NEWARK, N.J. — Kyrie Irving headed to Cleveland as the No. 1 pick minutes after the NBA draft started.
Jimmer Fredette had to wait hours to officially become a member of the Sacramento Kings.
Plenty other players, from veterans to picks, were on the move Thursday night in a draft that some considered a dud but certainly wasn’t dull.
There was no chance the Cavs would deal Irving, confident his foot is healthy enough to lead the rebuilding effort that follows LeBron James’ departure.
Loudly cheered by family and friends not far from where he starred at St. Patrick’s High School in Elizabeth, the Duke point guard showed no signs of the toe injury on his right foot that limited him to 11 games last season as he walked up the stairs to shake hands with Commissioner David Stern.
“I didn’t have any doubts about going to No. 1. I was looking to the organization to pick who they felt was the right choice,” Irving said. “But now to this moment, from being a fan of the NBA draft and now being drafted, it’s a special feeling in my heart and knowing that my friends and family were together, it’s a memory I’m going to remember for the rest of my life.”
After grabbing him with their first No. 1 pick since taking James in 2003, the Cavs used the No. 4 selection on Canadian forward Tristan Thompson. They were the first team since the 1983 Houston Rockets with two top-four picks.
Thompson wasn’t the only Canadian taken in the first round. The San Antonio Spurs took his Texas roommate Cory Joseph, a native of Pickering, Ont., with the 29th pick. It’s the first time that two Canadians have been drafted in the first round.
Thompson became the highest Canadian draft selection of basketball’s modern era. The six-foot-nine, 230-pound forward from the University of Texas, averaged 13.1 points and 7.8 rebounds in his first and only year playing in the NCAA.
“I need some more time for it to sink it, but it’s definitely an honor and it shows how much the Canadian basketball culture has grown,” Thompson said.
The Toronto Raptors took 19-year-old Lithuanian centre Jonas Valanciunas with the fifth pick.
Valanciunas, a six-foot-11, 231-pound centre, is considered one of the top players in Europe. However, he is signed to a three-year contract with Lietuvos Rytas and a buyout would have to be arranged with the Euroleague club in order to bring him to the NBA.
“I can tell you that without question we have found a combination of the best talent and the best fit for this team,” Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo said.
A three-team trade that included Charlotte, Milwaukee and Sacramento that had been agreed to earlier in the day wasn’t approved until midway through the second round, forcing Fredette to wait about 2 1/2 hours for his NBA destination to be determined after he was taken with the No. 10 pick by the Bucks.
A draft that included a record four international players who didn’t play at a U.S. college selected in the lottery soon became dominated by deals, which the NBA was still hustling to approve and announce as the second round wound down.
Stephen Jackson, Corey Maggette and John Salmons were part of the three-way trade, and fellow vets such as Andre Miller, Rudy Fernandez, Raymond Felton and George Hill were involved in other trades.
The deals spiced up what was thought to be a lacklustre draft, which was missing its usual buzz with the NBA perhaps a week away from a work stoppage.
Three of the first six players taken were from Europe, capitalizing on the absence of some American college players who might have gone in their spots and made this a stronger draft. It was the first time four international players who didn’t play at a U.S. college were selected in the lottery.
The Minnesota Timberwolves took Arizona forward Derrick Williams with the No. 2 pick. The Utah Jazz then took Turkish big man Enes Kanter third with their first of two lottery selections.
New Yorkers made the trip across the river to join the sellout crowd of 8,417, cheering loudly when Kemba Walker and Jimmer Fredette were taken in the top 10 and booing when the Knicks made Georgia Tech guard Iman Shumpert the No. 17 selection.
The draft was filled with little-known European players. Kanter hasn’t played competitively in a year, forced to sit out last season at Kentucky after being ruled ineligible for being paid to play in Turkey.
Lithuania’s Valanciunas went fifth to Toronto and Jan Vesely of the Czech Republic was taken sixth by Washington.
Bismack Biyombo of Congo went seventh as one of six international players who went in the first round, three short of the record set in 2003. The 18-year-old forward moved to Charlotte as part of a three-way deal.
Kentucky’s Brandon Knight went eighth to Detroit as common fans finally heard a name they recognized again. He was followed by Walker of national champion Connecticut to Charlotte and Fredette — both New Yorkers who were loudly cheered after their names were called. Walker, the Final Four Most Outstanding Player, wiped away tears on the draft stage.
“It’s been like a movie. This whole year has been magical, honestly,” Walker said. “So many different, crazy things have been happening to me, and you know, I just feel lucky.”
Irving became the third point guard taken first in the last four years, following Derrick Rose in 2008 and John Wall last year. Rose was the NBA’s MVP this season, ending James’ two-year reign.
Irving insists he’s not trying to replace James — whose highlights were booed when showed on the overhead screen — in a different manner now.
“I’m looking forward to getting to Cleveland,” Irving said. “It’s a big sports town and I cannot wait to embrace all of the fans there and the fan support. I can’t wait.”