NBA Draft 2014: 10 Predictions for Thursday Night
You'd have an easier time guessing exactly what Russell Westbrook will wear to opening night 2014 than you would predicting what will become of Thursday's NBA draft. Joel Embiid's foot injury merely exposed the teams atop the order to the sort of uncertainty that's sure to envelope everyone else with serious skin in this particular game.
Granted, chaos is nothing new for draft night. Year after year, this one day on the calendar is by far the busiest in terms of transactions between teams.
This week's edition should be no different. Between the depth of talent available, the number of teams (eight) with multiple first-round picks and the frenzied preparations league-wide for a star-studded free-agent class, the 2014 draft should look something like this on TV.
All of which makes me glad that Jonathan Wasserman, not yours truly, is on mock draft duty for this here outfit.
That doesn't mean, though, that he need be the only one who's made to look a fool by the machinations of GMs and other front-office execs far beyond his control. I, too, dream of forecasting the maelstrom of activity that's to come, based in part on the information—much of which is likely false—that's flooding the Internet at this very moment.
And, of course, having those forecasts thrown back in my face shortly thereafter. Here, then, are 10 predictions for the world to ridicule, preferably after June 26.
The Cavaliers Will Take Andrew Wiggins No. 1, If They Know What's Good for 'Em
According to ESPN's Jeff Goodman and Chad Ford, the Cleveland Cavaliers are "torn" between Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker in their search for the perfect No. 1 pick.
Which is fair, considering the debacle that became of Anthony Bennett's rookie season after he went No. 1 atop last year's draft. But if Bennett's misadventures and lingering potential are any indication, the Cavs should (and just might) wind up with Wiggins in their employ.
For one, Wiggins fills a clear need on the wing in Cleveland. The Cavs have struggled to cover up the gaping hole at small forward left behind by LeBron James, watching everyone from Antawn Jamison to Alonzo Gee to Luol Deng fail to fend off the gravitational devastation of King James' former throne.
In many respects, Parker would serve the same purpose. Moreover, his offensive game is considered more "NBA ready" than Wiggins' at this point.
But the Cavs don't need another ball-dominant scorer like Parker; they already have one in All-Star MVP Kyrie Irving, who's due for an extension this summer. Nor should Cleveland be scrambling for another out-of-shape prospect who doesn't want to be there, which Parker appeared to be in his private audition for the team, per ESPN:
Parker's workout on Friday in Cleveland was a disappointment, according to multiple sources. Parker weighed in at 254 pounds with 11 percent body fat, more than 10 pounds above his playing weight at Duke. Sources say the workout was so bad that he appeared disinterested at times. One source even went as far as to say that Parker appeared to be "tanking" the workout.
Aside from a reliable rim protector, what the Cavs need most is a solid perimeter defender who can impact the game on both ends without the ball. Wiggins fits that description to a tee. Parker doesn't.
Cavs fans can only hope new GM David Griffin sees it that way, too.
Joel Embiid Won't Last Past the Top 6 Picks
If not for Joel Embiid's trip to the operating room, the Cavs might not be sweating up a storm in their draft room right now. Instead, it'll be up to those immediately behind Cleveland in the draft order to mull the wisdom of acquiring the precocious Cameroonian.
According to Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, Embiid will need four to six months to recover from a fracture of the navicular bone in his right foot. As ESPN Insider Kevin Pelton (subscription required) recently noted, this particular injury has spelled the downfall of noteworthy players over the years, from Kevin McHale and Bill Walton to Yao Ming. It's also proved no more than an obstacle for the likes of Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Michael Jordan.
In Embiid's case, this injury, when combined with the back issues that kept him out of Kansas' NCAA tournament shortfall, paints a picture of a player who's not only raw (he's been playing basketball for three years), but also worryingly fragile. It wouldn't seem any help, then, that Arn Tellem, Embiid's agent, seems to keep his client's medical evaluations locked up at Fort Knox.
Per the Philadelphia Daily News' Bob Cooney, that won't keep the Philadelphia 76ers from taking a look at Embiid. Bleacher Report's Jonathan Wasserman pegged Embiid to go fourth to the Orlando Magic. Given Danny Ainge's penchant for "risky business," the Boston Celtics could snatch him up at No. 6 should he still be available then.
None of this should come as any great shock. Remember, Nerlens Noel was taken sixth overall in last year's draft, despite having suffered an ACL tear during his freshman year at Kentucky.
Noel wasn't anywhere near as tantalizing a prospect then as Embiid is now. Should Embiid heal up properly, he'd still grade out as the top prospect in this draft, thanks to his 7-foot frame, his smooth movement on the court, his inside-out game on both ends of the floor and the tremendous upside he's demonstrated in picking up the sport in such a short span of time.
Surely, someone among the top six will be swayed more by those positives than by the negatives nagging Embiid's body.
The Boston Celtics Will Set Off Some "Fireworks"
Taking Embiid at No. 6 is but one of a wide range of intriguing possibilities for the Boston Celtics on Thursday—and might rank among the tamer ones potentially at Danny Ainge's disposal.
Back in March, Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck spoke glowingly of what this year's draft could have in store for his squad. "We’re a patient group. We will take a multiyear plan if that’s what it takes. But I think this June there could be some fireworks," Grousbeck told The Boston Globe's Gary Washburn at the time. "I think this June we’ve got so many pieces to this puzzle that we might be able to shake loose a real piece or two for this team going forward. So, I’m hoping it’s sooner rather than later."
Those sparks might already be flying. According to CSNNE.com's A. Sherrod Blakely, the C's, who also own the Brooklyn Nets' pick at No. 17, have already spoken to the Cavs about swapping for the No. 1 pick, with an eye toward adding Andrew Wiggins. Per the Boston Herald's Mark Murphy, Boston has kicked the tires on the other selections ahead of theirs as well.
And then, of course, there's their involvement in the Kevin Love sweepstakes to consider.
Maybe the C's will score that second superstar to pair with Rajon Rondo for the foreseeable future, as they did seven years ago in acquiring Ray Allen. Maybe they'll go the other way by trading Rondo for another pile of assets, including some that'll be fungible on draft day.
Whatever the Celtics do, expect it to be explosive.
The Lakers Won't Keep the No. 7 Pick
If we're lucky, the long-standing rivalry between the Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers will manifest itself on Thursday. It'd only be fitting, seeing as how these two teams failed to qualify for the playoffs this year for the first time since 1994.
Unlike the C's, though, the Lakers seem singularly focused on doing whatever they can to return to contention as soon as possible. They don't have much choice in the matter, considering all the money ($48.5 million over the next two years) they've sunk into an aging Kobe Bryant.
Adding one solid prospect at No. 7 wouldn't serve that purpose for L.A. Someone like Marcus Smart, Aaron Gordon or Julius Randle might make sense if the Purple and Gold were taking a more measured approach to rebuilding, but nobody within their range figures to be a bona fide difference-maker in year one.
It's no wonder, then, that the Lakers have been dangling their draft pick of late. According to the Los Angeles Times' Mike Bresnahan, L.A. had offered that pick in exchange for Klay Thompson as part of a larger deal that would've sent Kevin Love to the Golden State Warriors. ESPN's Ryen Russillo hinted that the Lakers might move their choice, along with Steve Nash's expiring contract, to Philly for Thaddeus Young and reigning Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams.
Neither deal appears likely to go down at this point, though the smoke therein points to a fire of desire for activity in Lakerland—and not by accident. Aside from soothing the Black Mamba's concerns, flipping an unknown quantity for proven commodities could come with the added benefit of putting the Lakers in play for some of this summer's marquee free agents.
According to ESPN's Ramona Shelburne and Marc Stein, Carmelo Anthony might be more amenable to a max contract with the Lakers if they can actually, you know, field a decent squad beside him and Bryant. Another report from Stein and ESPN's Brian Windhorst pegged the Lakers as a potential destination for Anthony and LeBron James as a duo.
If the Lakers are, indeed, gung-ho about not missing the playoffs for just the seventh time in franchise history—and doing so with their characteristic flair—they'll find a way to squeeze more immediate value out of their reward for arguably the most abysmal season they've ever endured.
Teams Will Regret Passing on Elfrid Payton, but Not That Many
There may be no hotter name among draftniks right now than Elfrid Payton.
The 6'4" point guard out of Louisiana-Lafayette has made a name for himself on the annual workout circuit. Time and again, he's gone toe-to-toe with Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart, more than holding his own against the most imposing physical specimen at his position in this draft.
All of which has evoked comparisons to Gary Payton, and not just for their identical surnames. Like Gary back in 1990, Elfrid has been lauded for his size, defensive prowess and competitive spirit, albeit while being doubted on account of his suspect shooting stroke.
Smart and Dante Exum figured to fly off the board ahead of Payton, though the Louisiana native won't likely have to wait long to hear his name called. According to Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, the Sacramento Kings have eyes for Payton at No. 8, with the Orlando Magic lingering as likely suitors at No. 12.
The son of a former CFL standout, Payton could go even earlier than that, assuming his workout for the Lakers was more than just a matter of due diligence.
In any case, Payton has the makings of the NBA's next great floor general from a mid-major program, following in the footsteps of 2012 draftee Damian Lillard. As with Lillard, Payton shouldn't have to worry about exacting revenge on many teams for passing him by on draft night.
The Philadelphia 76ers Will Be Active Traders on Draft Day
I'll admit, I didn't have to reach far to tab the Philadelphia 76ers to make moves during the 2014 draft. You don't have to be John Edward (NSFW) to predict that GM Sam Hinkie, one of the NBA's foremost wheeler-and-dealers, will be working the phones once again on Thursday.
Last year, Hinkie's "maiden voyage" through the draft featured him flipping Jrue Holiday to the New Orleans Pelicans. This time around, he'll have even more ammunition with which to turn the Barclays Center into his own personal battlefield for roster building.
Chief among those assets are the No. 3 and 10 picks, the latter of which came to Philly by way of the Holiday trade. As mentioned earlier, the Sixers could snag the No. 7 selection as well, perhaps as penance for MCW and Thaddeus Young. Philly could also find a way into the top spot for Andrew Wiggins, for whom the Sixers have long had eyes.
And that's just in the lottery. Hinkie will also have a whopping five second-round picks at his disposal.
Chances are, the Sixers won't keep all—or even most—of those later selections. Be it by trade or by sale, Philly will find a way to turn its raw picks into refined fuel for its ongoing rebuild.
So, Too, Will the Phoenix Suns
As much pub as Hinkie gets, Ryan McDonough may prove to be the best of the NBA's wunderkind GMs. McDonough did well to turn the Phoenix Suns into the league's biggest surprise this past season by working over the Los Angeles Clippers (for Eric Bledsoe), the Indiana Pacers (for Gerald Green, Miles Plumlee and a first-round pick) and the Washington Wizards (for their first-rounder) mere months after replacing Lance Blanks in Arizona.
For his next trick, McDonough will attempt to turn his team's three first-round picks into something more significant. By all accounts, the Suns aren't looking to stock their roster with rookies. First and foremost, they're on the prowl for players who can push them back into the postseason next spring. Hence, the Suns were a dark horse to land Kevin Love almost as soon as word broke that he wanted out of Minnesota.
But there may be more to McDonough's maneuvering than just adding players immediately. During a recent appearance on Baumann & Big Joe in Orlando, McDonough said his team was "unlikely" to use all of the first-rounders in its war chest.
According to Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, that could mean swapping one of them for future considerations: "Suns showing strong willingness to move 27th pick in draft for a future first-rounder, league sources tell Yahoo. Suns have 14 and 18, too."
McDonough's options are practically limitless at this point. So, too, might his team's potential for improvement by way of the 2014 draft.
The New York Knicks Will Sneak Their Way Back into the Draft
At the time of publish, the New York Knicks didn't have any picks in the 2014 draft. Their first-rounder (12th overall) went to the Denver Nuggets in the Carmelo Anthony trade and now belongs to the Orlando Magic after the Dwight Howard blockbuster in 2012. Their second-rounder (42nd overall) is in the possession of the Houston Rockets, originally shipped to the Toronto Raptors as part of the Andrea Bargnani fiasco last summer.
The Knicks, though, won't be completely out of luck come Thursday. They have some young players and upwards of $1 million they can use to either trade or buy their way back into the draft. According to ESPN's Marc Stein, New York has looked into flipping Iman Shumpert for a pick toward the end of the first round.
Team president Phil Jackson has also spoken candidly about the Knicks splashing some cash for a selection. "We have a limited amount of funds that we can use," Jackson told The Philadelphia Inquirer's Keith Pompey. "It's been prorated now to every team. You know, teams do sell draft picks. We are going to approach teams and ask them if they're willing to allow us to buy a draft pick if we feel like there's a player we want to have at a position that comes up."
If that wasn't indication enough of the Knicks' intentions, they've already planned a post-draft press conference, per SNY.tv's Adam Zagoria.
So, yeah. The Knicks will have some say in who gets drafted this year.
Free Agency Will Wreak Havoc on This Draft
While you're busy trying to track of all the action on draft night, keep in mind that some teams will be making moves with the start of free agency in mind.
As discussed previously, the Lakers could try to turn their No. 7 pick into proven players who might help to attract Carmelo Anthony and/or LeBron James. According to Sporting News' Sean Deveney, the Chicago Bulls are trying to package the No. 16 and 19 picks in some fashion, perhaps as a prelude to their pursuit of another superstar this summer. The Miami Heat will surely have those two (and Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh) in mind when the time comes for them to decide what to do at No. 26. So, too, will the Atlanta Hawks and the Houston Rockets at Nos. 15 and 25, respectively.
In short, wherever there's cap space to clear and/or a roster whose windows need dressing, you can bet there's a draft pick to be dangled as sweetener in support of a much bigger play.
UCLA Will Rule the Day, in More Ways Than One
Forgive me for pumping up my alma mater, but UCLA is due for quite a night during the 2014 NBA draft.
No, you won't find any Bruins atop the draft board this year. Zach LaVine is as close to a top pick as the Blue and Gold have, with Bleacher Report's Jonathan Wasserman pegging him to go last in the lottery.
But LaVine, Jordan Adams and Kyle Anderson could all find themselves as first-rounders when all is said and done. Adams has worked out for the Utah Jazz, the Toronto Raptors, the Boston Celtics, the Memphis Grizzlies and the Charlotte Hornets, all of which own picks in the second half of the first round. Anderson has auditioned for many of the same squads, and figures to draw significant interest for his unique combination of size, passing and ball-handling.
The bigger headlines, though, may well belong to UCLA alums among the league's more seasoned veterans. Some teams will be stocking up on assets for a run at Kevin Love, who led the Bruins to the Final Four in 2008. Other teams will be hot after Arron Afflalo, who spent three years in Westwood under former coach Ben Howland.
Those two may not move on draft night, though they'll do no worse than drive plenty of discussion leading into a busy July. In the meantime, the NBA's next Bruins should be able to hold the fort just fine.
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