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Canada Day comes early, eh?

June 28, 2013

After a long day of travelling yesterday to Toronto—which caused me to miss the NBA Draft—I opened up the Globe and Mail this morning and was shocked to read the news that has been rattling the Canadian and NBA blogosphere:

“With the first pick of the 2013 NBA Draft, the Cleveland Cavaliers select…” Pause and gesture to the crowd.  “Anthony Bennett of Toronto, Canada and the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.”

Shouts, screams, and a disappointed Nerlens Noel flash on the screen.  Irony of ironies, as I had no idea that Bennett was in the running for first overall and my trip was not designed to coincide with his selection.

Thank you, Mr. Stern. / Merci, M. Stern

Thank you, Mr. Stern. / Merci, M. Stern.

The hype in Canada has been incredible.  It reminds me of minnow Tahiti scoring a single goal against Nigeria just a few days ago.  Never mind that Tahiti lost the match 6 -1; the symbolic victory mattered more.

Similarly, the symbolic victory of the poorer (in a basketball sense) partner in the NBA should not be underestimated.  HT will take you down a few scenarios of how this draft selection will make a difference.

  • Scenario 1:  Success.  Anthony Bennett emulates the other Anthony, Carmelo, and becomes a breakout star while teaming up with fellow Canadian Tristan Thompson.  Cleveland collectively rises out of its economic funk and social malaise, and the mayors of Cleveland and London, ON embrace and embark on a tunnel underneath Lake Erie to facilitate trade and goodwill.  In a magnanimous gesture during an opulent ceremony, a tearful LeBron James and Bennett exchange promises of everlasting goodwill.  Cleveland builds its core around Bennett, who becomes the franchise player that James was turning into, and the Cavaliers rise into an Eastern Conference powerhouse.
  • Scenario 2:  Mitigated success.  Bennett performs admirably and settles into a solid, but not amazing, NBA star.  Cleveland squanders its 2014 and 2015 picks on top “prospects” who fail to pan out, and then trades Thompson for a mercurial point guard who clashes with the administration.  Cleveland bounces around the bottom of the Eastern Conference playoff contention season after season.  GDP growth in the area continues to stagnate.
  • Scenario 3:  Failure.  Bennett does not live up to the massive expectations placed on him.  The team, trying to turn him into the next LeBron, underinvests in his player development.  The supporting cast and coaching staff move through a revolving door of hirings and firings.  The Cavaliers languish with several 30-win seasons, and Bennett is eventually traded for a solid mid-level star as part of a multi-team deal.
  • Scenario 4:  Catastrophe.  Bennett is the next Kwame Brown (or Jay Williams)†.  The Cavaliers are sold off and moved to San Diego.  Cleveland’s economy crashes even more.  Anti-Canadian riots break out occasionally, and the National Guard is called in to protect Samuel Dalembert.  Major  demonstrations ensue after a radio DJ calls for a ritual dumping of maple syrup into Lake Erie, which only pollutes the lake that much more.
Take that, insolent maple leaf!

Take that, insolent maple leaf!

Aside from these incredibly plausible scenarios, though, at HT we ponder what some of the other implications of Bennett’s selection.  In an upcoming post, we’ll discuss the changing face of the NBA Draft, but first, a word about this selection.

The LeBron James comparison:  obviously, Bennett—who is the same size as LeBron and may shift his style—will be compared to LeBron.  No contest, though.  LeBron brings the full package and was the consensus first-overall pick, whereas Bennett will have to develop and become accustomed to the NBA.

The Larry Johnson comparison:  surprisingly, this seems to have fallen under the radar.  The last Runnin’ Rebel selected first overall was Larry Johnson in the 1991 NBA Draft.  The Cavaliers are probably hopeful that Bennett will turn into Johnson, who formed the core of the Charlotte Hornets’ early playoff success.  However, Johnson was an accomplished player and NCAA national champion, whereas Bennett is more raw.

The Canadian effect:  Bennett moved to Brampton, ON as a child, and, in some sense, this might be the quietest but most important impact.  Brampton is the face of new Canada:  multicultural and not tied to  ice hockey (or, perhaps, to language politics).  While the Maple Leafs are the biggest gig in Toronto, the Raptors have built a solid fan base and team valuation.  The rise of other Canadian players, such as Thompson, Andrew Wiggins, and Sim Bhullar, slowly pushes up the visibility of Canadians and gives children something to aspire to outside of the ice rink.

No discussion of Canada would be complete without mentioning Steve Nash, who has carried the Canadian mantle for far too long without much aid.  I know he’ll be celebrating Canada Day this Monday (1 July), but maybe he—and Canadians with him—will be celebrating early.  Canada is making it in the NBA.

O, Canada!

O, Canada!

Interestingly, Michael Jordan drafted Kwame but later claimed that he would have drafted Jay Williams first overall had Williams declared for the draft.

*On another note, Rick Fox is technically Canadian.  However, he’s grown too big for his britches and played in LA.  Then again, perhaps he’s just following the age-old tradition of great Canadians heading to Hollywood to make their fortunes…

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