NEW YORK – Nerlens Noel is coming off a major knee injury. Alex Len is in a walking boot.
One of them could be the No. 1 pick Thursday in an NBA draft that appears short on stardom, and neither looks ready to get his career off to a running start.
“This draft is really unpredictable, a lot of guys with injuries and you don’t have any, like, LeBron James,” Len said Wednesday. “So it’s going to be interesting.”
Ten years after James climbed on stage to start a draft that goes down as one of the best in recent memory, the No. 1 pick again belongs to Cleveland.
The Cavaliers won’t find anyone who can play like James — if they keep the pick — and even the climbing the stage part will be a challenge for the big men who opened their college seasons against each other and are competing again now.
Noel tore the ACL in his left knee Feb. 12, ending his lone season at Kentucky. The 6-foot-11 freshman led the nation in shot blocking and his conference in rebounding, but hasn’t been able to show the Cavaliers if his offensive game has grown.
The only basketball work he did during his visit to Cleveland was shooting some free throws. Perhaps the pants he wore with his sports jacket and orange tie were just too tight, but Noel was walking gingerly as he exited a hotel ballroom after meeting with the media Wednesday.
“I wanted to do more. Unfortunately I got hurt, but I mean I definitely felt right before I got injured. I was really coming along as a player and just really coming into my own during that part of the season,” Noel said. “But like I said, unfortunately I got hurt, so I wasn’t able to show as much as I wanted to.”
Nor has Len, but that hasn’t stopped the 7-foot-1 center from the Ukraine who spent two seasons at Maryland from climbing into the mix at No. 1. His left foot started hurting around February, and he found out after the season it was a stress fracture.
He was aware he was projected as a top-10 pick before the draft combine, but may go much higher even though his visits to teams have consisted of nothing more than interviews. He no longer needs crutches but will be in the boot for perhaps two more weeks.
So with all these injury questions, what about playing it safe and picking a healthy guy?
“I mean, probably a lot of people wish it could be that easy,” Kansas guard Ben McLemore said.
“But it’s a process for the teams, they’ve got to see what’s available and what they really need. This draft is up in the air and nobody knows what’s going to happen, who’s going to get drafted in which order.”
Orlando has the No. 2 pick, followed by Washington, Charlotte and Phoenix.
PACERS: Larry Bird will be re-introduced to the media Thursday as the team’s president of basketball operations.
WARRIORS: Power forward Carl Landry opted out of the final year of his two-year, $8 million deal to become a free agent.
HEAT: Miami decided to exercise its team option to keep starting point guard Mario Chalmers for the 2013-14 season.
LAKERS: The team exercised its contract option on guard Jodie Meeks and extended a qualifying offer to center Robert Sacre.
RAPTORS: Bryan Colangelo stepped down as the team president.