The Biggest Draft-Related Question Each NBA Team Needs to Answer
Take a break from bemoaning the lack of parity in the NBA playoffs. You've earned it. Besides, the draft is coming, and we've got questions.
Does your squad have answers?
Many of these inquiries will be straight-up related to the draft order and roster vacancies. (Are the New York Knicks smart enough to select a point guard?) Others will focus on specific developments that could arise on draft night. (Should the Indiana Pacers try auctioning Paul George for a top selection in this year's prospect pageant?)
Don't worry: If your team only owns an inconsequential second-round pick (shoutout, Washington Wizards) or doesn't have a selection at all (there are four), it's still here, being subjected to big-picture questions with everybody else.
Atlanta Hawks: Are We Drafting Paul Millsap's Replacement?
Picks: Nos. 19, 31, 60
Rebuilding isn't in the cards for the Atlanta Hawks if you ask head coach Mike Budenholzer. He cited re-signing Tim Hardaway Jr. (restricted) and Paul Millsap as the team's chief priorities this summer, per the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Chris Vivlamore. And it helps that both want to return next season. But things happen quickly in this league.
Millsap could decide he wants to play for more than early playoff exits. Hardaway could land an offer sheet from an aggressive buyer the Hawks cannot in good conscience match.
Atlanta would miss either one, but Hardaway's loss would be easier to overcome. Kent Bazemore can be a secondary ball-handler, Taurean Prince is ready for more and DeAndre' Bembry can play some 2 in a pinch if three-point shooting isn't a necessity.
Covering for Millsap's absence would be a different undertaking. He is irreplaceable—the main reason why the Hawks can be counted on for mid-seed postseason berths. If he leaves, they'll have cap space, but they'll also be toast.
Do they, at No. 19, draft a combo forward like OG Anunoby out of Indiana just to have someone who scratches the surface of Millsap's defensive versatility? Do they target someone with more offensive pizzazz, like TJ Leaf from UCLA?
There won't be minutes available if Millsap stays, and Atlanta isn't going to know for sure what he'll do by June 22. Burning a first-round pick on depth you may not need would sting. But the Hawks don't even know what the future holds if the 32-year-old Millsap stays. They may decide to take on another combo big or small-ball 4 just to be flexible in the event they must change directions in a hurry.
Boston Celtics: Should We Trade the Pick for a Star?
Picks: Nos. 1, 37, 53, 56
Calls for the Boston Celtics to trade the No. 1 pick for a star are far more powerful outside the organization.
Co-owner Wyc Grousbeck detailed what moving out of Markelle Fultz territory would mean, per WBZ News Radio's Adam Kaufman, and Boston needs a cost-controlled backcourt building block with Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart and Isaiah Thomas all due for raises by 2018-19.
Most of all, there's no way the Celtics' primary takeaway from the NBA Finals is that they're one all-in play for Jimmy Butler or Paul George away from rivaling the Golden State Warriors. Bravado is paramount in the NBA, but there's a fine line between conviction and delusion—one Boston would sprint past by haphazardly trying to derail Golden State's reign by next season.
Still, the question has to be asked: If the plan is to re-sign Thomas next summer—or extend him this year—keeping Fultz is a tad redundant. The former can defend 2-guards and grow as an off-ball scorer, but are you grooming him to be a higher-end version of Avery Bradley?
Chasing the Warriors is also slightly less irrational when you have the ability to carve out max space. Boston can, in theory, sign Gordon Hayward and then flip the No. 1 pick—the actual player—as part of a package for Butler.
Team president Danny Ainge has, in all likelihood, outgrown the impulse to make a big-time splash. He refrained from shaking things up at the trade deadline, and Golden State has only grown into a more indomitable terror since.
But few teams are in position to do anything about the NWA's (National Warriors Association) competitive landscape. So long as the Celtics are one of them, they must entertain blockbuster acceleration.
Brooklyn Nets: Should We Sacrifice Cap Space for More Picks?
Picks: Nos. 22, 27, 57
As they wait for the Celtics to stop reaping the benefits from 2013's Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce trade, the Brooklyn Nets have one mission: get their hands on as many picks and young players as possible.
Two late first-rounders do the trick this year, but they may want even more. As The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski said to The Chris Mannix Show's Chris Mannix (via Nets Daily): "Brooklyn will be out there on the market looking at teams who have a bad contract they want to get off, but only if you're willing to attach a good young player or a draft pick."
Hear that, Portland Trail Blazers?
Absorbing unwanted contracts comes at the expense of cap space. The Nets will have more than $20 million in spending power this summer without touching the roster, and another luxury of their unenviable position is being able to overpay non-max household names for the next three or four years without wrecking their trajectory.
That clout disappears if general manager Sean Marks accepts an eight-figure misfit. And while the Nets shouldn't be passing on picks or prospects, do they need another first-rounder when they have two? Would they be able to consolidate a trio of choices into a lottery selection? Should they ask for a 2018 first-rounder instead, since these types of deals usually get completed in July?
And to that end, should they wait to see how free agency plays out before committing themselves to dumping-ground duty?
Charlotte Hornets: What's More Important, Bench Shooting or Kemba's Backup?
Picks: Nos. 11, 41
The Charlotte Hornets have six players under contract through 2018-19 or later at eight figure per year. None of these deals are particularly bad. Miles Plumlee's checks in as the worst, and he's owed a manageable $37.5 million over the next three seasons.
Bankrolling so many long-term deals, though, paints the Hornets into a corner. They won't have cap space this summer. Unless they're planning to dangle a combination of pacts on the trade market, their sole means of improvement will come via the mid-level exception.
That's a problem for a lottery squad lacking bench shooters and a viable backup for Kemba Walker. Charlotte won't have the scratch to properly address both areas, exponentially increasing the importance attached to the No. 11 pick.
France's Frank Ntilikina or North Carolina State's Dennis Smith could slip outside the top 10. Do the Hornets invest a lottery pick in someone who plays their best player's best position?
This decision will be made for them if the Knicks and Dallas Mavericks pounce on both floor generals, but even then, Charlotte needs to choose the right rookie shooter to flesh out the rotation.
Is that Duke's Luke Kennard and his 43.8 percent three-point clip? Is it Louisville's Donovan Mitchell, who can defend both guard positions and improved his outside stroke by more than 10 percentage points during his sophomore season (35.4 percent)? Are either of these players worth taking over Ntilikina or Smith if they're still on the board, since it'll be easier to find second-string playmakers in free agency than shooters or, in Mitchell's case, potential three-and-D combo guards?
Chicago Bulls: Do We Reach for a Shooter?
Picks: Nos. 16, 38
Both Rajon Rondo (non-guaranteed) and Dwyane Wade (player option) are expected to be back with the Chicago Bulls next season, per the Chicago Tribune's K.C. Johnson. For anyone who believes the Three Alphas' performance during Games 1 and 2 in the first round of playoffs will last over the course of an 82-game schedule, this is great news.
For those hoping the Bulls would have the cap space necessary to chase Joe Ingles (restricted), CJ Miles, JJ Redick or anyone else who can help them build upon last year's 28th-place three-point ratio? Not so much.
Knockdown shooting can immediately translate from college to the NBA, so Chicago can tether some of its floor-spacing hopes to the 16th overall pick. Yet, unless Luke Kennard, Donovan Mitchell or Justin Jackson drops outside the top 15, the Bulls will be left to choose from a sea of big men.
Executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman can steer into the best available talent, turning their attention to potentially sweet-shooting bigs like Zach Collins, TJ Leaf or Justin Patton (though the latter jacked just 15 threes at Creighton). But they can also try satisfying a more pressing need with a reach.
Maybe GarPax thinks OG Anunoby's 31.1 percent success rate from downtown as a sophomore was a fluke. Perhaps they can talk themselves into selecting D.J. Wilson and his increasing three-point volume inside the top 20.
Taking who they believe to be the best available talent is fine, but the Bulls can't completely disregard the clunkiness of their starting backcourt. They need snipers at the 3 and 4 spots—especially if they aren't prepared to match a lucrative offer sheet for restricted free agent Nikola Mirotic.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Will Indiana Move Paul George on Draft Night?
Try not to feel bad for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Sure, they'll have suffered a merciless butt-whupping in the NBA Finals at the hands of the unfairly stacked Warriors. Next season's payroll is also projected to blow past the $121 million luxury-tax threshold, so the Cavaliers could use some cheap talent. But they still have LeBron James. They remain at the top of the Eastern Conference's mountain—it's more like an ant hill, actually—and as the employer of King James, they wouldn't keep or play a first-round prospect if they had one.
Cleveland should be more concerned with what's happening around it—specifically with Paul George.
Wholesale changes are in order if it plans to bridge the continent-size gap between it and Golden State. The Cavaliers don't have enticing picks or prospects, but they do have a pair of stars who may have served their purpose: Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.
Trading either one feels reckless on some level. Cleveland is one year removed from a title. But you need cross-position wings who can shoot and defend to combat the Warriors' beast of a setup. Neither Irving nor Love fits the latter part of that bill. George does.
Jimmy Butler is the better option from a defensive standpoint, but he doesn't have the juice to hold the Bulls hostage. George's looming free agency in 2018 (player option)—not to mention his infatuation with the Los Angeles Lakers—drives down the Pacers' asking price.
Faced with the prospect of losing him for nothing next summer, they'd have to at least consider a package built around Irving or Love. But there are a host of teams that can easily outbid the Cavaliers—from the Celtics and Lakers to the Denver Nuggets and Philadelphia 76ers, among others. Cleveland must hope nothing happens leading into or on draft night that alleviates Indiana's desperation.
Dallas Mavericks: How Are We Filling Our Hole at Point Guard?
Picks: No. 9
Owner Mark Cuban wants his team to pick up a pass-first point guard through the draft or free agency. And as of now, perusing this summer's deep crop of floor generals for sale is the preferred option.
ESPN.com's Ian Begley reported that "members of the Mavericks organization view" Jrue Holiday as an option in free agency. If true, then their interest lies with more established players, and they're free to use their ninth overall pick on a wing. Or they can try getting out in front of the post-Dirk Nowitzki era with a stretchy big like Lauri Markkanen.
Except, what happens if Frank Ntilikina and/or Dennis Smith is sitting on the board when Dallas is up? Ntilikina can defend both guard positions and work off the ball. Smith is a detonative playmaker. Can it really pass on one or both just because they don't maximize the opportunity to clinch a low-end playoff berth?
It'd be one thing if the Mavericks could guarantee themselves a stud free-agent point guard. But they must go through the ringer to afford one. Declining Nowitzki's team option and waiving Devin Harris gives them a clear path to $20-plus million in room. That's not enough for Holiday or Kyle Lowry. It might not be enough for George Hill or Jeff Teague.
Dumping Dwight Powell's deal into another team's cap space would be the only way Dallas ensures it enters the sweepstakes for a top-tier distributor. Targeting Ntilikina or Smith would be cheaper and panders to the bigger picture—something the Mavericks must take into consideration when evaluating a Western Conference contender's circle with little to no room for newcomers.
Denver Nuggets: Can We Find the Right Frontcourt Partner for Jokic?
Picks: Nos. 13, 49, 51
Nikola Jokic needs a permanent frontcourt sidekick—ideally one who can chase around 4s on defense or protect the rim while stroking triples at the other end.
Kenneth Faried doesn't have much of a jumper on offense and isn't a rim protector. Danilo Gallinari works as a small-ball 4 on both sides of the floor, but he's a free agent and no longer has the foot speed to match up with every contemporary power forward.
Mason Plumlee's hustle will get him by against 4s on defense, and his passing chops help with offensive floor balance, but he's not much of a threat outside 10 feet. Juan Hernangomez is better than everyone thought; he's just not there on defense.
Though the Denver Nuggets have the cap space and trade assets to make a marquee addition, their perimeter rotation is about to get expensive. Gallinari, Will Barton and Gary Harris will all be on new contracts by next season. They could use a cheap contributor in case everyone sticks around.
Zach Collins is the natural fit. He didn't shoot enough threes (21) at Gonzaga to qualify as a dead-eye sniper, but the range is there. More importantly, as Christopher Dempsey of Nuggets.com noted, he's an underrated defender:
"He can certainly be a back-line anchor in team defense. He's got great timing in blocking shots and was solid using the rules of verticality as well. Collins can block the shot of the man he's guarding as well as come over on help side and block those shots, too. He even had a couple of chase-down blocks on his resume. Collins has good feet and can guard in space. He should be fine in guarding stretch 4s and 5s in the NBA."
Turning the 6'8" Justin Jackson loose as a small-ball 4 would also be an interesting, if overly ambitious, dice roll. And you can bet Denver will dangle No. 13 as part of blockbuster packages for wings who dabble at power forward. However they do it, the Nuggets have to make diversifying their frontcourt rotation a top priority.
Detroit Pistons: Luke Kennard or Donovan Mitchell?
Picks: No. 12
The Detroit Pistons will listen to offers for the No. 12 pick if a "win-now veteran" is coming back, according to ESPN.com's Marc Stein. Those talks won't go anywhere without more of their own players on the table. They're shopping Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson, per Basketball Insiders' Michael Scotto, but that's blockbuster territory.
Anyone drafted in this spot will count against the cap for $2.3 million after they sign. The Pistons don't have the maneuverability to accept a larger salary in return. They'll be lucky to avoid hard-capping themselves after funding Kentavious Caldwell-Pope's next contract.
Acquiring cost-controlled contributors is of the utmost importance when the luxury tax and, possibly, a diminished mid-level exception are in play. And the Pistons need shooters who play off their bundle of ball-dominators more than anything else.
So yes, it really is this simple for them.
Luke Kennard put down 43.8 percent of his triples as a sophomore at Duke on more than six attempts per 40 minutes. He is a near-seamless fit next to any of Detroit's ball-handlers—Caldwell-Pope, Tobias Harris, Reggie Jackson, Marcus Morris, even Stanley Johnson.
Donovan Mitchell is the pick if the Pistons are looking for a Johnson-esque defensive punch minus the busted jumper. Mitchell went from shooting 25 percent from deep on 4.9 looks per 40 minutes as a freshman to splashing in 35.4 percent on much higher volume.
Teams in front of the Pistons can save them some legwork by taking one off the board. The Hornets should grab Kennard or Mitchell if they don't opt for a point guard. If both are available, Detroit must decide between the sweeter stroke (Kennard) and higher defensive ceiling (Mitchell).
Golden State Warriors: How Many Seasons of 'Friends' Can We Bang out on June 22?
There is nothing—nothing—for the Warriors to ponder leading into the NBA draft. Kevin Durant has made sure of it.
Monitoring the trade market for the formation of a rival powerhouse would crack their to-do list if they needed to worry about breaking up their supporting cast to squeeze in Durant's new deal. But he's expected to sign a non-Bird max that lets them retain free-agent rights to Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston, according to ESPN.com's Ramona Shelburne and Chris Haynes.
If Golden State wants to pretend like there's an NBA team on the verge of matching its star power, it can spend three to seven seconds crossing its fingers in hopes that Jimmy Butler and Paul George don't get traded to the Cavaliers or Celtics on draft night.
Other than that, the Warriors are free to binge-watch Friends on Netflix while the rest of the league experiences life without the perfect roster.
Houston Rockets: Are 2nd-Round Diamonds or Impact Free Agents the End Goal?
Picks: Nos. 43, 45
The Houston Rockets are in a weird spot.
They tallied the NBA's third-best regular season record but flamed out in the second round of the playoffs. They have a roster that should be able to replicate this year's performance but have pressing needs—mainly a potential replacement for Nene and another wing defender. They have some cap space but not much, and their first-round pick belongs to the Lakers.
Finding reinforcements in the middle of the second round is a long shot. It's harder to invest roster spots in green prospects when you're not teeming with them in the first place, even if the introduction of two-way contracts with the D-League makes it easier.
The Rockets can take fliers on wings with three or four years of college experience whose learning curves shouldn't be too steep—Dillon Brooks, Sterling Brown and Damyean Dotson all spring to mind. But sneaking onto the free-agency scene may be more appealing for the immediacy of its return.
"Giving up a first-round pick to the Lakers to exchange Corey Brewer for Lou Williams moved Houston's worst 2017–18 contract off the books for a useful and desirable playoff contributor," Danny Leroux of SI.com wrote. "While their available cap space is barely above $10 million this summer, both Williams and Trevor Ariza would be in strong demand if they needed to clear additional room."
Offloading Ariza or Williams into a rival squad's cap space would give the Rockets enough scratch to enter the running for wings like Joe Ingles (restricted) and CJ Miles. Should that type of splash be the focus when the Warriors continue to be out of reach? Or should Houston preserve its wiggle room for 2018 and aim for minor touchups via the bargain bin and second round?
General manager Daryl Morey has a lot to consider this summer. Fortunately for the Rockets, offseason shine jobs are his specialty.
Indiana Pacers: So Can We Get a Top-3 Pick for PG-13 or Nah?
Picks: Nos. 18, 47
OK, but how about a top-five pick? Or the Nets' top selection in 2018 the Celtics own? Or the Lakers' 2018 first-round pick from the Sixers? Or some of the Lakers' own kiddies?
Can the Pacers get any of those first-rate assets in exchange for Paul George?
It doesn't look good.
"You should buy stock in George heading to L.A.," The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor wrote. "The vibe I've gotten from talking to NBA executives and agents over the past few weeks is that teams aren't willing to sell the farm for George because the possibility that he'll sign with the Lakers is so strong."
Indiana's last bit of leverage evaporated when George didn't earn All-NBA honors. He would be more likely to sit tight if he was eligible for the designated player extension—an inclination the Pacers could have played up in trade talks in response to lowball offers.
Creating a competitive market for George leading into the draft is paramount to securing an adequate return. Indy hasn't yet "solicited" offers for the All-Star forward, per Bleacher Report's Eric Pincus, but there's a chance of a bidding war before free agency.
Give certain suitors an opportunity to upgrade their rosters using cap space, and their interest may dwindle. Force the issue with impromptu offers from teams like Minnesota, Philadelphia or Phoenix, and you could coax more out of asset-rich admirers like Boston or Denver.
Los Angeles Clippers: Will Another Team's Draft-Night Victory Spell Our Doom?
Keeping the core intact remains the Los Angeles Clippers' best offseason option—mostly because it's their only option.
Re-signing Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and J.J. Redick will drag the Clippers' cap commitments within inches of $200 million after taxes, per USA Today's Sam Amick. That's too much money for an aging nucleus incapable of making the Warriors sweat.
At the same time, it beats the alternative.
Letting Griffin or Paul walk for nothing is a no-no. The Clippers need to capitalize on star departures. And if they're paying them, they should just re-up Redick.
Bring back everyone, and the Clippers can try moving them later should things go south. But that's only if their core pieces don't bolt. The San Antonio Spurs have eyes for Paul, per ESPN.com's Marc Stein. Certain league officials expect Redick to leave for a contract that guarantees him $18 to $20 million per year, according to Los Angeles Times' Broderick Turner. Griffin's return is "less certain" than Paul's, sources told ESPN.com's Kevin Arnovitz.
Leave the rest of the NBA alone, and the Clippers' situation is tenuous enough. The formation of another superteam? That's a disaster scenario, as it'd be additional incentive for their stars to seek greener pastures.
Bereft of draft picks and without the assets to acquire a first-rounder, the Clippers can only look on and hope the Cavaliers and Celtics don't make convincing plays for Jimmy Butler or Paul George. And if they do, the Clippers better pray Griffin and Paul value five-year maxes over title contention.
Los Angeles Lakers: Lonzo Ball or Josh Jackson
Picks: Nos. 2, 28
Trading the No. 2 pick is "still very much an option" for the Lakers, according to ESPN.com's Chad Ford. This tracks with an NBA executive's commenting to Bleacher Report's Eric Pincus that Los Angeles needs a star to solidify Paul George's arrival in 2018.
Offering No. 2 gets the Lakers in the conversation for every available star. But a draft-night trade is unlikely. Indiana is the only team that should be in any rush to deal its headliner, and Los Angeles has no reason to relinquish primo assets for George when he's a free agent in 2018.
The Lakers will use this pick and figure out the rest later. And their choice can be boiled down to two players, assuming Markelle Fultz goes No. 1: Lonzo Ball or Josh Jackson.
People will get cute and throw De'Aaron Fox into the fold. Don't be one of them. Drafting another guard with D'Angelo Russell on the roster creates an overlap. The inbound prospect needs to be an off-ball threat for workable floor balance. Fox doesn't have the jumper to keep the schematic peace.
Ball won't have a problem vacillating between lead ball-handler and off-guard. His defense isn't at Fox's level, but he and Russell have the size to switch backcourt assignments.
Jackson is the pick if the Lakers are drafting to fill a void. There is no cap on a Jackson-Brandon Ingram pairing. They're elite three-and-D prospects who, down the line, could wreak collaborative havoc at both forward spots.
Memphis Grizzlies: How Many Days Until the 2018 Draft?
What an inopportune time for the Memphis Grizzlies to join the pickless ranks.
Four of their six most-used players—Tony Allen, Vince Carter, JaMychal Green (restricted), Zach Randolph—are ticketed for free agency, and carrying all of their cap holds vaults the team past the luxury tax. With Chandler Parsons' deal also clogging up the financial pipeline, they've never needed cheap labor more.
Busting up the foundation in response to this crunch isn't a realistic option. Renouncing all of their free agents doesn't even get the Grizzlies to $10 million in cap space.
Best-case scenario: They re-sign Allen, Carter and Randolph to yearly salaries smaller than their holds, open the full mid-level exception ($8.4 million) and match whatever offer sheet Green receives without shooting past the luxury tax.
Ideal outcomes are seldom so lateral, but even this hypothetical is unlikely. It'll take a small miracle for the Grizzlies to run it back while arming themselves with the full mid-level exception.
For their sake, the undrafted-prospect market better be particularly robust.
Miami Heat: Which Available Big Best Complements Hassan Whiteside
Picks: No. 14
The Miami Heat need a power forward.
Chris Bosh has been out of the picture since February 2016. Josh McRoberts has been a non-factor for most of his Miami tenure. James Johnson is about to get really expensive. Playing Luke Babbitt up a position is fun when it's in measured doses. The Heat have cap space to burn, but most of it will be allocated to a new contract for Johnson or his replacement. (Paging Paul Millsap.)
Poach a non-max free agent such as Danilo Gallinari or Serge Ibaka to play the 4, and this is moot. Miami has enough leftover breathing room in that scenario to keep Johnson and commit to a power forward-center tricycle with its newcomer, Johnson and Hassan Whiteside.
There's no way for the Heat to know how free agency will play out, and their interest in pricey superstars hasn't subsided. The Utah Jazz view them, along with the Celtics, as genuine threats to whisk Gordon Hayward off his feet, according to ESPN.com's Marc Stein. The Heat need to get another 4 to plan for a scenario in which they actually subtract from their incumbent supply.
Could Lauri Markkanen drop to No. 14? Is Zach Collins the pick if he doesn't? Can they trust John Collins enough to develop a three-point stroke? Will Justin Patton's 2.3 blocks per 40 minutes catch their eye? Are any of these basketball tots good enough passers to counterbalance Whiteside's playmaking limitations?
Plenty of quality bigs will be left for the taking when the Heat are on the clock. They might not need much out of the gate from whoever they snatch, but they should get their hands on the skyscraper best suited to blend rim protection and floor spacing with situational defense on glorified wings.
Milwaukee Bucks: Are We Drafting for Now or Later?
Picks: Nos. 17, 48
The Milwaukee Bucks get to do whatever they want.
Giannis Antetokounmpo is a top-10 player and has the credentials to headline a hyperzealous squad looking to get after it now. He's also 22, and Malcolm Brogdon (24), Jabari Parker (22) and Thon Maker (20) are all under 25. Milwaukee can make a big-picture reach, as it did with Maker, that's more likely to pay off two to four years into the future, when LeBron James is maybe, quite possibly, perhaps done ruling the Eastern Conference.
But what do the Bucks want to do?
Draft a big because there's so many available and Greg Monroe (player option) could leave this summer or next? Reach, ever so slightly, for OG Anunoby because combo defenders (Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Tony Snell) have panned out in Milwaukee before? Reach further for Terrance Ferguson because Rashad Vaughn hasn't yet left his mark? Go the international route, with Rodions Kurucs (Latvia) or Isaiah Hartenstein (Germany)?
Hiring a general manager to replace John Hammond, now of the Orlando Magic, could shape the Bucks' direction on draft night. They may not even have an idea of what they're doing until the last minute.
They're a team from which we must expect the unexpected and plan for the unpredictable while fully recognizing we probably have no idea what in the frickity frick they'll do.
Minnesota Timberwolves: What's the Root of Our Defensive Issues?
Picks: No. 7
With Tom Thibodeau running the show, the Minnesota Timberwolves are liable to shop the seventh overall pick for anyone who played under him on the Bulls a more established name. But it'd behoove them to see if they can correct their most damning defensive issues with a younger player who won't add to a bottom line that'll soon include max or near-max deals for Zach LaVine and Andrew Wiggins.
Consider what SI.com's Rob Mahoney wrote in March:
Over-help and slow closeouts have made Minnesota one of the most vulnerable spot-up defenses in the league. The Wolves are equally bad in allowing opponents to get out in transition and affording them open, efficient shots once on the break—despite the fact that Thibodeau told MinnPost’s Britt Robson that he’s had to spend more practice time on transition defense with the Wolves than any of his previous teams.
Only the Lakers and Nuggets allowed more points per spot-up possession than the Timberwolves. They finished 29th in fast-break defense, just ahead of the Cavaliers. And they gave up way too many looks around the basket for a squad that didn't play at an exhaustive pace.
One player won't remedy everything that ails the Timberwolves, let alone an NBA newbie. But they have to start somewhere.
Bleacher Report's Jonathan Wasserman has them taking Florida State's Jonathan Isaac, and that's been the case for some time. Isaac isn't a rim protector, but he can guard both the 3 and 4, handling assignments Wiggins cannot and Minny's bigs should not. Using him to upgrade the perimeter activity makes Karl-Anthony Towns' life easier around the basket.
Rolling with Isaac, though, compromises the Timberwolves' strained spacing. He shot 34.8 percent from deep on modest volume in college and might not excel within a long-ball-light offense. If they don't think he's the answer, a trade becomes more appealing with Malik Monk and Jayson Tatum likely gone by No. 7.
New Orleans Pelicans: Will an Impact Shooter Slip to the 2nd Round?
Picks: No. 40
It's a good thing the New Orleans Pelicans' wish list is short, because they don't have much to work with this summer.
Head coach Alvin Gentry and general manager Dell Demps identified shooting as their top priority at the end of the season. Demps reiterated shooting and then cited more playmaking during a recent appearance on WLAE's Prime Time Sports with Scott Alexander, per Pelicans.com's Jim Eichenhofer.
Adding another playmaker takes a distant back seat to the search for more shooters. DeMarcus Cousins is the second- or third-best passing big in the game, and Anthony Davis creates his own shots as well as any other really tall person. New Orleans is set on the playmaking front, even if Jrue Holiday leaves in free agency.
Hold on to Holiday, and the Pelicans won't have cap space to deepen their pool of three-point experts. Having the full mid-level exception should get them one, but they shot 33.5 percent from downtown after the Cousins trade. A single sniper won't cut it.
Depending on the 40th pick to yield instant value won't, either. The Pelicans will place more emphasis on minimum-contract nomads. But this is the only pick they have, and they better use it on a three-point shooter.
Dillon Brooks, Sterling Brown, Tyler Dorsey, Josh Hart, whoever. Any 2 or 3 with above-average outside touch projected to go in the middle of the second round has to be on New Orleans' radar.
New York Knicks: Is It Point Guard-or-Bust at No. 8?
Picks: Nos. 8, 44, 58
Derrick Rose is a free agent and on his way out the door. Ron Baker (qualifying offer) and Chasson Randle are the best point guards on the roster, and neither is on a guaranteed contract. Stir in the Knicks' renewed devotion to the triangle offense, and putting the right point guard in place takes obvious precedence in New York.
Frank Ntilikina seems like the most sensible fit. He's 6'5" and has a near-7-foot wingspan, per Draft Express. He can defend both guard positions and doesn't need to play on the ball full-time—a triangle enthusiast's dream.
Bleacher Report's Jonathan Wassmerman has been driving the Ntilikina-to-New York bandwagon for months. And Jordan Schultz, also of B/R, has been told the Knicks are "enamored" with the Frenchman. But they remain interested in trading for anti-triangle guard Ricky Rubio, according to ESPN.com's Ian Begley.
Do the ties to Rubio suggest they'll branch out at No. 8? Might they take a harder look at Dennis Smith Jr., the incisive scorer who, despite his 35.9 percent three-point conversion rate, may not be able to spend much time away from the ball?
And what if Malik Monk slips past everyone in front of the Knicks? Will they pass on the chance to end the parade of new faces at point guard to grab the triangle-friendly wing?
Some of the work will be done for them. Monk, Ntilikina and Smith won't all make it to No. 8. But two of them probably will, and the Knicks' decision will say a great deal about how important the point guard position and Phil Jackson's pet system are to them.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Do We Draft a Playmaker or Dump Salary?
Picks: No. 21
Retaining this pick is the most likely option for the Oklahoma City Thunder.
New deals for Taj Gibson and Andre Roberson (restricted) will catapult them past the luxury tax. Pay just Roberson, and they'll still be lucky to sidestep a $120-plus million payroll. They need the bang for their buck that rookie-scale deals offer, and general manager Sam Presti has found success in the mid- to late first round.
Serge Ibaka was drafted at No. 24 in 2008. Oklahoma City landed Reggie Jackson at No. 24 in 2011. Presti was smart to take a flier on Alex Abrines at No. 32 in 2013.
Yes, there have been misses. There are always misses. Perry Jones III (No. 28 in 2012) and Mitch McGary (No. 21 in 2014) aren't in the NBA anymore. Late first-rounders are fickle, and the Thunder aren't immune whiffing.
There also aren't a ton of playmakers or shooters to choose at this slot. The bottom of the first round is littered with bigs and raw wings. Terrance Ferguson is a nice stopgap if Roberson flees, but his jumper is all over the place. Semi Ojeleye can shoot (42.4 percent from three last season), but he might be a reach in the first round.
Staring at a cap sheet that will zoom past $140 million with both Gibson and Roberson, the Thunder have to consider using No. 21 to sweeten the pot of an Enes Kanter salary dump. Few teams have the capacity or willingness to swallow the final two years and $36.5 million on his contract. But hey, that's why you put Brooklyn on speed dial.
Orlando Magic: Who Has the Best Shot of Turning into Our 1st Cornerstone?
Picks: Nos. 6, 25, 33, 35
Another year, another top-six pick for Orlando.
Three of the Magic's last four first-round selections have come in the top five. Not one, including this year, has fallen past No. 11. They also gave back the Sixers' 2017 pick for a top-10 selection in 2014.
And what do the Magic have to show for it? Let's recap:
- 2013 (No. 2 pick): Drafted Victor Oladipo. He was traded with the No. 11 pick to the Thunder last June for Serge Ibaka, who was eventually traded to the Toronto Raptors for Terrence Ross and the No. 25 pick.
- 2014 (No. 4 pick): Selected Aaron Gordon. He's flashed every tool imaginable on the defensive end, but his offensive development has been stunted by a clumpy offense and a 2016-17 campaign in which he logged too much time at small forward.
- 2014 (No. 10 pick, via Philly): Acquired Elfrid Payton. He is a hustler on defense and can be a crafty playmaker, but he's not a three-point threat and has yet to pilot a top-20 offense.
- 2015 (No. 5 pick): Took Mario Hezonja. He was considered the smart, dare-to-be-great choice—a 6'8" wing able to defend three different positions. His shooting stroke hasn't translated to the NBA, and he spent 2016-17 on the fringes of head coach Frank Vogel's rotation.
- 2016 (No. 11 pick): Flipped Domantas Sabonis as part of the Ibaka trade.
Gordon and Payton are not scrubs, but they're also not surefire cornerstones. And they're extension-eligible, further complicating the team's future. The Magic need to find a definitive building block this year, be it De'Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, Jayson Tatum or whoever else is available at No. 6.
Philadelphia 76ers: Point Guard or Wing?
Picks: Nos. 3, 36, 39, 46, 50
Cover your ears, Sam Hinkie: Your successor, Bryan Colangelo, has said he's open to trading the Sixers' No. 3 pick, per Philly.com's Keith Pompey.
Dropping back a few spots holds intrigue if Philly is enchanted by De'Aaron Fox, Malik Monk or another high-end prospect who could tumble outside the top three. Dealing out of the top seven or eight entirely makes no sense. There isn't a smorgasbord of superstars available, and the ones who might be—namely Jimmy Butler and Paul George—hit free agency in one or two years' time. Philly doesn't yet hold the cache required to make those gambles.
Using the No. 3 selection on a point guard or three-and-D darling does the Sixers a far greater service. They could be a dark-horse postseason contender if Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons stay healthy, but they're still in the thick of a reset. They need up-and-comers who can play off their two most prized assets.
This is where things get thorny.
T.J. McConnell is technically the Sixers' best point guard, but head coach Brett Brown plans to stick Simmons at the 1. Taking another floor general lays the groundwork for imbalance if he can't zip around off the ball and fire on the catch.
That rules out Fox, and it most certainly leaves Lonzo Ball up in the air if he falls past the Lakers. He has the shooting chops to orbit another lead ball-handler, but he's so used to being at the center of everything that deferring to Simmons on more possessions than not could cause protracted growing pains.
Taking a wing allows for a more seamless fit. But who do they pick? Josh Jackson is a pesky defender and shot 37.8 percent from beyond the arc at Kansas, but his poor free-throw clip (56.6 percent) could prove ominous. Jayson Tatum is more of a one-on-one scorer than shooter. Monk is an elite sniper, but his size, at 6'3", won't do the Sixers any favors on defense.
With so many different scenarios fluttering around, Colangelo has his work cut out for him.
Phoenix Suns: Are We Beyond Drafting Another Guard?
Picks: Nos. 4, 32, 54
You're reading this on a day of the week that ends in "Y," and you know what that means: Eric Bledsoe's future with the Phoenix Suns is in question.
"The prevailing thought around the NBA is that the Suns are going to draft another high-profile young guy, and Bledsoe likely gets marginalized out of the forward-looking plan," Basketball Insiders' Steve Kyler relayed at the end of May. "Suns sources continue to deny that there is a lot of interest in moving Bledsoe, but eventually, the team has to embrace their youth, which is why so many opposing teams believe Bledsoe can be had."
Bledsoe chatter will kick into overdrive if the Suns draft another point guard—which they might. Jonathan Wasserman has them taking De'Aaron Fox at No. 4 in his latest mock. The folks over at Draft Express have them doing the same.
In a world that revolves only around the Suns (so sorry), Josh Jackson would dip past the Lakers and Sixers. Phoenix needs a wing who can shoot and tackle the defensive assignments Devin Booker cannot, a job description that fits Jackson to a T (unless free throws count).
Miss out on Jackson, and the Suns sail out to iffy waters. Jayson Tatum doesn't give them the defense or shooting they need. Malik Monk isn't much of a defensive upgrade over Booker, if he's one at all. Jonathan Isaac could develop into the player the Suns need long term, but he's no sharpshooter, and they don't have the minutes available at the 4 to be his ideal landing spot.
Fox might be the most logical pick when Phoenix is on the clock. If he is, Bledsoe has to go. He shouldn't be displaced from the ball more than he already is beside Booker and, at times, Brandon Knight. And given that Bledsoe is 28 and has two years left on one of the NBA's best contracts, the Suns should command a small ransom for his services.
Portland Trail Blazers: Which Pick(s) Will It Take to Dump Salary?
Picks: Nos. 15, 20, 26
Left alone, the Trail Blazers are where no 41-win team should be: deep into the luxury tax with almost no roster spots to spare. Luckily for them, their three first-round picks can act as money-savers.
Even if the Blazers want to, they can't use all these selections. They'd have to waive Pat Connaughton, Festus Ezeli and Tim Quarterman to jam them all onto the 15-man roster.
General manager Neil Olshey hasn't ruled that out, per ESPN.com's Ian Begley, but it would be irresponsible of him not to gauge the market for his best salary-dumping trade chips—particularly when Portland has a gaggle of contracts it can stand to shed.
Through 2019-20, Allen Crabbe is owed $56.3 million; Maurice Harkless earns $31 million; Meyers Leonard gets $31.8 million; and Evan Turner takes home $53.6 million. The Knicks, per Begley, have been linked to Harkless, but the Blazers need to think bigger.
Attach No. 15 to Turner's pact, and maybe they get the Kings or Nets to bite. Or perhaps the 20th and 26th picks get it done. If it takes No. 15 and another choice to grease the wheels, the Blazers have something to think about.
They needn't bend over backward to reward teams for sponging up their cap dreck, but they must tend to their mushrooming tax bill.
Sacramento Kings: How Badly Do We Want De'Aaron Fox?
Picks: Nos. 5, 10, 34
Sacramento is hot for De'Aaron Fox, according to ESPN.com's Chad Ford.
How hot exactly?
"There's talk inside the organization about combining pick Nos. 5 and 10 to move up in the draft to secure Fox," Ford wrote.
Forfeiting the No. 10 pick to sloth up the draft-day ladder would be an elephantine flub. The Celtics and Lakers aren't jettisoning their selections, so the Kings would be coughing up a top-drawer choice to leapfrog two teams at most.
Fox could fall to the Kings at No. 5 anyway. He isn't going to the Celtics or Lakers, the Sixers don't have use for a point guard who'll struggle to coexist with Ben Simmons and the Suns already have a jillion guards.
Get word that the Sixers or Suns are ignoring dicey fits for Fox's talent, and the Kings can try baiting pecking-order superiors with the fifth pick and anyone on their roster other than Buddy Hield or Skal Labissiere. And if that doesn't do it, they should fall in love with someone else—unless, of course, they're nostalgic for the recklessness DeMarcus Cousins' departure was supposed to neutralize.
San Antonio Spurs: Are We Drafting for Keeps or Cap Space?
Picks: Nos. 29, 59
The Spurs? Trading a first-round pick to cut salary? Instead of selecting someone you don't know much about but instantly fall for because the Spurs are the Spurs?
Chris Paul and San Antonio apparently have a thing for each other, according to ESPN.com's Marc Stein. The Spurs must circumvent a gauntlet of hang-ups to afford him, but that hasn't stopped the Clippers from devolving into scaredy cats.
At least two of LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol, Danny Green and Tony Parker must be sent packing for this pipe dream to have any traction. San Antonio won't need a first-round pick to pawn off Aldridge or Green, but a pittance will have to be paid if it's junking Gasol or, much less likely, Parker.
Surrendering first-round goodies for cap relief is uncharacteristic of the Spurs, but it's not unprecedented. They gave the Warriors a first-round pick in 2012, which became Festus Ezeli, to ditch Richard Jefferson's deal. In more recent years, they've shipped out valuable role players such as Tiago Splitter (2015) and Boris Diaw (2016) to make way for free agents.
Maybe Gasol throws the Spurs a bone and opts out of next season's $16.2 million salary. Or perhaps they don't need a sugary additive to deep-six expiring deals. Heck, maybe the Spurs aren't willing to gut the roster for Paul, rendering all of this speculation useless.
Assuming the mutual interest is there, San Antonio must decide how far it'll go to make this happen—and whether this year's first-rounder needs to be part of the collateral damage.
Toronto Raptors: Are We Trying to Replace Patrick Patterson or PJ Tucker?
Pick: No. 23
Toronto is about to become the foremost case study in how much a team will pay to exist in the Cavaliers' shadow.
Serge Ibaka, Kyle Lowry, Patrick Patterson and PJ Tucker are all free agents. Bruno Caboclo and Lucas Noguiera are extension-eligible. Cory Joseph is likely in the last season of his deal (player option for 2018-19). Norman Powell and Fred VanVleet will hit restricted free agency next year.
There is no plausible scenario in which the Raptors make it through next summer without sweeping changes. Running back this exact core for 2017-18 is unthinkable. Re-signing all four of their free agents propels the payroll past $155 million before taxes—and that's only if Patterson and Tucker don't combine to make more than $19.2 million in the first year of their new deals.
Incidentally, those are the two Toronto should be most concerned with replacing. Lowry is too valuable not to pull out all the stops for, and Ibaka has a wink-wink agreement to return in place, according to Basketball Insiders' Steve Kyler.
Market-value offers for Patterson and Tucker are probably too rich for the Raptors to match. Losing both is a possibility, if an inevitability. And with just one pick in the chamber, they can't aim to supplant both.
Picking which vacancy to address is difficult. The Raptors have other bigs, but Ibaka is the only one who can stretch defenses beyond the arc, and this draft is overrun with nifty towers. And yet, with Tucker potentially gone, Powell speeding toward a raise and Terrence Ross in Orlando, Toronto could use a cheap safety net on the wings—in which case possible reaches such as Semi Ojeleye and Derrick White, along with first-round prospect Terrance Ferguson, have to be in play.
Utah Jazz: Trade Up or Trade Out?
Picks: Nos. 24, 30, 42, 55
There won't be enough room for the Jazz to house this many picks if they're keeping the band together.
Re-signing Gordon Hayward, George Hill and Joe Ingles while guaranteeing Boris Diaw's and Raul Neto's deals would leave them with 13 players on the docket. And that's with Shelvin Mack and Jeff Withey hitting the bricks.
Two late first-round picks would be ideal for those last two spots if money was no object, but the Jazz would be mortgaged to the hilt. Financing a max for Hayward ($30.3 million in year one) and market-level contracts for Hill and Ingles brings them dangerously close to $150 million in salary obligations—an untenable cap sheet when you barely nip at the Warriors' heels on your best nights.
That number will only balloon over time. Dante Exum and Rodney Hood are extension-eligible this summer, and Derrick Favors is an unrestricted free agent in 2018.
A cheap backup isn't as important when you have the Jazz's roster. Cast off Alec Burks, Diaw and Favors, and they still have one of the deepest rosters in the league. And they'll need to test this theory to dodge mammoth tax payments.
Flexible suitors won't need an incentive to absorb Favors; the Jazz should get assets for him. But the two years and $22.3 million remaining on Burks' pact will require a first-round gift. He's averaged just 33 appearances over the past three seasons, and the Association isn't hot for ball-dominant guards who struggle in equal-opportunity offenses.
Failing a salary dump, the Jazz should try consolidating Nos. 24, 30 and 42 into a higher pick. Doing so would allow them to add a better player and conserve roster space.
Washington Wizards: Is There Room for Another Long-Shot Project?
Picks: No. 52
Teams don't set high expectations for late second-round picks. The Wizards are no different. They desperately need help on the bench—John Wall has called for it—but they'll be hard-pressed to make a splash at No. 52 or with undrafted prospects. They just don't have the room.
Chris McCullough, Sheldon McClellan and Daniel Ochefu should all be back in 2017-18. Between the three, they logged 370 minutes last season. And now Washington is supposed to take on another project? That won't fly, as the Bullets Forever staff explained:
"Dedicating four rosters spots to guys who may not be ready to make an impact is dangerous, especially if you’re trying to contend for the Eastern Conference Finals next season. If Mac, Ochefu, McCullough, or whoever they take with the 52nd pick is ready to take the next step and be a contributor next season, that’s great, but if not, that’s one less spot they could have used on someone else who could have made a difference."
Trey Burke (restricted) is good as gone this summer, and Bojan Bogdanovic (restricted) may price himself out of D.C. Stripped of cap flexibility, the Wizards might make way for another long-shot project. But sifting through the free-agency clearance rack in search of veteran help is their best shot at beefing up a rail-thin bench.
And with only a couple of roster spots expected to be available, scouring the open market for immediate depth must take precedence over drafting another player unfit for everyday duty.