5 NBA Teams That Must Go All-in on 2014 NBA Draft Class
The 2014 NBA draft could be viewed as one of the more critical drafts in recent history, and it's not just because of the tremendous amount of NBA-ready talent involved.
More than ever before, teams are realizing the financial value of young players on rookie-scale deals who can contribute well beyond their actual salary and be controlled for more years than any other kind of player. Drafted players are a key component of turning a franchise around, or simply getting back to an elite level.
The following five teams are all in different stages of their development, but each badly needs to hit it big in this year's draft. While a team like the Philadelphia 76ers is in no rush to compete or be anything but terrible next year, these teams are working with a shorter clock and can't miss on the incredible opportunity this year's draft presents.
Here are five teams that are depending heavily on their picks from this year's draft.
The Orlando Magic will head into the third year of their post-Dwight Howard rebuilding era, and the pressure will start to be felt a bit to put out a better product with higher ceiling players. Here's what Magic guard Arron Afflalo, the team's leading scorer, told Zach Lowe of Grantland recently:
As players, we don’t believe in rebuilding. But I do think, in Year 3, it starts to escalate with fans, the coaching staff, and management, in terms of expecting to win night-to-night. In Year 3, it builds up. It’s time to get it done.
Orlando has a few nice pieces in addition to Afflalo but no franchise-altering star anywhere on the roster. Orlando is following the "Thunder model" set by former OKC front office man Rob Hennigan, but the biggest part of that model is nailing your draft picks and finding a star to set your team around going forward.
This could be Orlando's best chance. If the draft happened today (and the picks went exactly as they should), the Magic would have the third pick and the 12th pick (via Denver) to play with. Considering how loaded with talent the top half of this draft is, that's a great spot to be in.
When you remember that Orlando could trade Jameer Nelson or Afflalo and potentially land even more picks, this very well could end up being the pivotal draft in the rebuilding process.
If all goes according to plan for the Sacramento Kings, this could be the last time we'll see them in the draft lottery for a while.
The Kings have a lot of young talent to build around in DeMarcus Cousins and Isaiah Thomas, but that talent isn't cheap. The contract situations of Thomas (restricted free agent) and Rudy Gay (player option) haven't played out quite yet, but it would seem likely that Sacramento approaches the luxury tax this upcoming season.
It's one thing to be bad and have financial and roster flexibility, but it's another thing to be bad with no real means to improve. Sacramento could be looking at a long era of mediocrity if they don't hit on this year's pick.
The Kings already have their franchise star in Cousins, but it will take more than that in the tough Western Conference. Without the aid of cap space and more talent, this pick is Sacramento's ticket to landing outside of the lottery going forward. The Kings need a game-changing defender, and they need one badly.
Thanks to the big deal with the Brooklyn Nets, the Boston Celtics won't be hard up for draft picks over the next few seasons. This certainly won't be Boston's last chance to acquire a star, but it might be the last big player that can be brought in to help convince Rajon Rondo to stick around in the 2015 offseason.
The Celtics are in an interesting spot because of that, so perhaps the pressure to stay young, cheap and losing won't be felt as strongly in Boston. Because Brooklyn is forfeiting all their picks, Boston can have success and not feel like it's jeopardizing the long-term health of the franchise.
We'll see how that plays out, but if the draft were to take place today, the Celtics would have the fourth and 17th picks. That's some nice ammunition to play with, and it will be interesting to see what kind of players Celtics general manager Danny Ainge targets and how that relates to Rondo.
This is the first big draft of many to come for Boston, but that potential top-five pick might be the best selection they have going forward. If that one lands, perhaps the Celtics won't suffer through a very long rebuilding period at all.
Los Angeles Lakers
You could make the argument that the Los Angeles Lakers should actually trade this pick and try to acquire an established star to play with Kobe Bryant in his last remaining years, but it probably makes more sense for the Lakers to roll the dice and hope they land a cheap, young star for the future.
Perhaps no young player from this draft will feel more pressure than whoever the Lakers end up selecting. The time ticking on Bryant has a lot to do with that, but the drafted player will also be used as a recruiting tool in the upcoming offseasons.
The Lakers are certainly hoping they can get their hands on the next Kobe, improbable as that might be, and anything short of a superstar could set the franchise back a few years. Because the Lakers still owe future first-round picks to the Phoenix Suns and Orlando Magic, this year's selection is absolutely vital.
Will anyone be ready for all that responsibility? It sounds like Australian guard Dante Exum might be, according to this report from Sean Deveney of the Sporting News:
Exum has acknowledged that he is a fan of Kobe Bryant, and signed with agent Rob Pelinka, who also represents Bryant. And Exum has said he’d love to play in Los Angeles.
But would Exum go so far as to try to angle his way onto the Lakers, who currently have the fifth-worst record in the NBA? That’s the concern among some front-office executives around the league.
“When you hear some of what he says, it does make you wonder how the process is going to go as far as workouts and that sort of thing,” one general manager told Sporting News. “We have seen this story before, of course. I am not sure a player can have that kind of control, though.”
No matter who they end up taking, the Lakers desperately need this pick to pan out.
The Utah Jazz have youth at every position, but some of those players are starting to earn major contracts.
Derrick Favors already landed a four-year extension worth $49 million, and it wouldn't be a surprise if restricted free agent Gordon Hayward pulls down a max offer this offseason.
When the salaries start to rise, that means it's time to get going and start winning games. It seems unlikely that Utah will ever be this bad again given the lack of talented veterans on the roster, so this year's draft will be pretty significant.
The good news is Utah doesn't really seem to have a particular positional need. They can draft from a best player available standpoint, which is always preferable when you have a high pick.
In addition to their lottery pick, Utah will also have Golden State's first-round selection, which should help bolster the young talent even more.
This will be a huge night in their rebuilding process, particularly since Utah probably isn't a premium free-agent destination. The core is solid but in need of a star, and this is the best chance to acquire one.