NEW YORK: Anthony Bennett became the first Canadian to be the No. 1 pick and Nerlens Noel tumbled out of the top five in a surprising start to Thursday’s NBA draft.
The Cleveland Cavaliers passed on Noel and Ukraine’s Alex Len, who went to Phoenix at No. 5, in favor of Bennett, a University of Nevada Las Vegas forward who has starred for Canada’s junior national teams and was the Mountain West Conference player of the year.
On the day of the draft, it was a couple of veterans who stole much of the attention, with news the Brooklyn Nets will acquire Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett from Boston in a blockbuster deal that was still developing as the draft neared its conclusion, according to a person with knowledge of the details.
“There was a lot of activity,” said Nets general manager Billy King, who wouldn’t comment on the trade. “As you guys will find out, there will be a lot of trades that are announced.”
His can’t be until July 10, after next season’s salary cap is set.
One of the favorites to be taken first Thursday, Noel fell to No. 6, where the New Orleans Pelicans took him and then dealt his rights to the Philadelphia 76ers for a package headlined by All-Star guard Jrue Holiday, according to a person familiar with the details. That trade can’t become official until July 10 because of salary cap concerns, according to another official with knowledge of the deal.
The Cleveland Cavaliers started things by passing on centers Noel and Len, who went to Phoenix at No. 5, in favor of Bennett, who led a record 12 international players who were taken in the first round.
“I’m just as surprised as anyone else,” Bennett said.
There was suspense right until the end, either because the Cavs were unsure who they wanted or were trying to trade the pick. Most predictions had them taking one of the big men, with Noel largely considered the favorite for the No. 1 choice even after a torn knee ligament that ended his lone college season at Kentucky in February.
“I thought everything was in the air, so I wasn’t thinking I was the No. 1 pick,” Noel said.
Orlando passed on both of the big men, too, going with Indiana swingman Victor Oladipo with the No. 2 pick. Washington took Otto Porter Jr. with the third pick, keeping the Georgetown star in the D.C. area.
Bennett, Noel and Len are all coming off injuries and couldn’t even work out for teams, but the Cavs decided Bennett’s shoulder surgery wasn’t enough cause for concern.
Len walked up to meet Stern and collect his orange Suns hat, then sat down near the stage to put on the walking boot he needs for the stress fracture of his left ankle that was discovered after Maryland’s season.
Noel finally went to New Orleans with the next pick. He didn’t seem upset at his fall down the draft board, hugging his mother and shaking hands with Kentucky coach John Calipari.
It was a good start to the night for the Hoosiers, with Cody Zeller going to the Charlotte Bobcats two places after Oladipo.
Kansas guard Ben McLemore, another player who was considered a potential top-three pick, also dropped, going seventh to Sacramento.
National player of the year Trey Burke of Michigan also was traded, the Minnesota Timberwolves sending his rights to Utah for the rights to Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng, the Nos. 14 and 21 picks.
Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum rounded out the top 10 by going to Portland.