INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — The Cavaliers found a running mate for Kyrie Irving, just not the expected one. They also found a center for Irving too.
Dion Waiters was a major surprise and Tyler Zeller was the center.
Needing a scorer to support Irving, the Cavs chose Waiters, the Syracuse shooting guard Thursday night with the No. 4 overall pick, a somewhat stunning selection after signs in recent days pointed toward the club coveting Florida guard Bradley Beal, who went to Washington at No. 3.
The Cavs discussed a trade with Charlotte to move up to No. 2, but a deal never materialized and the Bobcats took Kentucky’s Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. When it was Cleveland’s turn on the clock, the club passed on taking North Carolina smooth-shooting forward Harrison Barnes and nabbed Waiters.
“I think he has something special,” Cavs coach Byron Scott said. “I think we got a steal.”
In two drafts, the Cavs have rebuilt a backcourt they hope stays together for years.
“I’ve known him for a long time,” Waiters said of Irving. “I can’t wait to get out there with him. I’m very excited. I wish it started tomorrow.”
It’s the second year in a row that Cleveland general manager Chris Grant has shaken up the top of the draft. Last year, he took forward Tristan Thompson with the fourth pick, much earlier than experts predicted. But Thompson proved to be a solid choice, and the Cavs hope they have the same luck with Waiters.
“We don’t really care where a guy gets picked as long as he’s the right pick for us,” Grant said. “If we feel good about it, we’re going to take the player.”
The club desperately needed a wing scorer and a complementary piece for Irving, last year’s No. 1 overall pick who didn’t disappoint and was named Rookie of the Year. Waiters should take some of the scoring burden off Irving, and he doesn’t appear to lack any confidence that he’ll produce.
“I’m an all-around player,” he said on a conference call when asked to describe his game. “I feel like I don’t have any weaknesses.”
The selection of Waiters didn’t sit well with some of the fans attending the team’s draft party at Quicken Loans Arena. Waiters didn’t receive the same publicity as other players at the top of the draft board, but that didn’t dissuade the Cavs.
Later in the first round, the Cavs acquired 7-foot center Tyler Zeller from Dallas and small forward Kelenna Azubuike in exchange for the No. 24 overall pick and two second-round selections (Nos. 33 and 34). The Mavericks selected Zeller at No. 17 before shipping his rights to Cleveland.
“It was a kind of awkward getting the Dallas hat,” said Zeller, who after going on stage in Newark, N.J., was kept in a holding area until the trade was approved by the league.
As a senior, Zeller averaged 16.3 points, 9.6 rebounds and 1.5 blocks a game last season for the Tar Heels. He was the fourth North Carolina player selected in the first 17 picks. Zeller played in 117 games in college and his game improved each season. He was voted the ACC’s top player last season.
Zeller needs to improve on the offensive end, but he runs the floor well and has good hands. His younger brother, Cody, was the Big Ten’s freshman of the year at Indiana.
Like Waiters, Zeller is looking forward to being teammates with Irving even though he did attend Duke, North Carolina’s bitter rival.
“He can pretty much do everything,” said Zeller, who worked out with Irving during the NBA lockout. “It’s beyond Duke-Carolina.”
Waiters didn’t start a single game last season for the Orange, averaging 12.6 points in 37 games. But at 6-foot-4, and a stocky 221 pounds, he’s not afraid to drive to the basket and many feel the Big East’s top sixth man has already got a pro-ready game.
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim has compared Waiters’ playing style to that of a young Dwyane Wade.
“He knows basketball,” Waiters said of his former coach.
Waiters was a bit of a mystery man leading up to the draft. After he was promised by a lottery team that they would take him, Waiters, on the advice of his agent, Rob Pelinka, packed up and left the league’s combine in Chicago on the first day before he was measured, interviewed or participated in a drill.
He didn’t work out for any teams leading up to the draft.
Although Waiters wouldn’t reveal which team made him the promise, he did say it wasn’t the Cavaliers.
“I didn’t even talk to Cleveland,” he said. “I didn’t even work out for Cleveland.”
Waiters said he wasn’t worried that skipping the combine would damage his stock.
“I believe in my agent,” he said. “They’ve been in the game a long time and they know what they’re doing.”
The Cavs were on Waiters’ trail all season. They scouted him extensively for months. They already knew him well, and will get to know him even better.
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