Pingpong balls gave the Cavaliers' rebuild new life when they won the NBA draft lottery for the second consecutive season—and third time in the last four years—despite only having a 1.7 percent chance of landing the No. 1 pick.
Possibilities abound now that they own the top selection of a can't-miss draft. Days ago we were wondering whether Kyrie Irving's future in Cleveland looked too grim. Now it's looking bright.
Luck of the Ping pong balls...Very exciting!!!— Kyrie Irving (@KyrieIrving) May 21, 2014
The Cavs are in a unique position, staring at a trio of top-three prospects in Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Joel Embiid, each of whom they have use for. The team hasn't ruled out trading its pick either, and the Cavs may opt to use it as trade bait for the very-much-available Kevin Love, per The Plain Dealer's Mary Schmitt Boyer:
Griffin says #Cavs will be open-minded with pick, wouldn't rule out trading it.— M.S. Boyer/J. Valade (@PDcavsinsider) May 21, 2014
Whereas Kevin Love to #Cavs always seemed like a pipe dream, with the No. 1 pick, Cavs could become a legitimate contender— M.S. Boyer/J. Valade (@PDcavsinsider) May 21, 2014
Acquiring an established superstar like Love would certainly expedite the Cavaliers' longstanding rebuilding efforts. They haven't made the playoffs since 2010, and there isn't a team in the league that couldn't use the video-game stat lines Love posts nightly.
Trading out of No. 1, though, remains unlikely. This draft is considered foolproof inside the top three. Embiid, Parker and Wiggins are all expected to have illustrious careers. You don't willingly cede the opportunity to house one unless you're guaranteed the return—in this case, Love—is worth it.
Love won't give the Cavaliers such assurances. That's a fact. Never mind the market size. He's labored through six years of postseason-less basketball with the Minnesota Timberwolves and isn't about to tether himself to one team without testing the playoff waters first.
For the Cavs, that's not enough commitment. Opting into the next year of his contract isn't enough commitment. Not when they can dictate their own future by streamlining a long-term, high-ceiling prospect of their own.
Expect them to keep this pick. Dealing it isn't out of the question, it's just unlikely. Trying to draft a star is the safe play.
Selecting Wiggins is the safest, smartest play.
Unless the Cavs are still hung up on James, then Embiid will be their guy.
The Best Fit for Cleveland
No one within the Cavs organization will cop to this theory. They don't have to.
Reports already suggest that they favor Embiid. Jeff Goodman of ESPN.com says he currently sits atop their draft board. Prior to that, however, Chad Ford, also of ESPN.com (subscription required), said it was Wiggins they were after.
Conflicting hearsay doesn't mean anything, admittedly. At one point there was a clear-cut No. 1 pick in Wiggins. Now he, along with Embiid and Parker, are almost interchangeable, so the Cavs have nothing to justify there.
They also have a need for Embiid. Anderson Varejao is on a non-guaranteed contract and prone to injury, Tyler Zeller's ceiling is as a spark plug off the bench and free agent Spencer Hawes is a floor-spacing 7-footer. There is an opening down low for an athletic, able-bodied tower who can impact the game on both ends. Given the option, the Cavs would be far from foolish to show interest in a prospect with the basement of Serge Ibaka and the ceiling of Hakeem Olajuwon.
Yet, let us not circumvent what's obvious: The Cavs should select Wiggins. Or even Parker, but mostly Wiggins. Writing for Sports Illustrated, Ben Golliver says he should be their clear choice:
If I were drafting for Cleveland, I would take Wiggins and not think twice. He fills an obvious hole, he pairs nicely with Irving, he’s got loads and loads of long-term upside and he restores some short-term hope to an organization that endured a rough 2013-14 season. With so many other questions — Waiters’ future, Luol Deng’s free agency and Varejao’s ability to stay healthy, among others — looming, Cleveland shouldn’t overthink this. Nab the guy who has the physical tools, the two-way game and the character to become a franchise talent.
Wiggins fills a void James left nearly four years ago. Luol Deng is the closest they have come to plugging another All-Star-caliber forward into their lineup, but once he reaches free agency in July, he's fair game.
The Cavs cannot afford to pass on Wiggins for a big man with potential back issues. He is a superhuman talent that was lauded as the second coming of James before the top of this draft class turned into a superstar brouhaha.
Joel Embiid tells Sirius XM radio that his back is "100 percent; no pain, nothing. I been working out, just to get back in the shape."— A. Sherrod Blakely (@SherrodbCSN) May 20, 2014
Pairing Wiggins with Irving makes too much sense. The latter has long lacked the athletic sidekick who can handle the ball and thrive in transition. Even at his best, Dion Waiters isn't that guy. He's not explosive enough.
Why shirk the opportunity to get that guy?
One word: LeBron.
The Best Fit for LeBron
Talking about it has gotten old and annoying. Merely thinking about it is played out. But, nigh four years after his initial departure, the 6'8", 250-pound elephant just won't get out of the room.
From the moment he left Cleveland, James' return was a possibility. The early termination option following the fourth year of his contract, his lasting ties to the state of Ohio—it was all too perfect.
Hope hasn't vanished this side of the lottery. If anything, it's more alive than ever.
The Cavs would welcome him back. They're slated to have cap space this summer and next if they continue to keep their books clean. Whenever James hits free agency, they'll be ready and waiting.
Picking Wiggins—or Parker—could hurt their already slim chances of signing him. Both are forwards who can play the 3 or the 4 like him. Only Wiggins is suited to play point forward like James, but the positional similarities across the board are staggering.
Would James be more open to a Cleveland return if he was playing alongside Wiggins or Parker, or an interior complement like Embiid?
Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated rolled with the latter, and he's right:
Maybe James doesn’t make the move this summer, but there’s little doubt he will be keeping an eye on Cleveland, and specifically the development of this pick. He knows the Cavs already employ a young perimeter star in Irving. They now need to find the interior equivalent. Assuming Embiid is healthy, and delivers early in his career, Cleveland could suddenly become an attractive destination for a native son.
Playing next to Wiggins shouldn't seem unappealing, but the Cavs, for James' purposes, look like a more balanced team with Embiid. He won't see as much of a need to return if there's some near-carbon copy of himself already alongside Irving.
Imagine catering to all those hands. James, Irving, Wiggins and potentially Waiters—they all prefer to operate on the ball. Part of what has made the Miami Heat's Big Three work is they have two ball-dominators—Dwyane Wade and James—and a big who can capitalize on their creativity (Chris Bosh).
Bringing in Embiid gives Cleveland a similar setup. James can be swayed by playing next to the ball-wielding, sharp-shooting Irving and the wildly athletic skyscraper who doesn't need the rock.
It's a trio fit for a King's return.
No Wrong Answer
If only every question had this many answers.
There is almost nothing the Cavs can do wrong here. Sure, they can blow us all away by, in a haze of unfathomable stupidity, drafting Jordan Bachynski at No. 1, or by trading their top pick for Love, sans any assurance he'll remain in Cleveland beyond next season. But in terms of keeping this pick—and not selecting someone from outer space—they cannot go wrong. Wiggins, Parker, Embiid—doesn't matter. They're all good choices.
Just don't pretend James won't be at the root of Embiid's arrival, if it comes to that. The Cavs want James. That's no secret. Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com confirms it, so there's no need for smokescreens or holier-than-now rejection.
And don't ignore what's blatantly apparent either. Wiggins is the better option for these Cavs. Straight up, in a vacuum, James not on the brain, he's the more palpable fit, the prospect who fills a more pressing need.
Who should the Cavs take at No. 1?
Centers don't define the NBA anymore. Dominant big men are a plus; they are not the standard. The days of them single-handedly anchoring teams are over. They don't even make the All-Star ballot anymore. Dwight Howard didn't leave the Los Angeles Lakers to serve as the focal point of his own clique. He joined James Harden and Chandler Parsons, two offensively spectacular wings.
That's the NBA right now. The Kevin Durants. The LeBron Jameses. The Paul Georges. The Andrew Wigginses.
Not the Joel Embiids.
"I think we’re very open-minded to a lot of things," Cavs general manager David Griffin told Boyer. "I’d trade me if it made us better."
Question is, are he and the Cavs open-minded enough to sidestep drafting a LeBron of their own for a chance at maybe, quite possibly, if they're lucky, landing the real thing they're still all about?
*Contract information via ShamSports.