July 29, 2014

Cavs unlikely lotto win gives them plenty of options

 

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Who figured that the Season of Huh had one last insane twist in store for us, eh? The fact that the Cavs won the NBA Lottery (once again) still hasn’t sunk in. Never in my wildest dreams did I think they’d land the top pick. I’m almost embarrassed by it. Almost.

Who expects that their team will win the lottery three times in four years? Hell, I went into Tuesday night simply hoping that the Cavs wouldn’t get jumped and move down from ninth to 10th. Sure, vaulting into the top three would’ve been amazing, but after Cleveland’s recent lottery luck, I wouldn’t even let myself ponder that possibility.

Yet here we are. I’m still in shock. I’m not kidding when I say that the first thing I did last Wednesday morning was check my phone to make sure I didn’t dream Tuesday night’s lotto results. 

It’s real. It’s kind of stupid (three in four years?!). But it’s real. The Cleveland Cavaliers own the top pick in what’s been called the most loaded draft since 2003. No take-backs, karma be damned.

Winning the top pick has salvaged their sucky season, changed their entire offseason and brings up more than a few questions.

Who should the Cavs take with the first pick?

There seems to be a consensus that the draft has a top tier of anywhere from three to five players: Joel Embiid (C – Kansas), Andrew Wiggins (SF – Kansas), Jabari Parker (SF/PF – Duke), and then Julius Randle (F – Kentucky) and Dante Exum (PG – Australia).

After spending the better part of one afternoon watching their Draft Express videos and reading these scouts’ takes on Grantland, I feel confident when I say that I want the Cavs to draft Joel Embiid.

Wait. Maybe Wiggins. The Cavs should go full Canada. Tristan, Bennett and Wiggins are used to the cold weather and they’ll all hang out together. Wait. No, hold on.

Yeah, Embiid. Definitely draft Joel Embiid.

Not that the other picks aren’t interesting. Jabari Parker is an elite scorer (“a bigger Paul Pierce”) and he shares a Duke connection with Irving. Julius Randle can score and he’s also a good rebounder, but neither he or Parker seem like elite NBA defenders.

And that’s the main reason why I’ve fixated on Embiid and Wiggins: Defense. Wiggins can guard three positions and Embiid can be an elite rim protector. Not that both don’t have the skills to be an offensive force. They do! Which is why this pick is so exciting. The Cavs have a chance to add a two-way All-Star next to Irving. They may never have that chance again. They have to take it.

The knock on Embiid is that he has a back injury and his agent, Arn Tellum, is playing hardball with his medical records. FOX Sports Ohio’s Sam Amico reports that the back wouldn’t necessarily take Embiid out of the running, but that the Cavs will have to examine him themselves.

The knock on Wiggins is that he’s not skilled enough and a little too passive. He’ll make some “wow!” plays but then disappear for long stretches and not assert himself.

I keep coming back to this quote from Jacob Rosen’s piece on the Cavs analytics department: “(Centers) are the scarce resource, right? That’s what they always say. But the truth is that’s not necessarily the case and even if they were the scarce resource, that doesn’t mean they have the biggest impact.”

I get that. There’s a school of thought that the league may be going away from traditional centers. And sure. We see a lot of running and high tempo these days. But let’s not pretend that elite centers aren’t game changers. The Celtics with Kevin Garnett and San Antonio with Tim Duncan have been two of the tougher playoff outs over the past decade. Kobe Bryant won titles next to Shaq and then didn’t win again until Pau Gasol arrived and Andrew Bynum emerged. Hell, a big reason why Indiana gives Miami so much trouble is because Roy Hibbert.

Centers matter. Especially elite centers.

So take Embiid. You can’t honestly pass on Valanciunas, Drummond, Noel and Embiid in four straight drafts, could you?

Unless you think Embiid’s back is a legitimate Real Concern.

Then take Wiggins. I think. I mean, Parker looks like a sure thing and should Anthony Bennett or Tristan Thompson really preclude you from taking Randle is he’s your guy?

The Cavs are in a great spot, aren’t they?

(A great spot to take Joel Embiid).

Should the Cavs trade the first pick? 

No. Did you see what I just said about adding a potential two-way All-Star? A player who will under contract for four years and potentially a lot longer? They have to nail this.

You don’t trade the first pick in the most loaded draft since LeBron. Oh sure, you take calls about the first pick all day. But you don’t trade it. No. Nonononononono.

NO.

Not even for Kevin Love? 

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Um…Still no. Bill Simmons said the Cavs should trade the pick for Kevin Love. CBS’s Matt Moore has floated the idea as well. And if you’ve listened to our local sports talk shows over the past week, you’ve undoubtedly heard this scenario mentioned.

I don’t care for it. Kevin Love is a free agent after this season and there’s little chance the Cavs will get him to sign an extension before or even during the season. There would be a very real chance that they’d trade the first pick (and the four-plus years of control) for a guy who could be gone in 10 months… It’s too risky.

Plus, Kevin Love isn’t that great at defense. And as we know, neither is Kyrie Irving. Again, this pick may be the Cavs’ one chance to add a two-way All-Star next to Kyrie. I can’t trade that potential two-way All-Star for 10 months of an elite one-way player.

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it is always about LeBron, isn’t it? Always always always.

But what if they sign LeBron to go along with Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving?

Well, sure! That’d be awesome. There’s your two-way All-Star right there, that LeBron James guy.

Kyrie, LeBron and Love would be unbelievably fun and the Cavs would be an immediate contender.

But I’m only trading the first overall pick for Kevin Love if I’m assured LeBron is coming and that Love is signing a new deal. I don’t think Love stays (or says he’s open to coming here) if not for LeBron. But LeBron isn’t going to come here without a guy like Kevin Love. LeBron’s not going to wait a year or two while Waiters/Thompson/Bennett/Zeller/Karasev/Embiid develops. He’s not wasting his championship prime on these young kids.

So you can’t trade the pick for Love without LeBron. And you have no chance at LeBron without Love (or someone on Love’s level). Quite the conundrum.

Can the Cavs trade for Kevin Love without giving up the first pick? 

Probably not, but they’re sure gonna try. The Cavs have a ton of options available if they’re set on not moving the No. 1 pick.

The Love stuff is interesting. He’s made it known that he’s going to explore free agency after this upcoming season but he also wants to win. So Minnesota needs to find a trade partner that can 1) give up the assets to land a player of Love’s caliber 2) will be ready to win right away, in order to keep Love around.

This is hard. Teams don’t want to give up a lot for a rental, even someone as good as Love.

Trades for superstars in these situations are kinda weird. With the star players having so much say as where they want to go (think Melo to New York or Howard to the Lakers), their original teams have a hard time getting a great deal. Love’s demands and contract situation automatically take a lot of teams out of the running.

Do the Cavs have enough assets to get Love without giving up the pick? Maybe. Other teams would surely be able to top their No. 1-less offer, but it all depends on the destination.

I keep coming back to when Kevin Garnett was traded to the Celtics.

The Celtics and Wolves originally agreed to a deal that would’ve sent KG to Boston for Al Jefferson, the No. 5 pick, Theo Ratliff’s cap friendly deal, Wally Szczerbiak and Sebastian Telfair. However, Garnett rejected the deal, telling Boston that he wasn’t interested in coming. (“And Garnett, sources say, wants to move to a warm-weather city and a team that can claim legitimate championship potential.”)

So Boston regrouped and made a draft night deal, sending that No. 5 pick, Szczerbiak and Delonte West to the Sonics for Ray Allen. Suddenly, Boston with Paul Pierce and Ray Allen was a more attractive destination to KG. The Wolves ended up taking a lesser package of Jefferson, Ratliff, Telfair, Ryan Gomes, Gerald Green and two future firsts (one of which was No. 6 in 2009) for their Hall of Fame big man.

My point is, teams don’t always get that much when they’re dealing superstars. Especially superstars who have potential to explore free agency in the near future. Kevin Love, like Garnett before him, has the Wolves in a tight spot and there’s a lot of conditions a team has to meet to land Love.

The Cavs may not have the best package, but that may not matter in the end. If the Wolves wait until after the draft to move Love (unlikely, per Simmons) the Cavs could maneuver themselves into a more attractive destination. They may not be on Love’s list now, but if Irving re-ups, they draft Embiid and make another move or two (maybe LeBron, but not necessarily. They can move Deng in a sign-and-trade), Love could very well change his mind.

In the end, I have my doubts that the Cavs land Kevin Love, especially without giving up the first pick.

But that’s the route I’d like them to explore. Everyone should be available except the pick and Kyrie as far as I’m concerned. Kyrie and Wiggins/Embiid/Parker will be your studs and you try your damnedest to make the rest of the roster compliment their unique skill sets.

What’s up with Irving? He’s going to take the max deal the Cavs offer him this summer, right? RIGHT?

You’d think so. During the season, Brian Windhorst reported that Irving could play hardball with the Cavs this summer to force his way to another team. It was no secret that Kyrie hasn’t been particularly thrilled with his time in Cleveland (and I can’t really blame him, given the horrid roster he’s been saddled with). But I figured the Cavs landing the No. 1 pick would nip any of these issues in the bud. The Cavs are going to get Irving a running mate, either by trade or through this draft. So of course he signs! I mean, look how happy he is!

But turns out, whether or not Irving accepts the max offer may not be the issue. There are rumblings that the Cavs don’t view Irving is a max player (Nate Silver agrees) and they may not want to offer him the max:

The Cavs are making noises that they aren’t going to offer Kyrie Irving “max money” this summer via a long-term extension. They don’t want to deal the 2014 All-Star Game MVP, but it could come to that, especially if the West Orange product and his family continue to tell people that he wants out. Irving hasn’t been a leader in his first three seasons and he’s also gained the unwelcomed reputation as a locker-room problem. Those are two reasons the Cavs don’t see him as a max player.

“He was just handed too much, too soon,” said one source. “You’ve got to make these young guys earn it, and that’s where this team did a bad job with him.”

*sigh*

This seems needlessly antagonistic. Even if the Cavs don’t think much of Irving, he’ll be very tradeable once he’s locked up. Anyone in this league can be traded. I mean, Joe Johnson got traded! Jim Paxson got rid of Shawn Kemp’s bloated ass! Anyone in this league can get moved, but especially All-Stars in their mid-20s, who are under contract. Irving could play below his contract and still be attractive to other franchises.

But instead of antagonistic, maybe the Cavs are just trying to save face. That’s Peter Vecsey’s theory, anyways.

But then again, he also seems to assume the NBA rigged the  lottery for the Cavs (despite, you know, this existing).

They won’t offer him the deal because they’ll have egg on their face if he rejects it? Who cares? People are already laughing at this team thanks to The Letter, the re-hiring and obligatory re-firing of Mike Brown and the Anthony Bennett pick. Offering Irving the max is where we draw the line? Really?

And if he reject the deal? Fine. He’s still under contract for next season and he’s only a restricted free agent next summer. The Cavs will surely match any offer sheet he signs1.  The Cavs still hold most of the cards here, there’s no need to rush into a trade talks.

But none of this is particularly that surprising. Given the numerous reports, not to mention Irving’s sometimes… less than enthusiastic on-court performances, it’d be naive to think Kyrie was happy in his current situation.

But again… so what? Situations change. People mature. Plus, I have to wonder about Irving’s attitude toward the team if they were, you know, winning basketball games. More wins (and better teammates) could solve a lot of their issues with Irving (although it’s rumored Irving doesn’t even want to play with LeBron. Which seems insanely dumb to me). Winning this lottery allows the Cavs to recover from many of their previous mistakes and enables them to press the reset button on the entire rebuild.

Now is time to salvage their relationship with the reigning All-Star Game MVP, not alienate him further.

Okay, so who is going to coach these guys? 

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I’d probably rather have the guy on the right, all things being equal.

That’s a great question. The Cavs seem content to wait things out, saying they have no timetable for their coaching search.

Unlike the Grover Clevelanding of Mike Brown, the Cavs seem to be doing their due diligence this time around. They’ve asked the Clippers permission to interview assistant coach (and former Phoenix Suns head coach) Alvin Gentry and reportedly contacted Florida’s Billy Donovan. Sam Amico reports that George Karl hasn’t been shy about expressing his interest in the job. Mitch Lawrence at the NY Post says that they aren’t interested in a veteran coach like Lionel Hollins, Jeff Van Gundy or Karl. In addition to Donovan, they’ve contacted other college coaches like Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, UConn’s Kevin Ollie and Kentucky’s John Calipari. Other names mentioned have been former Clippers and Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro, Clippers assistant Tyronn Lue, Chicago assistant Adrian Griffin, and Miami assistant David Fizdale.

I’m underwhelmed by most of these coaches. The retreads like Del Negro, Gentry or Hollins don’t elicit much excitement and all the college names being floated don’t do much either. George Karl is interesting, but he’s 63 years old and has dealt with cancer in the past, I can’t help but wonder how much he has left.

I go back and forth on whether or not I even want them to consider Mark Jackson. On one hand, his players loved him and he won 50 games in a tough Western Conference. On the other hand, he fought with management a ton. And if someone can’t get along with Jerry West and Golden State’s management, I have my doubts they’ll work well with one Dan Gilbert.

I think I’d prefer the Cavs to hire some assistant who I’ve never heard of, like Adrian Griffin and David Fizdale, rather than a retread like Vinny Del Negro.

What’s next? 

Well, asides from taking the month to interview every draft pick and coaching candidate they can find, the key upcoming dates are as follows:

  • June 5th: NBA Finals begin
  • June 26th: NBA Draft
  • July 1st: Teams can begin negotiating with free agents.
  • July 8th: Free agents can sign with teams.

If the Cavs are looking at any of the assistant coaches on Heat or Spurs, they’ll have to wait until mid-June to hire them. Given how they’re taking their time with the coaching search, I’m anticipating they’ll wait until everyone is done playing to name their next coach.

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David Griffin has his work cut out for him,

Conventional wisdom seems to be that Love will be dealt before or during the draft on June 26th, but for the Cavs sake, I hope he’s not; the longer he stays in Minnesota, the longer the Cavs have to upgrade their roster. If Love is gone, then they’ll be able to go hard after players like Marc Gasol, Al Horford or David Lee.

July is when things get interesting; the Cavs will have made their pick and set the direction for their team. July is when the Cavs can offer Kyrie the max extension and we’ll know by then whether or not LeBron (among others) has opted out and become a free agent (we’ll finally have some much needed clarity). July is when the Cavs can offer new contracts to Spencer Hawes and Luol Deng (or flip them in sign-and-trades).

The entire offseason changed last Tuesday with a bounce of the ping pong balls. Their coaching vacancy immediately became much more attractive and owning the top pick opens up a myriad of trade avenues that were previously closed. Regardless of whatever LeBron does, snagging this top pick is no short of franchise changing.

The season of huh marches on.

Photo: Greg Nelson/SI

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Footnotes:

  1. which will mean the guard who’s been injured in each of the past four seasons will be leaving money on the table []
  • dwhit110

    Good column. Lots of interesting scenarios to consider. But, please never mention David Lee in the same sentence as Al Horford and Marc Gasol again.

  • Harv 21

    As far as having the first overall in a deep draft, seems the only way the Cavs can screw the pooch is to trade it for only one guaranteed year of Kevin Love. That seems just so stupid and desperate as to be impossible unless the front office is in Buffalo Bills mode.

    I’m all for Wiggins, but if the worst they do is Parker they’ll still be so much better. The more I watch of Embiid the more I think the Dwight Howard with a Better Attitude comparisons are sound. Maybe the league is moving away from centers but that guy’s toolkit might turn the trend on it’s ear when teams play us.

    Griffin cannot blow this if he doesn’t panic and trade the pick. And Dan, you shut up and sit down.

  • JHop

    How about this: trade the #1 to Philly for their #3 and #10 and possibly another future first rounder. Staying in the top 3 still guarantees Wiggins, Embiid, or Parker. Then swing that #10, the future Philly pick, and one of our future first round picks (or Bennett or Dion for all I care) to Minnesota for Love.

    This would give us a possible starting 5 of: Irving – Waiters – Parker – Love – Varejao. That’d make for one scary offensive powerhouse.

  • TomWFNY

    “Bill Simmons said the Cavs should trade the pick for Kevin Love.”
    If Bill Simmons says something, it means it’s the best thing for the Celtics, not Cleveland.

  • LilBoyBlue

    I see the “S” word!!! I’m telling!!!!!

  • Turkey Sandwich

    I might be the only one thinking it, but I think we’re crazy not to re-sign Hawes (and in turn, draft Wiggins). Hawes wasn’t the greatest defender under the rim, but he wasn’t horrible either, and he’s one of the best 3-pt shooters in the league! With Kyrie, Dion, Wiggins, Hawes, and Bennett/Thompson, we’ll spread the floor to the river!

  • Ezzie Goldish

    What I’d really rather do, which will never happen but would be crazy:

    Trade Kyrie for MCW and the #3 pick.
    Draft Embiid and Wiggins or Parker.

    How does this lineup look: PG Carter-Williams, SG Waiters, SF Wiggins/Parker, PF Bennett, C Embiid.

    And if you wanted to trade Bennett and/or TT and/or Andy and future picks for Love, you can do that, too, though it’s not even necessary.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com/ Scott @ WFNY

    If they don’t re-sign Hawes, it won’t be for lack of trying.

  • BROSEPH

    Philly is just so bad that they need multiple top of the draft guys. So trading 2 for 1 where #3 and #1 may not be that far apart is not going to be in their cards.

  • BROSEPH

    That Embiid workout video – WOW. The kid is absolutely dripping with talent. The touch on his shot, the lateral quickness, the power on dunks – he really looks like a once in a decade type center. I can’t pass that up if he’s healthy. With that said, I’m completely okay with Wiggins too. He will be a stud as well as fit a dire need for this team.

  • The Other Tim

    I don’t know why we give much credit to what pundits are saying about what the Cavs should do. Especially the “news” coming out of NYC. (Vessey/Daily News.) They’ve all been wrong about what the Cavs would/should do in the recent past.

    Go get Embiid.

    Note: At the top you make an argument that centers still make a difference by pointing to the championships won by PFs like Garnett and Duncan.

  • JHop

    Interesting – so you’re basically saying Wiggins/Parker + MCW > Kyrie? It seems the Cavs have their doubts about Kyrie in the long-term but I’m not sure they’re THAT uncertain.

  • Ezzie Goldish

    That’s kind of what I’m saying, yes. I don’t know that the Cavs have their doubts, and while I have no doubt about Kyrie’s talent, I have yet to see a championship team in 25 years that ran through a scoring PG. I think Kyrie will always be a great player but can’t be the primary option on a team for it to contest for rings.

    And if you think you can get the #10 pick too, go for it. :)

  • Steve

    120-110 every night. I like Hawes as a plan B, but they have to find some defense somewhere.

  • DJ

    Does Philly say no? They would get Irving as opposed to the Embiid/Parker/Wiggins leftover, and still have the #10 pick in a deep draft. If I were the Sixers, I’d have to think long and hard about that.

    If I were Griffin, I’d be awfully tempted to pull the trigger, too. Sure, it would be an incredibly young, immature team, but a coach like Karl, Griffin or Hoiberg would have a field day with that bunch.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com/ Scott @ WFNY

    Yeah, I think we’re undervaluing Kyrie here. He’s *younger* than MCW and is a two-time All-Star.

  • mgbode

    also, for all the hand-wringing on Kyrie, MCW’s stats were not good last year. he put up counting stats, but extremely inefficiently.

  • steve-o

    I actually think winning the lotto gives us fewer options, and really only one that makes sense. We pretty much have to keep the pick. It would be almost impossible to get equal value by moving it.

    What we should do is draft a low cost future all star (hopefully), and use our cap space to add another max contract all star in the near future (either by FA or trade). Along with Kyrie that would be the start of a dynasty. The scary part is that the opportunity may not present itself right away, which means we’d need patience to make this happen, and that’s not exactly a strength of the owner. The way to screw this up is to chew up cap space with average to Jarrett Jack type signings in a quest to make some playoff noise this year at any cost.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com WFNYBen

    Tim Duncan and KG are guys who do center-type things. Big, 7-footers who protect the paint.

    “When asked who the starting center would be in Game 1 against the Jazz, Pop treated it as a silly question and said: “Tim Duncan, like we have for the past 15 years.”” http://tinyurl.com/lgm9sjv

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com WFNYBen

    fair.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com WFNYBen

    Sixers are in a similar boat as the Cavs as these past few years. They’re gonna have a lot of young players to try to build around, but if you have TOO many, you won’t have a coherent team. They may not want a ton of rookies either.

    But the trade down for 3 and 10 does intrigue me.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com WFNYBen

    noted.

  • Ezzie Goldish

    My friend added that you can do this, re-sign Deng and Hawes, and work Wiggins/Parker and Embiid into the lineup as you wish. Deng and Hawes could be flipped away later if you want, too.

    The more I think about it, the more I like my idea. :P

  • Earl Malmsteen

    Philly wouldn’t do it. They didn’t tank so they could trade away two cheap young players for 4 years of a max contract PG who plays no defense.