Kentucky's 6-foot-11 Nerlens Noel, who visited the Cleveland Cavaliers last week, could possibly be the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft.
CLEVELAND — Once again, the Cleveland Cavaliers are facing a major summer "decision."
The last one was hard to accept. This one is difficult to make.
And while it doesn't quite stack up with LeBron James' infamous announcement that he was bolting from home three years ago and leaving Cleveland heartbroken and short of a title, the Cavs are faced with the challenge of picking another top-flight player to get them back to respectability.
For the second time in three years and third time over the past decade, the Cavaliers hold the No. 1 overall draft pick.
This year, it's both a blessing and burden.
With no player emerging as the consensus first choice, the Cavs, who also own the No. 19 pick and two second-round selections (Nos. 31 and 33) have spent the past month doing their due diligence by meeting with players, assessing their needs and weighing their many options.
They've discussed several trades to rid themselves of the top pick, move down and acquire veterans for one of the league's youngest teams.
The Cavs have kept things close to the vest during the weeks leading into the draft. General manager Chris Grant has not spoken publicly to the media since firing coach Byron Scott after last season, and the Cavs did not open their predraft workouts to reporters.
As of Tuesday night, Grant and his staff were still working on their draft board and it's possible they could go into today with their plan still evolving.
Last weekend, owner Dan Gilbert, who made it clear after winning the lottery that he expects his team back in the playoffs next year, even went on Twitter to solicit some feedback.
"Ok @cavs fans, its Chris Grant's call but who do you like #1 & why?" Gilbert posted. "One of the toughest calls in NBA draft history. Let's hear your view."
It was so much easier two years ago, when the Cavs took point guard Kyrie Irving, who despite some injury issues — he's missed 38 games in two seasons — has developed into an All-Star and is one of the league's rising stars.
That same year, Cleveland used the No. 4 pick on forward Tristan Thompson and then selected shooting guard Dion Waiters fourth overall last year.
Thompson and Waiters proved to be solid picks, and along with Irving, form the foundation for the Cavs to build upon.
Picking the next piece isn't such a given.
The Cavs don't view any of the top candidates as immediate game-changers. In fact, they aren't certain their top pick will crack the starting lineup as a rookie.
Kentucky center Nerlens Noel, Maryland center Alex Len, Kansas shooting guard Ben McLemore, Georgetown forward Otto Porter, Jr., UNLV power forward Anthony Bennett, and Indiana guard Victor Oladipo are all in the mix and under consideration by the Cavs, who went 24-58 last season, finished 25½ games out of first place and haven't sniffed the postseason since James left.
All six of the top players have their plusses and minuses, and barring a trade, the Cavs will eventually have to settle on one of them.
"The Cavs have to take the attitude of, 'Let's find out what these guys do well instead of obsessing over what they can't do'," ESPN draft expert Chad Ford said. "Because if you do that, you disqualify every player in the draft, especially this year."
Under normal circumstances, the 6-foot-11 Noel would be a slam-dunk selection. However, the Kentucky defensive standout is still recovering from a torn knee ligament sustained during his freshman season and probably won't be available to play until January.
Noel visited the Cavs last week, and while the club is intrigued by his shot-blocking skills, there's concern the 206-pounder will get pushed around underneath by bigger, stronger, more seasoned centers. Also, Noel has an extremely limited offensive game and putting him on the floor at the same time with Anderson Varejao and Thompson doesn't make sense.
Len, too, has injury issues. He's recovering from surgery for a stress fracture in his left ankle, which wasn't diagnosed until after the 7-foot-1 center left Maryland after his sophomore season. Len's statistics — 11.9 points and 7.8 rebounds — certainly don't scream No. 1 pick, but there's reason to believe he's only scratched the surface of his potential.
The Ukranian has been compared to former Cavs center Zydrunas Ilguaskas, who overcame serious foot problems to have a solid career and now works in Cleveland's front office.
McLemore's stock took a hit recent amid reports Kansas officials are reviewing allegations that his former AAU coach received $10,000 to steer him to agent Rodney Blackstock. While that may raise questions about McLemore's character, the Cavs like that he made 42 percent of his 3-pointers and could see him in lineups alongside Irving and Waiters.
There hasn't been a true shooting guard taken first since 1975, when Atlanta selected David Thompson, who decided to play in the ABA before coming over to the NBA when the leagues merged. McLemore, whose game has been compared to Ray Allen's, knows he has a chance to do something special.
James on SI cover
CLEVELAND — LeBron James’ final jump shot of the NBA Finals for the Miami Heat left him thinking about Michael Jordan.
James told Sports Illustrated for a story released Wednesday that he spent time during this year’s title series watching Jordan’s iconic, title-clinching shot for the Chicago Bulls against the Utah Jazz in the 1998 finals.
So when James made a jumper with 27.9 seconds left in Game 7 of this year’s title series against the San Antonio Spurs, his thoughts turned to that Jordan shot.
“I know it wasn’t the magnitude of MJ hitting that shot in ‘98, but I definitely thought about him,” James said. “It was an MJ moment.”
He then paused for a moment, before adding, “It was an LJ moment.”
James is on this week’s SI cover, the 20th time he has appeared on the front of the magazine. The image is of him gazing down at the Larry O’Brien Trophy, with his reflection visible off the top of the gold ball.
James is often compared to Jordan, and the debate has raged for years about which NBA superstar is better.
James has said many times that it’s humbling to be in that conversation, and tweeted back in February, “I’m not MJ, I’m LJ.”
James also addresses his future in the SI piece. He told reporters Tuesday that he will not start really thinking about the chance to be a free agent in the summer of 2014 until next season ends, and reiterated that stance with the magazine.
“I’m a totally different person on the court, off the court and everywhere in between,” James said. “I know it will come up, but it’s not going to come up until it’s at that point.”