By Tom Withers
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
INDEPENDENCE, Ohio _ Not only did the Cavaliers not pick first in the NBA draft, they traded their only first-rounder this year.
Amazing what winning _ and having LeBron James around _ will do.
Expected to use the No. 24 overall pick to address their need for a backup point guard, the Cavs took Duke guard Tyus Jones and quickly traded him to Minnesota for two second-round picks _ Nos. 31 and 36 _ and a second-round selection in 2019.
With the No. 31 pick, the Cavs selected Turkey’s Cedi Osman, a 20-year-old who has get-to-the-basket skills but will likely spend two more years in Europe. At No. 36, Cleveland nabbed forward Rakeem Christmas, who averaged 17.5 points and 9.1 rebounds as a senior and will give Cleveland front-line depth. The Cavs used the No. 53 overall pick on St. John’s swingman Sir’Dominic Pointer, a 23-year-old who averaged 13.7 points and 7.7 rebounds and can defend multiple positions.
Following a night he called “anti-climactic” for Cavs fans accustomed to seeing their team at the top of the draft board, general manager David Griffin said shooting guard J.R. Smith will be a free agent after he did not opt in for the final year of his contract.
Also, Griffin said he’s not concerned about the possibility of Kevin Love making free-agent visits to other teams and that James has been in daily contact with the team about its summer plans.
“We’ve heard from him every day pretty much relative to our roster,” Griffin said of the superstar, who will opt out of his deal next week. “It’s been great. He’s been very much engaged with us on a lot of different levels, so it’s been positive.”
It’s the second straight year the Cavs and Timberwolves have done big business. Last summer, Cleveland sent Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett _ both No. 1 overall picks _ to Minnesota in exchange for Love, who had an uneven first year with Cleveland and then sustained a season-ending shoulder injury during the playoffs.
Love has expressed a desire to re-sign with the Cavs and Griffin said the club isn’t worried about him bolting.
“He’s been very clear with what his intentions are all along, certainly any time he has stood in front of anybody he has said that,” Griffin said. “I’m not concerned about it and at the same time we’re very much intending to pursue him the instant that we are able to.”
As for Smith, Griffin indicated the Cavs have interest in bringing him back.
“If it’s the right situation for us, yeah,” he said “We intend to pursue those conversations.”
Smith helped the Cavs shake off a poor start this season, but the streaky shooter didn’t deliver the way the team needed him to in the post-season and it’s unclear how much outside interest he’ll find for his services.
Following Cleveland’s recent loss to Golden State in the NBA Finals, Griffin said he wanted to mimic the Warriors’ model and add more versatile playmakers to Cleveland’s roster in order to help James, who was almost left on his own after injuries sidelined Love and All-Star guard Kyrie Irving.
By dealing their first pick, the Cavs will maintain some financial flexibility because they won’t be locked into paying guaranteed money, up to as much as $5 million with salary cap taxes, to a first-round selection. They need to save as much room under the cap as possible heading into free agency.
Griffin said it was important for the Cavs to add assets, and based on the volume of talks he’s heard in recent weeks, he expects there to be “an incredible number of moves between now and the end of July.”
This was the first time in three years the Cavaliers didn’t have the No. 1 pick. It was a welcomed change for a franchise again transformed by the return of James, who led the Cavs back to the finals this season and figures to have them in title contention for the foreseeable future.
However, that could depend on what else happens this summer.
Last week, Griffin said the team intends to keep its core together from last year and hopes to re-sign Tristan Thompson, Iman Shumpert and Matthew Dellavedova _ all restricted free agents.