Toward the end of the 2002-03 season, Cleveland Cavaliers interim head coach Keith Smart endured some verbal abuse from a team lawyer because wins by the team were endangering its chances of drafting LeBron James.
When Cavs were tanking for LeBron, interim coach Keith Smart won some games near the end, including the last one to force a tie with Denver for worst record. Dick Watson, the Cavs attorney, cussed Smart out. Told him they spent all year tanking & he screwed it up on the last day https://t.co/oavcl3yCYU
— Jason Lloyd (@ByJasonLloyd) December 21, 2020
The 2002-03 edition of the Cavaliers finished with a record of 17-65, with Smart replacing the previous coach, John Lucas, midway through the season.
Lucas had compiled an 8-34 mark, and Smart wasn’t able to do much better, finishing with a 9-31 record, with two of those wins coming in the final three games.
It’s unclear exactly when the confrontation between Smart and the Cavs lawyer took place, with Smart only able to lead the Cavaliers to consecutive wins on one occasion.
The Denver Nuggets had put themselves in the mix for that top pick by also tanking, losing their final eight games. That was in comparison to the Cavaliers winning three of their final eight contests.
In the end, the Cavaliers did end up drafting James and ended up reaching the NBA Finals just four years later. When James returned for four more seasons in 2014, the Cavs immediately transformed into a powerhouse team that reached the finals all four seasons and captured the league title in 2016.