We're just a few hours away from Adam Silver stepping to the podium for his first NBA draft as commissioner on Thursday night, and I'm having a difficult time remembering a more exciting June extravaganza. Joel Embiid's foot injury broke open the NBA's dam of anarchy, leading to a much earlier-than-expected beginning of the so-called silly season.
While none of the deals affect the top of the draft, a few pretty major trades have already gone down over the past couple of days. Per ESPN's Brian Windhorst, the Rockets unloaded the final year of Omer Asik's contract on New Orleans, and Arron Afflalo was dealt back to the Nuggets. Furthermore, per ESPN.com, the Mavericks and Knicks consummated a multiplayer deal centered on Tyson Chandler.
ESPN's Marc Stein is also reporting the Raptors and Grizzlies have the framework of a deal that would send the No. 22 pick to Toronto. The deal is seemingly contingent on Swiss forward-center Clint Capela being available.
And that doesn't even mention the great American rat race known as the No. 1 pick auction.
Point being: We're in for perhaps the most unpredictable draft in league history. Which is saying something considering there was an audible gasp heard throughout the telecast when Anthony Bennett went No. 1 last year.
When surveying the landscape, it seems that almost every pick—minus Milwaukee at No. 2—could be had for the right price. But with 8 p.m. ET rapidly approaching, we have little time to assess every scenario. Instead, let's take a look at the select few swing picks that will inform the rest of the process.
Cleveland Cavaliers (No. 1 Overall)
The closer we get to the draft, the less likely it is Cleveland moves down. Tom Moore of the Bucks County Courier Times reported earlier Thursday that the Cavs were asking the Sixers for the Nos. 3, 10 and 32 selections to move up. The Sixers have five second-round picks in this year's draft, including one at No. 39, so losing No. 32 wouldn't be so bad. But Sam Hinkie might end up in a wedding dress on a magazine with Andrew Wiggins if he gives up both top-10 picks.
In the end, I doubt the Cavs go anywhere. Talking about trading the No. 1 overall pick and actually doing so are two different things. If Wiggins or Parker winds up being a superstar—and at least one of them will—then David Griffin would be the man who dealt out of that pick. Joel Embiid is the best player in this draft if fully healthy, but it's a huge risk on every side for Cleveland.
Assuming the Cavaliers keep the pick, Wiggins should be the selection. He fits a need for a defensive-minded wing player, and only Embiid can match his immense ceiling. The hand-wringing about Wiggins' supposedly "timid" play at Kansas and his still developing jumper is overwrought.
He doesn't have to be LeBron James to be an effective NBA player; Paul George is working out just fine.
Cleveland selecting him settles the top two picks at the very least. The Bucks would run up to the podium with Jabari Parker's name printed on the lapel of their jacket. Parker and Milwaukee have fawned over each other since the beginning of the process.
If Cleveland pulls a fast one and goes Parker, all bets are off. Dante Exum then comes into play at No. 2, and the Sixers will again feverishly play phone tag in an effort to land Wiggins. I just don't expect any of that to happen.
Philadelphia 76ers (No. 3 Overall)
I'm working under the assumption the Sixers fail to acquire the top selection here. If they do, we're talking about a whole new ballgame, and this article has already been rendered moot. (Thanks for the click, though!)
At No. 3, Hinkie has any number of possibilities. The easiest and most readily theorized scenario has Philly drafting Exum. The Australian point guard has impressed scouts enough to make it a Big Four in this class rather than the yearlong Big Three, and there are rumblings that the Sixers have liked Exum for months.
Although there are some overlap issues with Michael Carter-Williams, Exum has the higher upside. Hinkie might be tempted to select Exum and then instantly begin shopping Carter-Williams in hopes of landing another lottery pick. It's possible that Hinkie thinks the Carter-Williams-Exum backcourt will work for the long term, but neither can shoot. It'll be a spacing nightmare early, and both guys need the ball to be effective.
If asset collection is Hinkie's strategy, trading back and taking the decision out of his hands might be the move. The Magic and Jazz could both use Exum. Both teams are also equipped with an extra first-round pick. Orlando isn't giving up No. 4 and No. 12 to move up one spot, so Utah (No. 5 and No. 23) is the more realistic option.
And then, there's Embiid.
Hinkie is nothing if not someone who understands the value of an asset. Selecting Embiid with the expectation that he'll sit out most (if not all) of next season is a difficult pill to swallow, especially when factoring in the Sixers did the same thing a year ago with Nerlens Noel. Embiid and Noel also have positional overlap.
Positional overlap, you say? Isn't that what we just highlighted with Exum and Carter-Williams? You betcha. This is what makes Philly so interesting—and why Hinkie has been desperately working the phones trying to acquire the rights to Wiggins.
There is no perfect answer here.
Sacramento Kings (No. 8 Overall)
The Kings have been perhaps the most active team this side of Cleveland before draft night. Reports have come from all over the place—with no one quite sure what Sacramento is trying to do, other than make some sort of deal. Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee probably put it best on Wednesday night:
A quick recap of the options being thrown around: CBS Sports' Ken Berger says the Kings are among many teams looking to trade up in the lottery to grab a free-falling Embiid. The thought of Embiid and DeMarcus Cousins in an NBA frontcourt is, frankly, terrifying. Sacramento also allegedly has three contingency trades in place, all of which will be in play Thursday night, per ESPN's Andy Katz.
Oh, and it's totally possible the Kings wind up staying put.
In all likelihood, Sacramento will sit on its pick at No. 8 and hope the draft board breaks its way. It's possible (albeit unlikely) Embiid falls to the eighth pick on his own. Noah Vonleh and Marcus Smart are two other players who could come in and fit needs instantly, and at least one of the two could be in play if the board breaks a certain way.
The pick becomes less desirable if it's Julius Randle who falls out of the top seven. Randle and Cousins have too much skill overlap and wouldn't mesh well defensively. Then, and only then, would the Venn diagram of trading the pick and it being a good idea to swap selections come together.
Granted, I'm not enamored with Sacramento's strange push to make the playoffs. New ownership wants what new ownership wants, but the Western Conference is a damn gauntlet. Even if the Kings were able to trade the No. 8 pick for a starry veteran—say, Rajon Rondo, for instance—they'll still be scrambling for one of the last few seeds.
Anything is possible here. Good luck figuring out which way the pendulum swings.
Any Team with Multiple First-Round Picks
Talking to you, Philadelphia, Orlando, Utah, Boston, Charlotte, Phoenix, Chicago and Oklahoma City. All bets are off with these franchises. Teams are valuing first-round picks more than ever as a source of cheap labor, and there is potential here for any of the eight aforementioned squads to make a huge move.
The Suns have three of the first 27 picks and no designs on using them all. Ryan McDonough's plan all along was to bring in an All-Star who can help keep this surprising Suns core in playoff contention.
With the Kevin Love talks seemingly focused on Golden State at this point, Phoenix will probably strike out in the superstar sweepstakes. That means McDonough will have to target international talent with at least one of his selections or make a trade for a future pick.
The Bulls and Thunder are in roughly the same situation. Both have glaring roster holes, championship aspirations and financial constraints that make using their picks a difficult task. Oklahoma City needs to keep its cap holds low so it can afford the full mid-level exception without hitting the luxury tax. Chicago needs every dime if it wants to make a serious contract offer to Carmelo Anthony.
Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports reported the Bulls are considering moving the No. 19 pick for a future selection. Should that fail—or if Chicago is unable to move up in the draft, packaging No. 16 and No. 19—then an international guy might be the way to go. The Thunder may go a different route, with Stein noting they've had cursory talks with the Knicks about Iman Shumpert.
The other four teams with multiple picks will probably keep them. Orlando has multiple needs and took itself out of the No. 1 pick auction by trading Afflalo. Boston is in a similar situation to Phoenix, likely on the outside looking in on the Love chase. Don't ever discount Danny Ainge, though.
Charlotte's best match for a win-now trade for a veteran went out of the way when Afflalo was sent to Denver. The Hornets probably take two NBA-ready college veterans. We already covered Philly.
The other teams? They'll be among the many jostling for position in what promises to be an unpredictable night. Let's get to it.
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