Did the Cleveland Cavaliers Waste a Draft Pick on Christian Eyenga?
For the Cleveland Cavaliers, draft day 2009 started out with a bang.
Minutes after midnight on Wednesday, the team officially brought Shaquille O'Neal to the Q by trading Ben Wallace and Sasha Pavlovic to the Phoenix Suns (essentially getting a finely-aged bottle of wine for two half-empty cans of Natural Light).
Yes, by bringing in The Big Cuyahoga, it looked like the Cavs were beginning a strong offseason.
Then came the draft.
Rumors were swirling about how Cleveland intended to trade up in the draft, or maybe even buy a pick from a team in financial troubles.
However, the Cavs kept their 30th overall pick, and then made one of the most underwhelming choices of the entire night.
They drafted Christian Eyenga.
Seriously, did anyone outside of Eyenga's family and friends even know who this guy was?
ESPN correspondents immediately made the pick sound worse by saying Eyenga would most likely spend the next couple years playing in Europe, as he wasn't even close to being NBA-ready yet. In fact, Eyenga claimed he attended the draft with doubts he'd even be selected at all.
So, why would a team in dire need of immediate help for a last minute title run waste a first-round pick on a player who's so raw he didn't even expect to get to the NBA at all?
At first, I was actually able to legitimize this maneuver.
Since Eyenga was a long-shot to make the team this season, the Cavs didn't have to shell out a contract just yet. With Cleveland already financially strapped for the upcoming free agency season, this seemed like an underwhelming, yet seemingly smart move. The money they saved with Eyenga could be used to aid in luring big-name free agents.
Nevertheless, the next couple weeks were sure to disprove this theory.
The Cavaliers were linked to top targets like Ron Artest, Trevor Ariza, and Charlie Villanueva. And, as if based on some odd pattern, these names attached to Cleveland were taken off the list by other teams.
Artest and Ariza quickly turned into Channing Frye, Anthony Parker, and (ugh) bringing back Wally Szczerbiak. While the efficient Parker was eventually signed to Cleveland, the target names started to get even worse.
This week, the Cavs apparently worked out former Charlotte Bobcat Sean May, who's known for being as portly as he is made of glass.
To top this, the team is apparently targeting Golden State free agent Rob Kurz.
Rob Kurz? Never mind the fact that Cavs fans have never heard of this guy, but do the Warriors even know he's on their roster?
Needless to say, the names Cleveland is hunting for have hit a severe drop off point.
Back to Eyenga. The kid from Congo has already played in three summer league games, and the early diagnosis is not great.
Despite having a decent game against Washington recently, his first two games were rough, and the tagging of Eyenga as "raw" was certainly proven to be correct. Not only is he struggling with NBA-style play, he's also tripping over basketball terminology in English (he has a translator in huddles).
So, was Christian Eyenga a wasted pick?
Sure he saves the team money, but this was back when the money was aimed at Artest and Ariza.
Yes, he wasn't meant to be brought on to the roster this year, but again, this was to protect a spot on the depth chart for a big-name addition.
I refrained from making complaints about the Cavs not drafting immediate help like Pittsburgh's Sam Young. Now, though, with Cleveland not getting help from anywhere else, this seems like a beef which will certainly resurface.
I'm certainly not making an argument towards Eyenga's talent, nor am I doubting he'll eventually have a place with the team, as it's too early to tell right now. However, beyond the Shaq trade, the Cavaliers offseason has hardly lived up to its potential.
And if Eyenga was drafted merely to save money and roster space for a big signing or two, then his selection is slowly losing its credibility.
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