Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert’s debt from the NBA has been paid in full. He lost LeBron James in perhaps the most highly publicized free agent departure in sports history three years ago, and in return he has received two No. 1 overall draft picks. The first resulted in Kyrie Irving two years ago, and now the second could bring another franchise-caliber player to Cleveland.
The Cavaliers are primed to return as an Eastern Conference power with the right decisions. The first, under former/new coach Mike Brown, is who to select first overall June 27.
There is no prohibitive favorite, as there was in 2011 when Irving wowed Cleveland officials in workouts despite playing just 11 college games. Everett product Nerlens Noel is coming off a torn left anterior cruciate ligament, while Ben McLemore has star potential but played just one year at Kansas and averaged 9.6 points in his final five games with the Jayhawks.
“We’re going to have our choice of several really good options,” Gilbert said. “Not to mention the 19th pick and cap space and the new coaching staff. We’re more than excited. It’s been a long three years. It’s been a painful three years for the entire franchise. We went through it. We hope this is our last trip here to the lottery.”
If the Cavaliers make the right decisions, it could be. This is the first edition of the Globe’s mock draft, whetting the appetites of fans needing a basketball diversion after the Celtics’ early playoff elimination.
1. Cleveland — Noel, C, Kentucky. The only reason not to take Noel would be if there is a bona fide star available, and there isn’t.
2. Orlando — Trey Burke, G, Michigan. The Magic need to move on from the Jameer Nelson era and Burke is the perfect fit at the point.
3. Washington — Otto Porter, F, Georgetown. He is a versatile small forward who would blend perfectly with Washington’s young core.
4. Charlotte — Anthony Bennett, F, UNLV. If the Bobcats don’t trade this pick, this burly player would help them.
5. Phoenix — Victor Oladipo, G, Indiana. In Ryan McDonough’s first draft as a GM, he nabs the best defender.
6. New Orleans — Alex Len, C, Maryland. He is a legit 7 feet 1 inch, and has skills. He will team with Anthony Davis for quite a shot-blocking tandem.
7. Sacramento — McLemore, G, Kansas. The Kings move on from Tyreke Evans and add a gifted scorer who will need time to develop.
8. Detroit — Shabazz Muhammad, G, UCLA. The Pistons need scoring after Austin Daye didn’t work out, and Muhammad can do that.
9. Minnesota — C.J. McCollum, G, Lehigh. The most polished two-guard in the draft, he will give the Timberwolves shooting and poise.
10. Portland — Rudy Gobert, C, France. The Blazers used undersized J.J. Hickson as their starting center. They won’t need Gobert to develop quickly because they have Meyers Leonard, but they lack depth.
11. Philadelphia — Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, G, Georgia. The 76ers desperately need a scoring guard, and Pope is the best one left.
12. Oklahoma City — Steven Adams, C, Pittsburgh. The Thunder need a big man, and can allow Adams to develop in the D-League.
13. Dallas — Michael Carter-Williams, G, Syracuse. He says he models his game after Jason Kidd, and many moons ago the Mavericks took Kidd second overall.
14. Utah — Shane Larkin, G, Miami. He’s undersized but has winner written all over him, and the Jazz need a young point guard.
15. Milwaukee — Dario Saric, F, Croatia. The Bucks have had some good luck with overseas prospects, and Saric is the best in this draft.
16. Boston — Cody Zeller, C, Indiana. The Celtics need athleticism, youth, and a high basketball IQ. Zeller is a steal at this pick.
17. Atlanta — Mason Plumlee, C, Duke. The Hawks need a rugged center with some skills.
18. Atlanta — Jamaal Franklin, G, San Diego State. With so many vacancies, the Hawks need scoring, and Franklin is polished and passionate.
19. Cleveland — Glen Rice Jr., F, NBADL. The Cavaliers have almost all their holes filled and now they pursue a pure small forward with skills.
20. Chicago — Gorgui Dieng, C, Louisville. He has played basketball for just six years, but would be another defensive difference-maker for the Bulls.
21. Utah — Dennis Schroeder, G, Germany. The Jazz will stockpile point guards, hoping one can provide consistent minutes.
22. Brooklyn — Kelly Olynyk, F, Gonzaga. The Nets could use more offense from the frontcourt and Olynyk can help at power forward.
23. Indiana — Tony Mitchell, F, North Texas. Didn’t have a great showing at the combine, but he is big and could eventually replace David West, an impending free agent.
24. New York — Allen Crabbe, G, California. The Knicks need a legitimate shooting guard who is under 30. Crabbe is big (6-6) and can shoot.
25. Los Angeles Clippers — Tim Hardaway Jr., G, Michigan. He is mature, versatile, and ready to contribute. The Clippers could use some help at shooting guard.
26. Minnesota — Mike Muscala, C, Bucknell. He has the polish to be a real sleeper, and the Timberwolves need all the help they can get.
27. Denver — Erick Green, G, Virginia Tech. This scorer should be a good fit in Denver.
28. San Antonio — Giannis Adetokunbo, F, Greece. The Spurs usually score with these picks, and will again this time with the swingman.
29. Oklahoma City — Pierre Jackson, G, Baylor. A scoring spark plug in the Nate Robinson mold.
30. Phoenix — Jeff Withey, C, Kansas. McDonough takes another defensive difference-maker as the Suns build.
Raptors ready for a makeover
Just last week, Bryan Colangelo was scouting draft prospects in Chicago. Now he has been removed as Raptors GM as new club president Tim Leiweke seeks his replacement. Colangelo will remain in the front office for now.
Colangelo wanted to see his reformation reach fruition, but Leiweke, who took over Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment in April, wants to inject new enthusiasm and a fresh voice into Toronto basketball. He is pursuing Denver GM Masai Ujiri, who was the Raptors’ director of global scouting and assistant GM before going to the Nuggets.
Leiweke made it clear last week that he plans to change the face of Raptors basketball, making constant comparisons to baseball’s Toronto Blue Jays, whom he said have a better grasp of the Canadian market.
“On basketball, I think there’s great debate about decisions made in the past eight years, and in particular in the last five years not making the playoffs,” Leiweke said when assessing Colangelo. “And so there is accountability here, and so we need a new set of eyes and a new thinking.
“We are Canada’s team and I don’t think we act like it. Our relationship with the Canadian Basketball Association, [we’re] trying to grow that relationship. We have work to do in this organization. We’re not good enough. I believe Bryan could help in a lot of those areas. I still respect his opinion and knowledge and experience. I think it’s a wealth of information and I don’t just want to throw it away.”
Colangelo, the son of former Phoenix Suns executive Jerry Colangelo, came to Toronto after a successful tenure with the Suns, but his first major move may have been his worst, drafting Andrea Bargnani first overall in 2006. Bargnani’s lack of development has angered fans, and he has yet to emerge as a cornerstone.
“We know he’s got [talent] and we’ve seen how he’s capable of playing at a certain level. I would only tell you it’s something you look back on and say, how would you handle it differently? I’m not sure I would,” Colangelo said. “Maybe I could have traded him before he got hurt so the trade value didn’t go down. I still would say there’s value in Andrea. I get the fact that a change of scenery is probably the best thing for all sides. I’ve publicly acknowledged that, but again, the new guy is going to have to decide how to handle it.”
That new guy is going to have full command of roster decisions. Until he finds another NBA job, Colangelo is relegated to the role of suggestionmaker. That will be a difficult transition.
“Bryan’s going to have to occasionally take a deep breath and understand that a GM is going to have a direct report and final say-so on all basketball decisions,” Leiweke said. “He’s going to have to live with that, and I hope he can.”
Leiweke said the team’s priority will be to better connect with fans outside of Toronto. Perhaps five consecutive losing seasons have jaded the fan base.
“When I look at the Blue Jays, I have a great deal of respect that all of Canada follows the Blue Jays. It’s not the same with the Raptors, and I get that,” Leiweke said. “We are Toronto’s team but I think we have to learn how to be Canada’s team. We’re the only NBA team in Canada and we have to start acting like it.”
Ideal coach can be elusive
The NBA coaching carousel is spinning, but teams such as Charlotte, Milwaukee, Detroit, Philadelphia, Brooklyn, the Los Angeles Clippers, and Phoenix may not get precisely what they’re looking for. Former Seattle and Portland coach Nate McMillan is the hot commodity, having interviewed for the Pistons and Hawks.
But the prototypical NBA coach is nonexistent these days. Is it the coach who played a decade in the league? Byron Scott just got fired in Cleveland. Is it the longtime assistant and bright basketball mind? Mike Dunlap just got fired in Charlotte. Is it the veteran coach known for rebuilding sagging franchises into winners? Doug Collins just left Philadelphia.
Is it the veteran coach looking for one final chance? P.J. Carlesimo and Alvin Gentry were just excused in Brooklyn and Phoenix, respectively.
So, what does it take to make a successful NBA coach? Carlesimo, who now has been removed from four jobs, said there is no right answer.
“It takes an owner or general manager or combination to feel you’re the right guy. I don’t feel there’s a cookie cutter to coaching,” he said. “Phil [Jackson’s] older than I am. Well, you say he’s won 11 championships, so he’s different. Gregg [Popovich] is not a young guy, and he’s extremely successful. Doc [Rivers] is pretty much held up to be, and I would agree with that, one of the more popular choices anywhere in the league. Those guys are very different, very different guys. Mark Jackson did an incredible job this year at Golden State.”
Carlesimo said players’ increasing input, including in front-office and personnel decisions, has made it difficult for coaches trying to break in or start fresh.
“What is not good in the league right now, and it’s just reality — it’s a players’ league, there is no question about that,” he said. “But it can’t be the point where players hire and fire coaches because that’s not going to work. If you look at the places that have been successful, it’s where the best players are. Look at Miami. It’s because Dwyane [Wade] and LeBron [James] have [Erik Spoelstra’s] back. Spo, a lot of people when he got the job, said how can he coach this Big Three, this famous group? What makes it work is those guys empower him.
“Tim Duncan and David Robinson did that for Pop in San Antonio, the three guys that were in Boston did that for Doc. It’s not going to happen unless those guys do.”
Carlesimo was not asked to return by Brooklyn GM Billy King after the Nets lost to the Bulls in the first round of the playoffs. Carlesimo took over for Avery Johnson, who was fired in December.
“It doesn’t make it easy to coach when you don’t feel that your general manager or your owner have your back,” Carlesimo said in general terms. “Doug Collins, I think he said it when he was doing TV, he said the GM and the coach should be hired together and fired together. They should come at the same time and leave at the same time, and be forced to work together and be forced to make something work.
“It’s just the nature of the league. This guy drafted him; this guy traded for him; he’s my guy. I want him to play more. The coach is like, I’ve got to win now because if I don’t they’re going to get somebody else in here. It’s hard.”
Carlesimo has been coaching in the NBA the last 20 years, but he will always be remembered for leading Seton Hall to the NCAA national title game in 1989.
“The good thing about college in comparison to the pros is you were the GM and the coach,” Carlesimo said. “So you brought the guys in and they had to get along with you and you had nobody else to blame but yourself. Sometimes the structure of professional sports can make it a difficult arrangement between a coach and general manager, and that is more so true today because the players are more vocal. And particularly the franchise guys don’t hesitate to step up and say what they feel.
“When you’ve got $100 million invested in a guy, it’s really asking a lot for an owner to say, ‘Hey, I don’t care. This guy’s my coach. You get along with him.’ It’s not easy. I think it’s a more challenging job now than it was even five to 10 years ago.”
On the Clippers’ coaching vacancy, keep an eye on Robert Pack, who is emerging and may get an interview. Pack is a former NBA player and was a key assistant on Vinny Del Negro’s staff . . . While Carmelo Anthony has been diagnosed with a torn labrum, it’s not entirely because of that jerking move on his left arm by Kevin Garnett in Game 2 of the first round. Garnett got tangled with Anthony during a post-up and Anthony was writhing in pain. But the Knicks said Anthony first injured the shoulder in a regular-season game against the Pacers . . . Don’t expect the Thunder to use the amnesty clause on former Celtic Kendrick Perkins. GM Sam Presti said the club has not considered removing Perkins’s salary from its cap. Perkins is owed $17.5 million over the next two seasons and his production has declined steadily over the last two years.