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May 20, 2011
Slow Process
Rebuilding Around the No. 1 Pick

by Kevin Pelton

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Winning the lottery was the easy part. Now the Cleveland Cavaliers must figure out how to build around the No. 1 and No. 4 overall picks. As ESPN Insider's Chad Ford noted in his postlottery mock draft, the Cavaliers very well could make Duke point guard Kyrie Irving the first selection in next month's draft. Irving is a talented prospect who put up impressive statistics when healthy as a freshman, but he won't solve all of Cleveland's problems. In fact, his presence might create some issues that the Cavaliers would need to resolve.

For starters, the addition of Irving would create a logjam at the point, a position that wasn't as bad as Cleveland's record might have people assume. As part of the deal to get the pick from the Los Angeles Clippers that jumped to No. 1 in the NBA draft lottery, Cleveland had to take on veteran point guard Baron Davis. Despite missing time because of back and knee injuries, Davis played quite well after the trade, posting a 19.3 player efficiency rating with the Cavaliers--his best mark since 2007-08, his last season with the Golden State Warriors. And when Davis was out of the lineup, Ramon Sessions was excellent as Cleveland's starting point guard. Sessions averaged 19.9 points and 8.8 assists in February and was one of the league's best players in the month.

Between Davis and Sessions, then, point guard was actually the Cavaliers' strongest position. Irving has much more upside, but in the short term, the 19-year-old rookie will have a tough time playing much better than Davis or Sessions.

Although Davis is big enough to play some shooting guard, as he did occasionally alongside Sessions this past season, Cleveland likely wouldn't keep all three players. Davis, who has two years left on the lucrative deal he signed with the Clippers, will be difficult to trade. That means Sessions could be dangled as the Cavaliers try to add talent at other positions. At the right price, Sessions could be a steal, but it's crucial that he lands in the right system. Sessions is a pick-and-roll savant who has thrived when turned loose in the two-man game. When asked to play off the ball during his lone season with the Minnesota Timberwolves, however, Sessions floundered.

If the New York Knicks can find enough assets to offer from a group including Toney Douglas and Bill Walker, they might be an interesting destination. Dan D'Antoni, the brother of and assistant to Knicks head coach Mike D'Antoni, coached Sessions in AAU ball, and the D'Antonis have wanted to get him in their point guard-friendly system. Sessions would be a worthy heir apparent to an aging Chauncey Billups.

It's clear what Cleveland will seek in exchange for Sessions: wing players. As explained in last week's ranking of the league's worst positions, the Cavaliers struggled at shooting guard and small forward. No one currently on the roster has definitively shown the ability to start at either position for the next playoff-bound Cleveland team, and acquiring two of the top four picks in this year's draft will do little to change that because so little wing talent is available.

Instead, Ford has the Cavaliers drafting Kentucky recruit Enes Kanter with the No. 4 pick. Like Kanter, most of the players Cleveland likely will consider with its other lottery pick are teenaged international big men. In the short term, the No. 4 pick probably will not crack the Cavaliers' starting lineup, which features incumbent posts J.J. Hickson and Anderson Varejao. A talented youngster would be an upgrade over backup Ryan Hollins but wouldn't do much to move the needle for Cleveland next season.

The Cavaliers could help themselves out in free agency, but they must consider their long-term future. Davis and Varejao are the only Cleveland players scheduled to make more than the league's average salary beyond next season, when Antawn Jamison's contract will expire. Unless the Cavaliers can add impactful pieces to their youthful core of this year's lottery picks and Hickson, they would be wise to stay quiet in free agency and let the trade exception acquired for LeBron James and Jamison's expiring contract lapse. Cleveland is years away from competing in the Eastern Conference, having finished 18 games out of the playoffs, and should not worry about a quick fix even if it means another season with 50-plus losses.

  • Tuesday's other big lottery winner was the Minnesota Timberwolves. Minnesota earned the second pick in a draft with two consensus top picks: Irving and Arizona forward Derrick Williams. It's not clear how Williams fits into a Timberwolves frontcourt that already features two young starters in Michael Beasley and Kevin Love, not to mention reserve Anthony Randolph. Like the Cavaliers, the Timberwolves won't be able to fill their biggest hole (shooting guard) with the pick, which could lead Minnesota to dangle the No. 2 pick to teams that are more in need of Williams' efficient scoring.
  • Assuming Irving and Williams go with the first two picks, the draft will start to get more interesting when the Utah Jazz pick at No. 3. In addition to the international big men, the Jazz could consider college guards Brandon Knight and Kemba Walker. As with Cleveland, Utah is just beginning the rebuilding process, and although the Jazz have more pieces in place--including established starters Devin Harris, Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson and last year's No. 3 pick, Derrick Favors--the team is far enough from competing that moving up in the lottery doesn't change the likelihood that Utah will be back in the lottery a year from now.

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Kevin by clicking here or click here to see Kevin's other articles.

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Looking Ahead (05/19)
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Playoff Prospectus (05/20)

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