From now until the NBA Draft on June 26, we'll be looking at the options of the teams picking based on their likely menu of choices, draft or trade. We begin today with the No. 1 overall pick, the Cleveland Cavaliers, and how they'll go about trying to turn three No. 1 picks into a contender.
If the Cavs decide to keep the No. 1 pick
Draft Joel Embiid: Embiid is the hot ticket after a string of workouts showed that he can at least move. As far as our knowledge at this point, Embiid hasn't had a full physical by an independent doctor or team physician, and the back issue remains an unknown. But let's say, for the sake of argument, that his back checks out 100 percent, everyone clears him and he's good to go. He goes No. 1 because NBA personnel: 1. Know the value of a dominant big man historically; 2. Know the impact a skilled big man can have on an offense by drawing double-teams; and 3. Don't want to be the guy who misses out on him.
So what happens next? You can start Anderson Varejao and Embiid, but that's going to be a pretty clogged-up lane, and Varejao could bring you substantial wing upgrades on the perimeter. But this is the Cavs. I will believe they trade Anderson Varejao when I see him active in another uniform, and even then I'm going to be concerned I'm in some sort of coma dream.
Let's say they trade Varejao for a wing, and use the savings to re-sign Luol Deng to a big deal. Starting five: Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, Luol Deng, Tristan Thompson or Anthony Bennett if he develops, and Embiid. Run the offense through a two-man game with Embiid and Irving, or Waiters. Not for nothing, but the triangle would work pretty well there. If you've got a quality third scoring wing, you can either start him and bring Waiters off the bench (where Waiters was killer last year) or bring that player off the bench with Bennett and/or Thompson for balance.
If they keep Varejao, your plan is basically to put Varejao in clean-up role where he could be fantastic. A veteran to show the kid the ropes and hey, I've just talked myself into keeping Varejao if they draft Embiid. As you can see, drafting Embiid gives them a ton of options.
Draft Andrew Wiggins: "In case of bad Embiid MRI, break glass, draft Wiggins." This is the safe pick, which is odd because he's the least NBA-ready. Embiid can do things by virtue of being big and Parker by virtue of being skilled, whereas Julius Randle can be effective just by being a ruthless bully. But Wiggins may legitimately take three to four years to develop an identity and a skillset to go with it. But Wiggins also has the highest upside. If he develops a shot, his athleticism is going to make him unstoppable. If he can keep up mentally, he's going to be an elite defender. And he can go from stripe to stripe in what feels like four strides.
And he fits exceptionally well on the Cavaliers. Irving has long needed a long, athletic finisher to run the floor with him, and Wiggins would give that. He can play at two or three and cross-match with Waiters. He can run the pick and roll if Irving is off the floor, and can use his athleticism to primarily cut. If he's just "the perimeter athletic threat you have to commit to" that's still, conceptually, a good fit. And for a guy with questions about his aggressiveness and handle, fitting between Irving and Waiters will provide him cover.
Is it weird to draft a No. 1 pick to be your third fiddle? Not if it gets the job done, and if that No. 3 option evolves into your No. 1, all the better ... especially if, ahem, things don't work out with Kyrie Irving.
Draft Jabari Parker: This is a little more complicated. If you see him as a four, do you draft him when you have Varejao, Thompson and Bennett? If you see him as a ball-dominant three, do you draft him with Waiters on the roster? Parker seems actually less likely than the alternative ...
Draft someone completely random because they're the Cavaliers: I mean, come on, outside of trading the pick for Love with no guarantee of an extension in a desperate effort to get LeBron, this is something the Cavs would totally do, right? That they just go crazy and pick a guy who won them over in workouts? The options are not good, because the candidates (Randle, Dante Exum, Noah Vonleh) don't make any sense, but once again, it's the Cavs.
Randle is the highest of the choices, but you don't take a player with less upside at a position you are four-deep at. Exum would be a bold, bold choice that would put pressure on Irving to step up, and move Waiters to the three. Vonleh would be completely insane, but he does have the highest absolute ceiling (though he's far less likely to hit it) of any player not named Embiid or Wiggins. If you don't like Embiid's back issues or Wiggins' aggressiveness ...
Marcus Smart or Doug McDermott would make the Internet explode. Smart actually fits as a combo-guard to play with Irving, but you'd have to think they'd trade down. Same thing with McDermott. You could easily trade down to get either.
It seems exceptionally unlikely, even for the Cavs, that they wouldn't go Embiid, Wiggins or Parker. Unless ...
If the Cavaliers decide to trade the No. 1 pick:
Trade for Kevin Love: This of course is the most alluring option. Moving the No. 1 pick for Minnesota Timberwolves star Kevin Love. That's the only player really known to be available that the Cavs could target. You trade for Love with the understanding he can leave in a year, and then hope that lures LeBron in free agency. It's a crazy idea, but it's also a phenomenally bold idea that's at least plausible. Any hope of capturing Love without including the No. 1 pick would be seen as folly.
The Cavaliers would also likely have to surrender some other player along with the pick. That's based off the fact that Love is an established superstar. The No. 1 pick has the potential to be a superstar and even the potential to be better than Love. But established, current value trumps that potential, and so you have to make up for it, along with salary concerns. Thompson, Waiters and Varejao would likely have to be on the table for inclusion.
Trade down: Say the Cavaliers really love the idea of McDermott with Varejao. They can move down to somewhere between the sixth and eighth picks, and likely pick up another pick, this season or next. Wasting that No. 1 is a crazy idea, but I would remind you that the Cavaliers want to win now. Their purpose has been clear. Unless there's been a radical shift in the organization's approach, patience has never been interesting to them.