime to complete a sale of the team to Tom Benson, the sole owner of the Saints, for a sum that was surprisingly close to the original asking price. David Stern's finger prints are all over the Hornets. But rest assured: no team deserved to win the lottery more than the New Orleans Hornets.
This franchise fulfilled all the requirements for a team that should benefit from a number one pick in the draft. No baseless accusation of conspiracy changes that very simple fact. They were bad this year. 21-45. The worst in the Western Conference. They have a roster in transition, with Chris Kaman and Eric Gordon, the team's best two players, both facing free agency in a matter of weeks. They are a small market team with a new owner who seems ready and willing to spend the money necessary to build a contender. They have a great coach in Monty Williams, and a highly-regarded general manager in Dell Demps. And most importantly: they didn't tank. They didn't do what the Bobcats, Warriors, Pistons or Nets did to try and get Anthony Davis. No way. They played hard every night, and as a result, developed gritty players who would round out a very solid team now, or at the very least, become valuable assets for transactions in the future. Gustavo Ayon, Jarrett Jack, Grevis Vasquez, and Trevor Ariza would look great next to Eric Gordon (provided he resigns), Chris Kaman (provided he resigns, too) and Anthony Davis (provided he plays the four). This is a team worthy of praise, not suspicion.
David Stern once called the draft "the rite of spring", and I am inclined to agree. The Hornets getting Anthony Davis is cause for celebration, not distrust. Tonight -- unless evidence ever emerges to the contrary, and it won't -- the best team won. So get over it, Joe. You too, John.
And better luck next year, Michael.