Trade Down For What?! Embiid, Exum, and Extra Assets Are Too Risky


photo1 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

  1. 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 []
  2. 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. []
  3. Some will say Dante Exum was included in this list. More on him in a minute. []
  4. In my rudimentary study of these guys, I’d rank them Vonleh, Randle, Gordon, Exum for the Cavs []
  • maxfnmloans

    If they want to trade down, it can’t be below #3. Simmons was again the braying jackass he has turned into these past few years on Twitter yesterday, wondering why the Cavs didn’t immediately accept Orlando’s trade offer, yet for years he has been the creator (and proponent) of “you can’t take 4 quarters for a dollar” theory. He’s such a hypocrite. I used to really enjoy his stuff.

  • Return of the (Alex) Mack

    Great headline

  • cmm13

    I cannot stress this enough… if you want to land “you know who” you must bring in a top FA AND draft number one overall.

  • mgbode

    And, Orlando’s offer wasn’t any good. Utah’s offer is the only one to consider and, by all accounts, they haven’t actually offered what we want and Kirk mentions above: Nos. 5, 23, Derrick Favors, and Alec Burks along with sending away Jarrett Jack

    That is the only offer I have read thus far that I am interested in doing and it has a bunch of other factors involved. I’d lean towards Wiggins right now, but not by that much (I really like Favors+4yr contract and Burks is team-controlled as a RFA after next year).

    The issue is I completely agree with Kirk that there is a significant drop from Wiggins/Parker to Gordon/Vonleh/Randle. I actually like Gordon the best because he is so good off-the-ball and we have too many guys already that need the ball (and Gordon can play SF IMO). I’d worry about his shooting, but it isn’t horrendous form either.

    As for Tristan/Dion (from the end of Kirk’s article), they are just guys. They are our guys (for now), but they are definitely moveable pieces. Find a fair deal that makes us a better team and take it if you can.

  • TD Dery

    Good read Kirk….

  • BenRM


  • Harv 21

    Only had to skim this, Kirk, because you and I might as well have been finishing each others’ sentences the past few weeks. NBA success requires “great” (yes, even in SA), and you don’t pass up a rare lottery-winning chance for clearly great in order to fill roster holes with pretty good.

    Re trade rumors:

    – writers and bloggers are under daily pressure to speculate and encourage speculation. This didn’t exist 25 years ago because there weren’t any internets. It doesn’t make anything true. Leaking actual inside info to anyone is an excellent reason for employment termination, and a killer of one’s rep for job loyalty.

    – The Cavs do have the duty to go fishing for stupid, the newbie or incompetent or desperate GM, or the out of control owner, who might do something truly stupid. Like offer you a first rounder for Jiri Welsch. This is due diligence, just in case.

    – If you were a GM and thought Stupid was in the air, based on possible desperation for a certain player, and you wanted to try and spark a Stupid v. Stupid/Desperate bidding war just to see what happened, what would you say? You hide who you want, and you leak that you’re uncertain. If Stupid/Desperate is worried you want who they want, that stokes the stupid/desperate. [BTW, if Griffin/Gilbert aren’t set on who they want 24 hours before this draft, this org is hopeless, Sterling’s Clippers circa 1990. There’s no point even following them].

  • saggy

    I never liked him.

  • saggy

    couldn’t agree more re: Tristan and Dion.

  • Pat Leonard

    I started out thinking that I liked this version of the Utah deal, but the more I think about it, the less interested I am. Favors is a slight improvement over Tristan Thompson. They have very similar games but Favors shoots better at the rim and will block an extra shot per game. I wouldn’t go so far as to call him a rim-protector by any means, and that’s what the Cavs really need. Alec Burks would be an improvement over Jarrett Jack and could keep Waiters coming off the bench, both of which I like, but I just don’t think this deal is enough for passing on Wiggins or Parker, either of whom has All-Star potential.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I don’t think you know who wants them that’s really the problem. As Love showed, not many FAs want the Cavaliers, not Cleveland, the Cavaliers.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Rather have Hayward the problem is just like Love I’m sure he doesn’t want the Cavaliers.

  • Pat Leonard

    I’d rather have him too, but I think he’s a free agent isn’t he?

  • steve-o

    The safest play is to ignore the trade offers and take the best (uninjured) player who we will control for a long time with a relatively small amount of cap space. Most seem to feel that either of the top two prospects give us roughly the same thing, but I think that is unlikely. Wiggins and Parker have different skill sets and one will almost certainly become clearly better. My guess is it will be Wiggins, based on superior athletic talent and the nearly 0% chance he’ll eat his way out of the league. On other other hand, if Parker (or someone else) is actually better, I hope we are able to figure that out.

    I think we’ll do the right thing tmrw, but until we actually make the pick, I can’t help but feel uneasy, especially after last year’s debacle (I know we have a different GM, but both he and Gilbert were here last year).

  • mgbode

    RFA. Potential for a post-draft trade, but he would have to want it too.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Honestly there isn’t much reason for people to get riled up regardless of who is taken #1 by the Cavaliers as long as it’s between Parker and Wiggins. Both will dramatically help and improve the team faster. That being said both have work to be done, both have shortcomings but this is to be expected from guys who only played one year in college.

    That being said I think people should be looking for what else the Cavaliers do besides picking #1. To me, right now, that’s the easy part. It’s the rest that is more interesting for me. By the rest I mean who they trade, if anyone, as well as let go. Deng won’t be resigned. I think Miles is done. Varejao needs to go OR if he stays then Thompson needs to go. In short I’m hoping to see some turnover in personnel because as I said months ago you can’t just change the coaches and expect things to be different. That’s been done and failed miserably more then once. You need some new blood in the form of players too.

  • whosevelt

    The reason no one trades the first pick, and the reason Simmons correctly says that four quarters don’t equal a dollar in the NBA is that there are only five spots on the floor and maybe seven in the rotation. All-stars are worth their weight in gold and role players are thoroughly fungible. As long as the Cavs are not getting Popovitch, they need to take the surest shot at the shortest term superstar. Only Wiggins and Parker are in that discussion. Not Embiid (anymore), not Exum, not the fourth pick, not Alec Burks or Derrick Favors. Not even Kevin Love, frankly, though I know that’s controversial.

  • Pat Leonard

    Gotcha I haven’t been able to keep up as much as i would like. They’re keeping me a lot busier at work these days and I’ve been watching the World Cup with my free time. Draft night should be interesting though! I think Utah really wants Parker and will do whatever they can to get him.

  • The Other Tim

    I’d like to thank the pundits for making me dread having the first pick instead of relishing the #1.
    I just want the draft to be over.

  • saggy

    from Grantland:

    “Embiid, injuries; Parker, body; Wiggins, shot. [The process] exposes the flaws.”

    It’s a lot easier to change your shot than it is to change your body.

  • saggy

    is there a better way to while away the hours to the draft than watching the World Cup. And, even better, the US play tomorrow at noon. Great stuff!

  • Pat Leonard

    Well said! Can’t wait for the game although I’m pretty nervous. Gotta like our odds though.

  • ThatAlex

    I still really want Embiid. Badly.

  • Pat Leonard

    Interesting, I was thinking the opposite. Once you get to the NBA (and if you’re a player who actually takes jump shots unlike Tristan Thompson), I think it’s very hard to make anything but minor adjustments to a jump shot. Your body, however, can be sculpted when you don’t have classes and other distractions keeping your from your full-time job. That will depend on the drive of the individual player to do so, though.

  • saggy

    If you’re 6-6 it’s pretty hard to change your body to be 6-9.

    Gaining muscle is a real hard thing to do, regardless of having college classes or not. Professional bodybuilders spend 6 hours a day lifting weights while taking cocktails of the most potent anabolic steroids science can provide, at levels of over 100 times a clinical dose.

    If it were as easy as having the time and the drive, nobody would need PEDs.

  • mgbode

    It is certainly an interesting debate.

    On one hand, you have a guy who has never had the drive to work that hard off the court in the weightroom but puts enough time in that he has been able to get by. However, he puts a ton of time in on the court working on that beautiful shot.

    On the other hand, you have a guy who (by all reports) loves working out and is ridiculously athletic. He has decent form on his shot, but needs some changes to really make it consistent (biggest: he tends to bring the ball from down to up before shooting, which takes time and allows the defender to get closer).

  • mgbode

    as a fan of Cleveland sports, how can you say that? we still have a chance to get knocked out for a 3rd time by Ghana despite the fact that we beat them head-to-head.

  • saggy

    I did a study in college that assessed “muscle memory” in students. We found that the better the athlete the better the muscle memory (being vague here for the sake of brevity). For example: varsity athletes scored incredibly higher on our testing that did the regular co-eds in the engineering program.

    I have always felt that great athletes have the ability to both change their bodies and their mechanics. You certainly need to do both at some (if not all) level of play. But changing your body could take months, if not years due to many physical developmental reasons. Your mind is far quicker to catch on to newly introduced motor patterns and can be changed at a quicker rate.

    That’s my two cents. Of course, it wouldn’t surprise me to find out they did away with the penny.

  • Pat Leonard

    I guess because I don’t really see USA as being very Cleveland-ish, even in spite of their last minute idiocy versus Portugal. I am not saying this is the case for you, but just in general, I don’t think people realize how rare a US loss has been since Klinsmann took over. What matches have they lost in the last year? A 2-0 stinker to the Ukraine in an empty stadium in Cyprus, a 1-0 loss to Austria in Vienna, a 3-1 loss to Costa Rica who just steamrolled their group, a 1-2 loss to Honduras in their scary stadium, and a 4-2 loss to a really good Belgium team in the Cleve. They have wins over Ghana, Nigeria, Turkey, Azerbaijan, South Korea, Costa Rica (x2), Germany, Bosnia, Italy, and Mexico. We can make excuses for certain players not being in the lineup for our opponents, but we could do the same for USA players missing in some of our losses. I think this team is very NOT Cleveland… they have a history of stepping up to the challenge.

  • mgbode

    yes, you have outlined why I was surprised so many were expecting 0pts in this group from the US and why I said anything less than 1-1-1 was a disappointment for me.

    but, regardless of that, Ghana still seems to be our jinx. all the stories of flying in $3mil so the players will not boycott, players getting kicked off the team due to fighting with team officials, and, yet, they played one of the best games I have seen against Germany. it scares me to think that is a team that needs that turmoil and they have a bit of a history already of knocking us out.