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NBA Draft: Will Dan Gilbert's pressure on Chris Grant keep the Cavs from selecting Nerlens Noel?

The Cleveland Cavaliers have a tremendous opportunity with the first pick in the NBA draft. For nearly the entire year Nerlens Noel has been the consensus top prospect. If he isn't ready to help the Cavs next season, will Cleveland pass him up?


This blog has three writers that consistently produce basketball writing, Conrad, who runs the blog, Sam Vecenie, and myself. Boosh produces our podcasts. We all want the Cavaliers to take Nerlens Noel. It isn't a slam dunk, and there are smart people who disagree with us, and I don't want to completely discount that. But as Jacob Rosen from Waiting For Next Year has pointed out, Noel really is the consensus number one pick. Are there injury concerns? Sure. But basketball players risk their knees every time they go out on the court. His doctor, who is pretty good at what he does, is optimistic.

The advanced stats, the eye test of watching Nerlens take over games with his defense alone, the fact that Cleveland desperately needs players who can help protect the paint, the fact that he is more advanced that Tristan Thompson was at a younger age all tell me that this is the correct pick for the Cavaliers for the long-term. I am equally convinced, however, that Nerlens Noel will do almost nothing to help the team win next season. I am more conservative than Conrad and Sam in terms of what we can even expect in year 2. I just think you need to be really patient with young bigs who are raw. None of this makes me think that Nerlens Noel isn't the right pick for the Cavaliers. I believe a core of Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson and Nerlens Noel can start challenging for titles in three years.

Does this mean the Cavaliers are doomed to the lottery for next season, or even after that? Do I want to tank for Julius Jabari Wiggins? Absolutely not. It is time to put a real bench together, for Waiters, Thompson, Zeller and yes, Kyrie Irving, to take steps forward. No one is asking Anderson Varejao or Irving to play 82 games, but they almost certainly will play more next season. Even if they don't, having a better bench will shield the team more than this past season when Zeller, Gee, and Walton, amongst others, were overexposed. Call me crazy, but adding a league average small forward, and a full season of Speights or other power forward is enough to get the Cavaliers to the playoffs, regardless of what the Cavaliers get next season from the draft.

But is this view shared by the man who has an opinion with a bit more than mine? Specifically, is Dan Gilbert losing patience with the rebuild, to the point where Noel's inability to help much next season will keep him from being the pick? Is there enough pressure on General Manager Chris Grant that he would take a theoretically more NBA ready player like Ben McLemore or Otto Porter? Both Dan and Nick Gilbert were adamant that next season they did not want to be at the lottery again. Now, I love Dan Gilbert. His willingness to spend money, his competitiveness, his pride in two cities that I love, Detroit and Cleveland, make me a big admirer. I also believe that if you own an NBA team for as long as he has, you would have to learn a lot about basketball. So Gilbert knows how it works to be successful in the NBA. But the pressure he is exerting on the Cavs front office is still extremely worrying for me.

In Kyler's mock draft at Hoopsworld, he has the Cavaliers selecting Porter 1st overall. Chad Ford puts the chances Cleveland takes Noel around 60-65%, a number that is very, very low in my opinion. Even if you are a big Porter fan, it has to be disconcerting to think that the owner is meddling and putting pressure on the GM to do things against the long-term best interests of the team. Sam Amico reports the Cavaliers are giving Ben Mclemore a strong look. Now, perhaps this is all due diligence, and Noel ultimately is the guy. But Dan Gilbert is a very hands on guy who has been remarkably hands off for three years now. The end of last season was very bitter for the Cavaliers players, fans, and front office. The coach was fired. Noel's knee injury might be a real concern, but it also gives Grant and Gilbert an easy out if they decide not to draft him.

This isn't an Andre Drummond situation. Noel has a high basketball IQ, produced at a ridiculously high level for an 18 year old in a tough conference, improved as the season went on, and is recovering from an injury that players routinely come back from. Maybe Chris Grant doesn't think Noel is the best player. If he doesn't, and selects someone else, I am going to have some serious questions about his ability to evaluate talent. Grant may select Porter thinking it will save his job; it would do a lot to convince me that he should lose it.