The 2014 NBA draft—or any deal made in conjunction with it—is not expected to change the order of the league's power structure as much as the free-agent market could, but front-office careers and future franchise cornerstones certainly will be shaped by Thursday's decisions.
With that in mind, here's what you need to know going into the night's machinations:
Most Intriguing Storylines
• Who will be No. 1?
Newly announced Cavaliers general manager David Griffin gets a chance to put an immediate imprint on the franchise and define what he values most with his choice between Duke's Jabari Parker and Kansas' Andrew Wiggins. The consensus among other GMs is that Griffin will go with Parker, who can make an immediate impact as a scorer for the 27th-ranked shooting team in the league. The evidence for the Cavs taking Wiggins lies in the fact that Griffin served in various front-office capacities for the Phoenix Suns when they built their seven-seconds-or-less juggernaut by drafting such unpolished but freakish athletes as Shawn Marion and Amar'e Stoudemire; Wiggins takes athletic freakishness to another level.
• Where will Embiid land?
Kansas center Joel Embiid never was a strong candidate to go first overall, and fracturing the same foot bone that cut short the careers of Yao Ming and Bill Walton erased whatever chance he had; the Cavaliers simply can't risk their No. 1 pick not contributing to their campaign to keep Kyrie Irving from going elsewhere. As of Monday, league sources framed the market for Embiid: Philadelphia had not taken him off their board and he would not fall past the Lakers at No. 7. "There's nobody there for Boston (at No. 6) or the Lakers that would be better than taking a risk on Embiid," said one lottery-picking executive. "There are no game changers there, and they don't need just another good player."
The lingering shadow of the last injury-flagged big man taken No. 1, Greg Oden, and the questionable value of offensively challenged big men in today's game are also working against Embiid. But, that may not stop the 76ers, who have reason to angle toward purposely missing the playoffs a second straight season. Their 2015 first-round pick goes to Boston if they finish among the league's top 16 teams, but they only have to convey two second-round picks if they don't. With next year's draft projected to be as good as this one, the Sixers have reason to be patient with Embiid and load up on one more quality draft pick before rejoining the competition.
• What will the Lakers do?
Simply using the No. 7 pick would be a disappointment, even if it lands them Embiid—for Kobe Bryant, if for no one else. The Lakers apparently are one of the handful of teams willing to sacrifice assets (namely, the seventh pick and Steve Nash) to create cap room to pursue the double helix of Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James. That would instantly give Bryant reason to dream of a sixth title, but it's hard to imagine James cooperating. So what is Option B? Not clear—hence, the intrigue.
Parker vs. Wiggins
More than a few stories have circulated criticizing Jabari Parker's fitness, work ethic and defense, while most of the talk about Wiggins has been glowing, focusing on his outrageous feats of athleticism. The GMs I've spoken to simply see Parker as the player better prepared to play right away and, at 19, having every bit of potential to grow.
If not for Wiggins' combination of crazy athleticism and length, combined with the fact that crazy athleticism and length define success everywhere except in San Antonio these days, there would be little debate about which way to go. Wiggins has the raw tools to evolve into a megastar, but as a quiet kid from Canada, some wonder if he has the killer mentality to make good on his gifts. "Then again," said one assistant GM, "that's what everyone thought about LeBron."
There is an added pressure that comes with being the No. 1 pick, and some believe that was part of what plagued the Cavs' 2013 No. 1 pick, Anthony Bennett.
"The shyest kid in the draft got picked No. 1," said one GM. "He'd never had to deal with that much attention before."
Wiggins, in size and quickness, is believed to be capable of staying in front of James or Kevin Durant right now, but some GMs question his strength, and he certainly isn't ready to trade baskets with them. Parker could be.
• Start with the X-rays of both Embiid and Kentucky forward Julius Randle's feet; whoever's medical staffs feel comfortable taking them will go a long way toward determining the overall draft order. Medical reports, in general, have become more influential because NBA teams believe the game-heavy AAU schedule of top players is the reason so many of them are breaking down physically so early in their pro careers. Don't be surprised if a medical red flag, as of yet made public, results in another player sliding down the board Thursday night.
• GMs point to Shabazz Napier and Dario Saric as two other players who could go surprisingly high or low and consequently shake up the anticipated order. Saric, a 20-year-old Croatian who some have compared to Detlef Schrempf, has signed a three-year deal with a Turkish team that is believed to have a clause that prohibits him from going to the NBA for at least two years. However, Saric's advisers have such divided agendas that GMs aren't sure what to believe. "Not a whole lot of transparency," said one GM. "He's the Croatian Shabazz."
• Questions about Napier's entourage and overall coachability are sure to inspire plenty of war-room debate as well.
• Others who have double-digit slide potential are Kentucky forward James Young, Syracuse point guard Tyler Ennis and Bosnian center Jusuf Nurkic (from late lottery to the 20s).
• One GM identified 7'3" Spaniard Walter Tavares as the "most intriguing" player in the draft thanks to his size and monstrous hands. He was expected to hold private workouts in New York on Wednesday for several teams; those could influence exactly where he goes in the second round.
Veterans who may be on the move
• The names that you've heard at various points of being available during the course of the season remain in play: Boston's Jeff Green, Orlando's Arron Afflalo, Houston's Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin are at the head of the class, along with the aforementioned Nash. Philadelphia's Michael Carter-Williams would be dealt, one league source said, only in a package to move up from the Sixers' current No. 3 spot.
• Multiple GMs said they don't see Minnesota Timberwolves power forward Kevin Love being moved before or during the draft now that talks with the Golden State Warriors have broken down. The Timberwolves, one rival executive said, are likely to take their time now and see which teams succumb to the pressure of coming up short in both the draft and free agency. "If you're Flip [Saunders] and you can't get what you want, why do the deal?" one Atlantic Division president said. "They don't want draft picks."
• While the Warriors' Klay Thompson was at the top of the Timberwolves' wish list, one source said the Rockets' Chandler Parsons was right behind him.
• One team that has not been mentioned so far as a player in the Love sweepstakes is Brooklyn, but a league source said the Nets are interested and, thanks to their array of veteran trading chips, "might be in the mix."
Teams that could make headlines
• No club is looking to make a splash more than the Sacramento Kings, thanks to the aggressive mindset of owner Vivek Ranadive. Their No. 8 pick is readily available, and both league and team sources say everyone outside of DeMarcus Cousins is available for the right price.
• The Houston Rockets always seem to be in the headlines, and GM Daryl Morey is clearly in search of a third star to pair with James Harden and Dwight Howard, be it Love, Carmelo Anthony or LeBron James.
• Sixers GM—and Morey protege—Sam Hinkie took the unofficial award for most active wheeler-dealer in last year's draft, his first, and he easily could give a repeat performance.
Ric Bucher covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @RicBucher.
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