Should the Cavaliers draft Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker No. 1 now?

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Joel Embiid had it all – size, skills, athleticism and upside.

Unfortunately, it’s never that easy in Cleveland.

With Embiid injured, the Cavaliers’ options for the No. 1 pick likely come down to Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker.

They could always take a flier on Dante Exum, or given how they’ve operated the last couple years, someone like Aaron Gordon. Maybe they could even still draft Embiid.

But all logic says Wiggins and Parker are the only two reasonable candidates, and the sudden shakeup makes the debate between the two – once with the No. 2 pick on the line – all the more intriguing.

It’s been easy for top-selecting teams to hide behind positional need to justify their selections. Players of the same position haven’t gone 1-2 in the draft in eight years, since the Raptors took PF Andrea Bargnani No. 1 and PF LaMarcus Aldridge followed at No. 2 in 2006.

Wiggins and Parker are heavy favorites to end that trend with the Bucks taking the one the Cavs don’t. Though Wiggins falls more toward a 2/3 and Parker a 3/4, both are essentially small forwards.

Here’s how the major sites rank them right now:

Site Wiggins Parker
DraftExpress 2 3
ESPN 1 2
CBS 1 2
SB Nation 1 2
nbadraft.net 3 2

Wiggins definitely holds a perceived edge. He possesses elite athletic traits – from his lengthy wingspan to his ridiculous vertical. He must become more aggressive and a better ball-handler to capitalize offensively, but his defense – while it comes and goes – looks excellent at times.

Parker can score from anywhere on the court, and he has the dribbling ability to get anywhere. He’s a willing passer with as diverse of an offensive skillset as you’ll find in a one-and-done player. His lack of lateral quickness leaves him a limited defender, though.

If you notice, there’s no discussion of fit here. For one, Wiggins and Parker share similar enough profiles.

More importantly, it doesn’t matter.

The Cavaliers won 33 games last year. They should not worry about how a player fits into a roster that should change significantly.

Only Kyrie Irving would make me even hesitate about positional overlap, but if the best prospect were a point guard, I’d still probably pick him and roll with two-point guard lineups – an underutilized weapon – and sort it out later. Conveniently for Cleveland, the only point guard even in the periphery of the discussion, Exum, could easily play the two.

In terms of what they bring to any team, looking at a player’s track record is a great place to start.

With minimal room to argue, Parker was better in college last season. He made every major All-American first team while Wiggins made all the second teams.

Even if we knew Parker was more likely than Wiggins to become the better player, that alone wouldn’t make Parker the clearly better draft choice.

If Wiggins has a higher ceiling – even with lower odds of reaching it – that matters. Superstars drive the NBA, and it might be better to swing at the fences for one rather than taking the dependable line-drive double.

I’m just not convinced that line of thinking matters in this case.

Why is everyone so convinced a 19-year-old Parker is so much more of a finished product than a 19-year-old Wiggins?

Wiggins entered school as the consensus No. 1 pick, and though we have 35 more games to analyze, I believe that label still colors perception of Wiggins. People look for reasons to justify his early project as No. 1 pick. Parker, an elite prospect coming out of high school himself, doesn’t get the same benefit of the doubt.

Nothing indicates potential more than age, and less than a month separates the two. Wiggins’ athleticism give him an upside advantage, but without an age discrepancy also significantly in his favor, Wiggins’ upside advantage has been overstated.

That’s evident in the statistical ratings produced by Kevin Pelton of ESPN, the foremost public statistical draft ratings now that John Hollinger works for the Grizzlies. Pelton’ system features age prominently – in addition to pre-NBA production – in the equation.

And that’s why drafting Wiggins No. 1 is so unnerving. I might do it, but it would scare me.

He ranks just No. 22 in Pelton’s rating (Wins Above Replacement Player, aka WARP), which would make Wiggins the lowest-ranked No. 1 pick in the eight years for which Pelton has revealed data.

Year No. 1 pick WARP rank
2013 Anthony Bennett 13
2012 Anthony Davis 1
2011 Kyrie Irving 2
2010 John Wall 10
2009 Blake Griffin 3
2008 Derrick Rose 9
2007 Greg Oden 2

I’m always most comfortable when the analytics match my eye test.

It’s not about taking the player statistics rate No. 1 – Marcus Smart for Pelton this year, by the way. It’s  about using all methods of evaluation to reach a conclusion.

Like Wiggins, Parker passes the eye test, though perhaps not as effortlessly. But Parker ranks No. 7 in Pelton’s system, substantially higher than Wiggins.

That’s the case in other statistical models. Counting The Baskets places Parker No. 3 and Wiggins No. 19. Jacob Frankel has Parker No. 6 and Wiggins No. 13. Layne Vashro put Parker No. 8 and Wiggins No. 10, and Basketball Analytics ranks Parker No. 1 and Wiggins No. 3, but going by score rather than rank shows pretty substantial gaps between Parker and Wiggins in those two formulas.

Still, that some analytical methods place Wiggins so high certainly eases some of the worry of drafting him.

Simply, it’s an intriguing debate.

My gut says Wiggins. My head says Parker.

I’ve tried to train myself to follow my head over my gut – and usually I do – but it’s not easy. Wiggins is so tempting.

If I were the Cavaliers, I’d take Parker No. 1 and never look back look back constantly in fear of Wiggins becoming the better pro.

LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant make top 10 of Forbes highest-paid athletes list

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LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and Kevin Durant make more money off the court in endorsements than they do in salary from their teams. Which is not a surprise.

It’s enough money to vault them into the top 10 of FORBES Magazine’s list of highest-paid athletes for the last year.

LeBron is fifth at $88.2 million, of which $37.4 million is salary (although Forbes lists it as much less). Stephen Curry is sixth at $74.4 million, and Durant is seventh at $69.3 million.

Rounding out basketball players in the top 20 are Russell Westbrook at 12th ($56 million), James Harden at 17th $47.8 million, and Giannis Antetokounmpo at $47.6 million. Overall, 34 NBA players are in the top 100, including rookie Zion Williamson at 57th ($27.3 million).

Tennis legend Roger Federer topped the list at $106.3 million, and he was followed by soccer stars Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, and Neymar, before we got to LeBron.

Despite all the work that goes into them, these Forbes estimates have a reputation for being off the mark. That said, it makes for a fun debate and ranking, and we could all use that right now.

Stephen Jackson speaks passionately at a rally in remembrance of his “twin” George Floyd

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Stephen Jackson, the former NBA player and current ESPN analyst, knew George Floyd from when he pair grew up near each other in Texas.

Friday, Jackson spoke about the man he called his “twin” at a rally Minneapolis City Hall Rotunda (an event with Timberwolves players Karl-Anthony Towns and Josh Okogie in attendance. (Video via Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic, there is NSFW language involved.)

“I’m here because they’re not gonna demean the character of George Floyd, my twin. A lot of times, when police do things they know that’s wrong, the first thing they try to do is cover it up, and bring up their background, to make it seem like the bulls*** that they did was worthy. When was murder ever worthy? But if it’s a black man, it’s approved.

“You can’t tell me, when that man has his knee on my brother’s neck — taking his life away, with his hand in his pocket — that that smirk on his face didn’t say, ‘I’m protected.’ You can’t tell me that he didn’t feel that it was his duty to murder my brother, and that he knew he was gonna get away with it. You can’t tell me that wasn’t the look on his face.”

There has been a powerful reaction across the NBA world — and across the nation — in the wake of the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery (a 25-year-old black man killed while jogging in a Georgia neighborhood) and Floyd. In a sport with many black players, the murders of these men were reminders of the systemic race issues still part of American culture. LeBron James captured the feelings of many players and others when he took to Instagram.

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STILL!!!! 🤬😢😤

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Derek Chauvin, the man pictured kneeling on Floyd’s neck — which he did for more than eight-and-a-half minutes — was fired from his job in the Minneapolis Police Department and was arrested on Friday and charged with third-degree murder.

Vote on NBA restart format expected next Thursday, here are four plans on the table

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver
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The NBA is almost guaranteed to return to action in July, with the games taking place in Orlando.

What format the return takes is undecided, but the owners are expected to vote on that next Thursday, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

On Friday’s conference call with owners, Adam Silver reportedly laid out four options for them, something Shams Charania of The Athletic reported.

There was no consensus behind any one option, teams are all lobbying for what they want to see. Come next Thursday, Adam Silver is going to have to make a recommendation and get everyone to line up behind it, something the owners and players will do. This is Silver’s call.

Let’s break those options down.

• 16 teams going directly into playoffs. This is the cleanest, most straightforward option, and it has support from a number of owners. This keeps the number of people in the bubble relatively small, making it easier to maintain the safety of players, coaches, staff, and everyone involved. The league likely would keep the conference format rather than go to 1-16 seeding (many owners from the Eastern Conference and coastal cities reportedly are not fans of 1-16 and fear if they do it once, even in this unique season, it would become a regular thing).

One downside is players have asked for some regular season games — or games with meaning — before the playoffs to get their legs under them, this does not provide any (increasing the risk of injury). The other downside is this takes almost half the NBA’s markets and tells them “you’re done, no games from March until Christmas (the expected date for the tip-off of next season, or maybe a week or two earlier). That’s a long time without games and can hurt momentum for those franchises.

• 20 teams, group play for the first round. This is the World Cup soccer idea, with four groups of five teams each and the top two teams in each group advancing to the playoffs. Some fans and teams backed this idea because it provided a bit of randomness to the mix — soccer sees a lot of upsets in this format. On the flip side, the top teams were not fans of this plan for the same reason.

The buzz around the league is this format is basically dead to the owners.

• 22 teams with regular season games to determine seeding, followed by a play-in tournament to the 16-team playoffs. This idea, in a couple of different forms (one with just 20 teams, some with 24) has some momentum. The idea is the 22 teams — all teams within six games off the last playoff spot in each conference, which is the Wizards in the East and the Trail Blazers, Pelicans, Kings, Spurs, and Suns in the West — would play eight regular season games, then standings at the end of those games would set up the play-in tournament for the eighth seed. After that, the playoffs would start. This gets more markets involved, gets some regular season games (helping some regional sports networks), and still has a full playoffs.

There are downsides. It brings more people into the bubble and is that risk worth the reward? There are going to be some meaningless regular season games here, both by teams eliminated and teams locked into their playoff spots (the Lakers and Bucks will treat these games like exhibitions). It also adds a couple of weeks to the season and pushes the end-date back deeper into September and maybe October.

• 30 teams, a regular season to get to 72 games, then a play-in tournament followed by the playoffs. This is the idea to “finish” the regular season. We’re not going to waste time on it because my sources, and those of other reporters, have called this one dead on arrival.

Silver is going to get lobbied all week by different factions backing different plans, but by next Thursday he has to pick a one he can sell to owners and to players. There are no good options, he has to choose the least bad one.

From there, players will get called back to market for workouts and the clock will start.

So long as the league can keep everyone safe.

Bradley Beal: Contract extension gives Wizards opportunity, me flexibility

Wizards guard Bradley Beal
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Bradley Beal, through word and action, has shown an incredibly strong commitment to the Wizards.

But is there an opening to pry him from Washington?

Beal on his contract extension, via “All The Smoke“:

It was definitely tough. I came down to damn near the deadline on my decision, because I kind of play devil’s advocate. The whole year, I’m weighing pros and cons of staying or leaving, signing and not signing. Do I wait and try to sign this summer? Or do I wait and try to get traded? Or do I wait and play my contract out? So, I had a bunch of options.

I secured two more years. I have two more years here. Well, three. And, so for me, it was like that puts me – to me, I don’t think I’m going to hit my prime until I’m – what? – 29, 28, 29, 30? And so I feel like – at the end of this extension, it puts me right there. And it so kind of puts me in the prime time of my basketball. And so it still gives me the flexibility with also giving my respects and loyalty to the organization that drafted me. So, I’m still giving you all an opportunity here to make it with work with John, to make it work with everybody. So, here we go. We’ve got a couple more years. And granted, I think my extension is the length of John’s contract, as well. So, this is the time we’ve got. We’re going to see what we can do, and we’re going to make it work.

Beal on the Nets being interested in trading for him, via Jackie MacMullan of ESPN:

“It’s not the first time I’ve heard this kind of talk,” Beal told ESPN. “It’s interesting. To me, I look at it as a sign of respect, that I’ve been doing good things and guys want to play with me.

“That’s an unbelievable feeling. When you hear that Kyrie [Irving] and KD [Kevin Durant] want you, s—, that’s amazing. At the same time, you don’t know how much there is to it, or how easy it would be to do. And I’ve put down roots in D.C. I’ve dedicated myself to this town, this community. I love it here, and it would feel great to know I could grind out winning here instead of jumping to another team.

“But I’d be naive to say that I don’t think about it when these stories come up.”

Beal, 26, is locked up two more seasons. Both he and John Wall have player options for 2022-23. Beal’s agent, Mark Bartelstein, declared: “There are no Beal Sweepstakes.”

Everything Beal has said and done about staying in Washington is far more concrete than anything he has indicated about leaving.

But…

It’s interesting how close he came to not signing his extension. It’s interesting he publicly admitted to thinking about trade interest from other teams.

To me, Beal sounds like Anthony Davis – after years of stating loyalty to the Pelicans – subtly hinting he was dissatisfied in New Orleans. The key: Davis requested a trade only after the Pelicans kept struggling to build around him.

Beal is giving the Wizards an opportunity. Maybe they can assemble a winner around him. But even if Wall gets healthy, that’s a tough job.

If Washington becomes successful in the next couple years, great. That’s easy. Beal seems to be looking for reasons to stay.

But if the Wizards keep losing the next couple years, other teams will definitely line up to acquire the star shooting guard. Many players in that situation have greased the wheels of their exit by saying they won’t re-sign or even outright requesting a trade.

We’ll see how Washington does. We’ll see what Beal does at that point.

Considering Beal previously said he’d finish his career with the Wizards if he can control it, these recent interviews leave the door cracked slightly – only slightly – more ajar for Beal to depart.