Of course the Cavaliers are going to consider trades for the No. 1 pick. That’s not news and that’s not a Cleveland thing. Nerlens Noel has serious holes in his game – mostly anything to do with offense – and is coming off a torn knee ligament, and the Cavs have lived the youth movement long enough, so the only real development would have been to not open the phone lines.
There is the Lake Erie-sized bit of flawed logic being tossed around in the wake of the lottery win Tuesday night, though: One benefit to going with Noel over Kansas shooting guard Ben McLemore is that the Kentucky power forward-center does not expect to return until around Christmas, allowing the Cavaliers to build a better roster while simultaneously positioning themselves for a high pick in the loaded 2014 draft. Yes, because if there’s one thing fans should want after years of losing it’s to angle for another season of missing the playoffs.
Welcome to the Andrew Wiggins Effect. Wiggins is a Canadian who just played his senior season of high school in West Virginia, the son of former NBA veteran Mitchell Wiggins, and bound for Kansas. He would have, at the very least, challenged Anthony Davis for No. 1 in the 2011 draft as a junior, would have lapped the field this year, and is projected as the clear favorite to go first in 2014. Beyond Wiggins, several other major prospects could be in the next draft, from elite one-and-done freshman to returnees like Oklahoma State point guard Marcus Smart to international shooting guard Mario Hezonja.
The Bobcats, the Kings, the Pelicans, the Suns, the Magic – they are at least a year away from a playoff push. This isn’t that. The Cavaliers are in go mode. You take Noel if he is the best prospect on the board and then deal with the delay, not because missing months is a benefit.
Cleveland should absolutely be thinking postseason, as colleague John Schuhmann noted in his report from the lottery. It missed by 14 games in 2012-13, a pretty good distance, except that the team that finished eighth, Milwaukee, could lose important free agents, plural, while the Cavaliers are clearly in an upward trajectory. Anderson Varejao is expected back after being limited to 25 games, Kyrie Irving can be counted on for more than 59 games, and Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller will be off the rookie learning curve. Fourteen games in the Eastern Conference is not exactly insurmountable.
The draft options are a trade, to add experience, or McLemore because he grades out as a better two-way prospect, even after taking Waiters in the lottery last June. Orlando, picking second, would then take whoever is left between Noel and McLemore, or possibly Trey Burke to address a need at point guard.
If the Magic don’t take him, Burke, the college Player of the Year from Michigan, is in a precarious spot. The Wizards are third, and they have John Wall. The Bobcats pick fourth and are liking Kemba Walker enough that point guard is far from a pressing concern. The Suns will pick fifth one season after spending big on free agent Goran Dragic and taking Kendall Marshall in the lottery. The unknown in Phoenix is the view of new GM Ryan McDonough, without any track record in the job.
That scenario gets Burke to the Hornets/Pelicans at six. That, in turn, would be trouble for Austin Rivers, but there was always a question whether New Orleans reached by drafting him to be a true point when a lot of teams saw combo guard. It’s hard to imagine Burke getting past the Hornicans. If he does, there is Sacramento with its annual point-guard decision in the draft.
The Burke picture is not unlike Damian Lillard in 2012, when he went into the draft as the top prospect at the position and lasted until No. 6 because many of the teams picking at the very top were already committed. Davis was the obvious No. 1 for New Orleans, followed soon after by the Wizards with Wall at 3, the Cavaliers with Irving at 4 and the Kings at 5 a year after they spent a lottery pick on Jimmer Fredette. Things seemed to work out for Lillard.