The lottery is done... We lost. Some people move on... But not us.
The Cleveland Cavaliers will have the fifth overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. While the top names like Zion Williamson, Ja Morant, and R.J. Barrett will likely be off the board, there is still some real potential to add a difference maker with their top pick.
But the top pick isn’t the only opportunity for the team to improve on draft night. The Cavs are armed with the No. 26 overall pick, the non-guaranteed deal of J.R. Smith and several other contracts that will be expiring next season. Assets they should use to aggressively attempt to move up to the middle of the first round.
To clarify, there are plenty of good options available with the team’s second first-round pick. While the high-end talent is shallow, this appears to be a year with a lot of skilled players that project to be solid contributors in a rotation. But without an ideal placement for the team’s first pick, they should try to move up and have their pick of the litter when it comes to the third and fourth tiers in the draft.
One of the things that makes this scenario feasible is the number of teams from 10-16 that could be motivated to shed some long-term salary. Atlanta, Minnesota, Charlotte, Miami, Detroit, Boston and Orlando all seem like potential partners if there is a player available that Cleveland feels is worth trading up for.
The most obvious candidate for a potential trade up would be the Miami Heat. The Heat want to go free agent hunting in the not too distant future. Parting with James Johnson, Kelly Olynyk or Dion Waiters in exchange for the non-guaranteed deal of Smith would have a significant impact on their ability to recruit in the 2020 offseason.
Out of the teams in that range, the Heat are the right mix of glamor market and bad contracts. While another rotation player at No. 26 would be nice, at No. 13 you would likely have a better chance at getting a future starter and a better chance of getting the player you want.
Brandon Clarke, Bol Bol, Jaxson Hayes, Kevin Porter Jr., Nassir Little or Nickeil Alexander-Walker all have the potential to be starting caliber players and would be great to pair alongside Collin Sexton, Cedi Osman and the fifth selection in this draft. Assuming they fall that far, that is.
Trying to get as many lottery tickets as possible for a high upside player while freeing up cap space for the Heat is something that benefits both sides. While having so many young players next season may hurt the overall record next season, it still likely would be a far more captivating product than last year.
Plus in the event that they overachieve alongside a healthy Kevin Love, we’ve already seen that under the new lottery odds you’re in play for one of the top players in the draft no matter how many games you win.
The cost to move up with the fifth pick simply would not be worth the squeeze. But if the cost to get into the late lottery is simply an unfavorable contract, the Cavs should aggressively pursue that as an option.