3 Things Cleveland Must Consider

June 28, 2014
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Call it a gift from God. A product of fate, who knows. In the last four years since LeBron James left Cleveland stranded, demoralized, and in a revolting uproar of jersey-fed bonfires, the Cavaliers have somehow had their beloved ping pong ball take a bounce for the best in three of the last four luck-of-the-draw draft lotteries.

Three #1 picks, despite being projected eighth, third, and ninth in those lotteries. I think the Cavaliers need a little trip to Vegas.

Despite the talent they’ve been baby fed, the Cavaliers are still the stranded, demoralized Cavaliers. They picked up their gems in point guard Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson a few picks later, and Dion Waiters the next year. They turned out to be everything they were expected to be, yet last year’s #1 pick was a bit of an upset, to say the least. Power forward Anthony Bennett gave them about—wait for it—four points and three rebounds a game in 52 games, none of which he started. Not quite the durable, versatile big man they were expecting.
[Note to GMs: Stop wasting high draft picks on undersized post players unless we’re looking at the next Charles Barkley. They never live up to the hype that getting picked high brings. This year there’s no better candidate than Julius Randle.]

In Bennett’s rookie campaign this winter, Cavaliers ended up finishing 33-49 and squinting distance from the playoffs in a frail Eastern Conference.

And now we have THIS summer’s draft this Thursday. In arguably the most talented, deep draft class in four years, the Cavaliers’ front office is a kid in a candy shop, starving for something that’ll finally give them sweet wins—and they get first dibs, yet again. As ESPN’s Bill Simmons put it, personifying the NBA: “Here you go, Cleveland—I bought you another Ferrari, try not to crash this one!”

They’ll survey the options from the driver’s seat before they take off, but here’s a little guidance I’m sure every sportswriter from here to ESPN would love to slide under their door. Not necessarily for Cleveland’s sake, but just to see a draft finally picked properly, a #1 pick pan out. And so, as follows, I have three reminders Cleveland must consider before flooring this pick out of the parking lot for a two-year-long ride.
Kansas center Joel Embiid teetered from picks first to second to third…to sixth or seventh in the mock drafts throughout the past several months without anyone playing a single game. News broke this week that Embiid, initially the consensus #1 pick, would now need surgery on a fractured foot and could miss as much as the entire 2014-15 season. It sounds just like center Nerlens Noel last year with his torn ACL. Do you gamble with the potential your third—or even seventh—pick have on a lanky post that inevitably walks under the hovering cloud that asks, ‘Is he injury prone or is this a fluke injury?’ ‘Is this the next Greg Oden or Sam Bowie, or are we going to focus on what initially made him the top prospect?’
It becomes so hard to draw the line between apprehensively passing up on poor durability and, contrastingly, realizing that his upside is much greater than the remaining long list of mediocrity that has unblemished durability thus far. The Pelicans drew that line at pick #6 last year when Noel fell down to them; they traded him to Philadelphia that night. It’ll be interesting to see how far Embiid drops before someone finally gambles on him, but one thing is probably established: the Cavaliers have reluctantly moved past the Embiid idea.

Despite both Parker and Wiggins being listed as small forwards entering the draft, both would presumably fit in perfectly as solid-sized shooting guards in the Cavaliers’ lineup. Luol Deng would remain at the small forward spot, and shooting guard Jarrett Jack would step out of the lineup. Parker’s a much better shooter than Wiggins, especially from deep. That’s always promising because he’s the kind of guy that can step into the system and average 17 a game next year.
Wiggins, on the other hand, has explosiveness that makes Parker look like he has brick feet. This once-in-a-decade athleticism (probably the most athletic since 18-year old LeBron in ’03) provides upside greater than a crafty, heavier wing that can stroke the ball from deep.
Because players almost always drastically improve their shot while in the league. LeBron wasn’t a good shooter coming into the league, either. The stratosphere-piercing potential is there.
Even in the wildest of flukes, there’s still no chance the first pick isn’t either Parker or Wiggins at this point. But this IS Cleveland we’re talking about. It must not ever be forgotten that both teenagers have the potential to be franchise-changing players. The average fan could take the easy route and say there is no wrong answer if it’s between these two, but the thought process has to go deep into the future…and come back to reality and pick Wiggins.
The clock’s hands on their last few rotations of stress and option-weighing, the Cavaliers should now be solidifying their pick, sealing it up, and letting it quickly become to most talked about piece of paper in sports for a few more dwindling hours.

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