Even with the 2014 NBA playoffs in full swing, the rumor mill never stops swirling. The majority of the league has begun full preparations for the offseason, with draft scouting and filling coaching staffs at the top of the priority list at the moment.
The 2014 NBA draft will be the next big catalyst for moves. Teams with high lottery picks have been tied to the Kevin Love saga in Minnesota, while draft season also brings out plenty of misinformation surrounding top prospects.
To sort out the news from the noise, here are the latest updates on the NBA offseason's biggest names and most active teams.
Kevin Love to Cleveland?
After earning the first overall pick for the third time in four seasons, the Cleveland Cavaliers may not be so keen on continuing their seemingly perpetual rebuilding process in the post-LeBron era. As such, Steve Kyler of BasketballInsiders.com reports that the Cavs are eager to move the top pick as the centerpiece of a potential package for Kevin Love:
The Cavaliers are open for business. They are open to trading the top overall pick, but they want a bona fide All-star in return. Minnesota big man Kevin Love has been linked to the Cavs and he is absolutely a player the Cavs would move the top pick to obtain. The Cavs would require Love to opt-in to the final contract year of his deal as part of a transaction. It’s unclear if Minnesota or Love are open to that kind of deal.
The last sentence of that paragraph is the most important, as it would be foolish to trade for Love and lose him after one season. Cleveland has already suffered a similar ignominy, as they could lose both Luol Deng and Spencer Hawes to free agency after sacrificing three draft picks for the two veterans in an ill-fated playoff push.
At the very least, the Cavs need assurance that Love would opt in to his player option for 2015-16, providing Cleveland two years to prove their viability as a long-term home for the Minnesota star to spend his prime. Even with these doubts, ESPN has reported that the Cavs are willing to sacrifice the majority of their young assets for Love:
The Cavs will try to trade Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson, Anthony Bennett and future first round picks for Kevin Love. (Via ESPN)— NBA Central (@TheNBACentral) May 24, 2014
Which team is the best fit for Kevin Love?
Shedding so much young talent would leave Love and Kyrie Irving as the main centerpieces of an otherwise barren roster. That could change if Deng and Hawes subsequently re-sign in Cleveland; otherwise, the duo would be surrounded by Jarrett Jack, an aging Anderson Varejao and raw center prospect Tyler Zeller.
If Love agrees to opt in, the Cavaliers could have some serious cap space following the 2014-15 season, even while budgeting for max commitments to Love and (presumably) Irving. If a certain Miami star were to opt in and make another championship run at South Beach, he could then depart for his old stomping grounds that offseason.
Joel Embiid's Back
Joel Embiid has rocketed to the top of many big boards as draft season approaches. Even as the league moves towards a more wing- and spacing-oriented playing style, the rare 7-footer with as much natural athleticism and upside as Embiid remains an incredibly valuable commodity.
Of course, the stress fracture that caused Embiid to miss the NCAA tournament could be the unknown that slides him below Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and even Dante Exum. However, Grantland's Bill Simmons recently watched Embiid work out, and refuted the concern surrounding the Kansas center:
By the way, Embiid’s back is fine. I watched him work out last week...He wasn’t playing against anyone, just going through a two-hour workout with Will Perdue. Here’s what I can tell you: He moves around as effortlessly as a 7-foot Serge Ibaka...And again — his back seemed totally fine.
Simmons was not the only one to support Embiid's clean bill of health. ESPN's Chad Ford also spoke to Embiid, who confirmed his own health while noting that he is still working to put on the weight he lost while sitting on the bench:
Just spoke with Embiid. Told me his back is 100 percent. Been working out hard for last 3 weeks.— Chad Ford (@chadfordinsider) May 23, 2014
Embiid said he's gained 15 pounds. Up to 265. Still getting back into shape. Got a bit winded in workout but still looked quick & explosive— Chad Ford (@chadfordinsider) May 23, 2014
If Embiid has no lingering back issues, then he looks like a no-brainer for the first pick.
As talented as Wiggins and Parker are, Embiid is the only truly transformational prospect due to the myriad of methods through which he can impact the game. He seems destined to become both a defensive pick-and-roll anchor as well as a post-scoring machine, the type of player that serves as a true No. 1 option on a championship contender.
Who should be the No. 1 pick in the draft?
It's unclear what Cleveland thinks of Embiid. In all likelihood, the Cavs are still in the nascent stages of scouting the center, as they surely did not expect to land the first pick once again given their lottery odds. Apart from point guard, however, the Cavaliers have enough question marks that they can take the best available player without regard for position.
If Minnesota becomes enamored with Embiid, that would also improve the chances of facilitating the Love trade outlined above. It's nearly impossible to land a foundational prospect when trading away a superstar, especially when the T-Wolves have almost no leverage, but Embiid would be the type of prospect who should make Minnesota consider cashing in their biggest chip.
Lakers Head Coaching Search
On the heels of a dismal 27-55 season, the Lakers are in the unfamiliar position of facing long-term mediocrity. Kobe Bryant's onerous contract could prevent Los Angeles from being a major player in free agency, especially when considering the dearth of talent surrounding the aging superstar.
Righting the ship starts with a stable foundation, and the Lakers have turned to a familiar name in their search for Mike D'Antoni's replacement. Yahoo's Adrian Wojnarowski reported that ex-Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins has emerged as a leading candidate for the job:
Lionel Hollins has emerged as a candidate for the Los Angeles Lakers' coaching job, league sources told Yahoo Sports.
Lakers management plans to interview Hollins later this week, league sources said.
After meeting with two candidates with Lakers ties – Mike Dunleavy and Byron Scott – Hollins is an intriguing inclusion in the process. He's the first candidate who doesn't have a history with the organization, but, of the three, he has the most recent track record of success in the league.
Hollins reached the postseason in each of his final three seasons in Memphis and brings a no-nonsense attitude with an emphasis on defensive grittiness and disciplined execution. It's a stark departure in style from the freewheeling methods of D'Antoni, which could be exactly what Los Angeles needs.
Moreover, unlike most fired coaches, Hollins still has his reputation intact, as the split from Memphis was more about philosophical differences rather than raw results. As opposed to a wild-card college coach like John Calipari, he would bring instant credibility to the Lakers and strengthen their pitch to free agents concerned about playing in Bryant's shadow:
As I have tweeted from day one #Lakers will be hiring a very experienced coach. Hollins now at forefront. Ollie, Cal were ridiculous suggs— Patrick Donovan (@SportsBoss) May 25, 2014
Who would be the best fit as the Lakers head coach?
Hollins appears unlikely to get much help this season, however. The Lakers could carve out up to $28.2 million in cap room if they renounce their Bird rights to all free agents and use the stretch provision on Steve Nash. That does not account for the seventh overall pick, or the fact that Los Angeles actually needs to fill out a roster beyond Bryant, Robert Sacre and Kendall Marshall.
But while the current picture is bleak in Los Angeles, the Lakers have always had success wriggling their way out of short-term dips. Hiring Hollins would represent a move back to a more disciplined approach, providing sorely needed structure after a season of chaos.