“This is insane.”
Ben Cox said it best, sitting next to me at Barrio in Lakewood on that Tuesday night last week, a mountain of tacos and a couple of mason jars of brew between us. I still don’t think it’s sunk in that the Cavaliers, after being fortunate enough to pluck the one elite player out of the 2011 draft, only to be subjected to some of the worst NBA drafts in recent memory, have finally landed atop another where they have the ability to draft a game-changing, potential All-Star player. Factor in Kyrie Irving’s upcoming max offer (we think?), the ongoing head coach search with the list of names growing (more on that in a bit), and David Griffin’s chips on the table in the form of extra draft picks, team-friendly contracts, cap space, and young players, and we’ve still got way more questions than answers right now.
Over the coming weeks, I’m going to get back into the NBA Draft Film Room1 and break down full games of Kansas center Joel Embiid, Kansas forward Andrew Wiggins, and Duke forward Jabari Parker. I’m doing that and only that for a couple of reasons. First, I don’t think it’s even remotely possible to consider writing down anyone else’s name come June 26. Second, I’m investing this much time and effort into breaking down these three prospects for the first overall pick because the Cavaliers absolutely, positively, CANNOT trade this pick in any sort of deal for a potential All-Star that isn’t on the right side of 30 and under team control for multiple (three or more) years. That means no Kevin Love, because we all know he isn’t signing here without a certain mixed-review small forward returning to the fold.
This draft has been too highly regarded compared against those of the last four years. The team control and cost-friendly contract is too much of a favorable situation. The potential for doing the rebuild the right way with more than one legitimate All-Star is too much to sacrifice. There are two pieces that are quite untouchable on this team now: Kyrie Irving and the No. 1 pick in this draft. If you can put together a package for Love (or someone of similar age/ability) that doesn’t include these pieces, then perhaps it’s worth it. Regardless, let’s just stop with the top pick trade talk. There’s a reason the top pick has been traded only twice since the lottery system began2. Leading up to the draft, it’s an analyst’s job to poke holes in any potential prospect. What are some of the things they said about Irving, Damian Lillard, Anthony Davis, Andre Drummond, and others leading up to the draft? You obviously have to weigh the risks of injury, size, relative “newness” to the game, and position fit, but those things that people nit-pick often don’t preclude a player from becoming a star in this league. I hope the Cavaliers realize that all three of these prospects have their pitfalls, but all of them are worth considering, and (at least) one of them is worth building around.
As for my film room study, here’s some of the questions I’m looking to answer in the coming weeks. This is all really up in the air, and I’ve been changing my mind day-to-day based on reports and highlight packages.
-Is Embiid’s skillset too much to pass on given center scarcity and a relative uncertainty around his back injury?
-How NBA-ready is Embiid’s offensive arsenal and is he the least NBA-ready of the three? Does he stand to improve the most given the track record of least time on the basketball court of the three?
-Is he well-rounded on defense, first-team All-NBA defensive team material? (Pick and rolls, helpside, boxing out, positioning)
-Is Wiggins’ offensive game diverse enough to play alongside Kyrie Irving and/or Dion Waiters and complement them effectively?
-Are the concerns about his dribbling and outside shot overblown? Can he consistently create off the dribble in the halfcourt?
-Does Wiggins have elite level defensive potential from the wing position as some indicate?
-Does Parker have a position or is he destined to be a 3-4 tweener?
-Is his offensive package, leadership, and ability to step in right away too much to pass up? Does Parker create his own scoring chances against both small and power forwards?
-Can you draft Parker when the other two prospects clearly have the ability to affect the game on the defensive end and he seems to be a liability there?
Right now, my assessment is that Embiid is the best prospect overall. However, when you factor in his position and injury concerns3, the picture becomes much less clear as to whom they should pick. In the end, I don’t think I’ll really be upset with any of the trio, but I hope to after my film study have a more definite answer as to who I’m pulling for them to choose. It’s hard to pass up the idea of a diverse offensive attack coming from the point guard and either small or power forward positions.
I’m going to exit for a brief sidebar and discuss a couple of the head coaching candidates that have emerged since I wrote my head-coach candidate assessment two weeks ago. Cross Kevin Ollie’s name off the list as he’s decided to remain at Connecticut, and John Calipari denies interest in leaving Kentucky currently. Who did I miss last time?
Tyronn Lue – Interviewing in Cleveland today, according to reports. I admittedly don’t know much about Lue’s coaching style. He’s very young at age 37, having played with the Phil-Shaq-Kobe Lakers and winning two rings before retiring in 2009. But, he’s been studying under Doc Rivers for the last five years in Boston and Los Angeles. He falls into the “lukewarm” category from last article among other current NBA assistants. I like Lue’s age and background, but he’ll have to win the interview ultimately. I could be talked into him though. Yahoo!’s Marc Spears said “don’t sleep on” Lue.
David Fizdale – Fizdale will turn 40 next week, but he’s been a NBA assistant since 2003 at age 29 and worked under Eric Musselman, Mike Woodson, and Erik Spoelstra in that time. He also has experience as a college assistant prior to his NBA time. People will point out his close personal relationship by all accounts to LeBron James, but that should be the absolute LAST reason to hire him as a head coach.
Billy Donovan – Donovan had one foot into the NBA with the Magic in 2007 before backing out to remain at Florida4 With two national titles, four Final Fours, and six SEC titles, Donovan has accomplished everything possible at Florida, a position he’s held since 1996. Donovan played for and coached under Rick Pitino, who didn’t have much success in the NBA in two different tours (New York and Boston) over six seasons. Billy hasn’t closed the door on the NBA, and he’s definitely worth a look, in my opinion, though he doesn’t top my list at this point.
Mark Jackson – I totally whiffed on commentary regarding Jackson in my first article. When there was talk originally of Jackson getting canned in Golden State, I thought it was just as ridiculous as the notion of ousting Frank Vogel in Indiana or Tom Thibodeau in Chicago, and I said I would hire him in a heartbeat. Jackson’s Warriors made a drastic turnaround between seasons one and two, winning 47 games and advancing past the first round. This year, they won 51 games before falling in seven games in the first round to the Clippers. The only drawback to Jackson for me is his reported ego and friction with the front office. Jackson won’t be the type to tow the company line on anything controversial, and that could cause some problems. Nevertheless, his players came to his defense before and after his dismissal, and maybe he could get through to Kyrie Irving. You could do a lot worse.5
One final note, because I like to set basketball landmines and walk away. I don’t think it’s crazy for people to discuss a LeBron James return. However, I do maintain that it is, to borrow a Ben Cox line, “INSANE” to plan on it or build around it in any way, shape, or form. James is marching toward his fourth straight Finals trip, and if the Heat three-peat, there’s no way he’s going anywhere. But, if the Cavaliers do offer Kyrie the max this summer and he accepts6, if they get a well-respected and confident head coach, if they knock this first pick out of the park and he goes on to win Rookie of the Year, and if David Griffin comes out of the gates with a team that actually fits together7, then I could see LeBron opting in for one more year in Miami and then considering Cleveland as a legitimate option come next summer as the Heat’s roster continues to age and the roster flexibility remains minimal. In my opinion, all bad blood aside8, you can’t close the door entirely on the best basketball player on the planet returning. In that same breath, you’re a fool to count on it and keep a “HELP WANTED” sign at the small forward position for a fifth straight season.
- Which I’ll have you know is my living room, because I don’t have a basement. [↩]
- Pre-pick Brad Daugherty to Cleveland for Roy Hinson and cash in 1985, post-pick Chris Webber for Penny Hardaway and three first-round picks to Golden State in 1993 [↩]
- After all, this is not a centers league anymore. [↩]
- I thought about the what-if scenario that involves Donovan taking the Orlando job and Stan Van Gundy never being hired in Orlando. That alone could have made my 2009 summer a LOT more enjoyable. [↩]
- By this, I mean Alvin Gentry. Seriously, Cavaliers front office. Don’t hire Alvin Gentry. He’s had ONE successful season out of a dozen years as coach in four different stops. Just don’t do it. #KirksAgainstGentry [↩]
- They need to do this. No questions asked. [↩]
- With size and shooting and stuff. A novel concept I know, Chris Grant. [↩]
- And believe me, there’s still plenty of it coursing through these veins. [↩]