Cavaliers win LeBron James sweepstakes

Friday, May 23rd 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SECAUCUS, N.J. (AP) _ LeBron James will begin his NBA career in his own back yard.

The Cleveland Cavaliers scored perhaps the biggest victory in franchise history Thursday night, winning the NBA draft lottery and the right to select the high school phenom from nearby Akron.

``I'm not going to guarantee a championship,'' said James, who signed a seven-year, $90 million deal with Nike just before the lottery. ``But I will guarantee we'll get better every day. We're going to be a lot better than we were last year.''

Getting James involved a lot of luck. The Cavaliers and Denver both had a 22.5-percent chance of landing the 6-foot-8 swingman.

The Cavs beat the Nuggets and 11 other teams for the right to draft first on June 26 because four pingpong balls jumped to the top of an air-blown lottery with numbers 6-2-3-12.

``It's a great time for this organization and big step forward for us,'' Cavaliers general manager Jim Paxson said. ``Sometimes luck does play into it, and tonight we got lucky.''

At the least, the 18-year-old star should make the Cavs better than the team that matched Denver for the worst record in the NBA (17-65). He might even get them back to the playoffs for the first time since 1997-98.

While the Cavaliers won the lottery, the Detroit Pistons had to be smiling after winding up with the second overall pick. The good news came on a night the Pistons lost to the Nets and fell behind 3-0 in the Eastern Conference finals.

Detroit, which posted the best record in the conference, had the rights to Memphis' first-round pick because of a trade for Otis Thorpe in 1997. The Grizzlies would have been allowed to keep the pick if it had been No. 1.

The top pick came down to Cleveland and Memphis. When it was announced, Jerry West, the Grizzlies' president of basketball operations, seemed to sink a little.

``It would have been like Christmas,'' West said. ``But it's like Christmas and Thanksgiving for them.''

Denver, which like Cleveland had 225 chances out of 1,000, slipped to No. 3.

``Regardless, we're going to get a great player no matter what,'' Nuggets owner Stan Kroenke said.

Toronto got the fourth pick, followed by Miami, the Los Angeles Clippers, Chicago, Milwaukee, New York, Washington, Golden State, Seattle and Memphis.

Milwaukee, which made the playoffs, got Atlanta's pick at No. 8 because of the trade that sent Glenn Robinson to Atlanta last August. The Hawks would have kept the pick had they received one of the top three. Memphis got the 13th pick as part of a trade that sent Steve Francis to Houston in 1999.

For all the teams that didn't get the top pick, the good news is that this is one deepest drafts in years.

Carmelo Anthony, who led Syracuse to the national championship this season as a freshman, and Darko Milicic, a left-handed 7-footer from Serbia who turns 18 on June 20, are considered the next-best players available.

Speaking at halftime of Game 3 of the Nets-Pistons game, Anthony joked that he knew the Cavs would get the No. 1 pick.

``I think they rigged it. Don't quote me on that, though,'' Anthony said.

This is the first time the Cleveland has had the first pick in the draft since 1986, when it took Brad Daugherty.

James averaged 30.4 points, 9.7 rebounds, 4.9 assists and 2.9 steals as a senior at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School of Akron, which is about 35 minutes from Cleveland.

``I am worried that the expectations will be too high for him,'' Cavs owners Gordon Gund said. ``It's a huge jump from high school to the NBA. I worry that the expectations will be that he will be a star right away and I don't think that's going to happen.''