As soon as the Charlotte Bobcats were announced to have the 4th pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, possibilities starting running through my head. With the Cleveland Cavalier's card yet to appear, we knew that they had a Top 3 pick and a chance to be even better than that. For those of you who don't know, I have maintained that there are really three players that I thought would be excellent fits on the Cavs: Nerlens Noel, Otto Porter, and Alex Len. With a Top 3 pick in hand, they were guaranteed one of these players.
But it got better.
The absurdly long ESPN show came back from commercial and they announced that the Washington Wizards had the 3rd overall pick. And then the Orlando Magic had the 2nd overall pick. It took me a second to realize what had happened, but then I was like...AHA! The Cavaliers had won the NBA Draft Lottery and had the 1st overall pick in the upcoming draft. I did a little fist-pump. It was a good night.
I have been on the Nerlens Noel bandwagon for a long time. During the middle of the season, I wrote that Noel would be the no-brainer top pick for the Cavs if they had the chance. Well now the Cavs have that chance I think they should, uh, take it.
There are plenty of other options. There have been rumors that the Cavs will investigate the trade market to see what the Cavs can get in exchange for the #1 pick. The Cavs could also draft someone other than Noel. Otto Porter, Ben McLemore, and others are highly talented prospects. Furthermore, those guys aren't coming off ACL surgery and would be healthy at the very beginning of the season. But I'm here to tell you that we should ignore those options. Well, not completely ignore those options, but mostly ignore them. I'm sure we'll discuss all of these things in the coming weeks before the NBA Draft on June 27th, but I want to get some preliminary arguments out of the way, if only to let you guys know where I stand on the issue.
Trading the #1 pick
There's the idea that the Cavaliers will try to trade the pick for an established veteran player. I'll admit, this isn't a terrible idea at first glance. We're all tired of seeing the Cavs lose a ton of games and we're tired of young players making stupid mistakes. Adding an established all-star caliber player instead of another 19 year old rookie is fairly appealing. But in order to follow this option, there has to be an appropriate trade opportunity. In other words, which established veteran star are you trading for?
And ultimately, that's not a rhetorical question. I really would like some more ideas about this. But where we stand now, I just don't think there's a reasonable trade to be made. The Cavs have expressed interest in trading for Kevin Love but that's not happening. Love didn't like David Kahn. David Kahn is gone. Love was representing the Minnesota Timberwolves at the NBA Draft Lottery. He talked to reporters and said he was excited about the future of the team. He's not getting traded. The other hot target is LaMarcus Aldridge. I don't think this one is very likely either, although I will admit that trading for Aldridge is probably slightly more likely than trading for Kevin Love. Aldridge would be a great fit next to Kyrie Irving, but that doesn't explain why the Blazers would trade him. Furthermore, the Blazers have been looking for a young center to play next to Aldridge since he would rather be playing power forward. They could certainly get that young center with the first overall pick by selecting Nerlens Noel....but then they wouldn't have LaMarcus Aldridge. That doesn't really work now does it? If the Cavs could work out a trade for Aldridge without giving up much more than the #1 pick, you could probably convince me that it was the best move. But other than that type of deal, I'm not sure what other trade opportunities are on the table. You're not trading the top pick for Eric Gordon and the other young stars, such as Paul George, Greg Monroe, or DeMarcus Cousins, are either totally unavailable or not worth the #1 pick. There's a lot of time before the draft and it's possible that another team could make another young star available before then, but I'm not seeing it right now.
I guess I'm not opposed to trading the #1 pick for an established player in theory, I just don't see how it could be made a practical option. Chris Grant has said that they are open to all options and I certainly encourage that. By all means, keep making phone calls and listening to possible deals. But in the end, I'd only really be interested in trading the pick for an actual all star level player. I'm not trading the pick for Nic Batum or Pau Gasol. It would have to be a really good deal and it seems unlikely to happen at this point. ESPN's Chad Ford pointed out in his chat yesterday that interest for the #1 pick wasn't very high. And that's okay with me.
Drafting someone other than Nerlens Noel
This is another option. The Cavs don't need to take Noel and there are certainly several other prospects that would look good in Wine and Gold. Personally, I have a hard time believing that any of these players are better prospects than Noel, but there are some decent arguments. The most common argument is that Nerlens Noel won't make much of an immediate impact. He's coming off ACL surgery and won't be back until Christmas. And even once he gets back, he's still quite raw offensively and needs to bulk up significantly in order to be the impact player that we want him to be. But if he's the best longterm prospect, why does that matter?
Cavs fans are tired of losing. I get that. I'm certainly tired of losing as well. With the #1 pick in the draft, it's assumed that the Cavs should be able to draft someone to make a difference and change the fact that they've been a horrible team for the past three seasons. Unfortunately, I just don't think that's the case. Even if Nerlens were healthy, he probably wouldn't have that effect. Adding someone like Otto Porter probably doesn't do that either. Porter will at least be healthy to start the season and looks to be the perfect fit next to Dion Waiters and Kyrie Irving -- but would whatever short-term impact that Porter has be worth passing on the long-term potential of a dominant shot-blocker like Noel? Rookies are rarely very good players. For comparisons sake, let's suppose that Otto Porter has roughly the same rookie season as Harrison Barnes. Barnes had a PER of 11.0 and averaged roughly 13 points and 6 rebounds per 36 minutes. Maybe Porter would be better defensively and maybe he'd be more efficient, but I think those are fairly reasonable expectations for his rookie season. Does that cause the Cavs to jump from a terrible lottery team to a "win-now" team? I don't think so.
If we continue looking at the Golden State Warriors, what was the main cause of their improvement this year? Actually I'll give you three reasons and none of them are Harrison Barnes. First, they improved defensively. A lot of that has to do with their coach, Mark Jackson. They had an increased focus on the defensive end of the floor. The Cavaliers can certainly make a similar improvement in that area. After all, that's why they hired Mike Brown. Second, they got contributions from some cheap veteran free agents. Carl Landry and Jarrett Jack made a big difference to the Warriors. They provided depth, toughness, and experience that the Warriors needed. We'll have an article later this week detailing some of the veteran free agents that the Cavaliers could sign without compromising their long-term flexibility, but I assure you that there are similar signings to be made. Free agency doesn't have to be about signing Dwight Howard or LeBron James. You can find reliable and solid players that will be more than willing to play in Cleveland. The last and perhaps most significant reason for the Warriors' improvement was internal improvement. David Lee played better than he had in the past and Stephen Curry obviously reached an entirely new level. Cleveland's roster is chock full of young talent. There is every reason to expect that guys like Tyler Zeller, Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters, and Kyrie Irving will continue to get better.
Why does any of this matter when talking about the draft? I guess my main point is that the Cavs have the ability to improve and get out of the cellar without the draft. Through those three avenues, the Cavs can become a 40-win team without relying on the contributions of the #1 overall pick. If you accept the notion that Nerlens Noel is the best long-term prospect (and I think it's fairly clear at this point), any player that you draft instead of Noel needs to have a huge impact in their rookie year. By my estimation, that player doesn't exist in the 2013 NBA Draft.
The Cavs could, in theory, trade down and pick up some other assets. But this would require two things: 1) a team willing to give up a top-10 pick plus another asset in order to move up to the #1 pick and 2) the Cavs having incredible interest in another prospect that they know they can get wherever they end up. Truthfully, I have a hard time believing that either of those things will happen.
Just. Take. Nerlens.
Here's the TL;DR version: just take Nerlens Noel. The Cavs have lots of options, but none of them are obviously better than the opportunity of taking one of the most dominant shot-blockers and athletic big men that I've ever seen. Yes, he's skinny and he's coming off an ACL injury. But once the Cavs get a chance to talk to his doctors and confirm that his recovery is on track, I don't see any option that would benefit the Cavaliers more in the long-term while still having the potential to improve significantly in the short-term.
Dear Chris Grant,
Just take Nerlens Noel.