As Thursday's date for the 2013 NBA Draft rapidly approaches, it's becoming readily apparent that this is shaping up to be one of the least predictable in recent memory.
Nothing about the selections—from whom the Cleveland Cavaliers will take at No. 1 to whether the top-five teams will even be drafting in their current spots—has been determined. There are innumerable strategies being thrown around, with rumors being bandied about with a jarring mid-July fervor.
Speaking with Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News, Nets general manager Billy King pointed out that many teams are pushing to get out of their draft picks—to little success:
Billy King says a lot of GMs are looking to get out of this draft. But he doesn't believe those GMs have enough willing trade partners.— Stefan Bondy (@NYDNInterNets) June 24, 2013
There are plenty of reasons for that—some salary-cap related, others merely being a team having too many draft picks—but the overarching uncertainty cannot help.
The 2013 draft is largely seen as being subpar, especially compared to the one coming next year (likely) headlined by Andrew Wiggins. There are no guaranteed superstars in this class, merely players who are smaller dice rolls than others.
With that comes trade speculation. NBA general managers are inherently risk-averse, both because they want to win and because massive draft failures are a one-way ticket to the unemployment line. If there are teams willing to talk—and there are—expect plenty of trade talks and smoke screens to be put up in the coming days.
With that in mind, here is a complete breakdown of the latest draft-day buzz flying around the Association.
Conflicting Reports About Potential Deng-to-Wizards Deal
Perhaps the biggest non-Derrick Rose story of the Chicago Bulls 2012-13 season was the emergence of Jimmy Butler. The 2011 first-round pick, who struggled for much of his rookie campaign, broke out as a possible two-way threat.
His averages of 8.6 points and four rebounds per game are rather pedestrian, but his lockdown defense and ability to stretch the floor made him an entrusted cog in Tom Thibodeau's lineup down the stretch.
In an interview with K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune, the Bulls head coach even intimated Butler will join the Bulls starting five next year full-time.
"I don't see why not," Thibodeau said. "The way he played this year, he earned that spot. He has great versatility. He became much more confident and competent—running pick-and-rolls, catch-and-shoot, putting it on the floor, posting up."
That's a vital piece of information for one reason: Butler plays the same position as Luol Deng, he of a pretty hefty expiring contract.
While there are certainly scenarios in which Butler and Deng could share the wings and give Chicago an intimidating duo of defenders—they started together a few times last season—there has been increasing chatter about a possible summer departure for Deng.
And it seems we have our first legitimate rumor on the matter. According to ESPN's Marc Stein, the Washington Wizards and Bulls have discussed a deal that would send Deng to the nation's capital for the No. 3 pick on Thursday and Emeka Okafor:
Sources close to the situation told ESPN.com that the Chicago Bulls, in their latest attempt to gauge the trade value of All-Star swingman Luol Deng, have had exploratory discussions with Washington about a deal that would land Deng with the Wizards and bring the No. 3 pick in Thursday's draft to the Bulls.
Or maybe they haven't. Michael Lee of the Washington Post noted that a team source said there was "no truth" to the rumor.
So, in other words, it could or it could not happen. Don't you just love rumors?
More interesting is who the Bulls' target would be at No. 3. According to Pro Basketball Draft's Twitter page, Kansas guard Ben McLemore might be the player whom general manager Gar Forman covets:
Bulls have discussed Luol Deng for 3rd pick with Washington. Source says Bulls might be targeting Ben McLemore. #nbadraft— Probasketballdraft (@Probballdraft) June 24, 2013
McLemore would give the Bulls two under-25 wings to pair with Derrick Rose, making for an interesting (and cheap) core that could make Chicago a major player in free agency next year—depending on how it feels about amnestying Carlos Boozer.
Cavaliers "Covet" Shawn Marion & Paul Pierce, Willing to Trade Picks?
Since lottery day, it's been well-established that the Cavaliers would be amenable to shipping off a draft pick or two.
They have an interesting young core around Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson, but there comes a point where there are too many young cooks in the kitchen. History has shown many promising teams losing their way because there isn't enough time spent on development individually.
That being said, No. 1 overall picks simply don't get traded. The Orlando Magic's trade of Chris Webber in 1994 was the last time a top pick was moved before suiting up for his new franchise; it just doesn't happen.
Who would you rather have for 2013-14?
The Cavaliers' No. 19 pick in this year's draft has always seemed like a more likely trade piece—especially come draft night. Should a player that some team covets slide down a draft board and into perfect position for Cleveland, it might be able to flip the selection for a veteran forward.
It seems the team has locked itself in on a couple big-name targets. Joe Kotoch of Sheridan Hoops reported over the weekend that the Mavericks and Cavaliers were working on the parameters of a deal that would allow Dallas to rid itself of Marion's $9.3 million salary (a player option) for next season. The two teams would also swap their two mid-first-round picks (No. 19 for Cleveland, No. 13 for Dallas).
The impetus for Dallas would be clearing enough cap space to land Dwight Howard.
However, ESPN's Marc Stein has reported the only way the Mavericks would be interested in moving Marion is if Howard indicated the team has a "legit shot" at signing him.
Perhaps the more interesting nugget of information comes from The Boston Globe's Baxter Holmes. League sources close to the negotiations have said Cleveland is interested in acquiring Celtics stalwart Paul Pierce, with "multiple" second-round picks going Boston's way.
With Doc Rivers heading to the Los Angeles Clippers and Kevin Garnett being the subject of his own drama, the rebuild has essentially begun for the Celtics. Team president Danny Ainge is said to be interested in acquiring draft picks for Pierce, whose contract is only partially guaranteed for next season.
While Holmes notes that the talks are in their "preliminary stages," all signs are pointing toward Cleveland finding a way to land Pierce, Marion or some other unnamed forward by Thursday night.
Ben McLemore Sliding Down Draft Boards?
When Nerlens Noel went down with his torn ACL in February, the expectation became that Ben McLemore would emerge as this draft's best player.
ESPN's Chad Ford bumped him up to No. 1 on his big board following the injury, and suddenly there was a ton of buzz about McLemore going with the first overall pick.
Even as McLemore struggled in the NCAA tournament, shooting 2-of-14 in Kansas' first two contests before a 20-point resurgence in a loss to Michigan, his stock barely wavered an inch. The prevailing wisdom was that the draft's "best" player has an ACL tear; what's one or two bad games going to hurt?
Well, it seems those struggles were only a sign of things to come for McLemore's cratering draft stock heading into this week's festivities. As the process has gone along, McLemore's seeming lack of competitive fire and workout issues have sent his stock into a tailspin.
ESPN's Chad Ford noted that McLemore has refused to work out against other top players at his position—namely Shabazz Muhammad and Victor Oladipo—and came into his meeting with the Phoenix Suns (No. 5 pick) out of shape. It's been said that he's been completely unprepared for this process,
He's dropped from a player who at worst seemed like a perfect fit for the No. 2 overall pick with the Magic all the way to someone who could miss out on the top five.
Sacramento Kings beat blogger Jason Ham reported that sources have said McLemore is dropping precipitously and that the Kings might be his saving grace:
Hearing that Ben McLemore is sliding down the draft board fast. Will he make a last minute stop in Sac in an attempt to secure the top 7?— James Ham (@James_Ham) June 23, 2013
There is no denying McLemore has the talent to be one of this draft's best players—if not the best. His silky-smooth jumper and elite athleticism paint him in the mold of a classic shooting guard, with names like Ray Allen even being thrown around in the loftiest sense.
On my board, McLemore is still the third-ranked player behind Oladipo and Otto Porter. But I'm not making these decisions for franchises. If there are real concerns about his passion for the game and willingness to work, McLemore might be in the green room for longer than anyone could have imagined a couple months ago.
Follow Tyler Conway on Twitter