When former Duke point guard Kyrie Irving was picked No. 1 overall by Cleveland last June, it helped his cause that he wasn't a small forward.
LeBron James made his Decision to head for Miami a year before, and in his rookie year, Irving was facing more than enough pressure without the burden of replacing The Departed One at the three position.
A year later, North Carolina's Harrison Barnes could wind up playing that role.
The Cavaliers are very high on the 20-year-old small forward and appear unlikely to let him slip past them at the No. 4 slot in the June 28 draft, according to sources. While this week's predraft combine in Chicago and subsequent team workouts could always change things, rival executives are planning for Barnes to be off the board by the time the fifth pick (Sacramento) rolls around.
"He's a pretty big deal to them," one such executive said.
Barnes, a skilled and versatile scorer and a capable defender, would be the sort of two-way threat that coach Byron Scott values. He averaged 17.1 points (on 44 percent shooting from the field and 35.8 percent from three-point range) and 5.2 rebounds as a sophomore, though he shot just 32.8 percent overall and 26 percent from beyond the arc while averaging 14 points in four games during the NCAA tournament. And considering he once announced his decision to attend North Carolina during a nationally televised segment on ESPN in which he picked between six suitors, maybe Barnes is destined for Cleveland.
If the Cavs did indeed take Barnes -- in SI.com's first mock draft, I had them selecting Florida shooting guard Bradley Beal -- it would make things very interesting for Sacramento at No. 5 (which was Barnes' landing spot in my initial first-round forecast). I'm told the Kings have a similarly high opinion of Beal, like most teams do, but they're also overloaded with expensive wing scorers in Marcus Thornton (three years and $24.4 million remaining), Tyreke Evans (extension talks possible this summer and $5.2 million left in final season of deal in 2012-13) and John Salmons (two seasons and $15.5 million to go).
Kansas forward Thomas Robinson could be a good fit alongside third-year center DeMarcus Cousins, but the buzz that Washington will take him at No. 3 remains strong (that is, of course, if Charlotte opts for Kentucky small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist at No. 2). It sounds as if the Kings like -- to varying degrees -- Barnes, North Carolina big men Tyler Zeller or John Henson, or even Kentucky forward Terrence Jones more than risky prospects such as Connecticut center Andre Drummond or Baylor forward Perry Jones III.
The chatter will grow louder this week, and I'll check back in from Chicago with the latest rumblings. Until then, here's the list of players participating in the combine.