The NBA playoffs were dull, lopsided and predictable. The NBA crowned a champion, but with little (outside of the Bay Area) to celebrate. Even Kevin Durant spit out his post-championship beer.
Then came the ever after.
The league has come off its hinges in the last week, with draft picks swapped, players opting out, stars on the blocks and everyone making plans to construct super-teams that might possibly combat the Golden State Warriors. It’s wild. It may not be great for the NBA in the long term, but as a show, it’s on a run.
Such a run that not even LaVar Ball can say something to break through the news clutter.
Where to start? Normally, the Boston Celtics trading the No. 1 overall selection to Philadelphia for the No. 3 and a future No. 1, perhaps even a top-five pick next year, would be the story of the draft build-up.
Celtics president Danny Ainge predicted he would be able to get the player he wanted anyway (speculated to be Josh Jackson of Kansas) at three, so it was no risk. (Note: This is what executives in every sport always say when they drop back in the draft. It’s in the training manual for the job.)
Philly gets Washington’s Markelle Fultz, a brilliant point guard to team with potential young stars Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, in an attempt to turn “The Process” into a post-LeBron Eastern contender. Boston and Philly may be Eastern Conference contenders in the years to come, adding some spice to the deal.
It’s a fascinating trade made even more fascinating when Jackson reportedly refused to work out for Boston unless he is guaranteed to be the No. 3 selection. Would that put 6-foot-8 forward Jayson Tatum from Duke on Boston’s radar? It’s not like he isn’t capable of being the best player in this draft. Ditto for Kentucky point guard De’Aaron Fox, although Boston probably isn’t interested in someone to handle the ball right now.
Meanwhile, the Los Angles Lakers, at No. 2, appear set to pick Lonzo Ball and his dad, who were once the biggest story in the draft in part because they refused to work out for anyone other than the hometown Lakers and in part because no one knows what LaVar might do or say on Thursday.
The top of the draft is rarely this (a) stacked and (b) intriguing.
This is all quaint though in the backdrop of everything else. No one is certain if any of these guys will be great NBA players – the history of the top five is littered with busts.
Consider D’Angelo Russell, whom the Lakers took No. 2 overall in 2015. He is a good player but is dealing with maturity issues. He also just got shipped out of LA to Brooklyn along with Timofey Mozgov in a salary dump. The goal? Merely try to get LeBron James to leave Cleveland as a free agent after the 2017-18 season and sign to finish his career in LA.
Now that’s a power move by Magic Johnson.
It’s intriguing considering the Lakers are trying to build a power on the West Coast while archrival Boston is going for broke on the East Coast. The Celtics have as many as seven first-round draft picks in the next three years. That gives them assets and perhaps cap space with a focus on bringing in New Orleans megastar Anthony Davis at some point, or in the short term, trading for either Indiana’s Paul George or Chicago’s Jimmy Butler, who are both now on the block.
Back to LeBron: Would he really leave Cleveland? He’s done it before, and he hadn’t even delivered the city its long-awaited championship at that point. After another season he may believe Cleveland doesn’t have what it takes to beat Golden State and win another title. Who knows?
It seems so possible you wonder if Cleveland should just try to trade him this year while it can get something for him. Would that be over the top? Yeah, probably, but apparently the entire league is into making bold moves all of a sudden, Cleveland included. Owner Dan Gilbert just got rid of general manager David Griffin despite the Cavs reaching three consecutive finals and winning the franchise’s first title.
There isn’t a lot of patience in the NBA right now.
Consider that New York Knicks czar Phil Jackson is reportedly entertaining trade offers for Kristaps Porzingis, their wildly popular, talented and young 7-foot-3 forward/center. He’s about the only bright light Knicks fans have had in a decade or more.
And to circle back, yes, Jimmy Butler is on the trade block as the Bulls look to rebuild on the fly. He could wind up getting dealt for draft picks somewhere or even sent to Cleveland (which might have to part with Kevin Love) to give the Cavs another weapon against the Warriors. Or maybe it’s George to Cleveland after he informed Indiana he will leave after next season.
It’s All-Stars upon All-Stars out there.
Is that really a good thing, the best players huddling on a few teams and leaving the rest of the league as a wasteland with no hope for playoff advancement?
No, it’s not. That’s life under the new collective bargaining agreement though, where the TV money is so great that every team can pay huge money to stars – including ones that already have stars. If you’re going to get a max deal anyway, why not get one with a contender?
Of course, there is always San Antonio, which, per usual, is bucking all trends. The big news this week is that Pau Gasol is declining a $16.2 million option but reportedly not to pursue more money elsewhere. He’s expected to re-sign with the Spurs for less to help them lure better free agents. Loyalty is in the drinking water down there.
As for the super-team concept, hate it if you will. Hate that Kevin Durant just up and left Oklahoma City to join a 73-win club in Golden State. But the Warriors only got that good because they made great draft picks, year after year.
Steph Curry was the seventh pick overall in 2009. Klay Thompson went 11th in 2011. Draymond Green was a second rounder in 2012. No one predicted three possible Hall of Famers out of those selections. Oh, and Patrick McCaw, the promising rookie who gave them 12.1 minutes a game during the playoffs, including three starts? He was a second-rounder last year out of UNLV, picked up in a draft-night trade with Milwaukee. That was a steal, a potentially big one.
Thursday is another draft. Maybe it ends where it begins, and no one really knows anything. If nothing else, it’s finally fun and unpredictable.
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