Did Anyone Win The CP3-Russ Trade?

The Oklahoma City Thunder entered the decade set up better than practically any other team in basketball.  They had three young stars in Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and James Harden.  Yes, they had the new big three in Miami to deal with, but for the most part, the path to a championship, or championships, seemed quite clear.  The conference was partially in decline.  Kobe Bryant and Dirk Nowitzki were still winning, yes, but that wouldn’t continue for 10 more years.  Steve Nash and Tim Duncan were getting up there in age too.  Once those guys moved into their twilight years, the Thunder were going to be the league’s next best team.  With its next best players.

For the most part, the last sentence was correct.

OKC will exit the decade with zero of those three players – Durant, Harden and Westbrook – on their roster.  One they traded away for nothing, one left for nothing because the first one was traded for nothing, and the last, somehow, was traded for much more value than the first two.

Oh, and somehow the two that were traded away ended up on the same team.

Not how OKC planned it.

The Thunder’s trade of Westbrook to the Houston Rockets for Chris Paul, the Rockets’ first round picks in 2024 and 2026 (Both are protected 1-4) and the right to swap picks in 2021 and 2025 concludes their big three era, which ended with zero championships and just one NBA Finals appearance, despite all three of those players winning a MVP at some point in the decade.  It will go down as one of the biggest NBA tragedies ever.

Practically nothing will make-up for that.  Despite his promise and potential, it won’t be Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.  It likely won’t be the insane bevy of draft picks they’ve landed from the trades of Paul George and Westbrook.  It won’t be the extra year of Westbrook’s contract that the Thunder shed in return for CP3’s own albatross.

But if you’re evaluating OKC’s moves in a vacuum, in a place where they have an incredibly overvalued, pure travesty of an asset in Westbrook, then it’s really not all that bad.  Sure, the Thunder have to postpone a rebuild for likely three years due to CP3’s deal.  But they got off of a contract that was actually worse.  With Russ, you risk other guys developing bad habits and having their games changed by the way Russ plays.  The Thunder got four first round picks in order to not have that happen.

OKC can, at worst, remain a semi-competitive team until the Paul deal is up while wisely using their draft picks to build for the post-CP3/SGA era.  By then, the Thunder should be back and ready to go.  And they’ll still have three years left of picks rolling in from the Clippers and Rockets.

How good will those picks be?  I covered the Clippers side of that here.  The Rockets picks, however, might be a different story.

Westbrook and Harden might have been the two unlikeliest players of the original OKC trio to end back up together.  With Russ and Durant alone, it was successful for a couple seasons until Durant realized he could have much better and nicer things in life, which included a better basketball situation.  With Harden and Durant alone, you would have been looking at possibly one of the most explosive, efficient and dynamic offensive duos ever.  You want to talk about unstoppable?  What happens when those two run a pick-and-roll?  Or when both of their jumpers are cooking?

With Westbrook and Harden, it’s hard to find common ground.  Both players dominate the basketball; they’re literally the top two players in the league when it comes to how much they have the ball in their hands.  One can’t shoot it from beyond the arc, or shoot it like at all.  The other doesn’t player defense; really neither of them do when the effort is poor.  One is the most selfish player in the league because he wants to be.  The other is one of the most selfish because he has to be.

I’m sure this is going to work out great.

Maybe the sarcasm is me just being mean.  Harden and Westbrook wanted to play together.  They’ll work out the differences.  Right?  Right?!!?

That worked out well.  Now Houston is going to try a player who fits even worse with Harden?

That’s why Houston mortgaging their future picks is a lot riskier than the Clippers mortgaging even more of their’s.  Despite the Clippers’ extending a year extra, and being less protected, the Clippers have younger stars (Kawhi Leonard is barely 28 and Paul George is 29 while Harden is 29 and Westbrook is 30) and a more attractive place to play basketball.  Despite them being the little brother Clippers, it’s still LA.  It didn’t stop Kawhi from going there, and if they have the success they should have with their new superstar duo, then the Clippers won’t be the little brother anymore.

Plus, Westbrook is the type of player who’s likely to age horribly.  He already can’t shoot; that won’t get any better.  His insane, freakish athleticism has already caused him injuries, and as his body breaks down even further, it’ll reduce his availability and defensive impact.  All of that on a massive four year, $170 million contract.

The Rockets dumped CP3 and had to move four first round picks for a worse player, and contract, to pair with Harden.  That feels like complete incompetence, and was the opposite of everything I’ve preached about when it came to Westbrook’s deal: you don’t give up anything of value for it.

But at the same time, doesn’t it feel like Houston maybe got a tad better despite the chemistry concerns and misguided asset management?  Doesn’t the rejuvenation of of part of the original OKC core get you a little excited?  Doesn’t Westbrook make more of an impact than 34-year-old Chris Paul, who seems to be breaking down?

Westbrook brings impact.  He brings oomph.  He brings electricity.  Will it work?  Likely not.  I can’t wait for the reports about the unhappiness of Westbrook in his role a month into the season.  But if you’re Houston, and you just lost to Golden State, a team that was without arguably the best player in the league, in the second (!!!) round of the playoffs, practically anything is worth it at this point.  Were there any real answers?

The Paul George Trade Is A Massive Win-Win

No matter what they did this summer, the Los Angeles Clippers were going to be fine.

If they struck out on the top tier free agents they were connected to all season long, they at least had a good, young team that competed with the Golden State Warriors well enough for me to pick against the defending champions in the second round of the playoffs. And most importantly, they had a budding star and potentially a player whose ceiling was “best player on a really, really good team” in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. They had surrounded him with defensive-minded players like Patrick Beverley, shooters like Landry Shamet and mobile-enough, rim-protecting big men in Ivica Zubac and Montrezl Harrell.

The Clippers were on their way to becoming really good, really fast.

If the Clippers added the star they coveted, then their timeline was accelerated. Accelerated so fast that even with someone like Kawhi Leonard on the roster they possessed, they would have been title contenders due to Kawhi essentially taking care of the missing extra spark SGA hadn’t developed and due to the Western Conference being insanely wide open next season.

Instead, the Clippers went all-in. They got what they wanted and more. They accelerated their timeline even further than we thought they could have possibly done so this offseason. They went from a scrappy, young and fun team to a potential title contender to the absolute favorite in a matter of minutes Friday night.
You can’t look at the Paul George trade from the Clippers perspective as the Paul George trade. You have to look at it as them trading for Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. While Kawhi was off leading on the Lakers and getting essentially serenaded in Toronto, the Clippers were exploring ways to get PG. There was a reason Kawhi met with the Clippers first.

Kawhi’s choice of George is interesting. He’s not one of the seven-or-so guys in the league that matter, but he’s one of the league’s top 15 players. He’s essentially the perfect side-kick, or the perfect second-best player on a championship team. George is never going to hog the ball, take bad shots or play selfishly. He’s going to play defense because he’s really good at it. And he’s going to score in volumes when he can.

But he’s never going to be taking, or demanding to take, the last shot of the game unless he’s really hot. And he’s never going to have chemistry issues with Kawhi. Despite the takeovers we saw from Kawhi in the postseason, the two are both incredibly selfless players, who move within an offensive system and can get open off-the-ball. Due to their efficiency, the Clippers have two of the best players in the league who don’t need the ball in their hands to be effective.

And they have a defensive menace to go with it. PG and Kawhi are two of the six best defenders in the league and can switch 1-4 and 1-5, respectively. Patrick Beverley is one of the best defensive point guards in the league, and they have fantastic role players to go around them.  They have three-and-D wings like Rodney McGruder, Mo Harkless and Jerome Robinson, all of whom don’t need to have the ball whatsoever.  They have Landry Shamet, a lights out shooter whose size might  enable him to play at the three spot in certain lineups.  They have Montrezl Harrell, one of the best energy bigs in the league whose athleticism keeps him on the floor late in games.  They have Lou Williams, who was legitimately their closer last season and is now one of like four dudes who could take on that role.  They have Ivica Zubac, who came back on a team friendly, four-year, $28 million deal.

The Clippers are absolutely loaded from roster spots 1-10.  They’ll likely start Beverley-Harkless-Leonard-George-Zubac, and bring Shamet, Harrell and Williams off the bench for spurts throughout games.  I’d be all in favor of them closing with Beverley-Williams-Leonard-George-Harrell, but that leaves Shamet and his shot on the bench.  The Clippers might actually have a dilemma when it comes to their crunch-time lineup.  Imagine that being your biggest issue.

So yeah, that is definitely worth the insane amount of assets they gave up.  Trading SGA, the guy you thought was going to be your future, hurts.  But with this deal, you get two guys who are already everything you want SGA to become.

The picks have their pros and cons.  For the next four seasons after next (No 2020 pick is in this deal), you know those picks are going to be in the 25-30 range.  The only one that has significant value is the 2022 pick, which is slated to now be the double draft year instead of 2021, where the Miami pick that has been all around the league, is.  That Miami pick made its rounds across the NBA with good reason; Miami was supposed to be rebuilding by then, and there was a chance that was the double draft.  Now the double draft is the year after, and the Heat have at least Jimmy Butler (And possibly Russell Westbrook) on that season’s team.

Starting in 2024 is when dealing the picks gets risky.  The Clippers sent three of them, their own 2024 unprotected pick, a pick swap in 2025 and their own 2026 unprotected pick.  That’s three really risky picks.  Why? By then, I’m going to be 25, Kawhi and Paul George’s contracts will be up, Luka Doncic and Zion Williamson will be two of the five best players in the league, LeBron will likely be retired (Who knows really, though) and the No.1 overall pick in that draft is about to enter middle school.  The point is, that is a really, really long time away.  And who knows what anything is going to be like by then.  The Clippers will likely be in a different era, maybe a rebuilding one by then.  Not having those picks would be debilitating.

Then again, winning 2-3 titles and then having to go through that would ease the pain a bit.

From Oklahoma City’s side of the deal, it’s a bit of a kick in the balls. But it might have been a good, necessary one. This deal, and offseason overall, shows a positive progression of thought from the Thunder’s front office: that winning anything significant with Russell Westbrook in a primary, ball-dominant role is not possible.

Trading George and not Westbrook is a tough swallow. George was traded to OKC in a hail mary deal that ended up as one of the best, most fair trades ever due to George’s surprising commitment to the Thunder last summer, which was only made due to his friendship to Westbrook. He was the second superstar to ever actually come to OKC and be happy and want to stay. He wasn’t forced there at all despite his trade from Indiana before the 2017-18 season, as he could have left last summer. But keeping him could have resulted in a Kawhi-in-San Antonio-or-Jimmy Butler-in-Minnesota-like situation that we saw in 2018, where a refusal to play forced the Thunder to make a deal. Even keeping him and not Westbrook puts the Thunder in a not-as-frustrating (considering finances and value) yet similar situation: a team centered around George is not winning anything significant either due to the type of player George is.

Moving either player was a step in the right direction. It seems as if they’re going to do both. It gets a good but not great team out of the middle class of the league. It allows them to reset and rebuild around that stud young guy above in SGA and an insane bevy of draft picks which likely won’t be all very valuable but are going to a team that has shown an ability to draft well. It gives them Danillo Gallanari, who plays like he’s worth the contract he’s on when he actually plays, is a veteran presence and establishes some competency to a roster that could lose it quick.

Westbrook obviously won’t net that, if anything substantial at all. George required a massive haul because it essentially forced the Thunder, a legitimately good team, to admit defeat and give up. For a small market team to have a really good, competitive team and then do this is devastating to fans and to the front office. Because the draft is a crap-shoot, and no one is voluntarily coming to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

The impending Westbrook trade is essentially one where OKC gets out of an absolutely crippling contract to take one that’s not great but is much better.  Are the Thunder desperate enough to just demand Dragic and call it a day?  That might be underrating OKC’s position; given the way they’ve held onto Russ over the years, they may not be wanting to just get rid of him, and could be looking for legitimate value back.

If I’m any team, this is a contract dump deal.  There’s no way I’m giving up anything of true value for Westbrook.  Miami’s interest to me makes zero sense.  Them handing over a contract and an asset like Justise Winslow or Bam Adebayo is a complete miscalculation of what Westbrook would bring to the table.

Despite it making all the sense in the world, it was likely a tough deal for OKC to make.  They’ve been competitive all decade and had put their core together just last summer.  Now, that core is beginning its demolition just a year after it was put together.  But the consequence of doing that is a good one, even if they don’t realize it yet.

Don’t Worry, The Warriors Are Still The Warriors

People weren’t going to stop hating the Warriors.

As long as they were competitive, as long as they kept taking and making insane amounts of three pointers, as long Stephen Curry kept being Steph and kept doing Steph things, as long as Klay Thompson doubled him up and created the best shooting duo ever and as long as Draymond Green kept being a pest, on and off-the-court, people were going to keep hating the Warriors.

That wasn’t changing if Kevin Durant left.

It could have gotten better.  That’s not happening now.

The Warriors sign-and-trade for D’Angelo Russell was the most Warriors thing ever.  It was also the most cruel, shrewd and unfair thing ever.  These guys get to have him, one of the ten best guys on the market?  Really?!?  After all they got the past five years?

I mean, it’s pretty good value for when you’re about to lose one of the three best players in the league for nothing.

The fit for Russell in Golden State is complicated, no doubt.  And they paid him a lot money, maybe a tad more than even I, someone who wanted the Suns to land him, felt comfortable paying.  But it’s a completely acceptable risk for Golden State. What do they have to lose?  More than 32 games?  Not with this roster.  Nope.

It’s going to be weird to see Russell go to a team with a player already not only playing his listed position, but taking his role as well.  Russell was the No.1 option, closer and point guard in Brooklyn.  Everything and everyone revolved around him.  In Golden State, that’s Steph Curry’s job.  And that’s not going to change.

In a way, Russell in Golden State creates almost a new Splash Brothers duo.  It moves Klay Thompson into the three spot, a position that his game represents better than the two-guard.  The backcourt of Russell and Curry somehow creates an even more explosive backcourt; Russell’s ability to create his shot off the dribble a tad better than Thompson and the passing Russell brings to the table makes the Warriors’ offense more complicated but also more potent.

It’s insane that’s even possible.

But this time, there is, and will be, some doubt.

What happens when teams play a guard and three wings?  Curry and D-Lo is a horrific defensive pairing of two small and nimble defenders.  Sure, the Warriors will still have Klay Thompson (By the way, his contract doesn’t matter, because he never leaving and was never not getting the max) and Draymond Green as two lockdown guys at the three and four spot come playoffs, but D-Lo and Curry are going to get cooked.

They should be able to score enough to make it not matter as much, but does D-Lo accept his new role as the secondary, or even third option offensively?  What if he turns into an even higher usage, inefficient player trying to fight for shots and doesn’t buy into the Golden State style of play?

Golden State could flip him, which has been rumored quite a bit, with some reporters even saying it’s going to happen rather than it being a possibility.  It seems like a stretch to go that far; Golden State isn’t going to be that big of a disaster, right?

The other thing that I think we’re forgetting about the fit: Curry doesn’t care.  Neither does Klay.  What makes both players so special is their ability to play and be effective with anybody.  Curry doesn’t need the ball; he’s the best shooter of all-time.  Klay can score 50 without dribbling.  D-Lo should, and will get freedom to be D-Lo in Golden State.  And if it really is a disaster, the Warriors can move him and get better role players to go around their core than they’ve ever had before.

What about Kevin Durant now?

D-Lo at least represents a fall-back plan for Klay’s injury, which probably keeps him out until the playoffs.  In February, the Warriors can evaluate the market based on Klay’s progress, and the team’s success, and make a decision.  But for now, it could be fair to say that Golden State hasn’t lost that much ground, if any at all.  If Kawhi ends up on the Lakers, ground is lost.  The Lakers may into the next dynasty.  If it’s the Clippers, the West is insane.  If it’s Toronto, the West is still insane, but Golden State shouldn’t be exclude from the No.1 seed conversation.

Houston is running it back again.  The Trail Blazers made good, necessary moves but will be relying on younger, less experienced players.  Utah is going for it, but I’m less high on them than others.  Denver has a chance to replicate Toronto in terms of build and roster-makeup, but with a potential key piece in Michael Porter Jr. playing his first basketball in two years next season, they could be another year away.  The Lakers without Kawhi could be playing with six legitimate dudes.  The Clippers are probably just frisky again without Kawhi.  Dallas has serious potential, but like Denver is probably one more year away.

Golden State, even without KD, even without Klay for the regular season, could be just as good.  They brought back Kevon Looney on a bargain of a contract (I honestly think he could have gotten $8 million more annually somewhere) and signed Willie Cauley-Stein, a player whose value immediately jumps thanks to the situation he’ll be playing in.  Those two give the Warriors a good defensive presence down low.  Glenn Robinson III seems irrelevant, but has been a long time “wrong situation” guy for me; the Warriors are anyone’s fix for that.

And that’s why the Warriors are hated and won’t stop being hated.  They make and fix guys into the best possible version of themselves.  They gave Andre Igoudala, the sacrificial member of the dynasty, a career revival.  They turned Draymond Green into one of the best defenders the game has seen after taking him in the second round.  They got lucky and put two of the five best shooters ever in the same backcourt, and possessed the organizational competence to add one of the best eight or so ever (That designation could also be applied to player soon, in addition to shooter) as well.  And because that guy left, they got value back that will still keep them as relevant.  None of this is unfair or should be ridiculed.  All they did was just be smart.

The Nets Don’t Have To Wait For KD To Contend

A lot that was reported about two of the three best free agents in this 2019 class was correct.

We knew Kevin Durant had interest in playing in New York.

We knew Kyrie Irving had interest in playing in New York.

And we knew the two of them had discussed playing together.

We just had the wrong team.

Despite all of the rumors (Kyrie to the Lakers, Durant maybe coming back to Golden State, Durant then teaming up with Kawhi, Durant going to the Knicks no matter what, Anthony Davis getting involved with both players), most of what we thought happened.  And on top of all of that, the one thing I thought should have happened did: they (smartly) didn’t go the Knicks.

It made sense all along.  The Knicks were a disaster in the front office and in their ownership.  They had a young core which had the wrong players being hyped up (Kevin Knox, RJ Barrett, Dennis Smith Jr.) and the right ones being shuttered (Allonzo Trier, Mitchell Robinson, Damyean Dotson).  If Kyrie and KD wanted to team up, that was cool.  But if they went to the Knicks, they’d be putting themselves in a troubling situation.

Instead they went to Brooklyn, a team with Jay-Z as its biggest fan, the NBA hipsters’ backing and a much better and more fun roster in an area that is taking off as tech and media hub.

When ‘Public Service Announcement’ by Jay came on in my car Monday morning, I got it.  KD and Kyrie in Brooklyn felt right.  Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?

Durant is going to have to wait awhile.  But when he returns in the 2020-21 season, the Nets will likely have one of the two-to-four best teams in the league, and will have a path to being the best.  Irving-Caris LeVert-Kevin Durant-Joe Harris-DeAndre Jordan/Jarrett Allen is insane.  That’s two of the seven best players in the league alongside LeVert, who, with a little bit of Durant in his game, was having one of the 20 best seasons in the league in 2018-19 before getting hurt and could easily be that again next season, and be even better the next year.  If Kawhi ends up on the Lakers, we’re looking at the Nets and the Lakers as the next installment of a Cavaliers-Warriors-like deal.

Durant’s decision to leave was a bit puzzling but also made sense.  If not for devastating injuries to two of the top 15 players in the league, the Warriors are likely three-peating.  Durant would have won three titles in three years.  Why leave that?  Why leave Golden State?  They were running it back either way.  The whole league was figuring how to stop you for three years.  No one had any success.  It’s likely no one would have found it.  You would have been the best player on a team that could have won an unprecedented amount of titles in a row.  Who would give that up?

Durant did because some things didn’t break right.  But he also did because he wanted to play with a different group of guys.  He wanted to play with his friends that he’d been wanting to play with for awhile.  Would you leave a good job to take a good job that your best friend worked at as well?

Durant also left to go play in, and bring greatness to, a city that has lacked it in the sport of basketball for so long.  It may not be the most prominent team in the city, but that could change soon. If he succeeds there, he’s the king of New York and Brooklyn.

Despite Durant not being able to contribute next season, the Nets are still in really good shape.  The Nets did in fact upgrade from D’Angelo Russell to Kyrie Irving, though some disagree with that statement (Something I’ll get into later this week)

The reason why Kemba Walker could be an upgrade over Irving has nothing to do with Kyrie himself.  It’s about the surrounding pieces and how those guys fit with Walker compared to Kyrie.

Kyrie is one of the few guys who really matter in the league.  I do believe, despite the failure in Boston, he’s a No.1 guy on a championship team.

As much as people blame Irving for Boston’s failures, there’s also a lot he couldn’t do.  The Celtics had team-wide effort issues on the defensive side of the ball, and decided to hit zero shots in the first halves of games, leaving Irving to have to bail them out at the end.  The Celtics don’t win nearly as many games as they did last season without Irving’s heroics late.

That’s why the Nets signed Kyrie over D’Angelo Russell.  Because he matters.  Is D-Lo really ever going to be one of the ten best guys in the league?  Are we sure D-Lo is going to live up to that max contract (It seemed much more likely that deal would be an overpay before he ended up in Golden State)?  When a guy like Kyrie is available, and you can easily get him, you do it.  That’s what Boston did.  It didn’t work out, but they tried.  You just do it and see what happens.

Because of what Kyrie brings to the table, and the foundation they already have, the Nets could easily be contenders next season even without KD.  We’re looking at a lineup of Kyrie-LeVert-Harris-Garrett Temple/Taurean Prince-Jarrett Allen/DeAndre Jordan.  Kyrie and LeVert is a deadly duo; both have the ability to play off one another as they can hit threes.  LeVert’s length makes him a threat off-the-ball as well.  Joe Harris is a sniper; and whoever of Temple and Prince provides shooting and defense (I assume Temple starts due to the signing and his experience).  Center is in an odd spot; the Jordan signing is easily one of the worst of the summer, but it’s clear that KD and Kyrie pulled a LeBron-like move on the Nets and said “Pay him or we ain’t coming.”  Allen did get exposed a bit in the playoffs, but Jordan isn’t exactly bringing good rim protection either.  Maybe playing with his friends will bring his effort back up.  Anyways, if Kawhi leaves the conference, the Nets automatically slide in as the No.2 seed behind Milwaukee, with Indiana, Miami, Boston and Philadelphia challenging them for it.  If Kawhi stays, it likely slides everyone back a spot.  Nonetheless, the Nets have boosted themselves into the East’s, and the league’s, top tier.  They only have up to go from there.

Is It Possible For The Lakers To Build Out A Championship Roster?

The Lakers enter free agency as the ultimate “build it up from the ground” team.

Although the hardest part, landing the star(s), is done.

Now they have to go out and find the right guys to put around those stars.

No supporting cast around a star has been more prominent and had higher stakes than the ones around LeBron James.  If you fail to put the right one in place, he’s going to leave, and leave you in shambles.

The Lakers have a fall-back plan in Anthony Davis.  But their true window is the next three years; the three years in which LeBron has a contract with them.

They have the ability this summer to capitalize on that window.  It may be tougher than we think, even with AD and perhaps even a third star in place.

I have tried to put together the best Lakers roster based on fit, value, money and need.  I’m trying to be as realistic as possible.  This should be a wake-up call.

Before we look at complete rosters, here is the list of role guys I believe the Lakers should target and why, based on the criteria above.

(Money totals are how much I would pay THIS SEASON for the player)

Talen Horton-Tucker (~$1.5 million)

Obviously Horton-Tucker is not a free agent as, the Lakers don’t have to go out and sign him.  I want to address him though because I didn’t get to write a draft recap.  I loved Horton-Tucker and had him 17th on my board; he went 46th overall.  On a LeBron-centered team, you need to be able to defend and shoot.  Despite being SIX MONTHS younger than me (And I’m young for my age), I believe he can do that right away for the Lakers, and maybe even ball-handle a bit.  Don’t forget about him.  Also, the contract is an estimate of what his rookie deal will pay him.

Patrick Beverley ($13 million)

As you will see below, this is dependent on some non-role guys the Lakers might be able to land.  There is no basketball problem with Beverley; he’s a good shooter, he’s a maniac defender and a really good point guard.  LeBron teams, despite running through LeBron, need secondary ball-handlers who can play at their peak like primary ones.  Beverley is that.  The problem is that he’s going to demand too much money.  In certain roster molds, he’ll work.  In others, he’s either too expensive or not needed.

Rajon Rondo ($6.5 million)

Essentially a backup no matter what mold you look at.  Rondo was not terrible last season!  He found a three-point shot, and can still be a good, pesky defender when he tries.  I think he’s fine in backup role with lower minutes. Rondo got $9 million last season.  Maybe throw two years on his next deal and he’ll take a bit of a pay cut.

Rodney McGruder ($5 million)

This is a tricky spot for the Lakers because McGruder is a restricted free agent, and the Clippers date to renounce his rights or not is Saturday.  If he’s unrestricted, the Lakers should go and make an offer immediately.  McGruder was flat-out waived by the Heat before the playoffs, but he’s a gritty, long defender and can shoot it well.  Five million is probably an overpay.

Reggie Bullock ($6 million)

The Lakers have Bullock’s bird rights, so they can afford to pay a bit more for him.  I liked the trade for Bullock that they made in February.  Like ALL THESE GUYS, he can switch defensively and shoot threes.  Bullock’s sneakily one of the best shooters in the league though; he provides legitimate firepower.

Wayne Ellington ($4 million)

Remember when the Pistons finessed the system and traded Bullock, got some assets for him and then signed essentially the same player in Wayne Ellington, who was also bought-out by the Heat?  Well, the Lakers can afford both of those guys.  Ellington probably comes cheaper than Bullock due to age.

Trevor Ariza ($6 million)

Ariza mailed it in last season after cashing-in with the Suns, only to end up playing for what he thought was a playoff team in the Wizards.  The one year, $15 million contract was a heist, so Ariza could certainly take a pay-cut, especially to go play with LeBron and actually compete.

Wilson Chandler ($8 million)

Are the Lakers willing to overpay for Chandler?  He fell apart in the playoffs after being traded to the Clippers, but Chandler was legitimately Philly’s fifth starter before the Tobias Harris trade, and he did really well!  He was plopped in the corner and hit threes.  We’ll see if that run inflates his value a bit.

CJ Miles ($3 million)

The Lakers should be able to get Miles for really cheap.  A reminder: In Toronto, CJ Miles was Danny Green before Danny Green got traded there.  They literally played the same role.  Once Green came in, Miles never recovered.

Maxi Kleber ($7 million)

Now for bigs.  Almost all of these guys are probably going to cost more, due to the league realizing “Oh, these are quality players!” and dumb teams offering too much money due to so-called “star-power” (Man I was really mean to Boogie there).  Anyways, Kleber might be on the less-expensive end.  He’s not as fluid defensively; he’s a big dude with ungraceful legs.  But that size does allow him to play small-ball five in certain lineups.  Offensively, the dude launches from three, and I love it.

DeMarcus Cousins ($8 million)

Is this too much?  Way too much?  Too little?  I have no idea how to interpret Boogie’s value this summer.  This Knicks seem keen on getting him at whatever price it takes (It shouldn’t be a high one).  What if they come in with some crazy offer that trumps $8 million a year?  I thought if anyone over the years was going to overpay Boogie, it’d be the Lakers.  I thought they could take that risk.  That’s not so much the case anymore.

Boogie would solely be a backup big for the Lakers.  I worry about him playing with Davis for offensive and defensive issues.  This would essentially be another Warriors-like, one year stint to try and get a ring.  But again, Cousins might have immense interest from others in the league.

Khem Birch($5 million)/Dwayne Dedmon($8 million???)

This spot is up in the air.

I have really liked Khem Birch for this spot.  He’s not a three-point shooter, but is at least an athletic center who can run.  He’s also going to make substantially less than Dedmon, who, as Zach Lowe has pointed out on his podcast, might be in for a shocking pay-day.

Dedmon is awesome, and deserves it, but it’s going to be a contract that NBA Twitter loses their minds at originally.

The Lakers can’t afford much more at this point.  In the exercise we just completed, and in the rotation we’re about to go through below, we have spent anywhere between approximately $137.5 million and $140.5 million.

The cap is projected to be around $109 million.  They’re also well over the luxury tax.

  1. Patrick Beverley-Rajon Rondo
  2. LeBron James-Rodney McGruder
  3. Kyle Kuzma-Reggie Bullock-Wayne Ellington-Talen Horton-Tucker
  4. Trevor Ariza-Wilson Chandler-CJ Miles-Maxi Kleber
  5. Anthony Davis-DeMarcus Cousins-Khem Birch/Dwayne Dedmon

Here’s the players I just picked in a rotation.  A lot of switchy wings who can shoot.  Bigs who can protect the rim and play athletically.  All running through LeBron, and helped out with the play-making of Beverley and Rondo.

But how good is this roster?  The West is wide open; the Warriors won’t be the same.  Is this the best team in the West?

It feels hard to say that.  We don’t know all the other moves that could be coming to teams in the conference.  The Rockets could get a lot better.  Denver has a lot of pieces coming into the picture.  The Jazz are loading up.

This lineup lacks impact guys.  It’s hard to rely on LeBron like his teams have the past couple years anymore.  Last year, even without the injury, felt like a transitional one to a different era of his career.

Maybe the anti-Lakers bias is in full-fledged mode right now.  But this lineup feels a bit far from a guaranteed Finals contender, and that’s not a good sign considering where their cap hold would be at with it.

OR, another mold might work.

The Lakers cleared max room.  I’ve spent a lot more than that above, and that’s without adding a max player.  That’s also by putting together a roster that isn’t guaranteed to be the best.

Yikes.

So the Lakers have to go make a bigger splash.

  1. Kemba Walker/D’Angelo Russell/Kyrie Irving-Rajon Rondo
  2. LeBron James-Rodney McGruder
  3. Kyle Kuzma-Reggie Bullock-Wayne Ellington-Talen Horton-Tucker
  4. Trevor Ariza-Wilson Chandler-CJ Miles-Maxi Kleber
  5. Anthony Davis-DeMarcus Cousins-Khem Birch/Dwayne Dedmon

But with this lineup, you’re spending even MORE money by adding a max player then having to fill out the rest of the roster.  It might be worth it.  As I said above, the first roster didn’t not provide enough impact.  You’re asking a lot from to-be 35-year-old LeBron with that squad.  Another star would help alleviate the load greatly.

If the Lakers do want a third star, they should go after a point guard with it. Obviously, as I’ll get to below, if you can get Kawhi Leonard you do it.  But anyone else you may have to think harder about.

If the Lakers sign Jimmy Butler or Tobias Harris or another second-to-third tier free agent that doesn’t play point guard, you’re handing out $15 million-plus to that guy.  And then you have to hand out $10-15 million to a good point guard, because we know you can’t run with a bad point guard on a LeBron team.  You have to go out and spend the money on Beverley.

So why not just take care of both of those issues at the same time, and sign a max-level player who plays point guard?

It’s going to cost a lot more, and I mean A LOT.  But man… Kyrie/Kemba/D’Angelo-LeBron-AD?  That’s the best team in the West almost immediately.

How realistic are any of these guys?  Kyrie seems locked into Brooklyn, while Kemba seems locked into the Celtics.  If Kyrie is a Net, that leaves Russell with a lot of suitors, and the Lakers seem to top that list.

Would Russell really want to go back after they shipped him out of there for nothing, black-balled his name and told him he was immature when he could easily go play with Devin Booker and DeAndr… wait, I know this isn’t happening so why am I getting myself excited?  Anyways, a return to the Lakers can’t be ruled out for Russell.  Basketball-wise, it’s great for both sides involved.  I just don’t know why he’d do that for them, when Phoenix (Ah God here we go again), Minnesota and Indiana both allow him to complete a dynamic duo and allow him to not have to play off someone (like LeBron, that’s kind of a big deal fit wise) as much.

If the Lakers do go out and get a max point guard, the numbers will be astronomical.  If they sign Russell, we’re looking at approximately $153.8 million to $156.8 million depending on whether they chose Birch or Dedmon (It’s a three million dollar difference).  If they sign Kyrie, we’re looking at approximately $154.6 million to $157.6 million depending on the Birch/Dedmon decision. And if they sign Walker, we’re looking at approximately $161.5 million to $164.5 million depending on the Birch/Dedmon decision.  Keep in mind these calculations subtract Beverley’s projected $13 million hit.  But also keep in mind this is simply pay roll.  The Lakers would be over the luxury tax threshold with all of these potential signings.  That would not be a small bill.

OR, the Lakers somehow land Kawhi Leonard, putting together easily the best team in the league (Three of the top six guys) and possibly the best collection of talent ever.

  1. Patrick Beverley-Rajon Rondo
  2. LeBron James-Rodney McGruder
  3. Kawhi Leonard-Reggie Bullock-Wayne Ellington-Talen Horton-Tucker
  4. Kyle Kuzma-Wilson Chandler-CJ Miles-Maxi Kleber
  5. Anthony Davis-DeMarcus Cousins-Khem Birch/Dwayne Dedmon

But my God would it be expensive.  Here we’re looking at $172.5 million to $175.5 million depending on Birch or Dedmon.  If the Lakers go here, it’s almost assured they’d sign Birch to alleviate costs.

This is a perfect example of why signing a max-level point guard instead of a max-level player makes more sense.  You kill two birds with one stone in signing Kyrie, Kemba or Russell.  Here, you still have to get someone like Beverley and pay that guy a lot.

At the same time, this is one case where it’d absolutely be worth it.  Kawhi and LeBron was a duo that was floated last summer; the Lakers were really interested in trading for him from San Antonio.  Kawhi and LeBron would have been insane.  Now throw AD in?  How do you stop that?

I think it’s unlikely Kawhi ends up with the Lakers, but is he going to meet with them next week.  Would there be a better basketball situation f0r him?  Probably not.

OR, the Lakers could panic.

  1. Patrick Beverley-Rajon Rondo
  2. Jimmy Butler-Rodney McGruder
  3. LeBron James-Reggie Bullock-Wayne Ellington-Talen Horton-Tucker
  4. Kyle Kuzma-Wilson Chandler-CJ Miles-Maxi Kleber
  5. Anthony Davis-DeMarcus Cousins-Khem Birch/Dwayne Dedmon

This involves the funny scenario which we thought had the highest odds of happening: the Lakers striking out and having to settle on someone a tad underwhelming.

Obviously getting AD makes the summer not as disappointing.  But adding Butler as the third star makes the least sense and feels like a classic reach/overpay.

I think Butler is a disaster paired with LeBron.  While he would bring defense to a team that needs it desperately, Butler is someone who needs the ball in his hands a lot, and isn’t happy not being the focal point.  Butler is not someone who’s going to play-off anyone, even if that is LeBron.  He’s not a fantastic catch-and-shoot guy, and isn’t necessarily lights out from three either.  He would bring some extra play-making, but I think his personality and playing style isn’t a good fit.

If the Lakers do reach for Butler here and give him the max, we’re looking at the same exact range as we are with Kawhi: $172.5 million to $175.5 million depending on Birch/Dedmon.  Would you really give Butler the max instead of Kawhi?  Do you want Butler at any price more than $22 million or so a year?  The Lakers aren’t going to be the only team asking themselves that starting Sunday.

2019 NBA Mock Draft

I went all-in this year.

As I’ve referred to in my three features on some of my favorite and most interesting prospects in this draft class, I created a 15 page scouting document full of notes on 45 players or so in this year’s class.

Forty-five isn’t a lot compared to what teams or people like Mike Schmitz do, but those 45 I did watch I watched hours of.  Other guys I watched not nearly as much.  You’ll be able to tell which ones, as I believe I’m pretty open about it.

No.1, New Orleans Pelicans- Zion Williamson, Duke

No.2, Memphis Grizzlies- Ja Morant, Murray State

Morant’s rise from literally a zero-star recruit to the No.2 pick in the NBA Draft has been absolutely incredible.  I barely knew who he was before this college basketball season.

Morant’s drawn comparisons to Russell Westbrook, which isn’t exactly a good thing.  However, Morant’s a bit of a different case.  His similarities to Westbrook are in the qualities that we like about Westbrook.  Extreme athleticism, a quick first step in getting to the rim, a tenacious player on both ends, makes excellent passes (Though in Westbrook’s case, that’s a matter of when he passes).

Despite his jump-shot not being great (I think his percentages are better than the reality), Morant is like a lower-usage, more efficient Westbrook.  Though everything ran through him at Murray State, he’s not a ball-hog and doesn’t play selfishly like Westbrook.  He’s more than happy to make the right pass to another player for a good shot.  He has command of the offense and is a team player.  His athleticism makes him a good off-the-ball player despite the lack of shooting.

Memphis made it clear yesterday that Morant was their guy by trading Mike Conley (More on that later).  He may not be offensive option 1A for the Grizzlies, but he’s absolutely a franchise point guard, whose passing and court-vision make him fit to coordinate an offense from day one.

No.3, New York Knicks- RJ Barrett, Duke

The common consensus is that the top tier of this draft is Zion-Morant-RJ Barrett, and then the rest, but I believe there’s that Barrett’s in his own tier, and it’s a tad lower than most have him.

I’m not not a fan of Barrett, I just have less confidence in him reaching the same ceiling as Morant, Zion or Darius Garland (More on him later).  There were though, so many times at Duke this season where I found myself saying “Don’t forget about RJ!”  But with the presence of Zion, there were times we forgot about him entirely.  He’s not a great off-the-ball player due to his poor shooting and pure lack of effort offensively.

RJ projects as a bit of a tweener in my mind.  He has a wing’s body but has many guard-like skills, specifically his ability to get to the rim.  The dude was unstoppable driving to the lane this past season, and used that ability to takeover late in many Duke games.  He’s also a good passer, a trait he showcased well in the NCAA Tournament.  A projection of him as a point guard or a lead facilitator is wild to me, but he absolutely has secondary stuff.

Barrett doesn’t have great wing skills.  He doesn’t move off the ball, and had his shooting fall off drastically over the course of the season (despite his developing a quicker shooting release and having good mechanics in the first place).  He’s not a great defender but a purely good one, but like offensively can get caught standing around.

The reason Barrett is in his own tier is because if he’s a No.2 facilitator with no jump-shot or off-the-ball capabilities who can only get to the rim, then what is his true role?  That’s not the description of a 1A offensive option, that sounds more like a 1B offensive option.

If the Knicks get KD this summer and they all the sudden run KD-Kevin Knox-Barrett-Robinson out, then Barrett will be fine.  A point guard is needed, but it may not matter.  If the Knicks totally strikeout this summer and come into next season with another young team and Barrett at the center of it, then that could mean rough times ahead.  Barrett is good, but I’m not sure he’s the bonafide star some project him to be.

No.4, New Orleans Pelicans- DeAndre Hunter, Virginia

As I wrote about Monday, the Pelicans need to put win-now guys around Zion Williamson as soon as they can.  This is not a situation where you wait and build.

That could mean trading this pick, and if the right guy is available, then that’s probably the best option on the table.

But if the Pelicans do decide to keep it and make a selection, DeAndre Hunter, though still a rookie like Zion, is the most win-now, ready player on the board.

I had Hunter going No.4 even when the Lakers had this pick for the same reason.  LeBron wasn’t going to want to play with young, developing players.

DeAndre Hunter is not that.  Like Mikal Bridges last season, he’s the type of guy who can step into any situation and make an impact.  Hunter, with his shot-making ability, ridiculous defense and big game experience could have played in the Finals last week.  He’s that ready.

He’s likely never going to be a star; his ceiling isn’t very high but that’s because his floor already is.  There is little development needed.  We could see Hunter work on his driving game, which was on display at Virginia throughout the season and had serious potential.  He’s got some crunch-time scoring potential as well, as all the big games he played in showed us that he has a little bit of a “Get me the ball” attitude when the game is close, late and slowing down.

The Pelicans, no matter what roster they have going into next season, need shooting and defense from the wing.  Hunter provides that and can do it at a big-time level immediately.

No.5, Cleveland Cavaliers- Jarrett Culver, Texas Tech

In some ways, Jarrett Culver is a troubling prospect just like RJ Barrett is.  The two are quite similar.  They’re both tweeners in long, athletic bodies who struggle with their jump-shot, possess some facilitating abilities and aren’t guaranteed to be No.1 offensive options despite projections.

But Culver’s a bit more efficient than Barrett; he’s a much better defender and plays a smoother game moves without the ball.  With the athleticism and effort, Culver can be effective without dribbling.

The problem is that Culver’s shots were terrible ones.  The guy has practically no sense of shot-selection at all.  At least with Barrett, he’s scoring at a higher volume and has a sense of takeover in his blood.  Barrett doesn’t settle as much.  With Culver, it feels like you can crunch him late in games.  Despite some of the passing we’ve seen, he’s not a good ball-handler when creating his own shot, and again, it’s not like the shots are good ones anyways.

Culver is a safer pick than Barrett because at worst, he’s a great defensive wing who can come in and not have as prominent of an offensive role.  Culver’s potential is a dyamnic two-way guy who can takeover when needed.  But a lot, the jump-shot, the shot selection, and the shot-creation, needs to be fixed.

Cleveland is a good fit not only because of roster but because of draft position.  They don’t need Darius Garland with Collin Sexton, and Cam Reddish and anyone below him is a reach here.  The Cavs have Sexton at guard and Ante Zizic down low.  Culver is the perfect wing project who could develop into a lot more.  The Cavaliers have time.  That’s what you’re going to need with Culver.

No.6, Phoenix Suns- Darius Garland, Vanderbilt

I did not have confidence in this being possible until the Anthony Davis trade Saturday night.

A lot of mocks and reports had the Lakers taking Darius Garland at No.4 until Saturday.  I had the Lakers taking Hunter because of the fit, readiness and a slight bit of bias.

The Suns desperately need someone who can make an impact.  A serious one.  They also desperately need a point guard.

Devin Booker is likely no more than a second ball-handler; Point Booker may be possible, but it doesn’t necessarily make the team good, or a whole better than when he’s not running the show.

Zion would have made an impact; to hell with point guard if the Suns landed No.1.  Garland supplies both.

A Kyrie-clone in on-and-off the court sense (Due to his very short college career), Garland is a dynamic scorer who is well-established in the pick and roll and won’t have to develop into a No.1 ball-handler because he already is.  He can create his own shot and shots for others.  With the shooting, he can be effective off-the-ball and play alongside Booker just fine.  The two should be interchangeable from an offensive perspective.

They’re going to get destroyed defensively.  While Booker doesn’t pay a lot of attention and doesn’t dedicate work to that side of the court, he’s also just not very good even with effort at its highest.  Garland is the same case, and even has more of one due to his frailness.  At only 6’2 and 175 pounds, Garland will get bodied and cooked at the same time.  Like Kyrie and James Harden, it’s not the athleticism that impresses you on offense, it’s the moves.  Garland is similar; he’s not a great athlete,  but that only rears its head on the defensive side of the ball.

If the Knicks know they’re not getting Kyrie or Kemba Walker, Garland might be worth a look.  A trade down is probably the best option, as Garland at No.3 is a bit of a reach based on how other teams view this draft.

No.7, Chicago Bulls- Cam Reddish, Duke

No.8, Atlanta Hawks- Sekou Doumbouya, France

With Trae Young at point guard and John Collins at center, the Hawks need wings to help fill out the rest of their roster.

Sekou Doumbouya, and later PJ Washington, help do that.

Doumbouya is lengthy and silky dude.  He moves really, really well for someone who is 6’9 and 230 pounds.  He’s shown the ability to get to the rim from the perimeter, and be someone who can get quick, easy buckets down low.  His jump-shot and shot selection has come into question, but spacing with Collins shouldn’t be an issue as he’s comfortable playing on the perimeter.  Having him cut in for a pass from Young with Kevin Huerter in the corner is a deadly offensive set.

Defensively Doumbouya is a work in progress; it seems as if he’s still learning that end of the court.  But he has the skills with the athleticism and length to be impactful on that end.

The Raptors just proved that bigger guys can survive on the court when playing an efficient, fast pace of basketball.  Doumbouya fits the part of that type of player.

No.9, Washington Wizards: Rui Hachimera, Gonzaga

No.10, Atlanta Hawks- PJ Washington, Kentucky

I have the Hawks going with length and athleticism on the wing again.

PJ Washington is a MAN.  That was my first note in my scouting book about him.  The guy is a hard-nosed defender, drives hard to the rim, and can shoot threes.  That’s the biggest difference between Washington and their other pick Doumbouya.  Washington is a solidified three point shooter, which probably makes him an automatic starter alongside Young, Huerter and Collins.

Washington is fantastic and efficient under the rim as well.  I think he could play small-ball five in lineups without Collins on the floor; his length and driftiness has him all over the court, and he picks spots well around the rim.

The Hawks may not keep all of their three picks.  If they do package some of them together, a player like RJ Barrett or Jarrett Culver would fit well.  Them going with Hachimera at No.8 is a move I’d love them to make, but he’s not exactly their type of player.

No.11, Minnesota Timberwolves- Coby White, North Carolina

This is quite a fall for White, who probably won’t get past Chicago at No.8 overall.  I just have the Bulls going for a higher ceiling player.

That’s the book on White.  He has a very high floor, but I’m not sure how much better he will get.  That’s why the Suns enamor with him at No.6 overall confuses me; Garland’s potential is just so much more.

That isn’t to say that I’m not a fan of White.  He’s a really good, modern player.  He’s a tad toned-down De’Aaron Fox with a three pointer out of college.  White’s a dog defensively who never quits battling; his legs, like they do on offense, never stop moving.  The athleticism translates to both sides of the ball. He uses his speed to charge to the rim and blow by everyone.  That first step is gorgeous.  He can also use it to step-back off the dribble against defenders as well, a trait that we never expected him to have coming into the season, when White didn’t have a jumper, ah-la the Fox comparison.  But White kept shooting throughout the season, and it started going in.  A lot.  And in big moments as well.  White was hitting clutch threes in big games this past season.  He developed a three pointer as the season went on.  That’s improvement, effort and drive you love to see.

But is White an impact guy?  It’s the reason I have the Suns passing on him at No.6, and the Bulls passing on him at No.7 overall.  The potential, and immediate impact, that Garland and Reddish could bring immediately to their teams is just larger than that of White’s.  Garland is an impact guy.  Reddish obviously could or couldn’t be.  White just won’t get a whole lot better than what he is.

And for Minnesota, that’s fine.  They desperately need to add efficiency and defense to a roster that’s full of wasted talent right now.  Jeff Teague will be around next season after of-course opting into one of the secretly-worst contracts in the league, but he’s turned into a ball-hog the past two years.  Derrick Rose may be back, but if White is around it’s probably best to let him go.

White can run the ship immediately, and get Karl Anthony-Towns the ball.  That could be a special two-man game.  Him, combined with the defense that Josh Okogie brings and hopefully some improved defense from KAT could turn Minnesota into a better defensive team next season.  This is starting to look like the young, fun Wolves team we thought we had four years ago.

No.12, Charlotte Hornets- Jaxson Hayes, Texas

The Hornets have a log-jam at the two big man spots, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good one to have.

Willy Hernangomez is probably my favorite Hornets big guy, and he’s no more than a backup.  Neither Frank Kaminsky or Cody Zeller have the style fit of the modern NBA; their lack of athleticism and spacing offensively makes them practically unplayable.

Jaxson Hayes is the perfect fit for today’s league.  He’s long, athletic, and can likely switch 3-5.  He’s got impressive foot-speed and lateral quickness for an almost seven-footer.  He’s not a shooter, and offensively is just a lob guy, but the defense he brings is undeniable.

No.13, Miami Heat- Kevin Porter Jr., USC

The biggest thing the Miami Heat have lacked since LeBron James left is a dominant offensive player.

Yes, those are some big shoes to fill.  But their trial of Dion Waiters to washed-up Dywane Wade has failed badly.  D-Wade was legitimately their crunch-time guy last year!

Pat Riley has tried to attract and trade for stars since the Big Three era, but nothing has turned up.  Jimmy Butler will certainly be on their radar this summer as he has for years now, but him ending back up in Philadelphia or with a LA team is starting to seem more likely.  Instead of taking a risk and over-paying someone, adding to what is already a tight cap for the Heat (where they’ve decided to put their money has been BRUTAL), Kevin Porter Jr. could represent that type of big-fish the Heat want so bad.

This might be high for KPJ.  He’s got some serious issues.  He only played in 21 games this past season and started just four of them at USC due to a suspension for an undisclosed reason.  He takes a ton of mid-rangers, which isn’t too concerning given the role the Heat will need him to play (crunch-time scorer) and his good three-point percentage (41.2%).  But a lot of those mid-rangers are circus shots; he’s a bit of a ball-hog and hoists whenever he feels like it.

But he’s got the ball-handling to go with it, making KPJ a potentially dangerous, isolation scorer someday.  His moves are sick; he can shake and bake and cross over dudes like it’s nothing.  He’s also lightning quick; a dangerous combination with his isolation scoring; KPJ can blow by guys and get to the rim and keep up defensively using his speed.

Defensively there are some effort issues.  He’s long and quick, but a bit scrawny, and is more of an offense-focused player rather than a defensively-focused one.  The speed and agility should make him a pest on that end, but like in other areas, even on the offensive end, the effort just isn’t there.  KPJ is a bit too me-focused.

Maybe Pat Riley will change that.

No.14, Boston Celtics- Nickiel Alexander-Walker, Virginia Tech

With Kyrie Irving likely going to Brooklyn, the Celtics need a point guard.

Nickiel Alexander-Walker isn’t exactly that, but he’s close.

Alexander-Walker is if Bradley Beal could pass really well.  Or if Shai Gilgeous Alexander was a better isolation scorer.

Walker is everything we want Kevin Porter Jr. to be.

He’s a silky combo guard who shoots well, can have an offense run through him, can get to the rim and possibly be a No.1 ball-handler and No.1 offensive option.  He needs to work on isolating for three pointers, but the Virginia Tech guard is already able to score when the game slows down in crunch-time.

He’s also a really good defensive player, using his length to swallow small guards and his height to be able to hang with some forwards.  He’s thin, so switching onto bigger forwards and centers doesn’t make him an all-around 1-5 defender, but his drive makes him more than competitive on that side of the court.

For Boston, the loss of Kyrie leaves them without a lead ball-handler (There’s no way they’re going to pay Terry Rozier what he’s going to demand, right?) and possibly without a dominant scorer.  It’s possible Irving’s absence turns Jayson Tatum into the guy we’ve wanted to see, but the timidness is a little hard to get over.  Alexander-Walker can take over some of those responsibilities.

No.15, Detroit Pistons- Keldon Johnson, Kentucky

The best pure shooter in the draft, Keldon Johnson is the type of player who is perfect for today’s league.  He knows every spot on the court, and is always open.  His ability to relocate off the ball and get himself good shots without needing the ball in his hands reminds me of Klay Thompson.  He can get just as hot as Klay too.

Johnson’s got some crunch-time scoring potential in him.  He’s not a great shot creator off the dribble, but like DeAndre Hunter, he hit big shots in big games.  When he’s hot, you don’t give anyone else the ball.

The Pistons desperately need shooting even after getting Tony Snell last night, especially so if they’re going to continue to put guys around Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond.  Griffin has improved his three pointer greatly, but Drummond is a non-threat with his lumbering around, and Reggie Jackson can’t hit threes either.  When Jackson is hurt (An inevitability), the Pistons move the ball quite well.  Johnson could flourish in that situation.

No.16, Orlando Magic- Cameron Johnson, North Carolina

Literally the only thing that makes Keldon Johnson better than Cameron Johnson is the age difference.

Keldon will be 20 in November, where as Cameron played five years of college basketball at Pittsburgh and North Carolina.  He’s already 23.

Johnson’s lights out, and the biggest reason why is his quick release.  The ball jumps out of his hands, and it allows him to be a threat in transition as well.

Johnson isn’t crazy athletic; he’s a bit stiff moving around, which hurts his defensive ability, especially when it comes to on-ball defense.

With a heavy load of big guys on their roster, the Magic lack shooting.  Whether it’s Aaron Gordon paired with Nikola Vucevic or Mo Bamba, that front-court isn’t exactly a modern one.  I’m skeptical of Jonathan Issac’s ability to be a shooter, and Evan Fournier and whoever is at point guard (Unless Markelle Fultz is TOTALLY rejuvenated) don’t provide enough firepower.  Johnson does.

No.17, Atlanta Hawks- Brandon Clarke, Gonzaga

Brandon Clarke is still a wing, but is a bit different than the other wings I have Atlanta selecting at the top of the first round.

Clarke is a bit of a puzzle when it comes to his fit in the NBA.  He’s big and athletic and plays very good defense, but can’t protect the rim.  For someone who is 6’8, that’s usually okay.  He can switch onto practically anyone else.  His legs are huge, and they move well.

But Clarke’s problem is that he’s not a shooter.  He plays like a traditional power forward on offense.  He posts-up, takes bad mid-rangers, and plays a very old-man-like game.  He’s essentially LaMarcus Aldridge on the offensive end.

That’s why I have Clarke falling.  He’s incredibly efficient on the defensive end and is the complete opposite on the offensive end.  If he’s not a rim protector, and can’t shoot, then what is he on the court?

The Hawks can take this risk.  They need defense desperately (This draft will help on that end), and Clarke’s switchability among four positions is undeniable.  A team that can take a risk should take him.  The Hawks have three picks and are in position to do that.

No.18, Indiana Pacers- Carsen Edwards, Purdue

The Pacers need a point guard that can play off of Victor Oladipo and make an impact while doing it.

This is a little high for Carsen Edwards, but the Purdue guard put up massive production this season.  For a guy his size, Edwards was a wrecking ball.  He went flying into the lane using his shiftiness and using his size to sneak around defenders.  He’s got a good three point shot, which allows him to play off Oladipo and be effective.

There are concerns, which makes this a bit of a reach.  Edwards’ size leaves him exposed defensively; he’s short and doesn’t have long arms to make up for it.  He’ll get destroyed in screens and against physical guards who like to play like him.

He also had some bad games in addition to the good games; games where he’d legitimately shoot 3-21 or something horrendous.  That happened multiple times.  Perhaps in a lesser usage role, those performances can be eliminated.

The Pacers could look to go after someone in free agency instead, like a D’Angelo Russell, which would certainly give them a bigger impact (Please God don’t let it be Ricky Rubio).  If the Pacers want to play it safe and add some firepower, then Edwards is a fine choice.

No.19, San Antonio Spurs- Talen Horton-Tucker, Iowa State

We are starting to get into the reach zone.  As I’ve said above, the draft plummets after the first three guys or so.  Everyone else can go within a very wide range.

Talen Horton-Tucker is made for the NBA.  He’s also perfectly made for the Spurs.

He’s a hard-nosed, stockily built defender who can shoot and get to the rim.  He’s not a very quick player when he drives, as he uses his body to bully his way into the paint.  He’s a hustle player who you can find in the right spots on both ends.

Horton-Tucker’s ball-handling, shown off when he goes to the rim, may be the key to some untapped potential in him.  A good shooter when catching and releasing and coming off screens, there could be some shot-creation in him with some development.

Horton-Tucker is going to be a solid player.  His ceiling is quite debatable, which is why he falls in the 13-30 range (Remember how I talked about the ranges expanding in bad drafts?).  But his floor is quite high.

For the Spurs, those are their type of guys.  Horton-Tucker rounds out a possible future lineup of Dejounte Murray-Derrick White-Lonnie Walker Jr.-Horton-Tucker-Jakob Poeltl for the Spurs (More on that center spot later).  That’s really fun, and a ridiculous defense team.  For once, the Spurs have a modern flair to their roster despite Horton-Tucker’s old-school, grinding game.

No.20, Boston Celtics- Dylan Windler, Belmont

Another reach.  In my opinion, Windler is the best shooter left in the draft at this point.  With key contributor Marcus Morris likely hitting the road along with Al Horford and Kyrie Irving in free agency, the Celtics could replace him with a more well-rounded, lower-usage player in Dylan Windler.

He’s old, unlike Tyler Herro or Louis King, but Herro is a not someone I’m excited about at the NBA level and Windler provides a bit more firepower than someone like King.

Windler’s also a pretty good defender, though a slight lack of athleticism might hurt him.

Boston could easily take Nic Claxton here instead, but then you risk the Thunder taking Windler at No.21.  Boston could take Ty Jerome with their pick at 22, but Windler projects as a bit more lights out of a shooter.

No.21, Oklahoma City Thunder- Ty Jerome, Virginia

The Thunder kick off a string of teams that need shooting.  Get ready for the rest of the top snipers in this class to go off the board.

Ty Jerome is a nice player who could possibly be a combo guard at the NBA level.  He’s got good size and a strong body.  The shooting is obviously his best trait, but he has some ball-handling skills that could make him a N0.2 facilitator.

He’s an okay defender, but the Thunder are taken care of on that side of the court.  Even if Jerome under preforms on that end, his shooting will make up for it.

No.22, Boston Celtics- Nic Claxton, Georgia

With the sudden news that Al Horford is leaving along with Kyrie Irving in free agency, this pick makes even more sense.

My comparison for Nic Claxton was Al Horford well before the news Tuesday.  Claxton is a long, athletic center whose rim protection skills are excellent.  He can switch positions 3-5, and that’s probably underrating him.  He’s an excellent passer, and had a lot of Georgia’s offense run through him thanks to the facilitating skills.

He doesn’t have a three point shot yet, but his ability to move practically anywhere on the court makes up for that.  Claxton could easily be used as a deadly cutter and slasher in a Celtics offense that should feature plenty of ball movement.  Imagine someone of Claxton’s size running Brad Stevens cuts.

There are some concerns about the size.  Despite being an excellent rim protector in college, Claxton only weighs 217 pounds and has a thin frame.  He could get bodied down low against bigger guys.  Still, the athleticism should keep him in it against the Pascal Siakam-types, which are likely the players Claxton will face if out there in crunch-time.

No.23, Memphis Grizzlies- Tyler Herro, Kentucky

Even with Utah trading this pick to Memphis in the Mike Conley trade, I still have Tyler Herro going at the No.23 overall spot.

This is a fall for Herro; he will almost certainly go much higher than this.  I’m really just not a fan.  Herro was a hoister at Kentucky, and though he’s been praised for his ability to come in and hit shots for a team, I don’t think he’s the most efficient, selfless player despite the shot-making ability.

Kentucky loved to put the ball in his hands this past season, and used him as a primary ball-handler quite a bit.  This led to a lot of bad shots and chuck-ups from Herro.  One of my notes in my scouting document was that he played all “Herro ball.”

The Grizzlies got back a lot of shooting after trading Conley.  With Herro being added to the bevy of wings coming, Memphis has depth at a needy position.  Herro could also help out Morant when it comes to passing duties; he’s got the ability to be a No.2 facilitator at some point.  But the Grizzlies will have to keep him in check and make sure he doesn’t hijack the ship.

No.24, Philadelphia 76ers- Louis King, Oregon

More shooters go off the board and we aren’t even close to done yet.

The 76ers have a lot of possible roster turnover coming this summer, and should probably take a hard look at who deserves to be back (That goes for everyone but Joel Embiid, by the way).  No matter who comes back or leaves, the Sixers need one thing: Shooting.

King is the best guy left at that.  This may be a bit of a stretch (Which may or may not be because he literally torched ASU in a game in Tempe this past season), but King offers a long body who is a sweet shooter and uses the length to be really versatile defensively.

No.25, Portland Trail Blazers- Chuma Okeke, Auburn

Chuma Okeke’s devastating knee injury late in the NCAA Tournament will probably cause him to slide, so once again this is a bit of a reach.

But Portland just saw themselves get decimated by Golden State without Kevin Durant playing, and a big part of that problem was due to the lack of scoring they possessed on the wings.

When healthy, and Okeke should be by next year’s playoffs, Okeke is a great shooter  who knows how to play off the ball.  He’s got a good knack for getting to the rim as well; using the athleticism that makes him an insane defender.

Okeke is a physical yet switchable defender.  He’s meaty and throws his body into dudes while also recovering really well.

No.26, Cleveland Cavaliers -Kz Okpala, Stanford

I don’t really know what Kz Okpala does well on the basketball court.  He’s a long, athletic kid who can cut and slash offensively because of his athleticism.  He’s a good defender but can be a tad immature on that end (He gambles and is also very skinny).

The Cavaliers need wings, and I have them solving that issue in this draft.  They’re banking on a lot of upside in Culver.  In Okpala, they do that again.  He has to become a bit more involved offensively, but it sounds as if there’s some optimism that he can turn into a No.2 ball-handler and a good shooter if he works on it.

He’s likely to go high, so that’s why he goes in my first round.

No.27, Brooklyn Nets- Nassir Little, North Carolina

We’re getting to the point where there’s a lot of guys going in my mock draft who will be long gone by this time.

That’s because I’m trying to make a point.

After coming in with a ton of hype, Nassir Little completely disappointed at North Carolina this year.

Little looked as if he had no idea how to play basketball when he was on the court.  He’d stand around and show little effort on both ends.  He’d force it when he finally got the ball.  The whole experience was depressing.

He did show some promise.  When he did shoot, the ball jumped out his hands quickly.  He’s got some good but raw isolation moves.  He’s an insane athlete when he tries, which helps immensely when he’s driving to the rim.

Little reminds me a bit of Miles Bridges from last year’s draft combined with some PJ Tucker.  It’s the length and explosiveness combined with the defensive prospectus that arrives me that.  Offensively, I’m not sure how much to expect from him.

The Nets are loaded with talent whether Kyrie Irving comes or not.  They can take a risk in Little and believe in the upside.

No.28, Golden State Warriors- Mfiondu Kabevgele, Florida State

I heavily considered going with Deividas Sirvydis here, a lights-out lefty sniper from Lithuania, but with a ravaged roster heading into next year, the Warriors need bodies that can help now.

Kevon Looney is likely to get a contract that Golden State won’t pay him, so Mifiondu Kabevgele’s rim protection, switchability and three point shooting would make an excellent replacement.  He’s probably not as mobile as Looney is, but can at least drop well in pick and roll coverages and not get played off the court at the center position.

No.29, San Antonio Spurs- Bol Bol, Oregon

The next guy is the much more Spurs-y pick, but there’s no way Bol Bol falls this far, so it’s about time he comes off my board.

I completely understand the potential in Bol.  Am I willing to risk it?  Not until now.  There’s quality wings and more guaranteed production available until this point.

Bol’s complicated.  He could be able to do everything on the court.  He may not be able to do any of it.

We do this all the time; fall in love with a prospect who’s probably too tall and lanky to stay healthy who can supposedly “do everything” on the court.  Who can shoot, dribble, protect the rim, be a good defender, etc.

There is a guy who can do that in this draft.  His name is Zion Williamson.  That dream of our’s finally came true.  Someone actually did all of those things.

There’s a good chance Bol won’t.  He’s extremely skinny and doesn’t have the type of frame you want in a rim-protecting center.  He missed most of Oregon’s season thanks to a broken foot, which always works out lovely in big men, especially in those who we already have simple durability questions about in the first place.  Bol also tends to try to do too much when he has the ball in his hands.

The hope is that Bol can be a dominant shot-blocker who can get away with being the rim protector, and that his underrated three point shot translateS to the NBA with ease.

The Spurs have Jakob Poeltl, but I worry about his ability to play late in games.  If Bol’s modern flair holds true in the NBA, he can be the big guy of the future for them.

(Deividas Sirvydis would also make a lot of sense here given the Spurs’ knack for foreign guys and their need for shooting)

No.30, Detroit Pistons- Terence Davis, Ole Miss

I had Goga Bitadze going here until Milwaukee traded out of this pick for cap space last night.  The last thing the Pistons need is big guys, so I’m giving them a 3-and-D wing instead.

Davis’ shot is improving (He posted his best percentages of his college career this past season) and he can defend at a high level.  With Tony Snell now in the rotation among Davis, Johnson and Bruce Brown, the Pistons are slowly getting better at the wing.


How did these guys not go in the first round of the mock?

Below is a list of prominent names or favorites of mine that I couldn’t squeeze into the first round based on opinion and unlikeliness of their selection in the top 30.

  • Goga Bitadze: He’s probably not even going to get into the 20s.  But with the guys I value in this draft, and my evaluation of him, I’m not sure I get what teams see in him.  He’s an explosive big man, but he can’t shoot threes and doesn’t have great agility as a defender, whether that’s in rim protection or on the perimeter.
  • Eric Paschall: I’ve been a fan for awhile now.  He reminds me of Draymond Green on the defensive end; I think he’s a small-ball five.  But can the floor spacing complete that projection?
  • Matisse Thybulle: Lockdown defender but has practically zero use offensively.  Andre Roberson 2.0.
  • Grant Williams: Athletic but has too much old-school power forward in him, and is less switchable than Brandon Clarke.
  • Lugentz Dort: I go to Arizona State and I legitimately think he’s terrible and don’t get practically any of the cases for him.  He’s a good on-ball defender but has proved too selfish offensively.  He doesn’t have a jump-shot to balance that out, either.
  • Admiral Schofield: Despite the athleticism and spacing he has shown to provide, he might be not efficient enough offensively.  A tough, gritty player though.
  • Deividas Sirvydis: A top 25 pick if he was coming to the league this upcoming season.  Dude doesn’t miss.  Lefty!
  • Bruno Fernando: A switchy, athletic center who has to built out his offensive game.  Could be nice small-ball five.
  • Naz Reid: Big dude who gets boards, protects the rim and moves well for his size.  But likely won’t ever shoot threes at the NBA level.  Energy big potential.
  • Zach Norvell Jr.: Good shooter but older age for his class holds him back
  • Zylan Cheatham: Here’s where the ASU bias comes in.  HE MIGHT BE THE MOST SWITCHABLE GUY IN THE DRAFT.
  • Tremont Waters: Undersized point guard who gets buckets.  Has serious sixth-man potential.  Either a backup point guard who facilities and shoots well or you have to turn everything over to him.  Not nearly good enough to be a 1A offensive option.

On the Mike Conley trade…

Jazz get: Mike Conley

Grizzlies get: Jae Crowder, Kyle Korver, Grayson Allen, No.23 overall, 2020 protected first round pick

As much as I wanted this trade to happen, I certainly wasn’t very impressed with it once it occurred.

Utah should have gotten Mike Conley at the trade deadline.  He would have provided them with more firepower and would have taken the load off of Donavan Mitchell against Houston, providing them a bit more of a chance.

He probably would have been cheaper then.  And Utah could have shipped out other players who were played off the floor in the series against Houston.

When the Jazz were snooping around Conley, we got excited about the possibility of a Conley-Mitchell-Korver-Joe Ingles-Rudy Gobert lineup.  It was actually a modern lineup finally being ran by Utah!

They had the opportunity to have this lineup next season, but reports claim that Utah didn’t want to didn’t want to move Derrick Favors, a non-shooting power forward who they typically play with Gobert.

The heart of Utah’s issues has been not enough shooting and not enough firepower. Playing Favors and Gobert together doesn’t fix that.

Utah should have sent Favors’ contract along with Jae Crowder and Grayson Allen in the deal.  There, you’re shedding a lineup clog and a non-shooter while still only surrendering one asset that’s currently on the roster.

On top of this, the Jazz gave up TWO first round picks in the deal, including No.23 overall, a pick that I figured they’d use to draft a shooter, especially so since they traded two (or theoretically three if you count Crowder).  Now, that pick, and another one whose protections in 2020 are still undisclosed, are gone, in addition to Korver who rounded out what was a very solid crunch-time unit heading into next season with Conley at the helm.

Despite my issues with the price, Conley is exactly what the Jazz needed.  He’s more efficient than Ricky Rubio and doesn’t take offensive possessions off.  He’s a fantastic passer and can be used off Mitchell.  He fits the Jazz’s persona of defense-first, creating an even better unit on that end than before.

Memphis got a haul back, including some sneaky-good shooting to put around Morant.  Korver and Allen bring the fire-power while Crowder fits the now-lost Grit n’ Grind formula.

The Jazz are going for it in the wide-open West.  That usually comes with a price.  They certainly paid it.

Rui Hachimera Might Be This Draft’s Most Underrated Player

The last installment of the “I have too much to say about this guy” series ends with Gonzaga’s Rui Hachimera.  My full mock draft will go up tomorrow morning.

No.9, Washington Wizards- Rui Hachimera, Gonzaga

The drafts that are considered the less talented ones are dangerous.  Since there is usually only one or two “guys”, it causes all the other “guys” to be shuffled around in a ton of different ways.  Big boards in less talented drafts are much more variable.

Cam Reddish and Rui Hachimera are perfect examples of that on my board.  Those are two guys who are widely considered to be consensus passes with high high picks.  They’re both in the top ten of my mock draft, and are within the top eight of my big board.

The reason I fell in love with Hachimera was the scoring ability.  Your team is nothing and is going nowhere without a No.1 scoring option who can get you buckets in big games.  Multiple rosters in the league lack that; that type of player is the one piece holding them back.  That was Toronto before this season.  Look at what they did.

Hachimera can get buckets.  He’s got a variety of moves in order to get them.  The jump-stop was one he used and dominated defenders with.  He can drive to the rim using his graceful athleticism.  He reminds me a bit of Carmelo Anthony offensively, although he’s a lot more efficient about his game than Melo ever was.  He’s also way more athletic.

Hachimera’s got the three point shot in his arsenal too, and can use his massive frame to be a tough cover for anyone chasing him around off the ball.

Defensively Hachimera is there too.  The athleticism really shows on that end.  He’s a pest on the ball, and flies around blocking shots, getting steals and jumping screens off the ball.  He might even have a little bit of rim protection in him.

The Wizards are in a tough spot.  With the brutal John Wall contract hanging its ugly head over the future, and Bradley Beal an underrated superstar in his prime, Washington probably has no other choice but to try and compete.  There’s no sense in trying to rebuild with an overpaid, overzealous Wall on the roster for years to come.

Hachimera is the type of guy who could make an impact now for a team that needs a wing scorer after trading away Otto Porter Jr.  Him and Beal, assuming Beal is on the roster, could be a deadly scoring duo next season.  Adding Wall clutters things, but that’s not for a couple years now.

Some worry about Hachimera’s rawness and ability to play at a NBA tempo, but the smoothness to his game should translate to better efficiency soon.

I think Hachimera is someone the Wizards can get value out of next season, the seasons with Wall back and the seasons after the Wall contract.  He’s the perfect long, athletic scorer and defender that the league covets so highly these days.