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.
I don’t just take emails from NBA stars, I’m also a man of the people. If you want my inside information on the NBA and any hot takes shoot me an email at email@example.com.
Q: Did OKC do the right thing by only zeroing in on Billy Donovan for their head coaching vacancy?
JB: I don’t think there’s any denying that Billy Donovan is a great coach, and he might just end up being a smart hire for Sam Presti and the Thunder organization. But was this really a coaching search? Because it seems like Presti had made up his mind months in advance of the Scott Brooks firing. I think Presti recognized that the Celtics kind of caught lightning in a bottle with Brad Stevens and figured there wasn’t any point to retreading any former NBA coaches, or some no name assistants. The Thunder needed something fresh and something to reinvigorate the team and fan base.
I believe OKC ultimately made the right decision hiring Billy Donovan, but they really should have been a bit more expansive in their search to make it seem like Brooks’s firing wasn’t planned way in advance. Obviously the goal for Sam Presti and the Thunder ownership is to convince Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to stay long term, and this hiring is supposed to be the initial step in that process. There may have been other qualified candidates that were overlooked by OKC, but Billy Donovan is a great basketball mind who has proven over time in college that he’s a force to be reckoned with. The NBA is a different animal, but the Thunder shouldn’t be slighted by identifying “their guy” and locking him up.
Q: Can you play a quick game of “free agency roulette” featuring LaMarcus Aldridge?
JB: The Trail Blazers were straight up embarrassed in Round 1 by the Memphis Grizzlies, capping a very disappointing season in Portland that featured a brutal Wesley Matthews injury and a struggling Nicolas Batum. So now everyone in Portland will be on edge for the next two months hearing rumors about LaMarcus Aldridge leaving in free agency. This could turn ugly for the Blazers very quickly if Aldridge leaves. Matthews and Robin Lopez are also free agents, and Wes is coming off Achilles surgery, making his future uncertain. If all don’t return, this could leave just Damian Lillard surrounded by a bunch of rotation players. (Upside to this is we get to see a lot of Meyers Leonard.) Also, Portland is without a first-round pick this summer because of the Arron Afflalo trade.
I really hope LaMarcus stays loyal and returns to Portland like he has said many times he would. Although I don’t think we could blame him if he leaves elsewhere. Aldridge to San Antonio seems to be increasing in likelihood, and that’s a very appealing destination for LMA. He’d get to play for the NBA’s best head coach and pair up with rising star Kawhi Leonard. This move might also extend the career of Tony Parker as well, who’s getting very long in the tooth. If Aldridge is unable to come to terms with the Spurs, staying in Portland is still the best option. There have also been rumors the Mavericks would clear cap space and make a run at LaMarcus, but they’ve also got issues. Aldridge and Lillard remain a formidable duo, and he has got to trust that Batum returns to form and the front office will continue to add pieces. It also might behoove him to only sign a two-year deal with an opt-out clause for next season when the salary cap is due to rise, and then LaMarcus can really cash in.
It’s very hard to say with any certainty whether Aldridge will leave this summer, but this early exit from the playoffs might be the impetus that pushes him out the door in Portland.
Q: Was there intent to injure, or is Kelly Olynyk just a clumsy doofus?
JB: I don’t think this question has a clear cut answer. It’s not really as simple as yes or no. Do I think Kelly Olynyk is a dirty player? Absolutely not. Do I think Kelly Olynyk is completely innocent of intent to injure? Absolutely not. Bottom line is I think Olynyk just got frustrated battling with Kevin Love underneath the boards and tried to be a little too physical with him, and because he’s an uncoordinated and awkward doofus, he took Love’s shoulder with him instead of letting go.
But this really leads me to my next point which I have the dubbed “The Kelly Olynyk Effect.” This injury will knock out Kevin Love for the rest of the playoffs, but this is probably going to have lasting effects on several franchises. I’m thinking beyond the NBA Finals, whether the Cavs make it to that point or not.
Kevin Love is a free agent at years end and his injury will likely throw a wrench into how teams will approach him this offseason. This could all end very badly for the Cavs, too. We all know the Cavs traded the future in Andrew Wiggins for Kevin Love, assuming he’d sign an extension. But after being alienated and improperly used by head coach David Blatt, Love might not be so inclined to stay in Cleveland. Especially with other teams like the Lakers or Celtics who may come knocking. At least if Love had stayed healthy and the Cavs won a title, this could have helped their chances at retaining Love. Cleveland has no significant future draft picks to speak of and is pretty tied up until the cap rises next year. It’s possible one dumb move by Kelly Olynyk has altered the fate of the Cavaliers for years to come.
Q: Can you sum up this Wizards sweep over the Raptors for me?
Q: What’s the deal with Rajon Rondo?
JB: Who would have imagined before the season started that Rajon Rondo would go from being regarded as one of the best point guards in the league, to fringe NBA starter and clubhouse cancer? The Rondo experiment in Dallas failed to say the least. It was an unmitigated disaster and has really cost Rondo a lot of “Quan,” as Rod Tidwell would say.
As a point guard in today’s NBA, you need to be able to do at least one of two things: 1) get to the rim and free throw line 2) shoot from the perimeter. Rajon Rondo does neither of these things. He has been a great distributor in the past, but the current landscape of the league doesn’t pave a clear road for these types anymore. There’s a niche for Rondo somewhere in this league, whether that’s Los Angeles or New York, who feature players like Kobe or Melo who want to take 25-30 shots a game. I don’t think we can say definitively Rondo’s career is finished, but his days as an elite point guard are certainly over.
Q: Predict the order in which all the Kentucky players who declared will get drafted in this year?
JB: In case you hadn’t heard, Kentucky was really good this season. Seven players on the roster declared for the NBA Draft, which is simply just unheard of. There hasn’t been this mass of an exodus from one place since Moses led the Jews out of Egypt.
The players leaving Kentucky for “greener” pastures in the NBA are Karl-Anthony Towns, Willie Cauley-Stein, Trey Lyles, Devin Booker, Dakari Johnson, Andrew Harrison and Aaron Harrison.
So the question is where in the draft will these players be drafted? Even though it’s only May, I feel pretty confident in saying that Karl-Anthony Towns will be the No. 1 overall pick in the draft this summer. He has potential to be an elite player on both sides of the ball and would be hard for any team to pass up.
After Towns, I believe the next pick will be Cauley-Stein because of his rim protecting ability and how this asset has become incredibly valuable in today’s NBA. I debated between Lyles and Booker on who goes next, but I think Lyles is a bit likelier. Lyles has the size and offensive skill to start at the 4 spot for many teams, and his experience playing on the wing in college will only benefit him down the road. Booker really wasn’t too impressive during the tournament, and although at times he can be a lights-out shooter, it seems like he’ll take some time to flourish in the NBA. But Booker, like many Kentucky players, has a lot of room for growth.
The third tier of these Kentucky players are Dakari Johnson and the Harrison twins. It’s really a crap shoot at this point in predicting who goes where. These guys are all likely second-round picks who have the potential to go late first-round if some team falls in love with one of them. I think Dakari will be off the board before the twins, just because of the fact that he’s a 7-footer with an NBA body and can rebound efficiently. Big guys don’t grow on trees, and teams are always looking for competent rotation centers.
So which Harrison goes first? I’ll say Aaron Harrison will be taken before his brother Andrew, just based off the fact that he knows how a microphone works and wasn’t caught on national TV cursing out Frank Kaminsky.
Q: Based solely off of a YouTube evaluation, who will have a better NBA career? Kristaps Porzingis or Mario Hezonja?
JB: When I watch Porzingis, I see a guy who loves crashing the boards and finishing at the rim emphatically. His slight frame may be a hindrance at the NBA level, but you can see why scouts say he has so much potential. His jump shot looks a little stiff and mechanical (not in a good way), but he has range. That’ll improve over time and he’ll create a mismatch with other stretch 4’s because of his elite athleticism.
I’m a really big fan of Mario Hezonja, and I see a guy who can score from anywhere on the court. He gets to the rim and can shoot lights out. His size is also a great asset for a 2 guard; he’s 6’8 and he’ll tower over other guards and can match up with small forwards as well. He also has pretty good ball handling skills and is a gifted passer.
Overall, I’m a bit scared off of Porzingis because of his slight frame and (sorry Wizards fans) because he reminds me a lot of Jan Vesely. I think he’ll ultimately be able to stick in the NBA, but like many European prospects, he’s high risk, high reward. I really think Mario Hezonja is going to be a stud; he has an “it” factor in his game. The NBA is becoming a league dominated by swingmen and Hezonja could be a part of that group. I love his offensive talent, and even though my evaluation is based solely off a couple three-minute YouTube links, I’m going Hezonja over Porzingis all day.