Ex-Cavaliers Coach Claims Team Tanked Season on Purpose to Get Lebron James


Former Cleveland Cavaliers head coach John Lucas, who coached the team briefly during the 2002-2003 season, claims the team tanked the season on purpose for the sole purpose of earning the right to draft Lebron James. Lucas, who was fired during that season, claimed that then majority owner Gordon Gund purposely traded away prospects and good players in order to for the team to play bad enough to finish in last place.

Gund, who is still a minority owner in the Cavaliers franchise, has denied tanking the 2002-2003 on purpose in order to increase the chances of drafting Lebron James and selling off the team.

Whether or not Lucas is telling the truth is still up for debate, however, there are several facts that do support his claims:

1) The value of the team would have risen with Lebron James on the team making it more attractive to potential buyers

2) The Cavaliers struggled at the gate towards the end of the 90s and needed a player who could help them on the court and at the ticket window. Former Cavaliers forward Shawn Kemp was brought in to help the team draw more fans but Kemp’s off the court problems, weight issues and laziness made it difficult for the Cleveland sports media to respect him.

3) From 1994-2002, the Cavaliers failed to finished higher then fourth place and needed a player to build a team around

4) Lebron James was a local phenom at Akron’s St. Vincent-St.Mary’s High School and proved he could sell out both Quicken Loans Arena and the Wolstein Center as a high school player. With that said, there was no question he could sell out games for the Cavaliers.

5) Before the 2002-2003 season began, Gund was quoted saying that the Cavaliers were a team that “was not going to win a lot of ball games but we aren’t going to tank it.” Even before YouTube and Twitter, why would any owner say that? If you played for the Cavaliers at that time, what message does that statement send to you?

6) The 2002-2003 Cavaliers were filled with troubled players such as Darius Miles and Ricky Davis who were not well liked by fans and the team needed more fan friendly player like James on the team.

7) Lucas already had a losing record in the NBA and had been a vagabond coach for quite a while. If your goal is to stink anyway, why not bring in a coach with a crappy record?

Whether or not it was done on purpose, the 2002-2003 Cavaliers finished tied for last place in the league with the Denver Nuggets with a 17-65 record. That last place finish was just enough to win the first pick in the upcoming NBA draft, which was going to be Lebron James.

By winning that first pick, Gund achieved everything Lucas claimed he wanted to accomplish:

1) He was able to draft Lebron James and rebuild a depleted fan base

2) He was able to sell the team in 2005

3) He has remained on as a minority owner and has seen the team rise in success

Gund will continue to deny tanking the 2002-2003 season but the truth is he made out like a bandit by owning a team that finished 17-65 that season. Watching the Cavaliers during that season was as much fun as getting a root canal and finished in last place was no doubt the best way to get Lebron James.


~ by jeffrsabo on January 15, 2010.

2 Responses to “Ex-Cavaliers Coach Claims Team Tanked Season on Purpose to Get Lebron James”

  1. Yes, they were a bad team. Yes, they lost a lot of games. Yes, they had some bad deals made. But it does you no good to tank in the NBA! Having the worst record only gets you 250 chances in a thousand to win the #1 pick. When the Cavs struck gold in 2003, they became the first worst-record team to get the #1 pick since the 1990 New Jersey Nets. Since ’03, only one other worst-record club picked first, the 2004 Orlando Magic. In fact, in 2003, 4 of the previous 6 lottery winners finished with the third-worst mark! So statistically speaking, they should’ve tanked less to have a better shot at LBJ. It was a stroke of luck, not the diobolic scheme of an owner that brought the King back to Cleveland.

  2. These are key points that you are making. The Cavs may have struck gold in getting Lebron and in some instances, it does seem unlikely that the team would tank on purpose. You never know what really goes sometimes though and we might not ever know for sure.

    I will probably write about this tomorrow a bit but I don’t get what Lucas is trying to accomplish by calling out the Cavaliers like this.

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