Draft experts Chad Ford and Joe Kotoch agree on one thing: The Cavaliers are thinking big.
No one knows for sure what Cleveland general manager Chris Grant is going to do with the No. 1 pick Thursday night in the NBA Draft, but it looks like the Cavs are deciding between two big men in Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel and Maryland’s Alex Len.
One day after Sheridan Hoops draft expert Kotoch insisted the Cavs had decided on the 7-foot-1, 255-pound Len, ESPN’s Ford held a national conference call Tuesday and said he still thinks the 6-11¾, 206-pound Noel will be Cleveland’s choice.
“Most of the signals I read — and it’s a bit of reading the tea leaves right now — point to Noel,” said Ford, who released his sixth mock draft Tuesday and had the Cavs taking Noel for the sixth straight time.
“Noel’s a guy who has been on top of their big board all year,” Ford said of the Cavs. “He fits the criteria I hear Cleveland talking about in regards to the best talent available. Not the best player available, but the most talented player in three to five years.”
Noel, who turned 19 on April 10, tore his left anterior cruciate ligament as a Kentucky freshman and is not expected to play until around Christmas, but Ford doesn’t think that will deter the Cavs from taking the long-limbed, athletic big man.
Ford’s logic is that the rebuilding Cavs drafted a raw Tristan Thompson at No. 4 in 2011 based on his long-term potential, and that Grant did something similar last year when he went against conventional national player rankings and took Syracuse shooting guard Dion Waiters at No. 4.
With that as background, Ford believes the Cavs will once again take the guy they believe will become the best player, not the guy who is the best player right now.
At the same time, the ESPN expert was not nearly as adamant about Cleveland taking Noel as Kotoch was about the Cavs taking Len a day earlier.
“They like Noel,” Ford said. “They like all six of the players they brought in. The question is, ‘Do you like him as the No. 1 pick?’ The Cavs are in a difficult situation this year because there isn’t a No. 1 pick, there isn’t a clear-cut choice.”
The Cavs have also interviewed or worked out Kansas shooting guard Ben McLemore, Indiana shooting guard Victor Oladipo, Georgetown small forward Otto Porter and UNLV power forward Anthony Bennett as possible candidates at No. 1.
Ford thinks Cleveland could still be considering the 6-7 Bennett, whose weight has reportedly ballooned from 240 to 261, in addition to Noel and Len, while Kotoch lists McLemore as a third candidate with the two big men.
Both draft experts agree the Cavs would still love to deal the No. 1 pick, but think it’s very unlikely because the asking price is too high.
“A lot of teams are complaining Cleveland is overvaluing this pick because there’s not a consensus No. 1 pick,” Ford said. “You can also understand Cleveland’s perspective. If they’re going to walk away from the No. 1 pick, they have to wind up with a player that can propel them to the playoffs.”
The Cavs reportedly offered Portland their first and 19th picks for power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, but the Trail Blazers are said to have quickly rejected that as not nearly enough.
The 6-11, 240-pound Aldridge, who will turn 28 on July 19, averaged 21.1 points, 9.1 rebounds and 2.6 assists last season. Aldridge was originally taken by Chicago with the No. 2 pick in the 2006 draft, but his rights were traded to Portland.
Ford said Oklahoma City and Minnesota have also been active in trying to obtain the No. 1 pick, but he doesn’t think a deal will get done.
“I just don’t see a team giving up the talent Cleveland is looking for for the No. 1 pick in the draft,” he said.
While not claiming to have any inside information, Ford said he thinks that will ultimately result in the Cavs drafting Noel, who averaged 10.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and 4.4 blocks for Kentucky.
Noel is considered a great athlete and a potential defensive force, but his offensive game consists mainly of dunking the ball at the moment. He’s also already had two serious knee injuries.
“You have to find what these guys do well instead of obsessing about what they don’t do well,” Ford said. “If you do that (focus on the negative), you disqualify every player in the draft this year.”
In a possible trade that’s not related to the No. 1 pick, the Cavs have reportedly talked to Houston about a deal for power forward Thomas Robinson, chosen by Sacramento with the fifth pick last year and traded to the Rockets later in the season.
l Cleveland is believed to have had talks with Minnesota about moving back into the first round. The Cavs would give the Timberwolves their two second-round picks — Nos. 31 and 33 overall — for the 26th selection. That deal has a chance of reaching fruition only if Minnesota doesn’t move the 26th pick as part of a bigger deal.
l The Cavs could reportedly target power forward Earl Clark in free agency. Clark played for Cavs coach Mike Brown with the Los Angeles Lakers.
l The deal that would involve Cleveland sending the 19th, 31st and 33rd picks to Dallas — and perhaps taking on a veteran player salary — for the 13th choice is still a possibility.
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.