For the second time in three years, the Cleveland Cavaliers left the NBA draft lottery with the No. 1 overall selection. When the Cavaliers landed the top pick in 2011 and selected point guard Kyrie Irving, it started the franchise's rebirth in the wake of LeBron James' decision to sign with the Miami Heat as a free agent in the summer of 2010. Now, the Cavs will have the opportunity to surround Irving with another major talent.
High draft picks are nothing new for the Cavaliers. The team selected forward Tristan Thompson No. 4 overall in 2011 and tabbed shooting guard Dion Waiters with the fourth pick last season, both of which were surprising selections. Cleveland's front office has stated a public goal of making the playoffs next season, though that achievement will likely hinge more on the health of Irving and the development of Waiters and Thompson than whatever the team does with the No. 1 overall selection.
With four choices in the first 33 picks, the Cavaliers will have a major opportunity to overhaul the direction of the franchise. Aside from the No. 1 overall selection they were awarded in the lottery, the Cavs will also choose No. 19 in the first round, a pick that originally belonged to the Lakers. The Cavs received the pick after using the option they had of swapping the first-round pick they received from the Heat in the LeBron James sign-and-trade in a deal that involved Luke Walton and Ramon Sessions in 2012.
Point guard: Kyrie Irving, Daniel Gibson (free agent) Shaun Livingston (free agent), Chris Quinn (non-guaranteed)
Shooting guard: Dion Waiters, Wayne Ellington (restricted free agent), C.J. Miles (non-guaranteed)
Power forward: Tristan Thompson, Marreese Speights (player option), Kevin Jones (non-guaranteed)
Luke Walton and Daniel Gibson are the only notable free agents for the Cavaliers, and neither played a vital role for the team last season. Both Walton and Gibson are not figured to be brought back.
The Cavaliers have two clear needs: center and small forward. Varejao has held down the middle in Cleveland for nine seasons, but the now-30-year-old big man has been severely limited by injuries the last three years. The Cavs are sure to target a rim protector with one of their four picks, even if they used the No. 17 overall selection in the last draft on Tyler Zeller.
At small forward, Alonzo Gee was decidedly unspectacular last season, averaging 10.3 points and 3.9 rebounds per game on 41 percent shooting from the floor. The conventional wisdom says Cleveland will use its first selection on a center and its second a small forward who can defend and and stretch the floor with perimeter shooting.
Nerlens Noel (scouting report) is recovering from a torn ACL, but the Kentucky center is the most popular pick in mock drafts for the Cavaliers' No. 1 selection. Noel weighed in at only 206 pounds at the draft combine in Chicago, but shouldn't have any problems getting his playing weight back around the 225 pounds he played at while in college. Noel's offensive game is far from refined, but he is expected make an immediate impact defensively whenever he's ready to take the floor. Noel averaged 4.4 blocks per game as a freshman in Lexington and is thought to have excellent shot blocking instincts.
If the Cavs decide to go in another direction with the top pick, there are three other candidates: Georgetown small forward Otto Porter (scouting report), Maryland center Alex Len (scouting report) and Kansas shooting guard Ben McLemore (scouting report).
Porter is a ready-made defensive ace who draws comparisons to Tayshaun Prince or Andrei Kirilenko thanks to his huge arms and large frame. Len bested Noel in a head-to-head meeting in November, but is unable to work out thanks to a partial stress fracture in his left ankle. Selecting McLemore would register as a bit of a head-scratcher for Cleveland since they used the No. 4 pick on Waiters last season, but the Kansas guard is thought to have the prototypical tools for a pro shooting guard.
Candidates for the Cavaliers' No. 19 pick include Russian small forward Sergey Karasev (scouting report), Greek swingman Giannis Adetokunbo (scouting report) and North Carolina wing Reggie Bullock (scouting report).