9 Days of Madness — The Lead-up to the NBA Draft

The smoke has barely cleared from Golden State’s to-the-script torching of the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals, and already, so much has happened. We’ve seen the number 1 pick be traded, Cleveland fire their General Manager and, perhaps most unbelievably, Brooklyn and the Lakers have made smart basketball decisions. Meanwhile, the Knicks are being the Knicks, which is always fun… if you aren’t a Knicks fan. I’m going to try and break down everything you need to know before the Draft kicks off tomorrow (US time).

Boston trade the 1st pick to Philadelphia

There is not a lot of precedent in dealing the 1st pick in the draft, it has happened precisely 4 times between 1957 and last week, and has, depending on your opinion of the 1993 trade, a 50% success rate.

In 2014, Cleveland sent the number 1 pick, Andrew Wiggins, the previous year’s number 1 pick Andrew Bennett (and some other tinkering via the Philadelphia 76ers) to Minnesota for Kevin Love. Its easy to say that Cleveland mortgaged their future, but they have played in three straight NBA Finals series, and won the city’s first title, so it’s hard to call it a bad decision.

In 1993, after the Orlando Magic had won the Draft Lottery for the second consecutive year, they selected Chris Webber, only to trade him minutes later to Golden State for number 3 pick, Anfernee Hardaway, and three future first-rounders. Hardaway, paired with Shaq was amazing for four years, before injury destroyed a promising career. Webber only played one season for the Warriors before demanding a trade. He was dealt to Washington for Tom Gugliotta and three first-round picks

In the super-deep draft of 1986 (66 players drafted played in the NBA), the Philadelphia 76ers traded the number 1 pick to Cleveland for Roy Hinson and $800,000 (a huge sum at the time). The Cavs selected Brad Daugherty who was a 5-time All-Star selection. The 76ers traded Hinson just over a year later.

In 1980, the Boston Celtics traded the number 1 pick to the Golden State Warriors for the number 3 pick and Robert Parish. The Warriors selected Joe Barry Carroll. Carroll’s listed nicknames on basketball-reference.com are ‘Joe Barely Cares’ and ‘Just Barely Carroll’, so that probably tells you how well that went for the Warriors. The Celtics used pick 3 to select Kevin McHale. The Celtics won 3 Championships and built a Hall-of-Fame front court by pairing Parish and McHale with recently drafted star, Larry Bird.

This brings us to this year. Thanks to the poor trading of Sacramento and the disastrous trading of Brooklyn, Boston and Philadelphia found themselves with the 1st and 3rd pick in the draft respectively. Philadelphia packaged up the number 3 pick with the 2018 Lakers first-round pick (that Philly obtained off Phoenix) — protected 2 through 5 — to obtain the 1st pick in the draft. Its clear the Sixers know who they want in the draft, and were determined to get him. The Celtics have stated that they will pick the same guy at 3 as they would have picked at 1, which feels like more of a PR exercise than a true statement. This statement is designed to reassure fans that the Celts management know what they are doing. That isn’t to say that they don’t know what they are doing. The Celtics had the best record in the East last season, and made the Eastern Conference Finals. They also have some of the most cap-friendly contacts amongst their starters (only Al Horford makes over $10 million a season). In addition to that, they have as many as eight first-round picks over the next three years. On face value, this Boston-Philly trade seems to work out well for both franchises.

What are the Lakers doing?

The storied franchise of the Los Angeles Lakers has not won a playoff game since May 2012, and not one player remains from that team. Since then the Lakers have lost Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Kobe Bryant, changed their coach, changed ownership, and had several swings at talent in the draft. The Lakers have, for the 3rd consecutive year, the 2nd pick in the Draft. The presumption is that they will select UCLA guard Lonzo Ball. Ball is probably the best passer in the draft, and shoots at a high percentage and has legitimate NBA range. Ball has made the news a lot lately, mainly because of his outspoken father, LaVar Ball. LaVar has made a series of ridiculous comments about himself and his son, but they serve as nothing more than a distraction. If the Lakers don’t deal the number 2 pick before the draft (more on that later), they should absolutely take Lonzo Ball with pick 2.

Last year the Lakers signed Timothy Mosgov to a preposterous 4-year, $64 million contract. The following day, they signed veteran forward Luol Deng to a 4-year $72 million contract. The money on both these contracts was too high, and the duration too long, and they would hamper Los Angeles’ flexibility going forward. This week the Lakers took steps to rectify this by sending Mosgov to the Brooklyn Nets in a salary dump. The problem with a salary dump is that you have to give up something to convince the other party to take on the albatross contract — in this case it was promising young guard DeAngelo Russell. The Lakers dealt Mosgov and Russell for the talented, but oft-injured Brook Lopez (on a much friendlier contract) and pick 27 in the Draft. This move clears the cap space for a max-level player this season, and, providing they can move Deng’s contract, another max-level player in 2018 — the same year LeBron James becomes a free agent.

Paul George’s announcement, and the fallout

Also this week, Indiana’s star forward, Paul George, announced he would not re-sign with the Pacers, and expressed his desire to join the Lakers as a free agent in 2018. This is a crushing blow for Indy, as this announcement effectively reduces the trade value of their star. The Pacers are left with the decision between trying to trade PG13 for cents-on-the-dollar (rock) or letting him walk in a year for nothing (hard place).

There has been no shortage of interest in George, but potential suitors must ask themselves what is a fair price to pay for what might be a single-season rental of the forward. Cleveland and Boston have both made enquiries, but it doesn’t appear likely anything will materialise there. The Lakers have offered two late first-rounders and one of Clarkson or Randle to obtain his services early, but Indy seem to be holding out for more. Would the Lakers be willing to deal the number 2 pick for George? Maybe. Whether we see more on this prior to the draft remains to be seen, but I think it’s unlikely Paul George plays another game for the Pacers.

What the fuck are the Knicks doing?

The Knicks are a basket-case. Triangle offence. Octopus. Trading their Unicorn. Ridiculous.

So who is going to be picked where?

Lets run through the top 5, and who I think will end up where (assuming none of these picks are traded prior to the draft).

#1 — Philadelphia 76ers — Markelle Fultz. Philly traded up to the number 1 pick, and have made it no secret they are big fans of Washington guard Fultz. Philly have spent the last few years losing and trading to acquire an impressive treasure trove of assets. Philly fans, myself included, are right to be excited about the core that the Sixers are building. Joel Embiid showed what he is capable of in limited play last season. Croatian forward, Dario Saric, is favourite to win the Rookie of the Year for the 2016–17 season. Add Fultz and last year’s number 1 pick, Australian Ben Simmons, and they have what could be a formidable team going forward.

#2 — Los Angeles Lakers — Lonzo Ball. Ball wants to go the Lakers. The Lakers are interested in Ball. After the Lakers dealt DeAngelo Russell to the Nets, it appears logical that they would take Ball. Ball is a good shooter and a great passer who idolises the Magic Johnson and desires to play for the Lakers. He has a bit of weird hitch in his shot, but he still gets the shot off quickly and shoots at a high rate. At UCLA, Ball only attempted 7 shots that weren’t 3-pointers or layups. Analytics fans love this sort of thing, but Ball will need to be able to shoot from mid-range also in the NBA.

#3 — Boston Celtics — Jason Tatum. When Boston traded down to the number 3, they stated they would still get who they wanted. This pretty much ruled out Fultz and Ball who seem to be consensus 1 and 2, but there is no consensus number 3. Jayson Tatum had a great season at Duke, and his style of play is reminiscent of Paul George or Paul Pierce. Boston have more of a need for a forward than a guard, and that’s why I think they’ll go for Tatum. Other options open to Boston include Josh Jackson or Jonathan Isaac.

#4 — Phoenix Suns — Josh Jackson. Phoenix has an intriguing roster, filled with young guys with a high upside. Devin Booker became the youngest player in NBA history to score 70 points in a game, against Boston, and adding more talent around him with a long-term view seems to be the Suns’ gameplan. Josh Jackson, despite a couple of issues (he is attending anger management), is supremely talented and looks to be a good fit for the Suns. The Suns are smart though, and I also wouldn’t be surprised to see them trade down in the draft to acquire an additional asset, as there is a lot of talent in the top 10 and they aren’t ready to win now.

#5 — Sacramento Kings — DeAaron Fox. Fox is a quality point-guard, and in a lot of other drafts, he’d be the first taken, but this is a top-heavy and guard-heavy draft. Sacramento could get a steal whether they go for Fox or Isaac. The Kings have an interesting roster, including young talent in Skal Labissiere, Willie Cauley-Stein and Buddy Hield, and with the number 5 and number 10 pick, they’ll add to that. Fox’s biggest issue is his shooting, he only shot 25% from outside for Kentucky, but his elite athleticism should see him succeed at the NBA level.

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