INDEPENDENCE: This time, Dan Gilbert made sure he got his man. Time will tell whether or not he’s correct.
A billionaire who owns more than 70 companies and has made his fortune swinging for the fences and believing in upside now believes in Andrew Wiggins.
The Cavaliers selected Wiggins first overall in Thursday’s NBA Draft because, by all accounts, he has a higher upside than Jabari Parker. And Gilbert loves upside.
The Cavs’ scouting department felt differently. They had Parker ranked ahead of Wiggins throughout the season, multiple sources have confirmed, but Wiggins is headed to Cleveland as another terrific young piece that now gives the Cavs five players who have been selected in the top four of the past four drafts.
The selection certainly isn’t a reach. Wiggins was projected to go No. 1 overall in this draft for at least the past year, but Cavs executives were intrigued with Parker’s scoring, had little concern he could handle the small forward position and didn’t seem scared off by Parker’s lack of interest in coming to Cleveland.
One source with knowledge of the Cavs’ draft plans said late Tuesday night that Gilbert preferred Wiggins. History perhaps indicates why.
Gilbert wanted Victor Oladipo last year, according to multiple sources, but deferred to a front office that instead drafted Anthony Bennett.
The Cavs’ front office viewed Oladipo as an athletic, high-motor guy who lacked a discernible skill. Bennett, meanwhile, was viewed as a tweener who arrived overweight and struggled through a miserable rookie season.
Wiggins and Parker certainly have brighter futures than both Oladipo and Bennett. But when Parker showed up for his Cavs workout overweight, and with questions around the league regarding what position he plays, the comparisons to the Bennett situation last year were inevitable. And Gilbert apparently didn’t want another replay of the Oladipo/Bennett situation.
Now the focus shifts to Wiggins and whether his presence, along with Kyrie Irving, can lure Miami Heat star LeBron James back to Cleveland. Within hours of becoming a member of the Cavs, Wiggins was asked repeatedly about the possibility of playing alongside James.
“I want to win,” Wiggins said. “If he wants to win, we’d be good together.”
James will become a free agent next week and the Cavs will push hard to re-sign him, but the 19-year-old Wiggins isn’t going to start trying to recruit the world’s best player.
“I wouldn’t want to sell him on nothing. He’s a grown man,” Wiggins said. “He’s going to follow wherever his heart is. I’d tell him to follow his heart and whatever he wants to do, go through with it.”
Wiggins is electrifyingly athletic. He can run faster and soar higher than any other player in this draft. But the Cavs have concerns over how hard he plays and how much he’ll develop offensively — although General Manager David Griffin told ESPN after the pick the Cavs view Wiggins’ tenacious defense as a skill set.
He’ll fit in immediately at small forward, filling a position that has been a glaring need since James departed four years ago.
Regardless of who the Cavs selected, they have a nucleus that can grow and win together if James returns or not. Certainly James would make them an instant contender, but provided Irving signs an extension this summer, the Cavs could eventually contend with Irving and Wiggins carrying the franchise.
“All our scouts felt he had the most upside,” Griffin said of Wiggins. So did Gilbert.
Let’s hope he’s right.
Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Cavs blog at www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at www.facebook.com/abj.sports.