For Cleveland Cavaliers, the end of the season cannot come soon enough. With how putrid the team has team has played as of late, it is completely understandable. The Cavaliers are the third-worst team in the NBA, and injuries to Kyrie Irving, Anderson Varejao and Dion Waiters have made this team incredibly hard to watch.
And as you may know, the Los Angeles Lakers are the unofficial Cleveland sports franchise, as they try to lock down the eighth seed in the Western Conference. If they can make the playoffs, the Cavaliers will receive their first-round draft pick.
Even though that potential first-round draft pick will be outside of the lottery, it’s a very valuable pick. That pick makes the Cavaliers first pick (which is more than likely to be in the Top 5) even more valuable.
This is for several reasons. First off, look at the prospects likely to available at the top of the draft: Nerlens Noel, Otto Porter, Victor Oladipo and Ben McLemore. These players are unquestionably the cream of the crop in this year’s class, but I have my doubts that any one of them is a franchise changing talent. There is clear risk with each and every one of them.
This is especially true with Noel, who is probably the player with the highest upside in the entire draft due to his ability to defend the paint. But here’s the catch: he’s coming off major knee surgery and it’s not clear when he will be able to play again.
Let’s say the Lakers fail to make the playoffs and the Cavaliers are in a position to draft Noel. I am already on record as saying I pass on the Kentucky product for a variety of reasons, but without that second pick as a fallback, it’s a huge risk to take Noel – but general manager Chris Grant might have to.
And that’s the whole problem with not having that fallback plan. Only having that first pick will make this draft a complete hit or miss. That player selected will have a large amount of pressure on their shoulders to develop quickly alongside Irving and become a key player on this team. That player will be immediately viewed as a member of the rotation and be counted upon to take the Cavaliers to the next level.
And let’s say that the pick is after Noel and Porter are off the board. No other player that high in the draft is a perfect fit for this team like those do are. Oladipo, for example, is fantastic talent, but does he bring anything to the Cavaliers that does not already exist? The same goes for McLemore. And with that point, you’d have to consider trading down – but who would really consider that? And what team is going to trade up a few spots to take player that is not going to turn around their franchise?
But imagine if that second pick is there and the Lakers are indeed in the playoffs. A pick where the Cavaliers select Noel is less of a risk because another player could soften the blow if the Kentucky product doesn’t work out. It also adds two talented players – regardless of positions – to a team that desperately needs talent. Players like Daniel “Boobie” Gibson and Luke Walton are fine to fill roster space on a low-level team, but as the Cavaliers continue to march toward improvement, they aren’t going to cut it.
That’s why this second pick means so much to the Cavaliers. With it, they will have the flexibility to take a chance on a player and, at the very worst, will add two young players they like. A perfect example is last year’s draft, where Waiters and Tyler Zeller were both selected in the first round. While both have struggled at times, they have shown improvement and flashed real potential at times. That’s what the Cavaliers need again come this June.
But if the Lakers do fall short, it’s going to get interesting. Who to take becomes cloudier than ever with so many holes to fill. There is not a player on the board that is a slam-dunk pick. There is no insurance policy – it’s all or nothing.
And that’s why, if you are a Cavaliers fan, you are now a Kobe Bryant fan. Replace the Wine and Gold with the Purple and Yellow for these next few weeks. Any game they win is really a win for Cleveland – and their draft strategy.