Despite Byron Scott's bold proclamation last week that the Cleveland Cavaliers could still make the playoffs, reality dictates they are on a collision course with Ping-Pong balls. Lots and lots of Ping-Pong balls.
For the first time since 2005, the Cavaliers are headed for the NBA Draft Lottery in May, where all the losses they're now enduring represent better odds at finding the next franchise player.
The Cavaliers entered the weekend with the worst record in the Eastern Conference (a half-game behind the Washington Wizards) and the league's third-worst record.
The Wizards, Cavaliers, Timberwolves, New Jersey Nets and Sacramento Kings are all clumped together at the bottom of the league right now with percentage points separating them.
For those fans rooting for the lottery, that's a good thing. Recent history dictates the best way to find an elite talent is in the top-five picks of an NBA Draft.
The Cavs have done numerous studies on the draft and its impact. What recent history has shown is landing in the lottery just isn't enough. Making the top 10 is better, but still not good enough.
During the last 15 seasons, dating back to the 1995 draft, 69 drafted players have become All-Stars. Of those, nearly half (30) were taken in the top five of drafts.
Now anyone can stumble into an All-Star appearance once (Mehmet Okur, Jamaal Magloire, etc). It hardly qualifies as a pillar to the franchise.
Raise the qualification to four All-Star appearances, and that narrows the field to elite players like Dwight Howard (four All-Star nominations), Amar'e Stoudemire (five), LeBron James (six) and Dwyane Wade (six).
Twenty-two players taken in the 10 drafts from 1995 to 2004 have earned at least four All-Star nominations. Of those 22, 12 were selected in the top five of drafts. That means 24 percent (12 out of 50) of players taken in the top five over that 10-year period have become franchise players.
Contrast that now with the other 10 who were drafted and became four-time All-Stars during that same period. They were selected over 529 picks (less than 1 percent). Ben Wallace is the real wild card. He was a four-time All-Star after going undrafted.
Of course, some drafts are deeper than others and teams still find ways to botch high picks -- Michael Olowokandi, Darko Milicic and Marcus Fizer were all top-five draft busts.
But as the Cavs begin to reshape the future of their franchise, their goal is clear. Making the lottery just isn't enough anymore. Their odds of finding a cornerstone player will increase dramatically if they land inside the top five.
The Milwaukee Bucks were Sports Illustrated's pick prior to the season to win the Central Division. Now they're fighting just to make the playoffs.
The Bucks entered Sunday 12-18, which in the Eastern Conference is remarkably good enough to hold the No. 8 playoff seed. They're a half-game better than the woeful Philadelphia 76ers.
The Bucks have been clubbed by injuries lately, but haven't been playing to their potential at any point this season. They were one of the worst offensive teams even before Brandon Jennings joined Andrew Bogut on the injured list. Now Corey Maggette's frustration is boiling over.
"If I had to grade it, I'd grade it an F," Maggette said. "I'm just going to be honest. We've still got a lot of time. We've still got to stay positive."
Paul Silas' stay in Charlotte might be brief, but the work he has done with point guard D.J. Augustin is already apparent.
Augustin, the ninth overall pick in the draft two years ago, was underachieving and reportedly on the trading block when Larry Brown was in charge. But Silas has given him more freedom, and Augustin is exploding.
He totaled 55 points and 10 assists in his first two games playing for Silas (he had 27 points and four assists in a victory over the Cavs on Wednesday) before struggling to make 5-of-12 shots in a loss to Golden State on Friday. Still, Augustin appears to be off the trading block for now while Silas continues to work with him.
"You've got to have confidence," Silas said, "and he had lost that."
As for Silas, the "interim" tag seems attached to him, meaning he likely won't be with the Bobcats beyond this season. As for long-term replacements, Bobcats owner Michael Jordan may or may not have discussed the position with former Knicks star Patrick Ewing.
Ewing is an assistant under Stan Van Gundy in Orlando and has long coveted the chance to run his own team. Of course, executives around the league could be scared off by Ewing's inability to make Dwight Howard one of the league's three best players -- even though all the physical traits are already there.
Ewing said he had spoken to Jordan recently, but that the two buddies chat often.
"There definitely was a phone call," he said. "It depends on what we talked about."
Incidentally, the Cavs brought Ewing's son, Patrick Jr., into town for a workout last week before signing Alonzo Gee.
Ricky Davis was cut this week by the Chinese team Jiangsu, which quickly grew tired of his act.
"When (Davis) was in the NBA . . . (he) loved to cause trouble," an unnamed Jiangsu official said in a Chinese report this week. "It's very difficult for an import like this to have success at Jiangsu."
Davis joined a growing list of former NBA players who have been released in China. It includes Mike James, Steve Francis and Javaris Crittenton. Davis, of course, will live in Cavaliers lore for infamously shooting at the wrong basket to try and secure the rebound for a triple-double.
Los Angeles Lakers veteran Lamar Odom graciously went to the bench this week when Andrew Bynum returned from knee surgery.
"It was his spot," Odom said. "That's his role on the team so it's not like there was a competition for the spot. That's the way it is and that's the way I expected it when he got back to full strength."
The Sacramento Kings are still trying to secure a new arena, and now the mayor is helping. Mayor Kevin Johnson received proposals from four development teams interested in building the new arena. The mayor wants to put it on city-owned property downtown.
Rockets Hall of Fame center Hakeem Olajuwon is launching his own clothing line.
"My passion for fashion has been there from the beginning. I've designed so many cool, nice clothes for myself that you want to take that public," Olajuwon told MyFoxHouston.com. "I think it's wonderful to be able to launch your own collection."