Contemplating the Cavaliers’ Draft Options
With just over a month until the 2014 NBA Draft, the Cleveland Cavaliers, winners of the draft lottery, are sounding like a team that needs every bit of the next four weeks to make their decision.
It wasn’t until the final minutes leading up to their selection last year that the Cavaliers settled in on Anthony Bennett as their choice with the No. 1 overall pick. They contemplated taking Alex Len or Nerlens Noel heavily before selecting Bennett. Last year’s decision was tough because there was no clear cut number one pick. Everyone in the conversation had a major flaw or drawback. The Cavaliers may not have gotten a standout rookie campaign from Bennett, but it’s not like they missed out on a franchise player by taking him. Although Michael Carter-Williams and Victor Oladipo were far more impressive and productive, the Cavaliers just didn’t have the room for them in the backcourt and Bennett still holds some promise. They’re only one year into their careers, and Bennett could still easily end up having a better career.
This year’s selection is going to be tough as well, but in a different way because instead of the top spot being wide open, there are a few prospects worthy of the position. Since the minute the Cavaliers won the lottery, Griffin has been receiving trade offers and there have been varying reports over who they’re favoring at this early stage of the process. In today’s NBA PM, we take a look at how each of the potential No. 1 picks would impact their team and try to think along the same lines that they will be on draft night.
Andrew Wiggins – Of the teams drafting in the top three, the Cavaliers are far and away the best fit for Wiggins. This past season at Kansas, Wiggins showed a tremendous amount of potential. When he wanted to, he could dominate, but we didn’t see him do so on a regular basis throughout the course of a 35-game season. He hardly looks ready to do so over the course of an 82-game regular season, which is what the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers would look to him for. He would be a primary option immediately, someone who they depended on heavily each night in order to win.
In Cleveland, Wiggins wouldn’t have to feel the weight of a franchise on his shoulders. He’d be able to let the game come to him much more with Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters in the backcourt and really focus on defending and playing off of them. He could ease his way into superstardom, rather than being put in a position where he’s expected to reach it right away like he would be in Philadelphia or Milwaukee.
Is Wiggins the best fit for the Cavaliers, though? That’s the big question. He could slide into the starting small forward position right away and be able to defend both perimeter positions, create when asked to, knock down open shots and provide a lethal threat while filling the lane in transition. Luol Deng, C.J. Miles and Alonzo Gee (non-guaranteed contract) could all go elsewhere in free agency, so the Cavaliers are going to have to find a small forward somewhere. Wiggins makes a lot of sense and will probably garner as much consideration as anybody. For a franchise that is looking to make it to the postseason next year, Wiggins is the safest bet to play a big role in achieving that goal of anyone in this draft class.
Jabari Parker – There are more than a handful of high-ranking executives who think that Parker is the best player in this class and that he is the most deserving of going number one overall. The Cavaliers have to give him a lot of consideration, as he’s one of the most gifted scorers to come around since Kevin Durant left Texas after his freshman year. He’s going to come in and be able to score in a variety of ways from day one.
For the Cavaliers, though, that’s not necessarily the trait that they are looking for with the top pick. Parker’s offense would certainly be a plus, but what happens if he’s more effective from 17 feet in early on in his career? That makes him an awkward fit with Tristan Thompson and the aforementioned Bennett on the roster, along with whoever the Cavaliers look to in free agency to fill their void at the center position.
The big knock that is keeping Parker from being the surefire No. 1 pick is his defense, another big deterrent that will likely keep the Cavaliers from investing in him. They cannot afford to have any more subpar defenders if they’re truly going to take the next step forward, not just become a team that is one-and-done in the playoffs at best.
While Parker is talented enough to be the top pick for a lot of teams, he just doesn’t make a ton of sense for the Cavaliers, especially with the pieces in place now. With some roster shuffling, which appears to be inevitable no matter who they select, he could be a much better fit. But, as assembled, it’s hard to imagine him being any higher than third on their draft board.
Joel Embiid – With the Andrew Bynum experience turning out to be a massive failure and Anderson Varejao only having one partially guaranteed year on his deal, Embiid is going to have a lot of advocates in the Cavaliers front office. They have been searching for a game-changing center since they lost Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Embiid is as good of a big man as the draft has seen in recent years, on par with Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins.
However, with great promise comes great risk. Embiid missed the final portion of his freshman season at Kansas due to back and knee trouble. According to all reports, he is now 100 percent healthy. He certainly looked the part at Wasserman’s pro day workout, where he wowed over 100 NBA scouts and executives with his fluidity, explosiveness and raw potential. Embiid has only been playing the game for three years, but has made rapid improvements over the last 10 months and has all of the necessary tools to be a dominant big man for more than a decade. As long as he stays healthy, of course, and that’s a caveat that could scare the Cavaliers away, especially if any type of red flags surface during medical examinations.
With a clear mandate to get into the playoffs next year, investing in Embiid is a move that could derail that plan if his injury issues carry over into the NBA. The Cavaliers dared to be great by signing Bynum and it blew up in their face. While they’re two completely unrelated situations, the Cavs’ buyer’s remorse from Bynum could factor into their decision on whether to take Embiid. He’s either going to earn Griffin a raise and an extension, or a pink slip, which can come quite quickly in Cleveland as we’ve seen lately.
The Dark Horse – If there’s any player who has the potential to at least work his way into the conversation along with the three players mentioned above, it’s Australian guard Dante Exum. Clearly, the Cavaliers don’t have a need at the point guard position, or even the backup position with Jarrett Jack under contract through at least 2016 and potentially 2017. However, rumors of Irving wanting out of Cleveland have persisted for over a year now and they’re continuing to build as the window to negotiate a contract extension is set to open on July 1 and close on October 31. We’ve heard everything from Irving being unwilling to accept a max contract extension to the Cavaliers not even being willing to offer him one. Do the Cavaliers want to rid themselves of an unhappy All-Star before standoffs start happening at the negotiation table?
It’s an option they have to at least discuss, even if they have a lot of the leverage since they can offer Irving significantly more money than any other team and he can’t even become an unrestricted free agent until 2016 at the earliest. That’s a move that would require him to pass on a nearly $100 million extension and play for a qualifying offer of $9 million, less than half of what he could potentially be making, in the 2015-16 season. It’s hard to imagine he wants to leave the Cavaliers that badly, but if they believe he does, they could do a lot worse for a replacement than Exum.
Some scouts have gone on record saying that they feel Exum has even greater potential than Irving. At 6’6 with a 6’9.25 wingspan, he certainly has the physical traits to impact the game in a much different way than Irving does. However, drafting Exum is basically an acceptance of the worst-case scenario for the Cavaliers. It’s admitting that they don’t think that they can keep him and that they need to protect themselves for the inevitable loss, whereas going with Wiggins, Embiid or even Parker shows confidence that they can keep him and please him enough to eventually get his signature on an extension. With a reputation for making reaches on draft night already, Griffin would be setting himself up to take a lot of heat by taking Exum No. 1. If this is really the route the Cavaliers decide to go, drafting for Irving’s replacement, then he’d be wise to do so by trading down a couple of spots. Perhaps the Philadelphia 76ers or Orlando Magic would be willing to part with an asset and their top five pick in order to move up.
As you can see, there’s a lot that the Cavaliers have to contemplate and take into consideration when they make their selection on June 26 – and that’s without even mentioning the possibility of just trading out of the first round all together and exchanging it for more proven talent, like disgruntled Minnesota Timberwolves star Kevin Love for instance. Expect for them to remain uncertain over their decision until they’re actually on the clock and forced to choose, because every direction warrants consideration at this point.
PODCAST: Breaking Down The Western Conference Playoff Race
Basketball Insiders Deputy Editor Jesse Blancarte and Writer James Blancarte break down the Western Conference playoff race and check in on the Los Angeles Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers.
NBA Daily: The Cleveland Cavaliers Need Tyronn Lue
The Cleveland Cavaliers have faced injury adversity and a roster shakeup, and now face uncertainty regarding coach Tyronn Lue’s health.
The most enduring image of Cleveland Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue came moments after his team sealed the 2016 NBA Finals with a third consecutive win after trailing the Golden State Warriors 3-1. As the team celebrated its historic comeback and readied to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy, one camera focused on Lue, who sat on the bench with his face buried in his hands.
— Buddy Grizzard (@BuddyGrizzard) June 20, 2016
The image tells a thousand words about the pressure Lue was under as Cleveland teetered on the brink of elimination for three games. Rather than sharing the euphoria of his players, it seemed that Lue’s emotions centered around the massive weight that had been lifted from his shoulders. Almost two years later, it appears that burden has caught back up with Lue, whose leave of absence for health reasons complicates things for Cleveland with the playoffs just around the corner.
“It’s like losing one of your best players,” said Cavaliers forward LeBron James after Cleveland’s 124-117 win at home over the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday.
Kevin Love returned from a six-week injury absence to post 18 points, seven rebounds and four assists against the Bucks. James likened Lue’s absence to the burden of trying to replace Love’s output while he was unavailable.
“We’ve got to have guys step up, just like guys trying to step up in Kev’s absence,” said James. “We have to do the same as a collective group as long as Ty needs to get himself back healthy.”
There’s optimism that Lue could return before the playoffs, but there’s a great deal of uncertainty given the seriousness of his symptoms, which reportedly included coughing up blood. Lead assistant Larry Drew, a former head coach with the Bucks and Hawks, will handle head coaching responsibilities until Lue is ready to return.
Kyle Korver played under Drew in Atlanta and said he’s confident in his ability to fill in.
“We’d love to have Ty here and healthy,” said Korver after the Bucks win. “Coach Drew has done this for a long time as well. He coached me for a full year in Atlanta. We know he’s fully capable.”
Korver also doubted Drew would introduce any major stylistic changes.
“I think LD’s been Ty’s top assistant for a reason,” said Korver. “They really think a lot alike. They coach very similarly. We miss Ty, but I think the style of what we do is going to be very similar.”
While style and approach should remain unchanged, what could an extended absence for Lue mean for the Cavaliers? Lue cemented his legacy as a leader by keeping the Cavaliers together as they fought back from a 3-1 deficit to the Warriors, but Drew hasn’t had that kind of success as a head coach.
In 2012, the Hawks had a real opportunity to reach the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in Atlanta history. The Hawks faced an aging Boston Celtics squad in the first round. The eighth-seed Philadelphia 76ers awaited in the second round after defeating the top-seeded Chicago Bulls.
After splitting the first two games in Atlanta, the Hawks faced a pivotal Game 3 in Boston with the opportunity to retake home court advantage. Atlanta Journal-Constitution beat writer Michael Cunningham used Synergy Sports to break down every offensive possession for Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo. His conclusion? For three quarters, Rondo did not score a single basket while guarded by Hawks combo guard Kirk Hinrich.
The Hawks traded a package that included a former and a future first-round pick to obtain Hinrich from the Wizards in 2011. But in Game 3, Hinrich failed to score a point despite his effective defense. Apparently feeling the need for an offensive spark, Drew left Hinrich on the bench in the fourth quarter and turned to career journeyman Jannero Pargo.
With Hinrich out of the game, Rondo’s offense came to life as he slashed to the basket at will. Boston opened the fourth with a 13-7 run before Pargo went to the bench and Atlanta closed on a 15-7 run to force overtime. The NBA did not publish net rating data at the time, but we can now see via historical data that the Hawks were outscored by nearly 52 points per 100 possessions in Pargo’s minutes in Game 3. Rather than entrust Atlanta’s season and his own legacy to a player the Hawks traded two first-round picks to obtain, Drew went with Pargo, a career end-of-bench player.
What does this mean for the Cavaliers? It means the team needs to get Lue back. Drew and Lue are both former NBA players who have received mixed reviews as head coaches. But when his legacy was on the line, Lue pushed the right buttons.
For Drew’s part, in his first postgame press conference since Lue’s absence was announced, he remained publicly deferential.
“Coach Lue is the one who makes that decision,” said Drew when asked about lineup combinations. “That’s not my call. We look at a lot of different combinations — whether guys are starting or whether they are coming off the bench — and we assess everything.”
On the critical question of how lineups will be fine-tuned as the Cavaliers prepare for the playoffs, Drew once again emphasized Lue’s active role even as he steps away from the bench.
“I’ll talk to Ty,” said Drew. “He’s got the final say-so. Whatever he wants, then that’s what we’re going to go with. But if he tells me to make a decision, then I’ll have to make the decision.”
With Lue suffering acute symptoms, there’s no way of knowing when he will be ready to step back into the pressure cooker of a leading role for a team with championship aspirations. But the Cavaliers need him and need his steadying influence and instincts. Cleveland is a team that has battled through injuries and a major roster overhaul at the trade deadline. It also faces the pressure of James’ impending free agency decision this summer.
Now, with the playoffs just around the corner, the Cavaliers must endure uncertainty about Lue’s ability to return and lead the team. James has emphasized that Lue’s health overshadows any basketball concerns, but gave his most terse remark when asked about learning that Lue would step away on the same day Cleveland finally got Love back.
“If it’s not one thing, it’s another,” said James. “That was my reaction.”
A Breakout Season for Joe Harris
Brooklyn Nets swingman Joe Harris talks to Basketball Insiders about his second chance with the Nets.
The NBA is all about second chances. Sometimes players need a change of scenery, or a coach who believes in them, or just something different to reach their full potential. They may be cast aside by several teams, but eventually, they often find that right situation that allows them to flourish.
Such was the case for Joe Harris. Originally drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers with the 33rd overall pick in the 2014 draft, Harris rarely saw the court during his time in Cleveland. He averaged about 6.4 minutes per game over the course of about one and a half seasons with the Cavaliers.
During the 2015-16 season, his second in Cleveland, he underwent season-ending foot surgery. Almost immediately after, the Cavaliers traded him to the Orlando Magic in an attempt to cut payroll due to luxury tax penalties. He would never suit up for the Magic as they cut him as soon as they traded for him.
After using the rest of that season to recover from surgery, he would sign with the Brooklyn Nets in the summer of 2016. He had a very strong first season in Brooklyn, but this season he’s truly broken out.
“I think a lot of it has to do with just the right situation in terms of circumstances. It’s a young team where you don’t really have anybody on the team that’s going out and getting 20 a night,” Harris told Basketball Insiders. “It’s a collective effort most nights and it can be any given person depending on the situation. It’s one of those things where we’re real unselfish with the ball. A lot of guys get a lot of good looks, so your production is bound to go up just because of the system now that we’re playing.”
Known primarily as a sharpshooter in college at the University of Virginia as well as his first stop in Cleveland, Harris has started developing more of an all-around game. He’s improved his ability to put the ball on the floor and make plays as well as crashing the glass and playing strong defense.
In a relatively forgettable season record-wise for the Nets, Harris has been one of their bright spots. He’s putting up 10.1 points per game on 47.3 percent shooting from the field while playing 25.4 minutes per game. He’s up to 40.3 percent from the three-point line and he’s pulling down 3.3 rebounds. All of those numbers are career-highs.
“My role, I think, is very similar to the way I would be anywhere that I was playing. I’m a shooter, I help space the floor for guys to facilitate,” Harris told Basketball Insiders. “I’m opportunistic offensively with drives and such. I’m out there to try and space the floor, knock down shots, and then play tough defensively and make sure I’m doing my part in getting defensive rebounds and that sort of stuff.”
Although Harris didn’t play much in Cleveland, he did show glimpses and flashes of the player he has blossomed into in Brooklyn. He saw action in 51 games his rookie year while knocking down 36.9 percent of his three-point attempts.
He also saw action in six playoff games during the Cavaliers’ run to the 2015 Finals. But more importantly, it was the off the court things that Harris kept with him after leaving Cleveland. The valuable guidance passed down to him from the Cavaliers veteran guys. It’s all helped mold him into the indispensable contributor he’s become for the Nets.
“Even though I wasn’t necessarily playing as much, the experience was invaluable just in terms of learning how to be a professional,” Harris told Basketball Insiders. “The approach, the preparation, that sort of stuff. That’s why I learned a lot while I was there. All those good players that have had great, great, and long careers and just being able to kind of individually pick their brains and learn from them.”
When Harris came to Brooklyn two years ago, he initially signed a two-year deal with a team option after the first year. When he turned in a promising 2016-17 season, it was a no-brainer for the Nets to pick up his option. Set to make about $1.5 million this season, Harris’ contract is a steal.
However, he’s headed for unrestricted free agency this upcoming summer. Although he dealt with being a free agent before when he first signed with the Nets, it’s a different situation now. He’s likely going to be one of the most coveted wings on the market. While there’s still a bit more of the regular season left, and free agency still several months away, it’s something Harris has already thought about. If all goes well, Brooklyn is a place he can see himself staying long-term.
“Yeah, it’s one of those things that I’ll worry about that sort of decision when the time comes. But I have really enjoyed my time in Brooklyn,” Harris told Basketball Insiders. “It’s a great organization with a lot of good people, and they try and do stuff the right way. I enjoy being a part of that and trying to kind of rebuild and set a good foundation for where the future of the Brooklyn Nets is.”