After winning their 3rd #1 pick in 4 years, Cleveland now has an opportunity to challenge the cliche “I’d rather be lucky than good.” This pick puts them in an interesting situation that could work out exceptionally well if handled correctly, or it could stay true to Cleveland sports history and end disastrously. The Cavaliers #1 objective will likely to be to add a star to pair with Kyrie Irving to return to playoff contention and convince Kyrie to stay long term. There are already rumblings that Kyrie is not happy in Cleveland so if they blow this pick, they may lose their only chance to keep him around. As tempting as it was to draft up a mock where they take Doug McDermott #1 overall, Chris Grant is no longer there to get fancy and they have four realistic options. They could draft one of Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins, or Jabari Parker, or they could try to trade the pick for a veteran star with Kevin Love being the plausible possibility. Let’s explore each possible scenario:
The #1 overall pick in a loaded class blows away the packages that anybody else can offer Minnesota for Love, so if Cleveland is willing to serve it up they likely will not need to add much or anything to complete a deal. The bigger question is whether Kevin Love is willing to stick around in Cleveland. On one hand he may see a decent core of talent between Kyrie Irving, Anderson Varejao, and possibly Luol Deng if he is re-signed. On the other hand he may see a poorly managed franchise that tends to bungle every good opportunity that comes their way, so it’s hard to say what his stance will be. If he doesn’t want Cleveland this is not a possibility, but in the instance that he does it is an interesting option.
Kevin Love is an all-star caliber player just entering his prime, so he is a safe commodity. He maximizes the probability of Kyrie sticking around since he should be good for a long time frame. With any sort of coach who isn’t Mike Brown, the Cavs may be able to ascend to a top 3 team in the East. The downside is that Love + Irving are both offensive minded superstars who are weak defensively, but that is somewhat mitigated in the short term by top 2 role players Anderson Varejao and Luol Deng being defensive oriented. Further, this opens the door for a possible LeBron return, and even though I am skeptical of this being a realistic possibility even 5% LeBron equity is immensely valuable for an organization like the Cavaliers who is hopeless without stellar fortune.
The downside is that barring a LeBron return, the Cavs may never become a serious threat to win a championship. And Irving should be up for free agency as Deng and Varejao are aging, so if the FO does a poor job of filling out the cast he may decide to leave anyway and Love may be right behind him. But building a 2nd tier contender with an outside shot of LeBron coming back isn’t the worst outcome from lucking into this pick, so this is an attractive option that Cleveland rightfully should consider if they can.
Chad Ford is reporting that Wiggins is the most likely pick, which I would take with the entire shaker of salt seeing that he had no clue who they were taking last year. But it is nevertheless a realistic option. Personally I think it would be a horrible pick, so it is somewhat fitting that the Cavs would take him #1 overall.
The problem with Wiggins is that he needs by far the most development of all of the top 3 picks to become an NBA starter, which makes him horribly risky at #1 overall. This is especially true since Cleveland is not likely to hire a good coach who develops prospects well. Look at what Mike Brown did for Kyrie Irving– he appeared to be on the path to stardom as a 19 year old rookie, but then somehow didn’t improve a lick by the time he was a 21 year old 3rd year player. It will be challenging to hire a coach as bad as Mike Brown, but the bottom line is that Cleveland does not provide an optimal environment for development. Even if Wiggins develops well enough to become a Luol Deng quality role player, we already witnessed exactly how much that helped.
If Wiggins is the pick I would predict that he does not become a star, Kyrie skips town at the first chance, and then Cleveland is back to rooting for lotto luck once again.
If the Cavaliers draft Parker and re-sign Deng, they will be starting 3 Duke grads so there is that. Parker is perceived as the “safe” pick, which I think is a bit overstated because there are some translation risks. If he does not develop well, Cleveland could devolve into Kyrie and Parker taking turns chucking and then not playing defense, which is roughly the approach they took this year. The big problem is that he projects to be an inferior version of Kevin Love (not a common comparison but they aren’t *that* dissimilar) and all of the upside limitations that apply to Love apply even moreso to Parker. Plus Jabari probably isn’t going to compel LeBron to come back.
I do believe that Parker will be a better pro than Wiggins most of the time, but either of them getting drafted to Cleveland will likely end poorly.
If Cleveland keeps the pick, Embiid gives them an all or nothing gamble to entice Kyrie to stay. If he can’t stay healthy, the Cavaliers are in big trouble as Kyrie is definitely leaving and they are going to have to hope for more lottery victories. But the element that Embiid offers that none of Love, Parker, or Wiggins can is that he may become good enough to contend with Kyrie without having an elite coach or cast. This is why I believe that Embiid is the correct #1 pick regardless of who is choosing, most upside is far more important than least downside.
This is the highest variance route, but it is also the correct one. Cleveland’s lottery luck has been pristine in recent years, may as well keep testing it and see if they can luck into a healthy Embiid. I’d even favor this scenario over trading for Love, although both would be acceptable. Drafting Parker or Wiggins would not be.