October 23, 2014

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Draft might be thin, but Cavs GM confident he can find good players

INDEPENDENCE — Cavaliers general manager Chris Grant isn’t worrying about who will ultimately be in the June 23 NBA Draft. He’s concerned only about finding two quality players from those who are eligible to be selected.

Grant

Grant

“Every year, we know one thing: We know there’s 12-15 good players,” Grant said Monday at Cleveland Clinic Courts. “Our job is to figure out who those guys are. Those are the marching orders we give our scouts.”

If the draft lottery goes true to form, the Cavs would have the Nos. 2 and 8 picks in the first round, plus the 32nd and 54th choices in the second round.

In what is a very minimal best-case scenario, Cleveland could have the first and second picks. In an even more unlikely absolute worst-case scenario, it could pick fifth and 11th.

Regardless, the talent pool is getting thinner. North Carolina freshman Harrison Barnes, considered a likely top-three pick along with Duke’s Kyrie Irving and Arizona’s Derrick Williams, said Monday he would stay in school.

Previously, Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger and Baylor’s Perry Jones announced they would not declare for the draft, which was already considered one of the weakest in years with all high-level underclassmen and foreign players included.

Sunday is the official deadline for underclassmen to declare, though they can pull out until June 13 provided they don’t sign with an agent.

“It’s not something we can control,” Grant said. “What we can control is the guys who are ultimately in the draft. From our standpoint, we know we’re going to add two new players to our team, not even considering the ($14.5 million) trade exception and some other tools, so I feel like we’re in a good spot regardless of who enters the draft.”

By virtue of finishing with the second-worst record in the league (19-63), Cleveland has a 19.9 percent chance of landing the No. 1 pick, plus a 2.8 percent chance of getting the top choice with the selection it acquired from the Los Angeles Clippers.

If the Cavs get the top pick, it is believed their favorite player is Duke point guard Irving. If they pick second, Arizona’s Williams might be the guy, though there are differing opinions on whether he will be a small forward or power forward at the NBA level.

With Barnes, Sullinger and Jones out of the picture, the projected player selection order becomes a bit murkier from the third pick on, meaning the Cavs figure to have fewer high-quality players to choose from if their second first-round pick stays at No. 8.

Most mock drafts tab foreign-born Enes Kanter and Jonas Valanciunas as the next-best players after Irving and Williams, with UConn guard Kemba Walker and Kentucky point guard Brandon Knight also in the mix in some.

Other players to keep an eye on include Jan Vesely, Terrence Jones, Kawhi Leonard, Jordan Hamilton and Jimmer Fredette, but the fastest-rising player at the moment is Republic of the Congo native Bismack Biyombo.

The 6-foot-9 Biyombo is said to be 18, but some scouts think he might be several years older. He’s said to have only played basketball for two years and is extremely raw, but he also has an absolutely incredible wingspan, great athleticism and good strength.

Biyombo, from the same country as Cleveland’s Christian Eyenga, posted a triple-double in points, rebounds and blocks while competing for a world team against a group of U.S. high school All-Americans.

That’s getting way ahead of things, however, because the Cavs don’t even know for sure who will be in the draft. They also won’t know exactly where they’re picking until the May 17 lottery.

“We feel like we’re in a really good position — high picks, the trade exception, flexible contracts that we can make things happen,” Grant said. “On top of that, our ownership group is very supportive. It puts us in a position where we can go out and attack things, but also we understand it’s got to be sustainable and successful.”

The GM did say his philosophy would be to draft “the best (player) available.”

“Particularly when you’re drafting high, you want to look for the best talent and human being,” Grant said. “We’ll definitely take the best player first. We would never pass on a potential high-level All-Star player regardless of position.”

Core players

When asked to identify the core players on his roster, Grant said, “I don’t think we can sit here today and say, ‘This guy is for sure a core player.’ When you’ve gone through a year like we’ve gone through, you have to look at all alternatives. Certainly, there are guys on our team we value at a high level. At the same time, we’re not going to put limits on anything. … There isn’t anyone we wouldn’t necessarily trade, but there are some guys it would be very difficult for us to move.”

Great Scott

As did a number of players after they cleaned out their lockers last week, Grant praised the job of first-year coach Byron Scott.

“Byron and his staff did an amazing job this year,” he said. “We had a lot of ups and downs this season, to say the least. Talking with our guys on Thursday, the spirit of the group was fantastic.”

Whether it was criticizing, coddling and/or motivating, Grant loved the different methods Scott used to reach his players.

“It was a challenging year, from injuries and trades,” he said. “We put him in some difficult positions. He’s got the toughest job here, there’s no question. I tell him from time to time, he’s unwavering in the face of adversity.”

Tip-ins

  • Grant said he would “like to use” the $14.5 million trade exception the Cavs got from the Miami Heat when LeBron James left Cleveland, but only if it makes sense. That exception will expire in July.
  • Owner Dan Gilbert is scheduled to meet with the media Wednesday.
  • It was incorrectly reported previously that the Cavs had a 4.3 percent chance of getting the top pick with the Clippers’ selection. The correct percentage is 2.8.

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