The Cavaliers sure can win the NBA Draft Lottery. Now they need to start winning games.
There is, however, reason for optimism after Cleveland secured the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft for the third time in four years: The inept Chris Grant is no longer general manager.
As the Cavs begin what should be a blockbuster offseason — they need a head coach, will attempt to sign Kyrie Irving to a contract extension, will hope and pray LeBron James becomes a free agent and will likely make a run at trading for Minnesota power forward Kevin Love, among other things — David Griffin is the man calling the shots.
That alone is good news, given the horrendously bad job his predecessor did in every aspect other than creating salary cap space.
“I feel like it puts us in a position to have more opportunities in front of us,” Griffin said Tuesday night in New York after the Cavs won the lottery with a 1.7 percent chance. “I don’t want to limit our thinking right now.”
Now that lottery luck has struck again for the Cavs, who have compiled records of 19-63, 21-45, 24-58 and 33-49 and not made a playoff appearance since James left town, the possibilities are encouraging.
Better still for Dan Gilbert’s franchise, if one or two of those possibilities become a reality, there’s a chance — maybe even a good chance — things could snowball from there.
One of the most talked-about issues, James opting out of his contract with the Miami Heat and re-signing with Cleveland, will be totally out of the Cavs’ control until the 6-foot-8, 250-pounder decides whether to become a free agent in July.
At the very least, though, winning the lottery and adding a player like Kansas swingman Andrew Wiggins or Duke small forward Jabari Parker, not to mention making a run at Love, appears to make Cleveland a much more attractive place for James than it was three days ago.
The more immediate concern is finding a coach to succeed Mike Brown. Adrian Griffin, Lionel Hollins and Alvin Gentry are still in contention, but the pool could get bigger now that the Cavs have the No. 1 pick. That is also good news for Gilbert’s group.
“It makes us an even more attractive destination than we already were,” Griffin said. “It certainly improves the stockpile of talent you could look at and believe you have at your disposal as a coach.”
If, however, that stockpile doesn’t improve and, to use one of Griffin’s favorite words, “fit” together better, the lottery will once again prove to be fool’s gold for the Cavs.
Griffin knows this better than anyone and appears ready to do everything in his power to make the necessary changes. Again, that’s more good news for the Cavs.
“We’re a team with several needs, quite frankly,” he said. “We need to address our fit (there’s that word again) as much as anything else. Big picture-wise, that’s kind of where our focus is.
“The first pick is just a piece to that puzzle. It doesn’t answer anything for us. There’s no savior here. This is all about putting the pieces together in one puzzle.”
In order for those pieces to fit, the ones that don’t must be removed.
Tristan Thompson, a slow-jumping, non-shooting power forward who gets absolutely dominated by the better players at his position, is the primary candidate to go.
Like Irving, Thompson can sign a contract extension this summer, but he hasn’t shown he deserves the big-time dollars he probably thinks he should get. Even if Thompson doesn’t get moved, he’s nothing more than a role player on a contending team, which is what the Cavs hope to become.
Of course, Thompson alone won’t fetch much in return, which is where Dion Waiters comes into play. The 22-year-old is an immense talent and could one day turn into a star, but his basketball IQ remains very much a work in progress. Plus, you’ve got to give up something to get something in this league.
Oft-injured big man Anderson Varejao, who will be entering the final year of a contract that isn’t fully guaranteed, will also be attractive to some teams, and the Cavs will certainly be willing to listen.
Irving is the wild card. If he balks at signing an extension in July — both sides may be happy with a three-year deal as opposed to the maximum five — the Cavs will likely pursue trades or, at the very least, be much more willing to listen to offers.
The NBA, however, is a talent-driven league. Irving, for all his injuries, ball domination, defensive shortcomings and lack of maturity, is far and away Cleveland’s most talented player. Ideally for the Cavs, they will add more talent around him and he will grow up.
If nothing else, Cleveland now has more options regarding Irving. Once again, that’s good news for the franchise and its fans.
The same holds true of having the No. 1 pick, whether it’s Wiggins, Parker, Kansas center Joel Embid or traded as part of a monster deal. There will be a ton of discussion about the latter between now and the June 26 draft — did you listen to talk radio Wednesday? — but in the end Cleveland will likely keep its selection and take Wiggins or Parker.
Even if it’s Embid, who has a tremendous upside but is a much bigger project, figuratively and literally, the Cavs will be getting a talented player who could become great. Just don’t expect miracles from that player right off the bat.
“We need to put them in a situation where culturally they’re a part of the team from the beginning,” Griffin said. “The thing that San Antonio’s done unbelievably well for years is they introduce everybody into a system and everybody knows it’s we, not I, and we, not me.
“That’s really important. To think there’s a savior in the draft is just not fair to those kids.”
To think the Cavs have a tremendous opportunity to make a quantum leap forward, however, is totally fair. It’s not only fair, it should be expected, even demanded.
The Cavs have proved to be lucky in the lottery. The real jackpot, though, is winning games on the court, making the playoffs and advancing deep into the postseason. Until the Cavs do that consistently, they really have done nothing at all.