CLEVELAND (AP) — The Cavaliers have a chance to significantly upgrade their roster in the NBA draft.
To impress LeBron James, they’d better.
With the No. 1 overall pick on Thursday night, the Cavs can add a top-flight player, perhaps a future All-Star who can help lead them back to the playoffs. More importantly, they hope their pick, assuming they don’t trade it, will make them more attractive to James, who rocked the league on Tuesday when his agent informed the Miami Heat that the superstar intends to opt out of his contract and become a free agent.
The Cavs are expected to make a strong pitch to land James, who played his first seven seasons in Cleveland before famously leaving four summers ago.
The first step in convincing James to come “home” begins with the first pick. The Cavs are debating whether to take Duke forward Jabari Parker or Kansas forward Andrew Wiggins, two young players James has been tracking for several years. There have been reports that Cleveland’s front-office is divided on the choice, with general manager David Griffin pushing for Parker and owner Dan Gilbert preferring Wiggins.
Gilbert tried to dispel the notion of a rift on Twitter. Linking one report, he wrote, “Nonsense. We are united.”
The Cavs can’t afford to miss as badly with the top pick as they did last year, when they selected forward Anthony Bennett, who flopped as a rookie.
In addition to getting the first pick right, Cleveland may need to add another All-Star-caliber player, and to do so they may have to trade one of their starters like shooting guard Dion Waiters or convince a high-profile free agent to sign with Cleveland — never an easy task.
Even if they overhaul their roster, there’s no guarantee it will be enough to satisfy James.
He’s pulling the strings.
And, there’s still the matter of the harsh comments Gilbert made about the two-time champion after James decided to join forces with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami.
That’s in the past. The Cavs are locked into the present, and if James is in their future, all of their choices from here on have to be correct.
Here are five things to watch as the Cavaliers pick first for the second year in a row:
TRADE BAIT: The Cavs have received phone calls about trading the No. 1 pick, but to this point haven’t gotten a deal that makes sense. GM David Griffin has expressed a willingness to move out of the top spot, but it might take more — quality players and picks — than most teams are willing to offer.
PARKER TRYOUT: Parker disputed reports he didn’t give his all at his recent workout for the Cavs. The 6-foot-8, 240-pounder allegedly showed up 15 pounds heavier and struggled with his conditioning.
“If you put a treadmill right here, we can have a contest and we all can judge that,” Parker said in New York. “I’m not no couch potato. I’m not going to flip the channels. I love to play basketball and you can find me playing that almost every day.”
BLATT’S PICK: As if they don’t have enough going on, the Cavs introduced new coach David Blatt on Wednesday, about 36 hours before they’re officially on the clock. Blatt charmed the media during his news conference and showed some savvy when he was asked to pick between Parker and Wiggins.
“Anthony Parker,” he quipped, naming the former Cavs guard who played for him in Israel. “I took him once and so did the Cavs and it worked out great.”
EXUM FACTOR: The Cavs were reportedly trying to set up a draft-day meeting with Australian point guard Dante Exum. The team didn’t bring in Exum earlier for a workout, and if they’re trying to get a late look at him, it could mean they’re seriously considering a trade.
ONE MORE TIME: This is the third time in four years, and fourth time in 11 years the Cavs have picked first overall. Cleveland has had the top selection six times: 1971 (Austin Carr), 1986 (Brad Daughtery), 2003 (LeBron James), 2011 (Kyrie Irving) and 2013 (Anthony Bennett).