Shortly after watching his team land the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft Tuesday for the third time in four years, Cleveland Cavaliers GM David Griffin insisted that his organization's latest bit of lottery luck won't impact his search for a new head coach.
Or did he?
"I don’t think so," Griffin said of what effect, if any, his team's plum draft position might have on the process of finding a successor for Mike Brown, who was canned last week (via Pro Basketball Talk's Brett Pollakoff). "I think if anything, it certainly makes us a more attractive destination. But that’s a process that really is sort of in its infancy right now, and I don’t think of them as being correlated."
It's a perplexing response, to be sure. On the one hand, the Cavs' ability to choose freely between Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker shouldn't change the way Griffin goes about his own business. But the prospect of adding another potential cornerstone to a core that currently includes the reigning All-Star MVP (Kyrie Irving), last year's No. 1 pick (Anthony Bennett) and two other recent lottery selections (Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters) should, as Griffin mentioned, lure some bigger names into the running.
Which, in turn, will almost certainly alter the course of Cleveland's coaching search, contrary to what Griffin might want—or want to say publicly, that is.
A Man Needs a Name
According to The Sporting News' Sean Deveney, the Cavs' collection of young talent could entice the likes of Mark Jackson, George Karl and Lionel Hollins to consider taking their talents to Rock City. Jackson became the first coach to lead the Golden State Warriors to back-to-back playoff appearances in two decades. Karl was named the league's Coach of the Year last spring. Hollins guided the Memphis Grizzlies to the 2013 Western Conference finals.
(Jackson joined Karl at ESPN shortly after the former's exodus from Golden State, though both have outs in their respective media contracts to return to coaching if they so choose.)
All three were fired shortly after leading their respective squads to 50-win seasons. Likewise, all three are intimately familiar with the sorts of "win-now" expectations under which Cleveland's next lead man will operate. Karl, in particular, began his NBA head coaching career in Cleveland and, according to Fox Sports Ohio's Sam Amico, would like for it to continue there:
It's feasible, too, that the addition of another star from atop a loaded 2014 draft will bring David Griffin's ties to the Phoenix Suns back to the forefront. Griffin spent 17 years climbing the Suns' organizational ladder, the last three of which were spent as the team's senior vice president of basketball operations.
During that time, Griffin worked closely with Mike D'Antoni and Alvin Gentry. D'Antoni is a free agent on the coaching market again after parting ways with the Los Angeles Lakers earlier this month. Gentry, who took over as the head coach in Phoenix after Terry Porter was fired during the 2008-09 season, currently serves as an assistant on Doc Rivers' staff with the Los Angeles Clippers.
Make no mistake: There will be more names that emerge from the woodwork as the Cavs continue their ride around the coaching carousel. According to Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, they'll plumb the depths of the NCAA for possible hires before all is said and done.
The Cleveland Cavaliers are aggressively mining the college ranks in their coaching search, league sources tell Yahoo Sports.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) May 21, 2014
Presumably, that means Kentucky's John Calipari will get a look, perhaps with his ties to LeBron James and the power brokers at CAA in mind. Tom Izzo isn't going to leave Michigan State for the Minnesota Timberwolves' gig, but perhaps his past dalliances with the Cavs will lead him to once again consider crossing the border into Ohio.
Fertile Soil on the Cuyahoga
And why wouldn't it? The openings with the Los Angeles Lakers and the New York Knicks may be more prestigious, but neither can compare to that of the Cavs in terms of actual winning potential, short term or long.
Cleveland would've been in a strong position to make the playoffs in 2015, regardless of where its pick wound up. The Cavs were expected to do so this time around. Instead, they stumbled to a 33-49 finish, tripping over a poor defense, a stagnant offense, a mismatched roster and internal turmoil along the way.
But Chris Grant, who put this season's team together, is gone. So is Brown. Better yet, the backcourt detente between Irving and Waiters, once a source of dire discord for the Cavs, seemed to ease toward the end of the 2013-14 campaign as the two youngsters figured out how better to coexist on the court.
Whoever gets the nod to coach in Cleveland might not have to worry about any more such headaches if the front office opts to ship Waiters elsewhere. Better yet, the store of cap space and future first-round picks—the Cavs own those of the Miami Heat and the Memphis Grizzlies in 2015—at Griffin's disposal should afford him ample opportunity to seek out more immediate help.
"We’re going to try to get radically better much quicker," Griffin added. "We really feel like there’s a sense of urgency about improving our team as a whole, and we’re going to look for the right fit in [accomplishing] that. We’re very open-minded in what that means."
It could mean using the No. 1 pick to fill a clear need at small forward. Duke's Jabari Parker has the polished scoring skills to contribute right away, but he invites serious questions about his ability to defend quicker, more athletic wings. Kansas' Andrew Wiggins, for all his obvious gifts on both ends of the floor, may not be assertive enough to parlay his tools into anything resembling superstardom.
Fellow Jayhawk Joel Embiid may have the most "upside" between those three, and the Cavs could certainly use a shot-blocker and low-post scorer with his tantalizing potential. But, as Forbes' Mark Heisler noted, Cleveland's recent draft history could steer them away from the precocious Cameroonian:
ESPN’s Jeff Goodman reported Embiid is at the top of their board. However, a league official familiar with the Cavs’ thinking then told me they’re leaning toward Embiid’s teammate, Andrew Wiggins, leery about taking another player recovering from injury, as they did with last spring’s No. 1 overall pick, Anthony Bennett, who struggled through his rookie season.
The Cavs, then, may not be keen to wait around while Embiid's back heals, much less take on the time-intensive task of turning him into a bona fide force, if they intend to avoid a fifth straight trip to the lottery. Then again, a scouring of league "sources" with knowledge of Griffin's preferences for that pick could yield as many opinions as people asked, if not more.
Other Options at No. 1
It's entirely possible, too, that Cleveland won't keep the pick. Last year, the Cavs shopped their No. 1 around, and allegedly inquired with the Minnesota Timberwolves as to the availability of Kevin Love. This time around, Cleveland's pick is far more valuable—and Love is far more available, now that he's made it clear to the T-Wolves that he'll explore free agency in 2015.
This isn't to suggest that Love to Cleveland is in any way a slam dunk. As Grantland's Zach Lowe noted:
Calling doesn’t mean pulling the trigger. The top overall pick, plus at least one future pick and a current player (Dion Waiters?), is a steep price for a guy who might leave after one season. The Cavs would need assurances, and the only nonverbal assurance Love could provide is the decision to exercise his player option for 2015-16 — the same tactic Chris Paul used to grease his trade to the Clippers.
That being said, the addition of Love could considerably boost the Cavs' odds of retaining Irving over the long haul. Irving will be eligible for a five-year max extension this summer, and Cleveland figures to offer him just that as soon as the window to do so opens on July 1.
A smart choice at No. 1 could have a similar effect. For what it's worth, Irving was pleased to see his team come up aces in the lottery once again.
Luck of the Ping pong balls...Very exciting!!!— Kyrie Irving (@KyrieIrving) May 21, 2014
Either way, the Cavs will open the 2014-15 season with a new coach and at least one new player of note. If all goes according to plan, Cleveland will be back to playing a fun, competitive brand of basketball, with the organization's first playoff berth of the post-LeBron James era at the end of the rainbow.
And, perhaps, the end of the post-LeBron James era in general.
It's a nauseating thought, I know, one that's been rehashed far too often since "The Decision." But that scenario, while remote, remains a possibility nonetheless.
To be sure, James isn't likely to ditch the Heat this summer, especially if they complete their impending three-peat next month. No team has won four straight titles since Bill Russell's Boston Celtics, and James would be foolish to pass up a clear opportunity to join such elite company.
However, it's entirely possible that James will find the timing more to his liking in 2015, after Pat Riley's had a chance to retool this team's aging and free agent-laden roster. As ESPN's Brian Windhorst pointed out:
There's no question the Heat are now facing some challenges in keeping their 2010 brilliance together as they face the challenges of replacing aging role players, getting their stars to re-commit (Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh also have opt-outs) and having to operate in an extremely penal luxury-tax situation.
The Cavs, on the other hand, could have the makings of a future contender by then, one whose journey to the top would be shortened by James' return.
None of this is to say that Cleveland will soon be home to James, Love or any other established star. Nor is it even to suggest that the Cavs are even likely to find a talented veteran to pair with Irving, with their No. 1 pick as ammunition.
Still, the mere possibility of the Cavs transforming into a title contender in short order could be enough to bring in a big name to man the bench. On the flip side, according to ESPN's Marc Stein, the thought of James' second coming could factor into Cleveland's thinking:
But word is Cavs still hope to force way into July's LeBron race, which is why Heat aide David Fizdale keeps being touted as Cavs candidate— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) May 21, 2014
And if Love doesn't end up in wine and gold? If LeBron doesn't occasion the most awkward homecoming in the history of professional sports? What then?
Well, there's always Irving, Waiters, the rest of Cleveland's promising core, this year's top pick and whoever else Griffin is able to bring in via trades and free agency. That, in itself, is a pretty good start—one that could keep a coach employed for years to come.
And have many more lining up to lead the Cavs into their promising future.
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