For the first time since LeBron James left, the Cavaliers won something. While it may have been a winning ticket to the worst lottery in years, it was enough for the Gilbert family to celebrate raucously (and somewhat embarrassingly). What should Cleveland do with the pick? I covered the Cavaliers for RotoWire this past season, so I have a pretty good read on their players. Last week, I predicted that the Cavs would take Otto Porter. I am not a flip flopper, so I am sticking with that. If they keep the pick, they will likely take Nerlens Noel since he has been etched in stone as the top pick by all of the draft wonks (except me, of course). Let’s a take a spin through the team’s various options and how they would impact the Cavaliers’ stated goal of making the playoffs in 2013-14. By the way, just because Dan Gilbert makes a statement about next season, the general manager, Chris Grant, will probably do what is best for the team’s long term health.
Select Nerlens Noel with the first pick
The fact that Noel weighed in at 206 pounds at the combine should not concern the Cavs. In my mind, draft combines should be viewed with the same jaundiced eye as college basketball polls, preseason results (in any sport), and vestigial tails. The combine is a media event and should be ignored. Noel hasn’t been able to work out while recovering from his torn ACL. He’s only 19 years old and he is not built like Kevin Durant, so he will get bigger. Remember, there was some concern about Durant after the combine because he couldn’t bench press the bar (or something like that) and now he is bench pressing in commercials! Eventually, Noel could take over Anderson Varejao’s role of shot blocker, rebounder, and occasional scorer. I don’t think Noel would help the Cavaliers get to the playoffs next season, but he could anchor their defense for years to come when he regains his health. We know how new coach Mike Brown feels about defense. Eventually, a Noel-Tristan Thompson-Tyler Zeller frontcourt could be good since each player has slightly different strengths. I think Thompson might be somewhat overrated because he only started producing when Varejao got hurt, which would indicate that his game is not adaptable to other, similar players.
Select Otto Porter with the first pick (or trade down slightly to get him)
While I don’t generally advocate drafting for fit (teams should always take the best player and figure out how they will play together later on), it is at least possible that Porter could be the best player from this draft. He may not be a superstar like past first picks, but he has a wide range of skills that will help the Cavs and make the team better. He is a good shooter, can pass from the high post or the interior, has some ball handling skills, and should be a solid defender against opposing small forwards. Alonzo Gee provided a lot of effort for the Cavs as their starting small forward in 2012-13, but Porter would represent a massive upgrade. He is not a transformative player, but he could join the other four second- and third-year starters for Cleveland and grow into a decent team.
Select Ben McLemore with the first pick
McLemore has the highest ceiling of any player in the draft. With Kansas, he showed the ability to hit 3-pointers, attack the basket, and be a tenacious defender. If he played with a chip on his shoulder, he would be a sensible pick for any team. He tended to disappear at times for the Jayhawks and had an unremarkable run in the NCAA tournament (particularly in the win over North Carolina in which he missed all nine of his field goal attempts). Much like picking Noel would solidify the Cavs’ frontcourt, a backcourt of Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, and McLemore would be highly diversified, especially if McLemore became a defensive stopper. At 6-5, the former Jayhawk could defend some small forwards in a pinch as well. I do worry a bit about players who had to sit out a year in college for academics.
Trade the number one pick for an established player
There have been rumors of Cleveland shipping the top pick and other players for Kevin Love or LaMarcus Aldridge. Those trades are not happening. I think the best and perhaps most realistic target is Pau Gasol. The Lakers are entering salary cap hell and are entertaining moving Gasol, who has one more year of $19 million on the books. Actually, I am not sure how trading an expiring contract like Gasol would help the Lakers in terms of salary issues, since they only have Steve Nash’s contract on the ledger for 2014-15 (and would presumably sign Kobe Bryant, should he want to continue playing). If he can prove healthy, Gasol could really help the Cavaliers by being a second star with Kyrie Irving. The Lakers could add a number of young talents with the draft pick and other players in the deal.
Take Noel and target small forwards in free agency
It is worth noting that the Cavaliers are nicely below the cap heading into 2013-14. While the free agent class is not great, there are a number of small forwards who would represent a step up from Gee. At the top of the chart would be Andre Iguodala, but he might be too expensive and not enough of a signature player for the Cavaliers. I do think he’d be an outstanding partner with Irving. Other players mentioned by Fear the Sword as potential targets include Chase Budinger, Dorell Wright, and Martell Webster. I am not sure if any of that trio of players would be a better fit than Porter, but the Cavs have options because of their financial flexibility.