As an amateur basketball writer extraordinaire, I of course have a lot of close friends and sources inside the NBA. So from time to time, I get flooded with emails from some elite names in the industry who want to get the inside scoop on all the current hot topics in the league. Welcome to Jeff’s NBA Mailbag.
Q: With the NBA Draft Lottery tomorrow night, which teams have the most to gain and most to lose from the results?
(Mitch, Los Angeles)
JB: The NBA Draft Lottery is a very trivial event in the grand scheme of the league schedule. Even the event itself is really ridiculous when you boil it down to its roots. 14 people sitting on stage behind podiums waiting for another person to unveil 14 different envelopes. However, the immeasurable amount of intensity and drama during this process cannot be surmised by just reading the previous sentence.
But for just under half of the league’s fan bases, this approximately half hour of television is must-see. We can mock the inane and preposterous system which involves an almost infinite list of numbers and of course the infamous ping pong balls, but Tuesday night is the type of event that shapes the futures of several franchises for years to come. The draft is where these teams will make hay, but the lottery is where the seeds are planted.
This year, like most, features a group of bottom-dwelling teams that all have a lot to gain and a lot to lose after the draft order is determined. So first lets start with the teams with the most to gain.
Besides the fact that Flip Saunders has proven time and time again that he’s somewhat inept as an executive, and more recently a head coach, the Wolves are still in a remarkably good place moving forward. Right now they’re slated as having the best odds at landing the No. 1 overall pick. If they’re able to land a potential superstar big man in Karl-Anthony Towns or Jahlil Okafor during this draft and combine them with Andrew Wiggins, this would create an incredibly young and talented duo that could, and should, become a force to be reckoned with for years to come in the Western Conference.
The Sixers are pros at giving themselves a great chance at winning the lottery, and Sam Hinkie has positioned his team well moving into the future with cornerstones like Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid; combined with a bevy of first and second-round picks over the next few years. Sam Hinkie likes to use the term “optionality,” and that’s exactly what this draft is about for the Sixers. They may not have immediate need for a big man, but that wouldn’t stop the club from taking Karl-Anthony Towns as well as entertaining offers for any one of their stockpile of highly drafted centers. Offers that would potentially land them a proven star or ultimately more coveted draft picks.
They also have a clear need at point guard, and even if they’re unable to win the lottery, D’Angelo Russell or Emmanuel Mudiay will have fallen right into their laps. The Sixers aren’t committed to any plan or particular set of players; Hinkie just plays the cards that are dealt and the Sixers’ maneuverability is what always makes them a candidate to certainly “gain” during events like the draft. Also, the Sixers getting the Lakers’ first-round pick this year would be a coup, and just another rebuilding piece for Hinkie and the Sixers.
Now the teams that have the most to lose tomorrow night.
Los Angeles Lakers
Purely because of the chance that they lose their first-round pick to Philadelphia, the Lakers must be on this list. Going through the doldrums of this past regular season and finishing at a paltry 21-61 is bad enough for the franchise, but getting bounced outside the top five picks and losing it would be disastrous.
The Lakers do have money to spend, but free agency is a crap shoot, and superstars will not be inclined to sign long-term deals with the salary cap due to rise next season. Even if the Lakers sign a few decent free agents, they’ll certainly be back in the lottery next year. The Western Conference is still far too strong for the Lakers to eek back into the playoff race with just Kobe, who’s rapidly approaching 40; there’s just simply not enough talent on this team to even possibly compete with teams like OKC, Phoenix, Utah and New Orleans, who all finished middle of the pack in the West this year. Not to mention all of the elite teams that remain ahead.
New York Knicks
The Knicks have a lot of holes on this roster, so adding anyone in the top five picks this year is a positive, but the Knicks desperately need to hit on this year’s pick no matter what spot they’re in. In typical Knicks fashion, they’re without a first-round pick yet again next season, which makes this year even more important. The Knicks could really use the good fortune of winning the lottery and grabbing a potential superstar like Karl-Anthony Towns to pair with Carmelo Anthony.
It’s still possible the Knicks slide back to the fourth or fifth pick after the lottery, and this would make getting one of the elite big men an improbability, and would put more pressure on the organization to hit on a larger group of prospects where there’s not a consensus on who’s the best prospect.
Q: What’s next for the Clippers after coming up short of the Western Conference Finals?
JB: After going up 3-1 in the series and being a fourth-quarter collapse away from reaching the Western Conference Finals for the first time ever, yesterday’s loss has to be demoralizing for the Clippers’ organization and their fans. It’s evident to anyone that watches this team that major changes ultimately need to be made, because it’d be hard to believe this exact roster would be able to compete for a title next year or anywhere down the road.
As much as we love to love Steve Ballmer for his courtside antics and mannerisms, he’ll have to make some heavy decisions for the first time regarding his team’s future. So where do the Clippers go from here?
The first major quandary is what to do with unrestricted free agent DeAndre Jordan. The Clippers roster is very top-heavy with talent, but outside of Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, they’re very thin and lean with many borderline NBA players. Jordan is an outstanding and historically efficient rebounding behemoth, but his struggles at the free throw line are well documented. All of this needs to be taken into account before deciding if he’s worth a contract that would supposedly be over $100 million. Would passing on re-signing DeAndre and opening up more money for other free agents this summer and next summer be a more useful move? Probably so.
Overall, the Clippers desperately need to add more talent to their bench. However, they’re without a draft pick in 2015, so adding young talent that way isn’t an option at the moment. It doesn’t seem likely that the Clippers would entertain offers for their superstars Paul and Griffin. But Doc Rivers will need to look long and hard at this roster with clear and unbiased eyes, which is probably impossible because this is the guy who traded for his son. If he comes to the consensus that the roster as it stands currently cannot contend for a title, it would be in the best interest of the team to explore every avenue. Because trading Griffin or CP3, or a sign-and-trade of Jordan, would bring in an immense haul of young talent and draft picks that they’re lacking.
If I had to put money on the line with what the Clippers will do this offseason, I would say they’ll likely lock up and overpay Jordan and add a few unexciting veteran free agents. But as we sit here on the doorstep of the Western Conference Finals, yet again the Clippers are absent; even with having two of the league’s superstars on the roster. How long can the Clippers afford to wait to make major moves before enough is enough?
Q: According to a recent report, the Bulls are unwilling to let Tom Thibodeau leave without compensation. Should teams with coaching vacancies give up draft picks in order to trade for Thibs?
JB: If the Bulls are willing to release Tom Thibodeau, he’s undoubtedly the most intriguing coaching candidate for teams like Orlando, New Orleans and Denver, who all currently have vacancies at the position. But with the recent report that the Bulls will seek compensation for Thibs, would one of these teams feel compelled to trade a draft pick(s) in order to lock up his negotiating rights, instead of battling with other teams who are also interested in his services?
The Clippers set the precedent in this area by sending a first-round pick over to Boston in exchange for Doc Rivers, but the difference here is that the Clippers were already an established and successful team; trading a late first-rounder didn’t seem expensive to them at the time. The Pelicans are without a first-round pick this year, and Orlando and Denver have lottery picks which wouldn’t be on the table in a Thibs trade. It all might come down to which team is willing to give up a future pick, which would likely be protected.
New Orleans seems like the front-runner for Thibs, mainly because they have arguably the most talented player in the NBA in Anthony Davis, and Thibs might ultimately pick to coach in New Orleans if he’s released from his contract with Chicago. So it might be in the best interest for teams like Orlando or Denver to give up future picks if they’ve identified Thibs as “their guy” and best candidate to lead their team into the future, because it certainly seems like New Orleans has the most interesting roster and is the likely destination for Thibs at the moment.
Q: Is the Bulls’ window for a title closed? How can they fix the roster?
(Jake Weiner, Chicago)
JB: Yes, they’re as close to winning a championship as Blockbuster is to becoming a Fortune 500 company. My advice to Gar Forman is to re-sign Jimmy Butler at all costs and then trade everyone they can except Nikola Mirotic. The current roster is too old, too injury-ridden and too expensive to keep intact.
They need to get some value out of guys like Pau Gasol and Taj Gibson while they still can. Maybe they even get lucky and someone gives up something for Joakim Noah or Derrick Rose, but that’s doubtful. Bulls fans can remain sentimental towards these players, or be practical and understand that they need to move on. Chicago’s front office needs to get some draft picks and young assets and begin a minor rebuild.
Q: We’re through two rounds of the playoffs … are the Golden State Warriors still the favorite to win the title?
JB: Yes, most definitely. They dominated and swept the Rockets during the regular season, and could seemingly walk into the NBA Finals considering how great Steph and Co. are playing at the moment. If the Cavs remain hobbled and wounded, it could be smooth sailing for Golden State into the promised land. Even if a title matchup against LeBron James is looming.
I don’t just take emails from NBA stars, I’m also a man of the people. If you’re not an integral part of the association, but you want my inside information on the league or any hot takes shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org