Despite a 1.7% chance, a product of having the ninth worst record, the Cleveland Cavaliers will again select first in the 2014 NBA draft – riggin’ for Wiggins, concede for Embiid, sorry for Jabari, lose the handle for Randle, hex ’em for Exum, whatever you want to call it.
Cleveland’s draft history (1st round only, unless relevant) since they took LeBron James with the 2003 1st overall pick looks like this:
2013 – 1st overall Anthony Bennett, 19th overall Sergey Karasev
2012 – 4th overall Dion Waiters, 24th overall Jared Cunningham, 34th overall Jae Crowder
2011 – 1st overall Kyrie Irving, 4th overall Tristan Thompson
2009 – 30th overall Christian Eyenga, 46th overall Danny Green
2008 – 19th overall JJ Hickson
2006 – 25th overall Shannon Brown
2004 – 10th overall Luke Jackson
A few of the players the Cavs didn’t select: Victor Oladipo, Michael Carter-Williams, Trey Burke, Damian Lillard, Harrison Barnes, Terrence Ross, Draymond Green, (Kemba Walker would be harsh, as Kyrie was a great pick and they wouldn’t have selected two PGs in the same draft), Serge Ibaka, Nicolas Batum, DeAndre Jordan, Omer Asik, Goran Dragic, Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson, Jameer Nelson.
I’m not going to sit and go through the Cavs roster in any given season to tell you why they might legitimately have passed on some of these guys – the Kyrie/Kemba thing is as much research as I’m going to do unless you pay me – but I think it is fair to say that there are at least four of those guys that they could have drafted who would have improved the team considerably. Danny Green may be an anomaly in that he is a perfect fit with the San Antonio Spurs – likewise Jae Crowder with Dallas – but there’s no denying the two were picked then dropped by the Cavs.
The Cavs more or less cannot miss with this draft. I mean, obviously they could, but if they pick one of Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Joel Embiid or even the “maybe mid-lottery” guys like Dante Exum, Julius Randle or Marcus Smart, they will have a player who should – all being well – be a legitimate starter in the league for at least 5-8 years. It is very rare for a 1st overall to flop in the league. Greg Oden has been very unlucky with injuries and it is deeply unfair to call him a bust. Kwame Brown, however, is a bust. A bust that is still in the league, but a bust nonetheless.
Even if they offer the pick to Minnesota for Kevin Love, they will again be in a position to push the team forward in the very near future. Indeed the Love move might be the smartest thing for the organisation if they decide to make a push to get LeBron back, even if it will put them in a chicken-and-egg situation with neither Love nor LeBron likely to commit to the Cavs without the other having already signed and even then the guarantee of a suitable group of role players would be important to both. With Victor Oladipo instead of Bennett, they would be in a stronger position to make a run at marquee free agents. As it is, they have a group of guys (remember Luol Deng is a free agent) that hardly screams “contending within two years”.
In many ways the first overall this year is as much about the ability of the Cavs to have a say in the new LeBron sweepstakes.
My own view? LeBron will not go back to Cleveland. The Cavs are a minimum of three years and about half a dozen moves away from contending for a title. LeBron is coming up on his 30th birthday and I believe recognizes, partially a product of his personal financial security and partially a product of his competitive nature, that his legacy is the most important thing at this stage of his career. His legacy will not be defined by returning to Cleveland to say “sorry about ‘the Decision'”. It will not be defined by getting a max deal. It will be defined by winning at least one or two more titles. Cleveland will not give him the opportunity to do this. Whichever team offers him the chance to win NOW will be the team he signs for.