Cleveland adds to frontline, picks Hickson

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 27, 2008

The Associated Press

INDEPENDENCE — The Cleveland Cavaliers got younger. Only time will tell if they’re any better.

With the 19th pick in the NBA draft, they took a 19-year-old project.

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Needing an injection of young blood for their aging frontcourt, the Cavs selected North Carolina State’s J.J. Hickson, a 6-foot-9 forward who played just one season of college ball before turning pro.

While touting Hickson’s athleticism, work ethic and ability to play in the post or outside, general manager Danny Ferry acknowledged that Hickson is an unfinished player.

‘‘He’s kind of an uncarved block,’’ Ferry said.

Hickson averaged 14.8 points and 8.5 rebounds in his only season with the Wolfpack. He led the Atlantic Coast Conference in field-goal percentage (.591) and ranked sixth in blocks (1.5).

When commissioner David Stern announced from the stage in New York that Hickson was headed for Cleveland, the Atlanta native didn’t know what to think.

‘‘I was lost for words,’’ he said.

Ferry added experience to his roster with a blockbuster trade in February. But with Zydrunas Ilgauskas (33), forward Joe Smith (33) and Ben Wallace (34) getting older, it was time to infuse some young legs up front.

‘‘Bringing a young big into our group is important, considering the age of our bigs,’’ Ferry said. ‘‘Some young blood in there was important for us. He’s a guy we had ranked real high all year. He’s a hard worker. He’s one of those guys who gets up at 6 a.m. to get to the gym. He’s a quality kid with a great background and talent.

‘‘He can play with his back to the basket. He will be a work in progress. He has a lot to learn. He’s a young kid, and it’s our job to put him in the best position to succeed over the next 12 to 18 months.’’

Hickson was one of eight players with just one year of college experience taken in the first 19 picks.

Coming off their first trip to the NBA finals, the Cavaliers finished 45-37 last season. They were ravaged by injuries and then Ferry overturned his roster at the Feb. 21 trading deadline by dealing half of his active roster in two separate deals.

Still, the Cavs beat Washington in the first round of the playoffs and pushed the Boston Celtics to seven games before losing in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Cleveland’s timeline to win an NBA title could be narrowing. Superstar LeBron James is eligible for free agency following the 2010 season, and his possible departure will hang over the club for the next two seasons.

Hickson said he’s eager to play alongside James, whom he called ‘‘the best athlete in the league’’ and someone he can learn from.

‘‘I’m going to be a sponge and soak it up,’’ he said.

Earlier this week, Ferry said this year’s draft was deep at power forward and center. With Ohio State’s Kosta Koufous and Kansas’ Darrell Arthur still on the board, the Cavs opted for Hickson, a player they hope can help them immediately but one they are willing to groom to become a ‘‘solid rotational player.’’

Ferry was reluctant to guess how long it might take Hickson to be ready to help.

‘‘I don’t want to put a hard set timeline on anyone, but I want to be respectful that this kid just finished his first year of college,’’ Ferry said. ‘‘He will have to learn, a lot to grow with and a lot to improve on. He’s a kid who has the talent, physically. He has the focus to work and grow and he’s a kid I feel comfortable with with where we were picking.’’

The Cavaliers entered the draft without a second-round pick. They traded that selection to the Phoenix Suns in 2002 for guard Milt Palacio.