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As the recently concluded NBA Finals becomes part of the league's history, basketball fans can now safely turn their attention to the looming offseason. As usual, the period starts with next Thursday's NBA draft, a night when every prospect turns into a potential All-Star and every franchise sets itself up for a bright future.
In recent seasons, the top of the draft has been in doubt up until the very moment selections were made. This year, the top three of Joel Embiid, Jabari Parker, and Andrew Wiggins has seemingly been marked in ink for several months. Yet the order in which those players are picked could decide the NBA's power structure for a decade or more — just ask Greg Oden and Kevin Durant. Will the Cleveland Cavaliers avoid Embiid out of fear that back injuries put his long-term viability in doubt? Will Wiggins, once considered the best wing prospect since LeBron James, fall out of fear that he needs polishing? Or will Australian guard Dante Exum throw long-held beliefs into doubt and vault into the first trio of picks?
As ever, these questions will remain difficult to answer with certainty until commissioner Adam Silver starts announcing picks. However, if two recent reports can be believed, then two of the top three teams are starting to focus on their primary targets. Let's start with the Cavs, who can choose whomever they want. From the newest mock draft by Chad Ford of ESPN.com (via SLAM):
Embiid's workout and interview in Cleveland last week were major successes, according to sources close to the Cavs. Embiid did a full workout there in front of the Cavs' front office and owner Dan Gilbert. Multiple sources said that the team was blown away with the workout. Embiid even ended one session by launching and nailing a series of 3s. Directly after the workout, two different sources told me that Embiid was the strong favorite to be drafted by the Cavs. Even Gilbert was on board.
However, there have been conflicting reports coming out of Cleveland about Embiid's physical, with one report stating the Cavs found multiple red flags. That's been strongly disputed by the sources I have, but getting accurate information this time of year is especially challenging. I don't see the incentive for the Cavs to leak that the physical was bad. It lessens the value of the No. 1 pick, especially considering that they are still looking at multiple trade options. The only way leaking it makes much sense is if they are thinking of swapping picks with the Sixers and want Embiid to fall to them there.
That conflicting report came in the form of a tweet from ESPN 850 radio in Cleveland. However, Terry Pluto of the Cleveland Plain Dealer said that he heard the same things as Ford in a story published this Saturday, so by this rudimentary scorecard it would appear that things did in fact go well.
The Philadelphia 76ers, picking third and therefore substantially more dependent on other teams' choices, seem to have honed in on their own top target, even if it involves trading up to get him. From Keith Pompey for the Philadelphia Inquirer:
It's no secret that the Sixers want to select Wiggins in the draft on June 26. The only problem is he could be off the board when they make a selection.
The Sixers have the third and 10th overall picks in addition to five second-round selections. Wiggins is expected to go first or second but could fall to the Sixers at No. 3.
As a result, the franchise needs to move up just to secure drafting him. The Cavaliers hold the top spot in the draft and the Bucks are second.
Sources have confirmed a report that the Sixers have inquired about trading for the Cavs' first pick. The Sixers reportedly aren't willing to give up their third and 10th picks in exchange for the No. 1 selection. They will, however, possibly give up a combination of the No. 3 pick and power forward Thaddeus Young, according to ESPN.com.
Yahoo's own Marc Spears recently reported that Wiggins has great interest in the Sixers, as well, so we could have a special connection between player and team, at least until the difficulties of a career in sports make it all more complicated. Sounds great, right?
Well, maybe not. At draft time, it's standard practice to consider that every source's information could be leaked on purpose to serve as a smokescreen. It's not smart to assume that — if only because living with that level of paranoia is bad for one's health — but it's always a possibility to keep in the back of the mind. For instance, Kurt Helin of ProBasketballTalk floated several theories, including that the Sixers actually prefer Embiid or Parker and want to drive up interest in a more highly coveted Wiggins, or even that they prefer Exum and would like another team to avoid trading up for him due to the price of the deal getting too high. Kurt admits that these scenarios are unlikely, but the mere fact that this line of thinking comes as second nature shows that years of following draft coverage have conditioned close observers to approach every leak in a certain away.
Judging these reports and rumors can be a pain, but it's also sort of fun. The draft has never been a totally logical affair, which is most obvious in the fact that we arguably talk about the worst busts in history as often as the best picks. These rumors, as tough to figure as they sometimes are, serve as a significant part of the big, goofy sideshow of the draft, right along with the bad suits. If they ever went away, we'd probably miss them.
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