Connect with us


In the 2014 NBA Draft, the Road Diverges for Cavaliers

Draft day mistakes are common, but the Cleveland Cavaliers simply cannot afford to botch another lottery pick.

Moke Hamilton



With a midrange touch, exquisite timing and a raw game that has scouts and front office staffers salivating, Joel Embiid has tickled the imaginations of many.

But after an uneventful rookie campaign by last season’s number one overall pick, Anthony Bennett, the Cleveland Cavaliers simply cannot afford another pick that fails to make an immediate impact. That is especially true with Kyrie Irving approaching free agency.

Once upon a time, back in 2007, Greg Oden was considered to be in special player—the second coming of Bill Russell, perhaps.

Five years later, the same was said of Anthony Davis after an impressive championship season at the University of Kentucky.

Now, two years later, the dichotomy between Oden and Davis is stark. Oden recently called himself one of the biggest busts of all-time while Davis seems poised to be the most positionally ambiguous big man since Kevin Garnett completed his ascension to being the league’s Most Valuable Player back in 2004.

Now, the Cavaliers have the difficult task of trying to determine where Embiid’s trajectory lies. In many ways, the franchise may have been better off with the third overall pick. At least in that instance, the Cavs would have no concern over potentially picking the wrong guy the way that the Portland Trail Blazers did in 2007—back when they selected Oden over Kevin Durant.

Back then, the Blazers were coming off of a 32-win season but believed that a nucleus was assembled. With Brandon Roy, Martell Webster and Travis Outlaw, the Blazers’ front office was reasonable in believing that they had a bigger need at center than on the wing. With Jamaal Magloire playing the lion’s share of available minutes at center, Oden was believed to have represented the final piece to a young team that would have an opportunity to contend for championships for 10 years.

That, obviously, was not the case.

Today, with the aforementioned Bennett, free agent Luol Deng, Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters, the Cavs, on paper, seem to have more of a need at center, as well. But Embiid has only recently begun playing basketball and is believed to have the requisite skills of an impactful center in the NBA.

That was essentially the take of Ryan Blake, the Senior Director of the NBA Scouting Operations. Blake spoke with Basketball Insiders, providing in-depth insight on some of this year’s draft class studs. In Embiid, he sees loads of potential, but points out the injury concerns that have become synonymous with the 20-year-old Cameroonian.

“His back injury is a big red flag right now,” Blake mentioned in Basketball Insiders’ 2014 NBA Draft Magazine, which is on sale now. “However, when you have someone who hasn’t played basketball for that long, who has done what he’s done this year, that moves so well laterally, an excellent shot blocker and we add those instincts, he’s improved his mid range game, he can even shoot the three, he’s got a handle and he’s a hard worker – when you get a seven footer with skill, sky is the limit.”

Get the 2014 NBA Draft Issue of Basketball Insiders Magazine. The magazine can be purchased in three ways: You can buy it on the web, and the magazine will work on all devices. | You can buy it from the iTunes app store (for Apple users) | You can buy it from the Google Play store (for Android users). Get yours today!

Yet still, there are quite a few who are not as high on Embiid, the primary reason being, yes, his injuries.

Thus far, the narrative on Embiid has been that he has made major strides as a prospect, despite being on a Kansas team built around perimeter players. His ceiling is believed to be quite high, but the ultimate question that the Cavaliers must attempt to answer is whether his body will give him an opportunity to actually reach it.

Almost every year and in any draft, there are tough decisions to be made. Back in 2004, the Orlando Magic had a tough decision to make between a high school kid named Dwight Howard and the Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA’s 2004 Final Four, Emeka Okafor.

In 2005, coming off of a 13-69 season in which Tyronn Lue, Royal Ivey and Kenny Anderson were their point guards, the Atlanta Hawks, with the second overall pick in the draft, decided it would be wise to select Marvin Williams at that spot, passing on both Chris Paul and Deron Williams in the process.

In 2008, armed with just a 1.7 percent chance of winning the draft lottery, the Chicago Bulls put their first overall pick to good use, selecting Derrick Rose. Michael Beasley was considered the second-best prospect at the time and was selected second overall by the Miami HEAT. O.J. Mayo was selected by the Minnesota Timberwolves at number three before being traded for Kevin Love (selected fifth overall by the Memphis Grizzlies). Between those two picks, Russell Westbrook was selected by the Oklahoma City Thunder.

How different could life have been for the HEAT had they selected Westbrook or Love?

How different could life have been for the Grizzlies if, in 2009, instead of using their second overall pick on Hasheem Thabeet, they had selected James Harden or Stephen Curry?

Years from now, the NBA world will collectively look back at the opportunities and good fortune that the Cavaliers have had with their post-LeBron James draft picks. In 2011, Irving and Thompson were selected first and fourth, respectively. In 2012, Waiters was selected with the fourth pick while Bennett was selected first overall in 2013.

Now, in 2014, with their third number one overall pick in four years, the Cavs simply cannot afford to lose again. As to whether Embiid is the right pick over players like Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker, it is a question that is being posed just as frequently as the one that the Blazers had to field regarding Oden or Durant seven years ago.

On draft day, when the Cavs give their answer—whatever it is—they will make history.

If Embiid is their man and he fulfills his potential as, perhaps, the second coming of Hakeem Olajuwon, Irving will have a running mate and the franchise will have an appreciable array of youngsters who will still be on rookie contracts. Come July 2015, with potentially enough cap space to pursue a maximum-salaried player, the Cavs would have an opportunity to take a considerable step forward.

If they miss, however, the already rumored departure of Irving will be hastened and the franchise may continue to find itself in the draft lottery for the foreseeable future.

As it stands, there are questions about both Parker and Wiggins, as well.

The Cavaliers find themselves in the unenviable predicament of having to choose one of three prospects and needing to make the correct decision. The first overall pick, in many ways, is a blessing and a curse.

After an uneventful rookie campaign from Bennett, the Cavaliers cannot afford a repeat. In 2011, with Irving, they hit the jackpot. In 2013 with Bennett, they failed to take a step forward.

Now, in 2014, one way or another, history will repeat itself. For the Cavs, again, the road diverges. The route to becoming a contender has two paths.

For newly installed general manager David Griffin, with Embiid and his tantalizing potential, his first go at serving as navigator is far from a slam dunk.

But here and now—no excuses—that is exactly what the Cleveland Cavaliers need.


Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


NBA Daily: Jonathan Isaac Proving to be Key Part of Orlando’s Future

Basketball Insiders spoke with Jonathan Isaac about his rookie season, injuries, areas to improve on, his faith and more.

James Blancarte



On January 13, the Orlando Magic were eliminated from playoff contention. This date served as a formality as the team has known for quite some time that any postseason hopes had long since sailed. The Magic started the year off on a winning note and held an 8-4 record in early November. However, the team lost their next nine games and never really recovered.

Many factors play a role in a young but talented team like the Magic having another season end like this. Injuries to franchise cornerstone Aaron Gordon as well as forward Evan Fournier and forward Jonathan Isaac magnified the team’s issues.

Isaac, a rookie selected sixth overall in the first round of the 2017 NBA Draft, started the season off reasonably well. On November 10, in 21 minutes of action, he registered an 11-point, six-rebound, one-assist, one-steal, two-block all-around effort against the Phoenix Suns to help the Magic get to that 8-4 record. Isaac then suffered an ankle injury midway through his next game and wouldn’t play again until December 17, by which time the team was already 11-20 with athe season quickly going sideways. From November until March, Isaac would only play in three games until finally returning to consistent action in the month of March with the season all but decided.

Basketball Insiders spoke to Isaac recently to discuss how he has pushed through this season, staying healthy, his impressive skill set and more.

“I’ve had a lot of time off from being injured so, I think my body is holding up fine along with how much I’ve played. I haven’t played a full season,” Isaac told Basketball Insiders “I feel good. I feel good.”

Isaac talked about what part of his game he feels strongly about and has improved on.

“I think defensively,” Isaac said. “I didn’t expect myself to make strides defensively like I have. I’ve been able to just be able to just do different things and help this team defensively and I didn’t expect that coming in so, that would be the one thing.”

Magic Head Coach Frank Vogel was effusive in his praise of Isaac’s defense and also focused on the rookie’s great defensive potential.

“His defense is out of this world. I mean it’s really something else,” Vogel said. “Just watch him play and everybody’s getting a taste of it right now. They haven’t seen him a whole lot but he’s an elite defender right now at 20-years old and the sky’s the limit for what he can be on that end of the floor.

While Isaac hasn’t logged a huge number of minutes on the floor this season, he has impressed in his limited action. As Coach Vogel stated, anyone who has taken the time to watch Isaac play this season has noticed his ability to guard other big men and his overall defensive impact.

“I think I’ve been able to do a good job on most of the people that I’ve had to guard,” Isaac said.

Missing Isaac’s defense impact and overall contributions partially explains why the Magic cooled off after their hot start. However, with the playoffs no longer an option, younger players like Isaac now have the opportunity to play with less attention and pressure. While it can be argued that the Magic aren’t really playing for anything, the truth is these late-season games can be an opportunity to develop these younger players and determine what to work on during the offseason.

There is more to Isaac than just basketball, however. Isaac discussed other parts of his life that are important to him, including religion and his faith.

“[M]y faith in Jesus is something that I put a lot of emphasis on,” Isaac told Basketball Insiders. “It’s a part of me.”

Isaac did not hesitate to credit his faith when asked if it helped him push through his injuries.

“I would say definitely,” Isaac said. “Especially with getting injured so early in the season and being out for 40 games. That’s a lot on somebody’s mental capacity and then just staying positive, staying joyful in times where joy doesn’t seem like it’s the right emotion to have. And I definitely [attribute] that to my faith.”

Looking forward, both Vogel and Isaac discussed the future and what the young big man can improve on.

“Offensively, he’s grown in confidence, he’s gained so he’s going to give us a big lift and our future’s bright with him,” Vogel stated.

Isaac gave a hint of his offseason training plans when asked what he looks forward to working on.

“I would say consistency with my jump shot. Really working on my three-ball and I would say ball-handling,” Isaac stated.

When asked if there was anything more he wanted to add, Isaac simply smiled and said, “Oh no, I think I got to get to church right now,” as the team prepared to play later that evening.

Continue Reading


Tyronn Lue’s Health Concerns Latest Bump In The Road For Cavaliers

Spencer Davies outlines Tyronn Lue’s decision to take a leave of absence to deal with health issues and covers the reaction around the NBA.

Spencer Davies



The win-loss record is not where they want it to be.

The performances have not been up to par with what they expect.

With that said, one thing is for certain: There is no other team that will have been more battle tested going into the playoffs than the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Day after day and week after week, there’s always something going on with the team. Between in-house arguments, on-court miscommunication, roster turnover, and more, it has been one giant roller coaster of a season.

Monday morning, another twist was added to the ride. In a statement released by the Cavaliers organization, Tyronn Lue and general manager Koby Altman announced that the head coach would be taking a leave of absence to address his health:

“After many conversations with our doctors and Koby and much thought given to what is best for the team and my health, I need to step back from coaching for the time being and focus on trying to establish a stronger and healthier foundation from which to coach for the rest of the season.

“I have had chest pains and other troubling symptoms, compounded by a loss of sleep, throughout the year. Despite a battery of tests, there have been no conclusions as to what the exact issue is. While I have tried to work through it, the last thing I want is for it to affect the team.

“I am going to use this time to focus on a prescribed routine and medication, which has previously been difficult to start in the midst of a season. My goal is to come out of it a stronger and healthier version of myself so I can continue to lead this team to the Championship we are all working towards. I greatly appreciate Dan Gilbert, Koby Altman, our medical team and the organization’s support throughout.”

There were multiple instances where Lue either missed part of a half or an entire game this season. The symptoms are definitely not to be taken lightly. According to a report by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Dave McMenamin, Lue attempted to return to the bench Saturday night in Chicago but the team didn’t allow him to. Evidently, Lue was “coughing up blood” some nights.

Seeing it first hand after postgame press conferences, Lue was visibly exhausted and stress could likely be playing a part. He’s been fighting through the tough times the team has been going through and avoided stepping away twice this season.

Charlotte Hornets head coach Steve Clifford had his own battle with health problems earlier this season and temporarily left the team for those reasons. He has attempted to reach out to Lue, a friend and former player of his.

Other head coaches around the league—Joe Prunty, Steve Kerr, and Luke Walton—have all gone to bat for Lue when discussing the rigors of an NBA schedule and the toll it takes.

Altman supports the decision for Lue to get to the bottom of what’s going on.

“We know how difficult these circumstances are for Coach Lue and we support him totally in this focused approach to addressing his health issues,” he said.

LeBron James is glad that Lue is going to take some time to get better.

“Obviously, health is the most important with everything in life,” James said Monday after shootaround. “Not surprised by it at all. I knew he was struggling, but he was never not himself. He was just dealing with it the best way he could, but he was never not himself when he was around.

“It doesn’t matter what’s going on here. We play a great sport, our coaches get to coach a great sport, and you guys get to cover a great sports. But health is most important right now and that’s what our coach is doing right now and we’re all in favor for it.”

The latest piece of news is a blow to the already injury-ridden Cleveland group. Assistant coach Larry Drew will take over duties until Lue returns.

The good news for the Cavaliers is that Kevin Love can potentially return to the mix as soon as Monday night against Milwaukee.

Continue Reading


NBA Daily: Calderón’s Late NBA Start

Jose Calderón might be the only player in the league who didn’t grow up dreaming of playing in the NBA.

Joel Brigham



There are a lot of different ways to get to the NBA, but most of them involve lifelong scouting and an unceasing dream to play in the world’s premier basketball league.

Cleveland Cavaliers guard José Calderón didn’t really have either of those things.

“I never even thought of the NBA when I was a kid,” Calderón told Basketball Insiders. “I grew up in a small town in Spain, and I played basketball because my dad played and I loved it. I was having fun, always playing with the older guys because I was good at that age, but I never really even thought about playing any sort of professional basketball.”

Having grown up in Villanueva de la Serena, Spain, Calderón watched his father play for Doncel La Serena, which was his hometown team as a child. He was something of a prodigy, having attended practices and games with his father from a young age, and as burgeoning teenager he left home to play professionally for the lower-level Vitoria-Gasteiz team.

“They wanted to sign me at 13 years old, and we didn’t even know that they could sign people that young,” Calderón remembers. “So I did that, and I tried to get better. I tried to advance into the older clubs, but I never really did think about the NBA at all, honestly.”

That changed as he got older, though, especially after Spain finished 5th in the 2002 FIBA World Championship and Calderón started to get some stateside recognition.

“After that summer, [my agent and I] got a call from Milwaukee asking about my situation, and asked would I think about coming to play over here. It was sort of a let’s-see-what-happens sort of situation, but I couldn’t at that time because I was under contract. That was the first time I was really approached.”

As his teammates from the Spanish National Team made their way to the NBA, Calderón grew increasingly intrigued.

“Pau Gasol obviously opened a lot of doors for us,” he said. “Raul Lopez came, too. I was just playing basketball, though. I didn’t know anything about scouts. Later, when we started to get the calls from Toronto, I started to realize how possible it really was. That’s when I thought, ‘Hey, why not?’”

Despite being eligible for a few drafts in a row, Calderón never did get drafted, which was fine by him. Growing up the way he did, Calderón never had any dreams of his hearing his name called by Commissioner Stern, so playing his way through most of his deal with TAU Vitoria was no big deal for him. He could take or leave the NBA.

“Not getting drafted was the perfect situation for me,” he said. “In my satiation, coming from Europe, I was already playing professionally for a good team and making some good money. That was perfect for me at the time, and I was happy to be a free agent at 23, choosing where I was going to sign instead of going in the second round and having to play for one team.”

He signed with the Raptors in 2005 since they were the most aggressive in recruiting him to the NBA. As a 23-year-old rookie, he wasn’t overwhelmed physically the way a lot of rookies are, but he did find his new league challenging in other ways.

“The hardest part was just having to start over,” he said. “You start over from zero. It doesn’t matter if the other players know you or don’t, you have to prove yourself all over again. You could be the MVP of Europe, but to get respect in the NBA you have to gain it on the court.”

The talent differential was immediately noticeable, as well.

“There are so many guys out there that are better than you. It’s not just like a guy or two; there are six, seven guys on the floor any given time that are better than you.”

That meant making some changes in the way that Calderón played. He was asked to do a lot more offensively for his EuroLeague team. Playing with so many talented scorers completely changed his approach.

“I went from taking 20 shots a game to doing something else, and as a point guard in the NBA I had to approach that point guard role even more, to make those guys respect my game, to make them want to play with me. I had to be able to pass the ball, to do something different from all the other players, so I became a fast-first point guard to make sure we always played as a team. That’s how I get to where I am as a professional.”

Now 36 years old, Calderón is one of the league’s oldest players, making it easy for him to look back at where he came from to transform into the player he is today.

“I’ve grown so much, but I was lucky to be given the opportunity,” he said. “When you arrive from Europe, whether you’re good or bad, it doesn’t always matter if you don’t have the opportunity. Toronto gave me the opportunity to play 20 minutes a night, and that’s a lot. I made a lot of mistakes, but they let me play through those mistakes. All those little things added up for me, and I learned a lot.”

He owns two silver medals and a bronze in the three Olympics he’s participated in over the course of his career, as well as gold medals in FIBA World Cup and EuroBasket, but he’s never won an NBA championship. Joining up with LeBron James improves those odds, but that’s the thing that would really put an exclamation point on an excellent career.

Calderón could have stayed in Spain and been fine. He jokes that while the NBA has been very good to him, he and his family could have stayed in Europe and he could have made good money playing basketball there. He’s been happy with his career, though, however unorthodox his journey here, and he hopes his most prestigious accolades are yet to come.

Continue Reading

The Strictly Speaking Podcast


Trending Now