Three times in four years—unbelievable.
That was the nearly universal sentiment on Tuesday night when the Cleveland Cavaliers inexplicably won the NBA draft lottery once again despite incredibly long odds to do so. While that left teams who spent the year tanking a heavy dose of heartburn, it has brought a whole new level of intrigue to the draft process.
Of course, Cleveland wasn't the only winner on lottery night. Let's try to predict what the top winners from this year's draft lottery will do with their selections.
Two things are certain when it comes to the Cleveland Cavaliers and the draft—they have enormous luck at landing the top overall pick, and we have absolutely no idea what they will do with the selection.
Yes, last year's surprise Anthony Bennett selection came from a previous regime, but it still has put the rest of the NBA on tilt heading into this year's draft. What exactly will the Cavs pull out of their hat this time around?
The Cavs seem likely to make the choice between one of three players: Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker. According to Jeff Goodman of ESPN.com, Embiid is the early front-runner:
The Cleveland Cavaliers have 7-footer Embiid at the top of their draft board, but it's still early in the process and the team needs to obtain medical information on the Cameroon native's back injury, sources told ESPN.com on Wednesday.
Sources also told ESPN.com that while Embiid is first on the organization's wish list, that doesn't mean that Cavs general manager David Griffin—who had the interim tag lifted earlier this month—isn't also considering Wiggins and Parker with the first pick.
This pick is complicated, because the subtext of this decision is the notion that LeBron James might someday return to Cleveland. While that still seems unlikely, surely the possibility will impact how Cleveland approaches this selection.
That could mean they package the pick in a trade, say to land a player like Kevin Love or some other veteran who might entice LeBron to return. Or it could mean they don't go after a player on the wing in this draft, leaving that spot available for LeBron upon his potential return.
But that's all wishful thinking, and after Bennett's poor rookie season, the Cavs can't afford wishful thinking. They need to nail this pick. No matter what they do, they need to show immediate improvement next year. There is the small matter of keeping Kyrie Irving around, after all.
Griffin knows as much, as he told Brett Pollakoff of Pro Basketball Talk:
We’ve got very clear criteria for what we feel makes us better as a team. We’ve got a lot of young talent—a lot of young talent that in some ways doesn’t fit terribly well together, and in some cases, has really helped each other grow. We just need to get the right mix. We need to get the right person to advance us the fastest, and we’re very open-minded to what that is.
So who will be the pick?
They'll select Wiggins. He'll be a bigger contributor in the short term than Embiid and is the safer pick overall given Embiid's potential back issues, but he also has greater overall upside than Parker. He could certainly play alongside King James but could also be dubbed the new King of Cleveland if he starts strong and LeBron decides against leaving Miami—a likely scenario.
There's no question that the Sixers would have loved to be in a position to select Wiggins, but that seems pretty unlikely now. One would guess he won't get past the Milwaukee Bucks if he isn't the top pick overall.
But the Sixers are still in a great position with the third and 10th selections. No, the team didn't move up to the top overall selection, but they also only dropped one slot to No. 3, where they'll still be in a position to draft a stud. And they could have lost their second first-round pick if the New Orleans Pelicans had managed to earn a top-three pick (it was top-five protected), so the Sixers are winners simply by having two top-10 picks.
Either Parker is going to fall to them at No. 3, giving them an immediate offensive boost and high-character player to be the new face of the franchise, or Embiid will drop to No. 3 and the Sixers can ransom the pick to the highest bidder.
For a team that seems far less interested in winning next year than in building a long-term winner, the latter option might actually be the favorable one. But the team likely wouldn't hesitate to nab Parker if he was on the board, either.
As for the No. 10 pick, a lot will have to do with what the Sixers do at No. 3 and how the board shakes out. The Sixers would likely love a player like Noah Vonleh, Julius Randle or Aaron Gordon to drop to No. 10, but that seems highly unlikely.
More probable is the team targeting a shooting guard or another scoring wing with the No. 10 pick, with players like Nik Stauskas, Gary Harris, James Young and Zach LaVine possibly there for the taking (Doug McDermott is also a possibility, but his selection would be redundant if Parker was the pick at No. 3).
The Sixers have a lot of options with both of their picks, and everything is shaping up for them to be a much more watchable team in 2014-15.
They'll select Parker and LaVine. The former is the pure scorer Philly desperately needs; the latter is an athletic combo guard who finally gives the team some outside shooting, another player who can handle the rock and fits the mold of longer athletes the Sixers seem to want to build around. Plus, picking a player who is NBA-ready like Parker allows the team the luxury of nabbing a longer-term project like LaVine. The pair would be a nice haul for the Sixers.
While Detroit Pistons fans lament Cleveland winning the lottery, the Hornets rejoice. Because Cleveland went into the top three, it bumped the Pistons back to the No. 9 selection. And because their pick was only top-eight guaranteed after they traded it to the Hornets in 2012, the Pistons are left out of the lottery while the Hornets jump in.
Of course, the No. 9 selection is a bit of a tough place to be, with three players making up the top tier of talents in this draft (Wiggins, Embiid and Parker) and five players making up the second tier (Exum, Randle, Vonleh, Gordon and Marcus Smart).
The Hornets won't care—they likely didn't think they would be in the lottery in the first place. Now, a team that just made the playoffs will be getting a top young talent and can address a major need such as outside shooting.
They'll select Stauskas. McDermott will be a possibility, because they really need shooting from the small forward position, but his lack of athleticism will see him drop a bit on draft night. Young is another possibility, but Stauskas is appealing because he has good size for the guard position, can play point on occasion if necessary and is a better athlete than advertised. He'll give the Hornets the outside shooting they really need.