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No certainty in this year’s NBA draft

Nerlens Noel could be selected first in Thursday’s NBA draft. (Associated Press)
Nerlens Noel could be selected first in Thursday’s NBA draft. (Associated Press)

Anyone outside the Cleveland Cavaliers’ front office claiming to know what becomes of the No. 1 pick in Thursday’s NBA draft is likely practicing self-delusion.

The Cavaliers, with the third-worst record last season at 24-58, won the No. 1 pick in last month’s draft lottery. This will be the second time in three seasons they have the top pick, after selecting Duke point guard Kyrie Irving in 2011.

There is no Irving in this draft and no Anthony Davis, the Kentucky big man who was the top pick in 2012. For months now NBA scouts have said you could justify any of five or six players as the 2013 top pick. That’s because no one so distinguished himself over this past college season to eliminate the competition.

So no one might know the Cavaliers’ intent until David Stern presides over his last draft as commissioner. Even if they’ve decided who they would draft, a lot can change in the final hours before the draft. The Cavaliers have made it clear they’re open to trade proposals.

The point here is the next three teams – the Orlando Magic, Washington Wizards and Charlotte Bobcats – will be flying blind as to who will be selected ahead of their picks.

The Cavaliers could go with a big man such as Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel or Maryland’s Alex Len. They could pick Georgetown small forward Otto Porter Jr. to address their need for a small forward. Or they could go against need and grab UNLV power forward Anthony Bennett or Kansas shooting guard Ben McLemore.

The Cavaliers’ acknowledging their preferences could only diminish the potential trade value of No. 1. Unpredictability is in Cleveland’s favor.

There aren’t many NBA drafts that play out this way. Two with some similarities were the 2001 draft and 1989 drafts.

In both cases there was no clear-cut No. 1 player and the teams with the top pick - the Sacramento Kings in ’89, the Wizards in ’01 - each defaulted to a big man who didn’t end up doing much.

The Kings selected Louisville center Pervis Ellison. Ellison, who played one injury-filled season in Sacramento before being traded to Washington, strung together a decent career, but never impacted the Kings as they hoped he would.

In 2001, Wizards player-personnel chief Michael Jordan – now the Bobcats’ owner – selected Georgia high school big man Kwame Brown over Tyson Chandler and Pau Gasol.

Brown had four bad-to-mediocre seasons in Washington before being traded to the Los Angeles Lakers.