INDEPENDENCE: For the better part of the last year, the Cavaliers have remained adamant that their rebuilding project will be slow and methodical. Proof of that came at Thursday's NBA Draft, when their first two picks duplicated the two deepest positions on the roster and the third was traded away for future draft picks.
The Cavs selected Duke point guard Kyrie Irving with the first overall pick in the draft, then surprised everyone by taking Texas freshman power forward Tristan Thompson with the fourth overall pick.
They took Richmond senior Justin Harper with the 32nd pick, then traded him to the Orlando Magic for second-round picks in 2013 and 2014. With the 54th pick, the Cavs selected Milan Macvan from Serbia, who will remain in Europe next season.
Irving joins a crowded backcourt that includes veteran point guards Baron Davis and Ramon Sessions, although Irving is clearly the future of the position. Thompson joins veterans Antawn Jamison and J.J. Hickson at power forward. Jamison is entering the final year on his contract and Hickson enjoyed a breakout season during his third in the league, averaging 13.8 points and 8.7 rebounds.
''From early on, we made a decision drafting that high that we were going to take the two best players, the two best talents and the two best humans,'' General Manager Chris Grant said. ''These guys are not just good people, they're fantastic people. That means a lot to us.''
The decision to select Thompson was a surprise, but the Cavs have been high on him since the college basketball season. They watched him in a private workout against Enes Kanter earlier this month and brought him back on Monday for a second look and ultimately selected him over Lithuanian center Jonas Valanciunas.
''He's a high-level shot blocker, he plays above the rim,'' Grant said. ''Put him with Kyrie, who is a playmaking distributor, and we feel that's a unique combination.''
The Cavs were high on Valanciunas throughout the scouting process. Grant took two visits to Lithuania to personally scout him, and DraftExpress.com reported he was in Cleveland for a visit earlier this week.
But Valanciunas has a sticky European contract that was likely going to prevent him from coming to the NBA right away. The Cavs were willing to wait for him, but remained adamant they wouldn't take him unless they knew explicitly when he would be available.
Two hours before the draft, the Cavs still weren't comfortable with the terms of the buyout and ultimately shifted their focus to Thompson, who averaged 13.1 points and 7.8 rebounds while earning Big 12 Freshman of the Year honors.
Thompson, 20, is considered a good athlete and good defender who has to work on his shot.
As for Hickson, he is entering the final year of his rookie contract and would seem to be in line for a big raise on his next deal. He has been shopped by the Cavs in recent days, according to two league sources, but the Cavs were asking for multiple first-round picks in return.
Thompson went to high school with Cavs forward Samardo Samuels and trained for the draft with former Cavs coach John Lucas over the past few months.
''Being reunited with Samardo definitely warms my heart and . . . coach Lucas is a mentor to me,'' Thompson said. ''I'm excited to get to Cleveland.''
His relationship with Irving dates back to high school, and he said he feels Irving is ''like a brother'' to him.
Together, they are the new face of the franchise.
Irving was projected to be the top pick all along, but the Cavs kept him in suspense until the final minute. Irving didn't find out he was the top pick until NBA Commissioner David Stern announced his name from the podium.
''I really want to be the cornerstone, the piece of the team that they build around and have a lot of great players around,'' Irving said. ''I can't wait.''
That's the Cavs' plan — to methodically rebuild this roster through the draft. There is still plenty of work to be done.
Sessions' agent, Chubby Wells, told the Beacon Journal two weeks ago he expected Sessions to be moved if and when the Cavs selected Irving. The Cavs are believed to have offered Sessions to the Sacramento Kings prior to the draft as part of a deal that would've brought Francisco Garcia and the Kings' seventh pick.
The trade would've alleviated an additional $12 million off the cash-strapped Kings' books, but they instead traded the pick as part of a three-team deal with the Charlotte Bobcats and Milwaukee Bucks.
In Irving, the Cavs get the player widely considered the best available in what was a thin talent pool. The Cavs were the only team for which Irving worked out, and they did a thorough job.
They worked him out for 21/2 hours, did a deep medical inspection on his surgically repaired right toe and dug into his background, only to find he is the high-character guy everyone thought he was.
Irving is 6-3, good size for a point guard, and he comes with a polished jump shot. That was obvious during his workout with the Cavs, when he beat coach Byron Scott in a shooting drill. Scott, who often beat Cavs players in shooting drills during practices last season, rallied to win the second game.
''He got lucky,'' Irving joked.
''I had to let him win one,'' Scott said. ''I told him I'll have more beatings for him later.''
The Cavs left the draft unable to use their $14.5 million trade exception acquired in the LeBron James deal. The draft represented the final chance to really use it before the lockout begins on July 1.
The Cavs technically will have 11 days left to use it once the lockout begins, but they won't know until after it is lifted whether or not they'll get those 11 days back. The Cavs actively tried using it in the days leading up to the draft, but found that most teams' bad contracts that would've fit under the exception were already moved last summer in preparation for that stellar free-agent class.