The Cleveland Cavaliers entered the 2016 NBA Draft without a pick, but they ended the night with one of college basketball’s best players from last year. Cleveland selected Oakland’s Kay Felder with the No. 54 pick, after purchasing the selection from the Atlanta Hawks.
“We are excited to welcome Kay Felder to the Cavs’ family,” said Cavs General Manager David Griffin. “Kay is a dynamic playmaker, and most importantly, the type of person and competitor that we want to add to our locker room.”
Playing in the Horizon League, Felder put up better numbers than almost any player in the country. At 5-feet-9-inches, Felder led the country with 9.3 assists per game, and his 24.4 points per contest were bested by only three others. Felder was shortest player at the 2016 NBA Draft Combine, but only one prospect has ever had a higher vertical leap.
Cleveland’s front office appears to have been impressed with Felder’s play; but, perhaps most importantly, Felder had a fan in LeBron James.
James had reportedly been a proponent of Felder, having seen him play twice in person. The first time, Felder scored 16 points in a win over Rochester. In February, James watched Cleveland’s second-round selection post a double-double in a win over Cleveland State.
Brandon Weems was an assistant coach at Oakland for two years before joining the Cavs as a scout in 2015. He’s a good friend of James, who seemingly has a lot of sway when it comes to Cleveland’s roster moves.
Jokes are often made about James being the team’s unofficial general manager, but the team’s actual GM admits that his star player has input on Cleveland’s decision-making.
"Every superstar on every team has some ability to give feedback," Griffin said in April. "That's just a fact."
"LeBron certainly has impacted a great deal of what we do here."
But James seems to have more influence than any NBA player. He’s arguably the most valuable athlete in all of American team sports, and the Cavs wouldn’t be the first team to listen to his draft advice.
With the Miami Heat hoping to re-sign James in the summer of 2014, the team traded for Connecticut point guard Shabazz Napier after he was taken No. 24 overall by the Charlotte Hornets. When Napier was taken off the board, James took to Twitter and called Napier “my favorite player in the draft.”
James, however, ended up leaving Miami for Cleveland less than three weeks later.
Second-round draft picks don’t have guaranteed contracts, and most fail to make the roster of the team that selected them. But Felder might have a better chance than most, considering James’ affinity for him and the price tag that Cleveland paid.
Felder fills a potential area of need for the Cavs, who might be looking to upgrade their backup point guard position. Matthew Dellavedova is a restricted free agent; and since he only played sparingly in the NBA Finals, Cleveland might be willing to let him sign elsewhere. Mo Williams is expected to exercise his player option, but he only played 8.2 minutes per game this season.