Irving at 1, then who?
Five initial thoughts on which direction(s) the Cavaliers might go now that we know they have the first and fourth picks in next month's NBA Draft...
1. The Cavaliers team shop isn't going to start printing Kyrie Irving jerseys tonight. But maybe by next Wednesday or so, the order will be ready to be placed. The Cavaliers winning the lottery means the one-and-done point guard out of Duke is almost assuredly coming to Cleveland with the first pick on June 23. This isn't considered an exceptionally deep draft, but the prevailing opinion is that Irving is the class of the class -- and that held true even way back in January and February when a toe injury had him watching Duke games from the sideline. He came back to play in the NCAA tournament, officially declared for the draft shortly thereafter and has known he'd be the likely No. 1 pick barring an upset for at least a month now. His process now will be to show, both in medical exams and in workouts, that's the toe ligament injury is healed and that he can be an explosive playmaker. If he does, Cavs coach Byron Scott will be smiling.
2. Cavaliers GM Chris Grant will be smiling, too, because the Cavaliers "won" the NBA Draft Lottery with the pick they acquired in February's Baron Davis-Mo Williams trade with the Clippers. Now Grant's real work begins because, even if Irving at No. 1 will be a quick decision, the decision at No. 4 will be much more complicated -- and maybe just as important. This is a Cavaliers team that's facing almost a total rebuild and has multiple needs but also has glaring needs at the small forward and shooting guard positions. Going with the point guard and the best available player seems the easy call, but where the Cavaliers go from there depends on a number of different factors. Big man Enes Kanter, if he's available at No. 4, would be appealing, as would a handful of other international prospects, Bismack Biyombo, Jonas Valanciunas and Jan Vesely. Arizona forward Derrick Williams is likely to be gone before the fourth pick, and Kentucky's Brandon Knight and UConn's Kemba Walker are likely out of the Cavalier equation if they get Irving at No. 1. Also possibly in play for the Cavaliers at No. 4 would be San Diego State small forward Kawahi Leonard and Texas freshman post Tristan Thompson. It's way too early to know with any type of certainty, which should make for a fun five weeks of discussion.
3. There's no doubt the Cavaliers were a much different and much better team at the end of last season with Baron Davis running the point. Ramon Sessions is also a point guard and has some value as well. That creates a predicament, but it also creates opportunity. This operation is very much a work in progress. How much progress Irving makes -- and how quickly he makes it -- will determine a lot, but it seems likely the Cavaliers will want him in the starting lineup immediately. If Davis is the good sport and gritty leader he was a couple of months ago, the Cavaliers would like to have him around. If there's interest elsewhere, maybe they'll move him. The Cavaliers still have the trade exception, Antawn Jamison under contract for one more season and are hoping to get a healthy Anderson Varejao back. That means they'll have options and, presumably, the kind of "flexibility" Grant has been talking about since last July. The Cavs need lots of pieces, and the lottery results give them a chance to get at least two of them and start sizing up a real run towards returning to the top of the league within a few years. Did the Clippers save another franchise that's not named the Clippers by not protecting that pick? If Grant and his staff have done the homework we think they've done, the answer could eventually be yes.
4. Since this whole thing is based on what-if scenarios, let's go through a few. What if Irving hadn't lost almost his entire freshman season to injury? Would there be double the excitement for this pick? Or, on the flip side, would there be more of a jumble at the top? Irving's blue-chip pedigree indicates that he's been groomed for this, and though the Cavs might feel better if he hadn't missed 20+ games last winter, they think with the right tutoring and right breaks he can be a top-level point guard in a league that's currently full of them. Irving has the ingredients. He's smooth, quick and confident with the ball. Like almost every prospect in this draft, he needs to add strength and refine his outside shooting, but he's a natural scorer. Another what-if involves Kanter. What if he'd played at Kentucky this season? Would he be the No. 1 pick, or are there enough concerns to push him down the board? Knight might be good enough that the Jazz simply can't pass on him at No. 3 after trading Deron Williams, and Cavaliers fans would run for the ticket windows if the draft starts Irving-Kanter.
5. To me, the Cavaliers almost have to go big with that No. 4 pick -- even if Varejao and J.J. Hickson are still in the plans. Most of the Europeans are young and will need time to get used to the NBA game. Kanter probably has more polish on his offensive game than most, but sitting out an entire year has to take some toll, so even if he falls to the Cavs it's hard to see him as an immediate starter. The Cavs also have the second pick in the second round, No. 32, to look at a either a developmental player or a bench scoring option who might fall to the second because he's an inch too short or a step too slow. Again, with the situation wide open, the Cavs can feel good because they do have options and though they think they're closer to winning on some level right away, they're still several steps away from winning when it really counts. It is a franchise that was due some luck, though, and like Nick Gilbert said, "What's not to like?"
That's the question of the night, a night that could be the start of something good for the Cavaliers.