published Wednesday, May 21st, 2014

Wiedmer: Cavs can’t mess up another draft, can they?

Cleveland Cavaliers general manager David Griffin, left, and minority owner Jeff Cohen celebrate after the Cavaliers won the top pick in the the NBA basketball draft lottery in New York on Tuesday, May 20, 2014.
Cleveland Cavaliers general manager David Griffin, left, and minority owner Jeff Cohen celebrate after the Cavaliers won the top pick in the the NBA basketball draft lottery in New York on Tuesday, May 20, 2014.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

The rest of the NBA had to breathe a sigh of relief Tuesday night over the Cleveland Cavaliers winning the top pick in the league’s draft lottery.

As they’ve proven time and again over the years, if anybody can mess up the No. 1 pick, it’s the Cadavers, who’ve now won the top pick three of the last four years but keep showing up in the lottery, which means they aren’t reaching the playoffs.

Think about that for a moment. Having claimed the top pick two of the last three years, they again were in the lottery this season, even though they did have less than a 2 percent chance of claiming the top pick.

But what real difference does it make? With two picks in last year’s first round, including overall No. 1 Anthony Bennett from Nevada-Las Vegas, they went 33-49 this season.

Said Cavs general manager David Griffin, then in a lower front-office role, after last year’s draft: “We thought three years [getting out of the lottery], but having No. 1 and 19, we’ve got a pretty good chance of this being the last one for a while.”

Turns out it was the last one until the next one, which will be held on June 26.

So what did Griffin say after Tuesday’s big win?

“We’ve got a lot of talent,” he said. “We need to get a better fit.”

To be fair, Griffin was just named the franchise’s GM last week, so he’s not to blame for all the Cavs’ past mistakes by the lake. And the 44-year-old has beaten tougher foes than Cleveland’s klutzy past, having twice whipped testicular cancer.

So maybe he’ll succeed where others have failed. But there’s also pressure on the first pick that doesn’t exist further down the round.

For instance, Kansas 7-foot freshman center Joel Embiid is almost certainly the smart overall No. 1 pick if he’s truly over the back injury that caused him to miss the NCAA tournament and arguably cost the Jayhawks a shot at the Final Four.

But what if that back problem will be a recurring issue, much as former Ohio State center Greg Oden’s knee injuries have limited the overall No. 1 pick in the 2007 draft (to Portland) to 105 total NBA games and career averages of roughly 8 points and 6 rebounds a game?

Given that, maybe you roll the dice and go with Embiid’s high-flying college teammate, Andrew Wiggins, who’s been compared to a certain former Cavalier named LeBron but whose shot is more erratic than LeBron’s was in kindergarten and who scored a grand total of four points in KU’s third-round NCAA tourney loss to Stanford.

Naturally, Wiggins doesn’t seem worried by that failure. He said Tuesday of his NBA potential, “Being a a competitor, I think I can do a lot of damage in the NBA. One-on-one is more my game.”

And, of course, the Cavs wouldn’t have to play Stanford in the NBA.

Or they could make the smart choice — assuming Cleveland has justifiable concerns about Embiid’s back — and take Duke freshman Jabari Parker, whose inside-outside game is most ready for the NBA of any of the top six or seven picks. Parker is a legitimate 6-foot-8, can shoot the 3-ball with ease and can both pass and dribble. Think a slightly more longer, more athletic Paul Pierce and you have some idea of Parker’s skill set.

This isn’t to say the Cavs might not rue taking Parker if Wiggins and Embiid play to their high sides rather than their low sides, but it’s the kind of safe pick that sometimes carries value for 10 years. There’s also the LeBron factor.

Should James return to Cleveland — LeBron’s LRMR agency represents new Browns quarterback Johnny Maziel — Parker would seem a better complementary fit than Wiggins, though a healthy Embiid would be better.

Also, give point guard Kyrie Irving, the Cavs’ overall No. 1 pick in 2011, LeBron and Parker to pass to and the Cavs might finally win the title that always seemed to barely elude King James in Cleveland.

Yet that’s not all to ponder in a draft that figures to be the best since James, Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade all arrived in the 2003 class.

And because of that, the Milwaukee Bucks (who’ll draft second) and the Philadelphia 76ers (who’ll choose third) could both wind up better off in this draft than the Cavs. Even the Orlando Magic (fourth), Utah Jazz (fifth), Boston Celtics (sixth) and Los Angeles Lakers (seventh) should do OK.

“This year it’s not really about the top pick,” said ESPN analyst Jay Bilas. “This is a deep and talented draft. There’s real value well into the second round. You couldn’t say that last year.”

Indeed, for all the raw talent of Embiid, Wiggins and Parker, the most mature young player in the draft may be Kentucky freshman Julius Randle, who averaged a double-double for the national runner-up Wildcats.

And the most skilled offensive player is far and away Creighton senior forward and national player of the year Doug McDermott, who isn’t compared to Larry Bird only because they were both products (at least until this year, when the Bluejays moved to the Big East) of the Missouri Valley Conference.

Nor does Bilas believe the criticism that McDermott lacks the necessary athleticism to star at the next level.

“People questioned his athleticism before [the NBA pre-draft camp],” he noted. “There are no questions anymore.”

But until the Cavs finally get out of the lottery, there will remain plenty of questions about the draft intelligence of this franchise.

“Anybody who gets Embiid, Wiggins or Parker,” former NBA coach Doug Collins said, “is going to be very happy with their draft.”

They should. But the Cavs being the Cavs, we may not know the answer to that until this time next year.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.

about Mark Wiedmer...

Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...

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