The NBA draft begins at 4:00 Pacific June 22nd. As of now, 10:00 am Pacific the day prior, here’s the current drafting positions 1-10:
- LA Lakers
- New York
Much has happened already foreshadowing what’s sure to be an interesting shake up of the Eastern elites tomorrow and in months ahead. Boston held the first draft slot but then traded it to Philadelphia last week, apparently so the Sixers ensure their pick of Markelle Fultz – the quick all-around PG also one of the best shooters in the draft. However with one day to go, nothing seems certain including Philly’s intentions. Boston and Philly are both armed with stockpiles of picks and $$. Boston has a depth of talent to offer as well, and perhaps the biggest question going into tomorrow’s event is whether Boston is willing to wait another year for a big name free agent, or do they move now to create their Eastern juggernaut poised to challenge the Warriors for the next 5-8 years. Meanwhile Magic Johnson GM of the Lakers awaits Philly’s pick – will they do what’s expected and take Fultz? If not does it matter? They’ve already traded their PG away. Yesterday D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov were shipped to the Brooklyn Nets for Brooks Lopez in a deal that ensures the Lakers will draft one of the outstandingly talented PGs at the top of this draft. The overwhelming consensus is that Magic’s man will be Lonzo Ball, equally as talented as Fultz but in a craftier-passing sort of way. The Lakers, however, have added their own intrigue to the mix hinting that Ball wasn’t impressive in their workouts recently. Atlanta has shed some weight in Dwight Howard’s contract moved to Charlotte just yesterday and the Knicks are entertaining offers for Kristaps Porzingas. Meanwhile, there is talk of the Suns willingness to part with PG Bledsoe – what can they get in return for him plus their fourth overall pick? Is all this movement and talk just posturing for the big event?
Regardless of the answer, it’s clear this is a big moment in Celtics history. GM Danny Ainge has been patiently waiting for 2 years to spend his carefully gathered assets. Players, picks and brilliant salary cap management now seem perfectly positioned to garner interest now and for years to come. There is no question his team is about to get better – enough to likely challenge the Cavs in the East next year. They’ve already established themselves to be a top 2 or 3 defensive team in the league – the players and mindsets are already firmly rooted in this team and therein lies a challenge: how will changes not upset the defensive chemistry and balance that promises more success moving forward? One player moved from the defensive nucleus of Bradley, Smart, Crowder and Olynyk may not disrupt the continuity much, but two might set the team back. Who can the Celtics afford to lose while they assemble the shooting, scoring and ball distributing talent they so badly need? While it seems a tenuous situation, in fact there’s luck mixed in here as well as it seems clear that free agent and all-around iron-man Gordon Hayward has shown interest in Boston. Perhaps this is the only call that is clear for Ainge. The tremendous interest shown league-wide for Hayward’s game means Ainge has another asset here, even before he signs Hayward. Whether he signs Hayward or not, the promise of Hayward means peace of mind for Ainge. Like LeBron, anyone can play with Hayward and it’s likely that everyone wants to. It’s a kind of double-whammy that allows you the freedom to select players for need and hope that it makes the team even that much more attractive to free agents in the years to come. But first some weight must be shed. Ainge can hold as much close to his vest as he likes, but one thing is certain: you’re allowed only 13-14 active players on a team and someone good has got to go. With the impending addition of Hayward the obvious choices are starters Bradley or Smart – two players each available at the peak of their values. Every team in the league knows this, so … does Ainge pull the trigger and move one of these two before he drafts? Will Ainge package one of these guys up with his #3 pick to try and trade for a big name now or will he wait until he’s forced to move someone?
Ainge stated recently that he traded the #1 pick to the Sixers because he knew he was going to get the same player at #3 that he would have at #1. Clear message to the Lakers here: Ainge wants to get across that he does not feel there is much if any separation among the top 3 picks. And yet, not only do the Celtics need a world class ball-handling PG that can shoot, if selected then such a player would preferably be your leader for years to come. Hayward, if he signs, is a wonderful player but he’s not LeBron. Ainge hasn’t been scheming for years just so he can land Hayward-the-great. Is Ainge really hinting that he doesn’t need a leader or is he hinting that D’Aaron Fox is his guy? That’s incredibly hard to believe when there’s no question that Fultz or Lonzo Ball seems ripe for the task of leader and ball handler. If not those two then who now or next year? Chris Paul is available but is too old to bank on for years not to mention just flat out unreliable. Who does Ainge think he can get to fill this role? There is a remote chance Ainge can go after Chicago’s Jimmy Butler, but even with that incredible lineup of Hayward, Butler, Smart-or-Bradley, Horford, Crowder, Olynyk who is your primary ball handler. Danny Ainge has been in the league too long to experiment with Hayward as your championship caliber point forward, and Butler isn’t the guy to rely to make the right decisions with the ball for 40 plus minutes. So who then?
Meanwhile, the Cavs and Pacers are keeping things interesting. Cavs because there is an obvious need for something to happen now, and the word from the Grapevine is that Love’s name is being passed around. Paul George of the Pacers will move on, many feel to the Lakers who can snatch him up in free agency in a year because he’s been clear that he wants to be in LA. Does another team take a chance on George knowing he might leave them in a year? Is that a good bet for the Cavs – to try another go at the Warriors in 2018 with George shoring up the defense some? Hard to see where the rebounding will come from with Love gone and Tristan Thompson fading away. Jimmy Butler could end up as a Cav and would be more likely to stay there. Is Chicago willing to part ways with him?
A lot of talk and speculation going into tomorrow, and yet only about half the teams in the NBA are making noise. Where is everyone else that surely have interest in the big names and the picks and clearing some cap space? Stay tuned …