INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — The Cavaliers chose potential over power.
By selecting Kansas swingman Andrew Wiggins over Duke’s Jabari Parker with the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft on Thursday night, the Cavs are getting a talented, perimeter player who could blossom into a superstar.
The 19-year-old Wiggins, who averaged 17.1 points and 5.9 rebounds as a freshman at Kansas, would have likely been the top pick a year ago, when the Cavs took forward Anthony Bennett.
“All of our scouts felt he had the most upside,” Cavs general manager David Griffin said.
The Cavs debated over Wiggins and Parker for days before finalizing their choice in the last hours leading into the draft. There was a reported rift between Griffin, who preferred Parker, and owner Dan Gilbert, who wanted Wiggins. However, two hours before the draft started, Gilbert posted a photo of the team’s decision room on his Twitter account with the words: “United and busy.”
Cleveland’s busy all right.
The selection of Wiggins came one day after the Cavs introduced new coach David Blatt, and it’s just the next step in a two-week stretch that could re-shape Cleveland’s franchise for the next decade.
On Tuesday, the team can begin contract negotiations with All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving on a five-year contract extension. That’s also the first day free agents can negotiate with teams.
With at least $25 million in salary-cap space, and the potential to create more, the Cavs are expected to make a strong run at LeBron James, who informed the Miami Heat earlier this week that he’s opting out of the final two years of his contract.
Landing James might be a longshot, but so was winning the NBA lottery for the second straight year. The Cavs feel that with Wiggins, whose father, Mitchell, played in the NBA, they have at least filled the small forward position that has been so problematic since James left in 2010.
Griffin said the Cavs, who also have the No. 33 pick, had “spirited” discussions about trade options that were available to them but they’ve been fixated on Wiggins.
“We knew for quite some time in our minds who we wanted to take if we kept the pick,” Griffin said.
Even to this day, James casts a giant shadow over the Cavaliers. And it will likely stay that way.
There’s a chance he could return to Cleveland as early as this summer, but the Cavs will need make more improvements to a team that went 33-49 last season and missed the playoffs in the much weaker Eastern Conference.
Wiggins might make the Cavs more appealing to James, but they’ll probably need to do a lot more to convince him they’re ready to contend for a title.
At least one major decision is out of the way.
Milwaukee followed with another freshman, Duke forward Jabari Parker, who on Wednesday disputed that he was out of shape for his workout with Cleveland and performed poorly. Some consider him the more NBA-ready player after an All-American season for the Blue Devils.
Embiid went third to Philadelphia, drawing loud cheers from the many red-and-blue dressed 76ers fans who made the trip to Barclays Center in Brooklyn, as well as from Philadelphia guard Michael Carter-Williams, last season’s Rookie of the Year who was sitting on the arena floor level.
The 76ers had two top-10 picks and could afford to take a chance on Embiid, the big man who may have ended up the top prize despite his lone season at Kansas ending early because of a bad back. But once the foot injury popped up during workouts, leaving his NBA debut uncertain after surgery, the two teams at the top passed.
“He worked so hard,” Wiggins said. “He didn’t let nothing get to him. He always stayed motivated. So I’m just proud. It’s a proud moment for Kansas.