It feels like an eternity, but the speculation heading into the 2014 NBA draft is finally drawing to a close and we'll soon learn of the destinations for this year's top prospects.
Throughout the process, news has emerged by the day that has seen teams go back and forth about their intentions. If anything, the numerous stories going around suggests that nobody really knows what to expect—from this draft class or from this year's unpredictable free-agency cycle.
Teams at the top of the draft, and even others, have explored all sorts of scenarios to get the guys they want and make the proper improvements to their squads.
Let's break down the latest NBA draft rumors on the eve of Thursday's draft.
Who Will Pick at No. 1?
With the top overall pick in the draft for the third time in four years, the Cleveland Cavaliers have experienced both great selections—Kyrie Irving—and picks that quickly blew up in their face—Anthony Bennett—in recent seasons.
This year, with Joel Embiid's foot problems, Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker are now competing for the illustrious honor of being the top pick. But will it be Cleveland picking one of them at No. 1?
ESPN.com's Chad Ford noted five teams that could move up to the top pick and who they'd select:
As for who the Cavaliers would select, Ford and Jeff Goodman of ESPN.com reported early Wednesday that while the Cavs' front office wants Parker, owner Dan Gilbert prefers Wiggins.
However, Gilbert was swift and convincing in shooting that down:
The Cavaliers certainly didn't expect to have the top pick entering 2013-14, a year in which they hoped to contend in the playoffs. They didn't quite reach the postseason and were instead rewarded with the top pick yet again.
No strangers to selecting first, the Cavs are exploring their options heading into the draft, per Fox Sports Ohio's Sam Amico:
While in most seasons the top overall pick stands out from the pack and the first team is dead set on selecting him, the Cavs—understandably—are after bigger fish in the pond. LeBron James is now a free agent, and the Cavaliers are on the short list of five teams James is interested in, per ESPN's Chris Broussard (subscription required).
The prospect of adding James changes everything. Not only does it mean that Cleveland might have to tailor the top pick around his potential arrival, it also might mean parting ways with the pick to make a move happen.
Heck, they've even brought in Dante Exum for a last-minute workout, per ESPN.com's Andy Katz. Who knows what that means for Irving's future in Cleveland?
One thing is certain—nobody really knows who will be picking first come Thursday night, although the Cavs are in the driver's seat.
Heat Hoping to Move Up for Napier
Ever since the following tweet was sent, Shabazz Napier has likely been on the Heat's radar:
The Connecticut point guard was already one of the most lethal players in college basketball, but he made that clear in this year's NCAA tournament. He led his Huskies on an improbable title run, taking over games on offense while playing stiff-nosed defense.
According to ESPN.com's Chad Ford, the Heat are aggressively pursuing a way to trade up from their 26th pick, as it's most likely too late to select the point guard:
Right after the NBA Finals, Riley flew out to work out Napier, a Heat source told ESPN.com. After the workout, the Heat tried to convince the former Huskies star to stop his workouts so that he'd fall to the Heat with pick No. 26.
The Heat, though, are probably too late.
Napier has been one of the hottest names in the NBA draft the past few weeks, and there's almost no chance he falls to the 26th pick.
It's no secret that Miami will be looking to bolster the point guard position after it became somewhat of a liability throughout the playoffs. During times late in the postseason, the Heat would go to a point guard-less lineup when both Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole struggled.
With Chalmers heading into free agency and coming off a poor performance in the NBA Finals, it looks like the Heat won't mind adding their second point guard in the mix of a trade, per Ford:
The Heat are at a point now where every personnel move must be with James' future in mind. He's now a free agent, and all 30 teams will have the chance to sway him—many of which have better rosters from top to bottom than Miami does.
James made it clear a while back that he's a fan of Napier, and there's little doubt that the scrappy point guard would fit well in Miami. He already brings inspiration to the defensive side, can get hot from three-point range and attacks the basket with ferocity.
After all, they could use that sort of impact regardless should James decide to leave South Beach.
Embiid Not Out of Top-5 Mix Just Yet
No player has seen their stock fall more in the last week than Joel Embiid. Once a shoe in for the top overall pick for some, Embiid now may fall out of the top five altogether after foot surgery.
Or will he?
Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix reports that Philly is a team that could take him in the top five, along with others just outside:
Embiid arriving in Philadelphia would certainly be an interesting situation. He obviously wouldn't fit well with Nerlens Noel, who should come back strong in 2014-15 after sitting out all of his rookie season. But it would give the Sixers a chance to see which young center improved the most.
After that, the Lakers and Celtics seem like better fits. Neither team has a young center that it is targeting for the future, and both teams could end up being in rebuilding modes when the offseason is over—depending on how free agency shakes out.
CBS Sports' Ken Berger reports that a few other teams might enter the Embiid sweepstakes:
When he's healthy, there's little doubt that Embiid is capable of becoming perhaps the best player in the draft. With a 7'0" frame and an even bigger wingspan, his presence is clearly felt in the lane.
However, he could be an even bigger risk. Both foot and back problems have dug NBA centers' careers into early graves.
But despite the risks, Embiid looks to be generating plenty of interest in the latter half of the lottery.
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