When the Cavaliers look at their big board before tonight’s NBA Draft, there will be an imaginary line of demarcation higher than usual. That line separates talented, impact players they like from everyone else — the warm bodies that simply fill up the ends of NBA rosters.
That number last year extended into the 20s. Two years ago, when the Cavs came away with Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson, their figure was 19. After an informal poll of executives from three different teams this week, this year’s figure is between 12 and 15. It’s the lowest number anyone can recall in years and a large reason why the Cavs’ plans for the No. 1 pick remain unclear.
General consensus among agents and executives from other teams is that the Cavs are debating between Maryland’s Alex Len and Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel for the top spot, but that means little since the Cavs have been known to surprise. Kansas’ Ben McLemore, Georgetown’s Otto Porter and UNLV’s Anthony Bennett are believed to be very much in the mix.
ESPN draft analyst Chad Ford believes Noel has been atop the Cavs’ draft board all season, which is why he is sticking with Noel as the Cavs’ choice tonight.
“He fits the criteria that I hear Cleveland talk about, about the best talent available, which is different than saying the best player available,” Ford said. “I think when they evaluated this draft, they didn’t see one player in this draft that they felt was going to be a starter on an Eastern Conference playoff team this year. So whoever they’re drafting, whether it’s Alex Len or Otto Porter or Ben McLemore or Anthony Bennett, the most likely scenario for them next season is they come off the bench. So if they’re going to come off the bench anyway and play a more limited role, then I think you take the best player available.”
It’s no secret, however, that the Cavs’ top priority is to trade the pick. That has been made difficult, however, by the muddled mess atop the draft and the overall lack of talent available.
Trade rumors involving the Cavs tore through the Internet Tuesday involving everyone from the New Orleans Pelicans to the Houston Rockets. Most of them are unfounded, according to league sources, although the Cavs continue to aggressively shop the pick.
One league source, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the discussions, said the Cavs are legitimately engaged in trade talks with at least five teams regarding the top pick. But the Cavs have yet to find a deal to their liking and are expected to simply stand pat and take the player at the top of their board — whomever that may be. As of late Wednesday night, no one within the organization was letting that secret slip.
Noel and McLemore are widely considered the top two prospects, but Noel’s extremely limited offensive game and questions surrounding McLemore’s decision-making off the court leave both players far from sure bets.
The fact there are only — at best — 15 impact players available poses a problem for the Cavs’ picks at Nos. 19, 31 and 33. One league source said this week the Dallas Mavericks continue to shop Shawn Marion around the league looking to unload his salary and the Cavs remain a possibility.
The Cavs are also interested in the Mavericks’ pick at No. 13, where they would be in a better position to draft Sergey Karasev, one of the stars from the Russian national team that took bronze at the Olympics last summer.
Karasev is a 6-foot-7 small forward with a smooth stroke and an NBA-ready game, but no one expects him to be available with the 19th pick. The Cavs are believed to be interested in him, but they’ll have to trade up to get him.
One rumor that was quickly dismissed was the Cavs trading their No. 19 pick to the Rockets for Thomas Robinson. The Cavs have not been interested in Robinson this summer, and that was re-enforced again Wednesday night. The Rockets are looking to dump him to create enough space for a max contract and a pursuit of Dwight Howard, but the Cavs would rather hold onto the 19th pick in an effort to trade up in tonight’s draft.
Jason Lloyd can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Cavs blog at http://www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.