After winning the lottery for the third time in four years, the Cleveland Cavaliers once again hold the keys to the 2014 NBA draft. With plenty of options before them, the decision the Cavs make with the No. 1 overall pick figures to reverberate throughout the lottery, unlocking multiple selections and possible trades to come from the teams trailing them in the draft order.
As a result — and because nobody seems to have a real defined bead or inside track on the Cavs' decision-making processes, which has produced some surprises in years past (like, for example, taking Anthony Bennett with the first pick last year) — all eyes are on a Cavaliers brain trust led by new general manager David Griffin heading into Thursday night. As of Wednesday morning, those eyes were apparently seeing something different in the messaging coming out of Cavs HQ.
Mary Schmitt Boyer of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that the Cavaliers had "yet to decide whether to take forward Andrew Wiggins of Kansas or forward Jabari Parker of Duke if they keep the No. 1 pick." (There's been quite a bit of trade scuttlebutt surrounding the top selection in recent days, with the Philadelphia 76ers, Orlando Magic and Utah Jazz all allegedly making overtures.) Chad Ford and Jeff Goodman of ESPN.com reported that Cleveland the Cavs' "ownership and front office remain torn on whether to select" Wiggins or Parker, with owner Dan Gilbert reportedly "favoring drafting Wiggins [...] after the former Kansas star's terrific workout last Wednesday," and "the majority of" the Griffin-led front office "leaning toward selecting Parker." Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal said he'd been told the same information relayed in the ESPN report, which indicated that it remains that "unclear whether Gilbert will overrule Griffin and the Cavs' front office" on the draft pick.
While it's not uncommon for organizations to debate draft choices for far longer than just the day before the draft, the prospect of having dissension at the top — to the point where there's question about who would actually be making the selection — doesn't exactly inspire confidence in the process leading up to the pick. In the interest of clearing the air, Gilbert — who, as you might have heard, isn't exactly a shrinking violet when it comes to communicating his displeasure in a public forum (for better or for worse) — took the opportunity to nip these reports in the bud via Twitter:
A united front would certainly seem like good news for Cavs fans eager to get this pick right after a disappointing freshman year from Bennett, last year's No. 1 pick, who struggled mightily. An awful lot, of course, will depend on the player behind whom the Cleveland brass is actually united.
In our BDL draft lottery shopping list, Eric Freeman identified "athletic big man" as a top need for a Cavs team that has finished in the bottom half of the NBA in defensive efficiency in each of the last four years. Griffin was reportedly focused on selecting Kansas big man Joel Embiid before news that a stress fracture in his right foot would require surgery that will keep him out for four to six months, likely dropping him out of consideration in the top two (although perhaps not out of the top three, with Sam Hinkie and the 76ers lurking). The injury seemingly moved Embiid down Cleveland's board, though, and — barring a blockbuster trade — narrowing their choices down to Wiggins or Parker.
Many consider the 6-foot-8 Parker perhaps the most NBA-ready offensive talent in the draft, earning comparisons to the likes of Carmelo Anthony, Paul Pierce and Glenn Robinson after becoming the first freshman ever to lead Duke in points (19.1) and rebounds (8.7) per game and receiving both USBWA National Freshman of the Year honors and a consensus first-team All-American selection during his lone year under Mike Krzyzewski. His ready-made scoring touch would figure to be attractive for a Cavaliers team that hasn't made the playoffs since LeBron James left in the summer of 2010 and could be looking for an immediate shot in the arm for an offense that finishing 23rd among 30 NBA teams in points scored per possession last year.
Then again, the Chicago product (who reportedly weighed in at 254 pounds for his workout with the Cavs) profiles as both a defensive liability early in his career and a prospect who might fit more comfortably as an undersized four than as a small forward. On a team that already employs Bennett and Tristan Thompson, Parker might not offer as natural a fit as Wiggins.
The super-athletic 6-foot-8 swingman from Toronto by way of Kansas averaged 17.1 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.2 steals and one block per game in his lone season in Lawrence. He could slot in at either the two or three spots, has the physical tools to be both a transition weapon and an impact perimeter defender early in his career, and has the potential to become a plus outside shooter, as well. Many talent evaluators think Wiggins has a higher two-way ceiling than Parker, even if he's not as likely to play like a star right off the bat.
So: draft the high-ceiling prospect as part of an ongoing rebuild, or try to make a big leap quickly with a more pro-ready choice? Both Yahoo Sports NBA columnist Marc J. Spears and DraftExpress' Jonathan Givony see the Cavs selecting their second straight Canadian by taking Wiggins, with Parker falling to the Milwaukee Bucks at No. 2. We'll have to wait until Thursday night to find out if Gilbert and Griffin's "united" front is leaning the same way.
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