The focus of any draft is on the players, as it should be, but it's important to keep the teams at the front of your mind. That's especially true for the NBA draft, which is shorter than the NFL or MLB draft, making the margin of error much larger.
Look at the best teams in the NBA from the 2013-14 season. The San Antonio Spurs are as good a drafting team as there is in professional sports. The Oklahoma City Thunder got Kevin Durant, Reggie Jackson, James Harden (before trading him) and Serge Ibaka through the draft. The Indiana Pacers got Paul George and Lance Stephenson in the same class (2010).
There are teams that were built through free agency, like the Miami Heat and Houston Rockets, but for the most part, the best clubs are the ones that know how to attack the draft.
As we count down the days to the 2014 draft, there are a few teams holding their future right in the palm of their hands. Here's a look at the first-round draft order, as well as the franchises we are watching closely.
|7||Los Angeles Lakers|
|9||Charlotte Hornets (From Detroit)|
|10||Philadelphia 76ers (From New Orleans)|
|12||Orlando Magic (From New York via Denver)|
|16||Chicago Bulls (From Charlotte)|
|17||Boston Celtics (From Brooklyn)|
|18||Phoenix Suns (From Washington)|
|21||Oklahoma City Thunder (From Dallas via Houston and L.A. Lakers)|
|23||Utah Jazz (From Golden State)|
|24||Charlotte Hornets (From Portland)|
|27||Phoenix Suns (From Indiana)|
|28||Los Angeles Clippers|
|29||Oklahoma City Thunder|
|30||San Antonio Spurs|
*Order via NBA.com
Which team's decisions will have the most impact on the 2014 draft?
In a draft loaded with high-ceiling point guards, it's not out of the question that the Orlando Magic will get first crack at the position. The Cleveland Cavaliers don't need help at that spot thanks to Kyrie Irving, while the Milwaukee Bucks have other, better talent to choose from at No. 2. The Philadelphia 76ers are the only question mark, but it's hard to see a team guaranteed to get at least one of Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker going in a different direction.
The Magic also desperately need help at the point. Victor Oladipo tried to play there at times as a rookie, but it's clear he's best used as a 2-guard. Jameer Nelson is entering the final year of his deal and isn't a dynamic-enough talent to lead an offense.
ESPN's Chad Ford (Insider subscription required) wrote in his seventh mock draft that Australia's Dante Exum and Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart are in the mix at No. 4 overall, though he actually gives the Magic Indiana power forward Noah Vonleh.
Vonleh wouldn't be a bad solution at No. 4, especially since the Magic have another first-round pick (No. 12 overall) and point guards to choose from with names like Tyler Ennis and Elfrid Payton likely to be around.
But if the point guard goes early, that drastically alters the approach for other point guard-needy teams directly behind Orlando (Utah Jazz, Los Angeles Lakers and Sacramento Kings).
Just looking at sheer volume of picks, no team should come out of this draft in better shape than the Phoenix Suns. They own three first-round picks (No. 14, 18 and 27) and can build off of last year's surprising 48-win campaign.
There are some long-term holes that must be fixed. Eric Bledsoe is a free agent and, according to Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports, is seeking a max contract:
Suns interested in Love deal w/best assets Dragic, Bledsoe & picks.NBA sources say it will take full max deal to control free agent Bledsoe.— Marc J. Spears (@SpearsNBAYahoo) June 7, 2014
Oh yeah, there's also the matter of that little nugget Spears includes about Kevin Love. If the Suns want to make a serious move for the Minnesota Timberwolves star, they have the assets to make it happen with all of these picks and Goran Dragic, who is signed to a reasonable contract for the next two years.
If the price for Love ends up being too great, the Suns can choose to supplement their roster however they choose. Players like Cleanthony Early and Zach LaVine would look fantastic in a Phoenix jersey.
Finally, we conclude with the team that will start the draft. Cleveland's draft history is spotty, to say the least. LeBron James worked out well in 2003, at least until he left, while Irving is a superstar who is starting to scratch the surface of his talent.
But the Anthony Bennett debacle from last year ruins any goodwill the Cavaliers had built up through Irving. The pick, while it raised some eyebrows, wasn't unanimously derided at the time, as SI.com's Chris Mannix actually gave the team high marks after the draft:
No one saw Anthony Bennett coming as the No. 1 pick, which isn't to say it was a bad call. Bennett may be the most talented player in the draft. He's a tweener, but if he finds a position, look out. Sergey Karasev was projected as a lottery pick on most boards. He's another guy that could come in and play right away.
However, after averaging just 4.2 points and three rebounds per game, Bennett has miles to go before turning into even a mediocre player.
That selection will hover over the Cavaliers until they make their pick. This year's top selection will be harder to screw up since there are three viable candidates to choose from in Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Joel Embiid.
As long as the Cavaliers get one of those guys, this will be a successful draft. Of course, the bigger issue might be whether or not the team can find a coach before making its pick June 26.
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