October 2, 2014

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NBA draft: Cavaliers pull surprise, take Syracuse’s Dion Waiters at No. 4, then deal rest of picks for North Carolina’s Tyler Zeller

INDEPENDENCE — The Cavaliers did in fact trade three picks Thursday night to move up in the NBA Draft. But not for the No. 2 pick.

Unable to complete a deal with Charlotte for Florida shooting guard Bradley Beal, the Cavs kept their choice at No. 4 and provided a mini-shocker by selecting 6-foot-4, 221-pound Syracuse shooting guard Dion Waiters.

Cleveland then traded its three remaining choices, Nos. 24, 33 and 34, to Dallas for the rights to 7-0½ North Carolina center Tyler Zeller, originally chosen by the Mavericks at No. 17.

“We had a very good day today in Cavalierland, if you will,” Cavs general manager Chris Grant said. “We added two very good young players who have a chance to be high-level contributors to this organization.”

Waiters averaged 6.6 points in 16.3 minutes a game as a freshman and 12.6 points in 24.1 minutes as a sophomore. The Philadelphia native, who was not in the top half-dozen picks in any reputable national mock draft until a day before the proceedings, had nine points on 2-for-8 shooting and 5-for-6 from the line as Syracuse lost to Ohio State in the 2012 NCAA Tournament.

“We don’t really care where the guys get picked as long as they’re the right picks for us,” Grant said.

Not lacking confidence, Waiters described himself as a “physical, athletic, competitive” player who plays “with swagger.”

“I don’t have any weaknesses in my game,” he said in a conference call. “I’m a hard worker.”

The Big East Sixth Man Award winner last season, the 20-year-old did not start any of the 71 games in which he appeared at Syracuse, where he shot .453 from the field, .348 on 3-pointers and .753 at the line over his two-year career.

Waiters clashed with veteran Orangemen coach Jim Boeheim on several occasions, but also drew extremely high praise from his mentor, who called him the best player he’s ever coached at Syracuse.

That says something, since Boeheim has coached Derrick Coleman and Carmelo Anthony.

“We did an enormous amount of research, maybe more research than we’ve ever done, with Dion,” said Grant, who has several contacts on the Syracuse coaching staff.

When asked about Waiters’ sometimes rocky past, the GM said, “I may have looked into it too much. Sometimes you overanalyze the information. The one thing about Dion, he’s fought through a lot of adversity. He was clearly the best player on that team, but he came off the bench.”

Calling Waiters “a steal,” Cavs coach Byron Scott couldn’t hide his excitement.

“When he came in the game, he pretty much controlled the game,” Scott said. “He was able to get to the basket and he was great off pick-and-rolls. He can do a little bit of everything.

“This is a guy who can do a lot of things with the basketball,” he added. “That’s something we needed. … I just think he has something special.”

Waiters went to the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago, but didn’t work out under the advice of agent Rob Pelinka, leading to rumors a team in the lottery had promised to take the shooting guard.

The owner of a strong frame and decent athleticism, Waiters is considered to be an aggressive and fearless offensive player.

With Anthony Parker an unrestricted free agent who won’t be back with the Cavs, Waiters will certainly get his opportunities while playing next to Kyrie Irving.

“That’s my brother,” Waiters said of Irving. “I’ve known him for a long time. I just can’t wait to get out there with him. I’m very excited. I wish it started tomorrow.”

The Cavs were rumored to be in the mix to acquire Charlotte’s No. 2 pick right up until the Bobcats selected Kentucky small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.

The Cavs reportedly offered the Nos. 4, 24 and 33 picks for Charlotte’s second and 31st choices, but a deal never got done, leaving Washington to pick Beal with the third choice.

Apparently not impressed with North Carolina small forward Harrison Barnes, who ended up going No. 7 to Golden State, the Cavs then selected Waiters at No. 4.

There were also rumors the Cavs had talks with the Warriors about trading oft-injured big man Anderson Varejao for the No. 7 pick, as well as discussions with Houston about including Varejao in a deal for the No. 12 pick.

“Those conversations we’d rather keep private,” Grant said. “There was a lot of stuff out there that wasn’t true.”

The 247-pound, 22-year-old Zeller played four seasons at North Carolina, improving his scoring average from 3.1 to 9.3 to 15.7 to 16.3.

Zeller averaged 9.6 rebounds and shot .553 from the field and .808 at the line as a senior, when he was named Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year and earned second-team Associated Press All-America honors.

“For us to be able to get him is big-time,” said Scott, adding the Cavs had Zeller ranked in their top 10 or 11 players.

An Indiana native, Zeller is considered a hard worker who runs the floor very well for a big man. He is said to have good hands and solid finishing ability around the basket, but his back-to-the-basket post moves are still developing.

In Cleveland, he should be in the rotation immediately at the center spot.

“It’s a very young team,” Zeller said. “They have a lot of talent and a lot of pieces. They’re just trying to put it together.”

The primary piece, of course, is Irving, who played just 11 games for fellow ACC member Duke because of a toe injury.

“He’s a phenomenal player,” Zeller said. “I’m really looking forward to playing with him.
“It’s beyond a Duke-Carolina thing,” he added. “He never really played for them anyway. He was hurt all the time.”

Tip-ins

The three players the Cavs selected for Dallas were Oregon State shooting guard Jared Cunningham at No. 24, Florida State power forward/center Bernard James at No. 33 and Marquette small forward Jae Crowder at No. 34.

• As part of the Dallas deal, the Cavs acquired Kelenna Azubike, a 6-5 swingman who has played 12 games in the NBA since the end of the 2008-09 season. Azubike, a Kentucky product and England native who has played for Golden State and Dallas, is 28 years old and was in camp with the Cavs at the beginning of his career. He has had some health issues and his future is uncertain.

• The addition of Zeller means the Cavs are unlikely to extend a qualifying offer to center Semih Erden by today’s deadline, which would make him an unrestricted free agent. Small forward Luke Harangody is also unlikely to get a qualifying offer, while small forward Alonzo Gee will, allowing the Cavs to match any contract offer the restricted free agent receives.

Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com.

CAVS DRAFT BIOS

Dion Waiters

• Drafted: Round 1, 4th overall.
• College: Syracuse.
• Position: Shooting guard.
• College class: Sophomore.
• Height: 6-foot-4.
• Weight: 221.
• Age: 20.
• Hometown: Philadelphia.
• High school: Philadelphia Burlington Life Center Academy.
• Major: Communication and rhetorical studies.

NOTABLE

• Averaged 12.6 points in 24.1 minutes per game as sophomore for Orange, winning 2012 Big East Sixth Man of Year award.
• Shot .476 from floor, including .363 on 3-pointers, and .729 from foul line in 37 games.
• Reached double-figures in scoring 26 times.
• Third-team All-Big East selection rung up career-high 28 points against Cincinnati in league tournament.
• Never started a game for Syracuse, coming off bench in all 71 games.
• Averaged 0.97 3-pointers per game in college career, shooting .348 beyond arc.
• Dished out career-high eight assists against Morgan State as freshman.
• Averaged 6.6 points in 2010-2011, including season-high 18 points against Marquette in NCAA Tournament.

Tyler Zeller

• Drafted: Round 1, 17th overall by Dallas (acquired in exchange for 24th, 33rd and 34th overall selections).
• College: North Carolina.
• Position: Center.
• College class: Senior.
• Height: 7-foot-0 1⁄2.
• Weight: 247.
• Age: 22.
• Hometown: Visalia, Calif.
• High school: Washington (Ind.).
• Major: Business administration.

NOTABLE

• Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year as senior, averaging 16.3 points, 9.6 rebounds and 1.5 blocked shots in 28.2 minutes.
• Had .553 field goal percentage and .808 free throw percentage in 38 games.
• Led ACC in field goal percentage and offensive rebounds, and ranked second in league in scoring, and was third in rebounds.
• Finalist for Wooden Award as college basketball’s top player.
• First member of Tar Heels to be named Capital One Academic All-American of the Year.
• Amassed 20 points and career-high 22 rebounds against Ohio University in 2012 NCAA Tournament.
• First North Carolina player to earn first-team Academic All-America honors in two seasons.