It’s NBA Draft Week, and the Cavaliers are on the clock. Cleveland has eliminated Joel Embiid as a candidate for the top overall pick. According to sources, the Cavaliers currently have Jabari Parker rated above Andrew Wiggins by a razor-thin margin.
Both small forwards were in Cleveland last week, and while Wiggins was more impressive than Parker, the Cavs are intrigued by Parker’s ability to make an impact as a rookie.
There is still a chance the Cavs could opt for Wiggins, but there is a sense that Parker is a better fit with the current roster of talent and could blend with whatever free agents the Cavs pursue this summer – like LeBron James.
The Cavs are still considering trades and have broached the topic with the 76ers (third pick), Magic (fourth) and Jazz (fifth) but no deal is likely to be consummated before draft night, if at all.
Embiid’s stock continues to slip as a result of the stress fracture in his foot. Teams are leery of selecting Embiid, who will be out 4-6 months. His new range seems to be 4-6, a stark contrast from just a week ago, and he has lost a boatload of money.
The top pick will earn a rookie salary of $5.51 million. The No. 5 pick will earn $3.61 million. And that is just in Year 1 of a four-year rookie scale deal.
Taken out over the full four years, the No. 1 pick will earn roughly $22 million to the No. 5 pick’s $14.3 million. So Friday’s surgical procedure could cost Embiid something in the neighborhood of $8 million.
Or more. It depends how far he falls.
In the wake of Embiid’s surgery, teams were very concerned about the foot injury. This is the same sort of injury that ended Yao Ming’s career, derailed Zydrunas Ilgauskas in multiple seasons, sidelined Brook Lopez last season and even hampered Bill Walton and Kevin McHale.
Word began to spread from Embiid’s camp that the surgery was successful and his recovery could be four to six months. It is not out of the realm of possibility that the team that selects Embiid sits him the entire season – just like Philadelphia did with Nerlens Noel – to ensure that he suffers no setbacks. One executive said Embiid is effectively off their draft board.
As I reported Thursday, the Cavs and Jazz have discussed a Derrick Favors deal that would include a pick swap, and Philadelphia has been linked to the Cavs with a reported offer of Thaddeus Young to entice Cleveland to drop two spots to No. 3.
The Kevin Love sweepstakes have hit a standstill as Golden State, the early frontrunner, has refused to include Klay Thompson while Minnesota insists on his inclusion. Word is spreading that the Warriors are discussing a trade of Thompson to the Lakers for the seventh overall pick that would be used as part of a package to acquire Love.
Also, the Sacramento Kings are very open to dealing the eighth pick and have been looking to upgrade over Isaiah Thomas. One potential deal to watch is the New Orleans Pelicans sending Jrue Holiday to the Kings for the pick. The Pelicans have been looking for a pick in the first round and have been shopping Holiday.
Here is how I see the draft going:
1. Jabari Parker, SF, Duke, 6’8″, 235 lbs
Once again, I am going with Parker to the Cavs. According to several sources I spoke with, the Cavs have Parker slightly ahead of Wiggins, but it is a fluid situation. As of this moment the Cavaliers – if they make this pick – will be only considering these two prospects. The decision of Parker over Wiggins is based on Parker being more NBA-ready, having an versatile offensive repertoire that could mesh with both Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters and a certain four-time MVP who could be opting out of Miami this summer. The Cavs will remain open to trading the pick up until the draft, but if they stay put, expect them to tab Parker.
2. Andrew Wiggins, SF, Kansas, 6’8″, 200 lbs
Philadelphia is hot for Wiggins and would be devastated to see this shake out, Milwaukee prefers Parker but will not pass on Wiggins if he is there at 2. Bucks GM John Hammond needs to show improvement right away under new owner Wes Edens. Wiggins is a lockdown defender who will be excellent in transition. Combined with Giannis Antetokounmpo and Larry Sanders, Milwaukee would have one of the fiercest defensive lineups in the league. If the Cavs opt for Wiggins, then the Bucks would happily rush the podium to grab Parker.
For the third straight Mock I have Exum going to Philly if it doesn’t trade up to get Wiggins. Exum had an excellent workout in Philadelphia according to reports and may be the perfect fit alongside Michael Carter-Williams. Exum is the top international prospect in the draft. Any team looking for help at point guard surely will be intrigued by his size, athleticism and basketball IQ. Exum has the length and athleticism to also slide over to shooting guard, which should add to his value. Exum was the top prospect to appear at the combine and has shown the athleticism and polish necessary to secure his position as the top prospect of the second tier. I see the 76ers choosing between Exum and Marcus Smart, if they don’t move up.
4. Joel Embiid, C, Kansas, 7’0″, 250 lbs
There is a chance Exum going to the 76ers could create a run on point guards, and the Magic do like Marcus Smart. However, Rob Hennigan can’t pass on a player with Embiid’s potential to pair with Nikola Vucevic and Victor Oladipo. There is a slight chance Embiid could slip past here if doctors are concerned with his foot, but I feel strongly that this is his spot as of now. Smart is very much in play here for the Magic. No player’s stock is as volatile right now as Embiid’s. The Magic are a possibility to trade up with Cleveland and have the assets with the 4 and 12 picks and Arron Afflalo.
Only 19 and blessed with excellent size, length and good athleticism, Vonleh is a prospect who is moving up boards after an impressive NBA combine in which he showcased special skills as a big that can play inside or out and handle the ball. Still raw offensively, Vonleh has the physical measurables that teams salivate over. While Vonleh is still raw, he has flashed enough potential that it will be hard to pass for many teams. While Smart is a possibility, I think Vonleh is the choice. Pairing him alongside Favors would be wise as they could play well off of one another. There are rumblings of the Jazz willing to move up to grab Parker.
6. Marcus Smart, PG, Oklahoma State, 6’4″, 220 lbs
One year ago, Smart might have been the top pick in the draft but opted to return for a disappointing sophomore season, highlighted by an embarrassing on-court incident when he shoved a fan in the middle of the game. While most scouts I have spoken to said it’s a teachable moment for a young man, there will be some who might have reservations about Smart’s maturity. As a basketball player, Smart is physical, athletic and a competitor. The Celtics will be active and could try to move up to get Embiid if he slips, but with their attempts to trade Rajon Rondo in the past, grabbing Smart would be wise. Aaron Gordon is a possibility as well.
7. Julius Randle, PF, Kentucky, 6’9″, 250 lbs
After an impressive freshman campaign highlighted by the Wildcats’ run in March, Randle is right on the cusp of the top five. Executives around the league continue to ask about Randle’s shot selection, as he tended to make questionable decisions at times as a freshman. Randle still needs to be coached up, but if he is, he could reach his potential, comparing favorably to Zach Randolph. While Randle’s biggest wart is ball security, that can be easily fixed, and it’s hard to imagine a team passing on him. Playing alongside Kobe Bryant could be great and Randle could be the first post-Kobe building block for the Lakers. Rumors are circulating that the Lakers could swap this pick with Golden State for Klay Thompson.
Looking at Gordon, it’s hard not to get excited about his potential as he is an athletic and explosive forward. From a size standpoint, he is an undersized 4, but as teams start to open up offensively they can create mismatches with Gordon’s athleticism. Gordon reminds me a lot of Blake Griffin, and I can see some team in the high to mid-lottery falling in love with his highlight reel dunks. Others see a Shawn Marion type of super-athletic forward that can be a matchup nightmare. Coming from a family of athletes, Gordon has an impressive basketball IQ and is savvy beyond his years. The Kings are said to love Gordon and covet him but a trade for a point guard is possible with this pick and Doug McDermott is gaining traction here. I see Gordon’s upside as too hard to pass on.