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.
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