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Pluto: Cavaliers shouldn't draft around LeBron intentions

By TERRY PLUTO • Jun 21, 2018 at 7:00 AM

CLEVELAND — Trae Young or Collin Sexton?

How about Michael Porter Jr., who is coming off major back surgery?

Go safe and draft a polished forward such as Villanova's Mikal Bridges?

Make a bold move, trade for Charlotte's Kemba Walker — an All-Star who has only one year left on a $12 million contract?

For the first time since 2015, the Cleveland Cavaliers have a chance to pick a player as they have the No. 8 selection.

In fact, the only players on the current roster who actually were drafted by the Cavs are Tristan Thompson, Cedi Osman and LeBron James.

It's a little strange to count James, the top pick in the 2003 draft by the Cavs. He left in the summer of 2010 via free agency for Miami, then returned in the summer of 2014.

No one knows what the summer of 2018 will mean for James and his selection of a team for next season. James will make no decision before tonight’s draft.

That's why the Cavs need to make the best selection and/or trade without spending time considering how it impacts James.

For example, if James stays, the Cavs need a young point guard. If he leaves, they need a young point guard.

Just find a guy who can play, period.

LOSING GRIFFIN

At this point a year ago, the Cavaliers had no general manager — at least in name. Owner Dan Gilbert decided not to extend the contract of David Griffin, and the former general manager left the team on June 20, 2017.

Top assistant general manager Trent Redden also departed with Griffin.

Gilbert was talking to former Detroit Pistons guard Chauncey Billups about the job.

The 2017 draft was coming. Koby Altman was named the interim general manager while Gilbert talked to Billups.

The delay wasn't a big deal. The Cavs had no draft picks last season.

Cavs fans know what happened. Billups turned down the job. The 34-year-old Altman was promoted to replace Griffin on July 24, 2017.

And not long after that, Kyrie Irving demanded to be traded.

Since then, things have been wild even by the extreme mood shifts that happen when LeBron James is on the team.

Irving is with the Boston Celtics, recovering from knee surgery. The Cavs added the No. 8 pick in the deal.

They also have Ante Zizic, a 6-foot-11 center who showed real ability to score inside in limited opportunities last year.

PRESSURE ON ALTMAN

I was a David Griffin fan and still consider it a mistake for the Cavs to let him go.

Like most rookie general managers, Altman made some mistakes when thrown into the job last summer. He was No. 3 in the front office, behind Griffin and Redden. Most Cavs fans had never heard of the guy until he ended up with the job.

But I also think some of the criticism aimed at Altman is a backlash against the firing of Griffin, who was very popular with the media. Griffin was good at his job, helping assemble some key parts around James and the 2016 championship team.

Altman kept signing and trading players last season until he found enough talent to help James. Then the future Hall of Famer relentlessly drove the Cavs to their fourth consecutive NBA Finals appearance.

I also like the additions of Larry Nance Jr., Jordan Clarkson and Rodney Hood (assuming he re-signs with the Cavs) in terms of younger role players for next season.

But the Cavs treasured this draft pick from the Celtics.

They hoped it would be in the top three or five, but the lottery was not kind to them.

So it's No. 8, where it's not easy to find a star.

WHAT TO DO?

This draft will tell us a lot about Altman.

1. If Michael Porter is available and the Cavs pick him, it shows Altman's willingness to gamble. The 6-foot-10 Porter was the best high school player in 2017. But he injured his back in his first game with Missouri and had surgery. He played late in the season, but only 53 total minutes in college.

2. Back surgery is scary, especially for a 19-year-old. Porter's people insist he is now healthy.

3. Young is an electric and sometimes out-of-control point guard from Oklahoma who has patterned his game after Stephen Curry. A huge difference is Curry played three years at Davidson and was a 41 percent shooter from 3-point range. Young is turning pro after one season. He is a career 36 percent shooter on 3-pointers, partly because he took 102 shots from at least 30 feet. He made only 25 percent of those.

4. Young led all of college basketball, averaging 8.7 assists. That stat jumps out. Consider that fellow point guard prospect Collin Sexton averaged only 3.6 assists at Alabama. He is an athletic driver to the rim. He draws fouls. He plays with passion. But in an NBA that loves 3-point shooting, Sexton shot .336 from long range.

5. I prefer Young over Sexton.

6. There are intriguing big men such as Wendell Carter and Marvin Bagley, both of Duke. The Cavs have a lot of big men.

7. I like Villanova forward Mikal Bridges, but I've never heard the 3-point shooter and determined defender connected with the Cavs.

8. Make a trade for Walker with only a year left on his contract? Only if you think you can re-sign him. And the Cavs have George Hill under contract for $19 million next year.

My guess is Altman does something that surprises, as he did both in the Boston deal for Irving and his barrage of mid-season trades. If nothing else, for the first time since 2014, the Cavs have a lottery pick and draft night is relevant again.

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