On Thursday night, some very bad teams are going to have the chance to land some very good players. The best part of the Draft is watching things happen that no one expected, which is then followed by a shockwave of brave decisions by NBA executives. Joel Embiid had been the top overall prospect, now he is not. Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker will probably go 1 and 2, in some order, possibly not. Teams are scrambling, planning and changing scenarios meticulously plotted months in advance are being decided on with a couple days of hurried preparation. There will be smiling athletes, a social media shitstorm, happy moms, high fashion, ill-fitting hats, nervous agents, a rookie commissioner and middling shoe company executives. Are we in store for another ‘Woah!’ moment? When it comes time for the worst teams in the NBA to making important decisions, working against a shot clock, anything can happen.
Below we identified NEEDS, RUMOURS, and PREDICTIONS for each of the 12 teams making 14 lottery picks. For the sake of argument, picks and predictions are based on logical assumptions about which players are likely to be available in each spot. We are very aware that one team’s decision to take a player or not take a player can have a substantial ripple effect on what happens. We hope it does, we expect to be wrong.
JUMP TO A PICK
Pick #1: Cleveland Cavaliers
by Travis Nicholson
NEEDS: If the Cavaliers are going forward with their young core of recent lottery picks, the noticeable absence among those picks is at the Center position. They tried the Andrew Bynum experiment, they borrowed Spencer Hawes, Anderson Varejao is always hurt, and now the top prospect in the entire draft plays that very position. (Wrinkle: he’s hurt. How bad? Find out!) At SF, their number one overall pick from last year, Anthony Bennett, hasn’t proven himself yet at all and rumours always hint that Luol Deng is on the market. After 4 years, Tristan Thompson is underperforming at PF.
The Cavs seem to want to stick with their young core of Kyrie Irving and other what-if possibilities. If Luol Deng leaves, this opens up a starting SF spot for Jabari Parker, and Deng’s expiring deal is a great chip to get involved in the Kevin Love talks, whether it’s for him or they are a player in someone else’s deal for Love. The #1 pick is always going to attract a lot of rumours — expect the Cavs to keep the pick unless it’s part of a much larger transaction. LEBRON LEBRON LEBRON LEBRON LEBRON LEBRON LEBRON LEBRON…
PREDICTIONS: Embiid, then Parker, maaaybe Wiggins. Be surprised if they have another weirdo curveball prepared for this year, but being surprisingly weak with Thompson at PF they could take a big swing at Noah Vonleh, although only expect to do that if they trade down to a team (Philly, maybe Minnesota) desperate to pick first on Thursday night in Brooklyn.
Pick #2: Milwaukee Bucks
by Travis Nicholson
NEEDS: The Bucks have bigs and need guards, but a record of 15-67 after an honest attempt to actually be a good NBA basketball team hints that they could get better everywhere. Whoever they draft is going to be the best player on this team, followed by Brandon Knight, OJ Mayo and Legal Problems 2013-14 Larry Sanders (as opposed to All-Caps 2012-13 Larry Sanders). All five starting players would not be starters on good NBA teams.
RUMOURS: The Bucks’ confidence in their ability to get Jabari Parker, their rumoured favoured choice, must have fallen after news about Embiid’s foot surgery. They might now be interested in trading up into the top spot, although having few assets they may find it hard to do that. They’re likely to stay put, hope, and pray the Cavs make a decision that is good for them.
PREDICTIONS: The Bucks have said they won’t take Embiid, so the obvious choice is between Parker and Wiggins. Jabari Parker is more NBA-ready, from the midwest, and the most logical choice if their intention to be good this past season was genuine. They want Parker, despite the desire for new ownership to use Andrew Wiggins as a shiny new superstar piece to launch their way of doing things in Milwaukee. They will get offers if either of Embiid or Parker are taken first in order to get Wiggins, but the Canadian phenom is likely to be a Buck.
Pick #3: Philadelphia 76ers
by Travis Nicholson
NEEDS: The Sixers were historically bad, which is a sin greater than simply being the worst team for a given season. They were so shitty they made history. If you have faith in Michael Carter-Williams and Nerlens Noel I hope you are strong in your belief, because I am not. They need help everywhere.
RUMOURS: There were three top prizes and Philadelphia chooses third, and now there are only two. The Sixers are in the most precarious position, put here by the first ripple of Embiid news. Ditching Thad Young for another young asset is a great idea if they want to suck again this year. They may trade Young + their #10 pick in some combination to grab the #1 pick as to not miss out on Wiggins, whom they are rumoured to be very keen on.
PREDICTIONS: The Sixers seem to value athleticism in building their young franchise. If Wiggins isn’t available or if they haven’t traded up to get him, this is the first real chance for a surprise and they could do that in picking Dante Exum. Pairing Exum with last year’s ROY Carter-Williams could create a distinct and complimentary two-way backcourt. Noah Vonleh is who they want if they want something raw physical tools and maximum potential — Embiid is possibility here too, for the same reason.
Pick #4: Orlando Magic
by Travis Nicholson
NEEDS: For a 23-59 team the Magic are in pretty good shape. Nikola Vucevic has been a surprisingly effective and the Andrew Nicholson/Tobias Harris pair is improving at PF and needs more time to reach their potential. Their only wing player is last year’s #2 pick Victor Oladipo and the Magic have a real need at SF, although they are more likely to fill this gap with the number of options that will be available with their #12 pick.
RUMOURS: Aaron Afflalo is the other big name most commonly referred to in Kevin Love trade talks and if this is the case, breaking up Nicholson/Harris is a no-brainer. If they do not get Love they are not taking a veteran. If they deal before Thursday expect them to trade up to ensure they get Wiggins or Exum, which should be a lot easier for them than Philadelphia given Afflalo + a #12 pick is far tastier than Thad Young + a #10 pick.
PREDICTIONS: Dante Exum and Victor Oladipo might become a lankier and more international version of Westbrook and Harden. I like it already: Exum & Oladipo sounds like a book of scripture, but also a strain of weed, or a Michael Ondaatje novel. If they plan on keeping Afflalo, Julius Randle or Embiid are their best options.
Pick #5: Utah Jazz
by Travis Nicholson
NEEDS: Anywhere but SF — if Gordon Hayward is going to thrive this is where he will, and he is doing it. Meanwhile, Enes Kanter hasn’t worked out at Center, so the Jazz need one of those. Derrick Favors might be good, but not in Salt Lake City, and they signed him to pretty big money. Andris Biedrins is on the roster. So is Richard Jefferson.
RUMOURS: The Jazz apparently want the Cavs’ #1 pick and are willing to package this pick, Favors, Alec Burks and more for it. Jabari Parker is Mormon and this is important to the Jazz, even though Hayward and Parker share a position. (No one else is good, can’t they both play?!?) Favors and co. seems like a bad package for a player as skilled as like Parker, but if the Jazz can make something happen and add Hayward to help ensure it does, they should. If they’re interested in trading down, the Lakers are rumoured to want Exum and the Jazz have extra picks (from the Warriors) to pad that deal.
PREDICTIONS: The Utah Jazz are going to watch what happens in the opening mayhem of the Draft and select the best player available. If they’re lucky, Joel Embiid is available, if they are very lucky Jabari Parker will be. They might be successful in packaging Hayward and/or Favors/Burks, but not before the Draft.
Pick #6: Boston Celtics
NEEDS: This Celtics outfit has needs at every position except one, PG, but there have even been rumours about Rajon Rondo being on the market. Between Rondo and free agent PG Avery Bradley (who they should re-sign), the Celtics could use an upgrade at every position, including the positions currently filled by Jeff Green and Jared Sullinger.
RUMOURS: If the pictures aren’t damning enough, the countless articles illustrating the fact that Kevin Love spent a highly visible weekend in Boston are. The Love dream may, however, live in a pipe for Celtics fans, as it is reported that the Timberwolves weren’t exactly thrilled with the package that Boston presented them with. With a war-chest of picks and expiring contracts, you’ve got to believe that the Celtics will make a move even if Love isn’t the one coming to Boston.
PREDICTIONS: If Boston doesn’t end up moving their pick(s) for Love, look for them to dream the dream that Embiid falls to them at the 6th spot. If Embiid is off the board, Australian SG Dante Exum would be a perfect fit for these Celtics. With great size on the wing, Exum could cause matchup nightmares for undersized 2-Guards in the Eastern Conference.
Pick #7: Los Angeles Lakers
NEEDS: The Los Angeles Lakers only have four players under contract, one of whom (Steve Nash) might be forced to retire due to injuries. What does that mean? The Lakers have needs at every position, including the SG, which is inhabited by Mr. Black Mamba, Kobe Bean Bryant.
RUMOURS: Hello Kevin Love, so glad to make your acquaintance again! Over the weekend, rumours were swirling that Klay Thompson might be making his way to La-La Land for the 7th Overall pick in a three-team trade that would have sent Kevin Love to Golden State. Nothing to show for the rumours, but this does show that the Lakers have the flexibility to do just about anything this offseason.
PREDICTIONS: This is the Lakers first lottery pick in the post-Dr. Buss era, making the Lakers more of a wildcard to do something interesting. If the Lakers end up keeping their pick, they could draft a multitude of ways. Keeping in mind their thirst for a star via free agency in either 2014 or 2015, look for the Lakers to draft a versatile/flexible player who could play multiple positions, such as Dante Exum or Aaron Gordon. Naturally, if Joel Embiid were to fall to the 7th spot, the Lakers would almost certainly snatch him up in a heartbeat.
Pick #8: Sacramento Kings
NEEDS: Other than an absolute need to re-sign Isaiah Thomas? This team could use a little bit of everything outside of the Center position, which is manned by the incomparable DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins. With Rudy Gay opting in to his mammoth contract extension, the focus should be on acquiring a power forward who can mesh with Rudy and Boogie on the offensive end, and pick up their slack on the defensive end.
RUMOURS: The Kings seem adamant on signing a contract extension with Rudy Gay, thus showing a commitment to the Gay/Cousins dynamic duo that showed tremendous promise in the aftermath of the Toronto deal. The persistent rumour over the last few days is that the Chicago Bulls might try and make a play for this pick — triggering another slew of rumours about Afflalo, Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Love all possibly joining the Bulls.
PREDICTIONS: If the Gods happen to be smiling down upon the Kings come draft day, then Aaron Gordon will fall into their lap. Gordon is a perfect transition player, shows flashes of brilliance on the defensive end, and is raw enough offensively that he won’t clash with the ball dominant Gay and Cousins. If Gordon isn’t available, look for the Kings to mope and choose another perfect fit in the beastly form of Julius Randle, or Noah Vonleh.
Pick #9: Charlotte Hornets
NEEDS: How sweet is it to make the playoffs and have a lottery pick in the NBA Draft? The newly (formerly?) christened Charlotte Hornets have been granted that tasty treat and should be looking to upgrade their PF, SG and SF spot, especially with Josh McRoberts opting out of his contract and the Ben Gordon albatross of a contract finally coming off of the books.
RUMOURS: Unfortunately for the Hornets, they sit at the 9th pick, which is considered to be juuuuust outside of the top-tier player-bubble in this year’s draft. With that reality, playoff momentum and new found buzz (ugh, sorry) around the team’s transition from Bobcat to Hornet, look for the Hornets to try and move their pick for an established player to play alongside Al Jefferson.
PREDICTIONS: If the Hornets do keep their pick in this year’s draft, look for them to turn their attention towards PF Julius Randle and PF Aaron Gordon if they fall that low, or SF Rodney Hood, the sleek wing scorer that they oh-so-desperately could use if they miss out on the aforementioned big men.
Pick #10: Philadelphia 76ers
by Travis Nicholson
NEEDS: If the Sixers take Exum or Wiggins with their #3 pick they will have a nice compliment of young guards going forward, but desperately in need of frontcourt players. (Thad Young is amazing as your fourth or fifth best player, deserving of your second or third best, but a horrendous option to be your best player.)
RUMOURS: This is the Sixers’ chip to play with in this draft; expect them to use it if they truly believe in Wiggins (or Embiid) and want to slide up to nab one of them.
PREDICTIONS: If they’ve missed out on Wiggins or Exum they might be still searching for a guard, but there are 30 minutes of playing time at PF where explosive forwards Aaron Gordon or Zach LaVine can run and dunk and be compared to Blake Griffin far too soon. Dario Saric will not be available for two years, having signed a new deal to play exclusively overseas, but he will be available if the Sixers are willing to play longterm all the while continuing to suck and fill the rest of their depleted roster with future draft picks.
Pick #11:Denver Nuggets
by Travis Nicholson
NEEDS: The Nuggets have lots of decent wings and two tiny, explosive point guards. Ty Lawson might creep into the top three point guards in the Western Conference on a really good team, yet Brian Shaw wants to build around a veteran leader, possibly at the expense of getting rid of Lawson. If they keep Lawson they will need shooting, and Gary Harris is the better option at SG rather than Stauskas, Payne and McDermott who would fill an already crowded SF spot.
RUMOURS: Kevin Love coming to Denver is not happening because they’d have to get rid of Ty Lawson and/or Kenneth Faried as well as valuable picks, and Love would be entering a situation similar to why he left Minnesota, only with more altitude, legal weed and a worse coach.
PREDICTIONS: The gap between the 11th seed in the West and a playoff spot is too far to be made up with the #11 pick, and the Nuggets have little interest in getting incrementally good. The Nuggets are not going to use this pick — but if they can’t deal to move up and land a veteran (like Luol Deng), they will take Gary Harris. Don’t leave out Marcus Smart for this pick, though — he is a bulky, nasty guard that can do bulky, nasty defensive things that Ty Lawson should not be asked to do.
Pick #12: Orlando Magic
by Travis Nicholson
NEEDS: Assuming Aaron Afflalo or their #4 pick will be in a backcourt with Victor Oladipo, the Magic need reliability over creativity at small forward. Badly.
RUMOURS: If the Magic conspire to trade up, they will use this pick. It will NOT be used on a veteran, not even for salary.
PREDICTIONS: James Young or Adreian Payne should be available at SF: Young is the more prototypical small forward, but they might need/value Payne’s athleticism and three-point shooting — it depends on the level of refinement versus brutality the Magic require. If they really care about shooting, Nik Stauskas (if the Hornets do not take him) would be able to provide outside shooting to compliment an explosive backcourt situation likely to be created with that #4 pick of either Exum or Wiggins.
Pick #13: Minnesota Timberwolves
NEEDS: Ignoring the rumblings of the Kevin Love circus for just one paragraph, focus on this: the Minnesota Timberwolves are in need of a serious defensive upgrade at almost every position. The late-season emergence of Gorgui Dieng helps in plugging one need, but there are still many breaches yet to be repaired. An upgrade at the SG, SF and PF positions are the most glaring.
RUMOURS: Hold on to your hats, Timberwolves fans. If you do not currently reside under a rock, you know that Kevin Love is rumoured to be on his way out before the June 26th Draft. The future of the Minnesota landscape is largely a question mark. Outside of the fact that almost their entire team is under contract for the 2014-2015 Season, you have to believe that every player short of Ricky Rubio and maybe Nikola Pekovic is also on the trading block in order to facilitate the best possible haul for Kevin Love. Stay tuned.
PREDICTIONS: Despite rumours to the contrary, Kevin Love will be traded before the draft, which will leave the landscape in Minnesota looking very different. With that trade, the Timberwolves will almost certainly move up in the draft as well as potentially lock down additional picks. If they were to only end up with the 13th pick, look for them to turn to Canadian Nik Stauskas or combo-guard Gary Harris.
Pick #14: Phoenix Suns
NEEDS: With three picks in this year’s upcoming draft and a young team that is already built to contend in the West, the Suns have several perfect opportunities to retool their young roster. First and foremost, the Suns desperately need a big-man who can contend with the behemoths of the West.
RUMOURS: Across the big boards, it is rumoured that Doug McDermott could find his home in Phoenix. I am contentious of these rumours, as I just don’t see why Phoenix would draft a guy that they have seven clones of on their roster already. Unless the Suns are ready to wheel-and-deal some of their picks, and don’t plan on bringing back one or both of PJ Tucker and Channing Frye, I’m not sure that’s a rumoured pick that is going to pan out.
PREDICTIONS: In the extremely unlikely event that Embiid drastically falls down the draft board, the Suns and their league best medical staff would snatch up the 7-foot center without a doubt; however, the more realistic bet is that the Suns deal this pick to take a more proven, possibly veteran asset. 6’10” Croatian Dario Saric can handle the post as well as the up and down transition game that the Suns should push with their young, upstart team, but having recently confirmed he won’t be coming States-side for at least two years, this suggests dealing the pick rather than using it to get even younger.
Other Final Thoughts
- Joel Embiid will fall out of the top 5 to one of either the Celtics or Lakers, depending on who still has their pick.
- The Toronto Raptors (despite Masai Ujiri’s insistence that they will be aggressive in the draft) will select Tyler Ennis with their 20th overall pick.
by Travis Nicholson
- NOT being accompanied by a chorus of boos from the audience in Barclays Center is going to be the best moment of Adam Silver’s life.
- Four Canadians, all from the GTA — Wiggins, Stauskas, Tyler Ennis, and Melvin Ejim — will be drafted in the first round.
- Noah Vonleh will be drafted before Julius Randle and possibly before Joel Embiid.
- The Denver Nuggets are going to get their fingerprints all over this Draft without drafting any players — or possibly by trading WAY up and getting Parker or Wiggins.
- Seniors Doug McDermott, Adreian Payne and Shabazz Napier will all get drafted better than expected. (This is the residual effect of Damian Lillard still lingering in the minds of the NBA GMs.)
- Nothing will happen with Kevin Love or Carmelo Anthony until after the Draft, but a deal involving Aaron Afflalo and/or the Chicago Bulls will make Love or Melo’s destination a little more clear.