The Cavaliers beat the odds—a 15.6 percent chance, third-best in the lottery—to land the 2013 first overall pick. But the consensus top pick has questions, and he's not particularly what Cleveland needs. It would make all the sense in the world for the Cavs to trade down from No. 1, something that hasn't been done in two decades.
Dan and Nick Gilbert were ecstatic when their logo emerged from the last envelope, and who can blame them? The option to add Kentucky's Nerlens Noel to a young, talented roster is cause for celebration. But Noel's still recovering from a torn ACL that sidelined him in February, and may make him unavailable to play until Christmas. And more than that, the Cavs are set for the near future with Tristan Thompson in the paint. To build around their nucleus, a smaller center like Noel is a luxury, not a key cog.
No, what the Cavs need, and have needed since LeBron skipped town, is a scoring small forward. And there's one that fits the bill.
Cleveland could easily take Syracuse's Georgetown's Otto Porter with the first pick, but it'd seem like such a waste. With Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters making up the backcourt, they don't need Ben McLemore. And since there's no way Orlando passes on McLemore at No. 2, Porter will surely still be there at No. 3.
The only time in the lottery era that a team has traded out of the top spot, they got a 3 in return—and it worked out quite well. In 1993 Orlando shipped Chris Webber to Golden State, for Penny Hardaway and three first-rounders that turned into Mike Miller, Todd Fuller and Vince Carter.
So, would Cleveland consider moving Noel for pieces that fit a more immediate need, or to stock up in a future draft stronger than this year's? General manager Chris Grant says yes.
"We're open," Grant said. "We're going to look at all our options and make the decision based on what's best for the franchise — short-term and long-term."
Trading away a No. 1 is hard, because if he becomes great, a GM and a team are never allowed to forget that they let that guy get away. So there's another possibility for the Cavs, one that would require a little patience and a little luck: tank again.
Noel's rehabilitation from his torn ligament is supposedly progressing well. But we know ACLs are tricky business, and there's no reason to rush him onto the court until he's 100 percent. Physical therapist Kevin Wilk, who's been overseeing Noel's rehab, says he could play, but he won't play like himself for another year. "Theoretically [his knee] will be stronger at 10-12 months more than six."
So draft Noel first overall, and stash him. Keep him out all year, or give him some desultory minutes late in the season. Trot out the same roster that had the third-worst record in the league, struggle again, and come into the 2014 draft lottery with good odds at the first pick. Because there's a certain scoring small forward named Andrew Wiggins who'll be available.