It’s that blaring sound in your head, the noise that just won’t go away. Everywhere you go, every swipe of your thumb down your Twitter app of choice, it’s there, brandishing an intensely uncomfortable cacophony. You don’t know why it’s popular, but you know you want it dismissed as an afterthought as soon as possible. No, I’m not talking about DJ Snake and Lil’ Jon’s chart-topper. I’m talking about the growing chorus that the Cavs should—or will—trade out of the top selection on Thursday night in order to acquire more assets.
The Cavaliers by all accounts are considering a trade from one of many suitors that would move them down between picks three and six in the draft. Doing that would be a move steeped in Chris Grant’s philosophy, and it scares me as we enter the highly-active phase of the NBA offseason in one of the most important in recent Cleveland basketball history.
When we laid to rest the Chris Grant era in Cleveland, I used the analogy of Chris Grant being a stockbroker or a house-flipper, gathering all of these assets that in a vacuum looked like good—or at least defensible—decisions. There wasn’t a trade that Grant didn’t seem to win, and he went out and executed a plan in free agency last season by signing Jarrett Jack, Earl Clark, and Andrew Bynum.
But, unfortunately for Grant, decisions and picks and signings don’t exist in a vacuum. The Cavaliers never gelled as a team, and it meant the dismissal of both Grant and Mike Brown. Dan Gilbert was tired of resting on the upside and potential of his roster alone. Enter David Griffin, a man who by all accounts will be handling his business quite differently. He’s hired an outside-the-box head coach with no previous NBA experience. In addition, Griff’s also hired the man who finished second in the running for the head gig, a young, well-respected, up-and-comer future head coach.
It would seem that team-building is a key part of Griffin’s mission, and he recognizes it. The Cavaliers, as they sit on June 25th, are a roster full of enigmas and riddles. Can Kyrie and Dion play together? Can Thompson and Bennett? What do you do with Anderson Varejao and Jarrett Jack? Do you try to sign Luol Deng or Spencer Hawes? Who do you pursue in free agency?
The Cavaliers will not be this young, this flexible, this poised to make a big move again for a long time. However, while there will inevitably be some tremendous turnover of this roster as currently constructed, the number one pick should not be dealt as part of these efforts. There’s a damn good reason the No. 1 pick has been dealt exactly twice since the lottery system started in 19851. Those number one picks generally change your franchise’s prospects, and you control them for a long time, something that cannot be understated in the non-free agent destination market of Cleveland.
When you allow yourself to enter the house-flipper mindset once more, “Nos. 3, 10, and Thaddeus Young” or “Nos. 4, 12, and Aaron Afflalo” or “Nos. 5, 23, Derrick Favors, and Alec Burks along with sending away Jarrett Jack” all sound intriguing. They’re fair offers, and for certain teams in certain contention timelines, those may be the right moves to make. It is my opinion, however, that the Cavaliers cannot afford to miss out on the top of this draft by sliding down into the lesser known commodities. Afflalo and Young being under contract for just one year guaranteed is far too risky to pull the trigger in my estimation. As for Favors, the team would control him for four years at a cost of $48 million. Burks only has one year remaining on his rookie deal too.
Let’s talk about Joel Embiid. He was clearly the top prospect in the best draft in at least five years. His combination of length, shot-blocking ability, offensive skills, and athleticism at the center position made him a pretty clear choice for the Cavs. I trust my colleague TD who watched him and Wiggins play all season at Kansas. He was ADAMANT that you take Embiid, no questions asked. Even amid the back concerns, there were reports of good workouts that alleviated concerns.
Then, the bombshell of a fractured foot, the same exact injury that took down Yao Ming and Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Now, is Embiid worth that risk? Almost certainly not at No. 1. But, is the Cavaliers’ love affair with the Kansas pivot so strong that they’re willing to take him anyway after a trade down? The thought process there would seem to be to ensure that the Cavs insure against the risk and give themselves a better chance of getting at least something out of that selection if Embiid doesn’t work out (with another first and a veteran starter).
In reality though, for 4-to-6 months, we won’t know what Joel Embiid is going to return to the court from that day he steps back on the floor until the end of his career. Will it limit the length of his career as it did with Yao? Will it limit his overall ability as it did with Ilgauskas? I love Z as much as the next guy, but if you saw him play in his rookie season with the Cavs, his ceiling was much more than two-time All-Star that couldn’t jump prior to the repeat surgeries. His athleticism was completely taken away from him. Who’s to say that same thing doesn’t happen with Embiid and instead of being some combination of the next Hakeem. Kevin Garnett, or Serge Ibaka, he is instead a Larry Sanders-type?
If the Cavaliers whiff on Embiid, it’s going to be a much more painful one than with one of the other two top prospects. A failure to draft an impact player could send Irving out of town and erase the upward trend that this team seems poised to take. Sure, someone in the 4-7 range is probably going to take Embiid and get a steal, but it’s not something the Cavs can worry about right now. There can and will be more than one winner in this draft. The Cavaliers just have to take a different path to victory now.2
This leads me to the prospect assassination that has been taking place as we get closer to Draft Day. If you went by what was being said regarding Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker lately, you would assume this draft was just as bad as the past several years, that these guys didn’t have perennial All-Star potential, and that there was no separation between these two and the rest of the top ten. I’m hear to tell you that there is. Embiid, Parker, and Wiggins were praised as the cream of the crop when it comes to this draft class for months and months3 Embiid falling back seems to have accelerated the hole-poking of both Wiggins and Parker. I want David Griffin weighing all of the pros and cons and selecting the best talent for the Cavaliers at No. 1. If it’s Andrew Wiggins, you’re getting a uniquely athletic individual who will make an impact on defense right away, score in transition, get to the foul line, demand respect on catch-and-shoot threes, and hit the offensive glass. If it’s Jabari Parker, you’re getting a versatile offensive attacker who includes long-range shots, mid-range step-backs, dribble drives inside, attacking of the glass, and a guy that wants the ball in his hands taking the game’s deciding shots. Are there risks with these two? Look no further than Wiggins’ handle, motor, and finish rate at the rim or Parker’s weight and lack of defensive effort and position to this point for an answer to that question. But, I can tell you that I’m more comfortable signing up for that as opposed to dropping down to the next tier in Julius Randle, Noah Vonleh, Dante Exum, and Aaron Gordon4.
Let’s rap for a minute about Exum. Six-foot-six-inch point guards with a six-foot-nine-inch reach don’t come around often, and it’s obvious why people are intrigued with his ability to drive and dish. Still, I would not be in favor of the Cavs going out on a limb this far and drafting him, even after a trade down. There’s something to be said for the level of competition (or lack thereof) that he’s played. Yes, he won’t even be 19 for a couple more weeks, and his upside could be the greatest in this class. Still, if you miss on him, it’s a Darko or Tskitishvili-level meltdown of a pick. David Griffin and the Cavs aren’t in the position to wager that. I think this snippet from Ryen Russillo’s discussion with NBA scouts about the second tier of prospects frames my argument from earlier well.
“Everyone else, we have seen the film, we know the positives and the negatives. Embiid, injuries; Parker, body; Wiggins, shot. [The process] exposes the flaws. It’s all positives for Exum. We haven’t seen much, so we all think he’s great. With the other guys, we built them up pre-draft, then spent months picking them apart. Exum avoided all of this. I think he’s a high-turnover guy, and he can’t shoot. We talk about Wiggins’s shot … well, it’s better than Exum’s.”
One more thing: I realize I’ve been a little apprehensive and resistant to change when it comes to this collection of assets the team currently holds. I don’t necessarily want to see Dion Waiters or Tristan Thompson go. But, to me, the only things that should be bolted down are Kyrie Irving and whoever they select with this top pick. If they want to go for a big move with the rest of their assets and flip them for a bigger-name player in an effort to make a big free-agent signing (winkity wink), fine, but don’t mortgage the present and the future to do it. If it doesn’t go well, you still have a nucleus of Irving and Wiggins or Parker upon which to build. Consider the alternative scenario, trading down for one of the packages mentioned, trading Dion for a top ten pick as rumored (like Sacramento’s 8th, perhaps), flipping two of those firsts and Tristan and whatever else for Love, Horford, or the like. Then, you don’t get the other shoe to drop with James and the other guy walks. Instead of five years of Wiggins/Parker, you blew it with one or two years of Love/Horford. I harp on this point so belligerently because the Cavaliers only have one chance to get this right. There are multiple paths to success, but the Cavaliers are sitting in the cat-bird seat with multiple suitors pining for that No. 1 pick. They need someone to absolutely blow them out of the water with an earth-shattering offer to make a deal. If they don’t get that, they should take their man between Parker and Wiggins and move the other pieces around to build a team around the draft cap wearer on Thursday and Uncle Drew. — Photograph by Kathy Willens/AP Photo
- Again, once before the draft when the Cavs acquired it from the Clippers for Roy Hinson and cash and took Brad Daugherty in 1986 and once during the draft when Chris Webber went from Orlando to Golden State in a swap for Penny Hardaway and three future first rounders [↩]
- Just a note here that I have decided not to do a film room on Embiid. If the Cavaliers do select him after a trade down, I owe you guys one and will deliver. [↩]
- Some will say Dante Exum was included in this list. More on him in a minute. [↩]
- In my rudimentary study of these guys, I’d rank them Vonleh, Randle, Gordon, Exum for the Cavs [↩]