I feel like every year we wake up on the Friday morning post-draft and get right to work with cynical comments and opinion pieces about who the biggest losers on draft night are. So in an act of benevolence stemming from a lot of Brooklyn-based positivity early in the offseason, I’m going to tell each of the projected lottery teams what they need to do to avoid being the Draft’s biggest loser:
New Orleans Pelicans: Only Zion is Safe
Let’s call a spade a spade, the two flashier names that the Pels raked in via the Anthony Davis trade have lost a bit of their prospect-luster. Not to knock the upside of Ingram or Ball, but their early returns haven’t exactly screamed “second overall pick worthy”. So despite the excitement that could emerge from a forward pairing of BI & Williamson, or the transition oops from Zo to Zion; the Pelicans should not be limiting themselves to just shopping the 4th overall pick that they acquired in the trade. They need to be trade-market aggressors to kick this rebuild off properly, so checking in with teams like the Suns & Bulls who are looking for their PG of the future, could land them meaningful draft compensation for Lonzo or Jrue Holiday’s services. Additionally, a team like the Knicks who are feeling a massive sting of losing free agency hope, could be a bit too keen to further their rebuild with a Ingram/RJ Barrett pairing in the Big Apple next year. Heck, I’m pretty sure you could even find a nice return on Josh Hart from a fringe contender looking for an affordable scoring punch.
Memphis Grizzlies: Play Dead!
I apologize for the bear-related pun. But it’s not off the mark to ask the Grizzlies’ front office to kill any means of communication with the outside world until tonight’s festivities have ended. Memphis has a clear-cut choice with the second overall pick and they absolutely need to take Ja Morant. They just traded away their franchise point guard for a minimal yet reasonable return (considering his talent to contract ratio), and have the perfect pick & roll partner for Morant already in Memphis, Jaren Jackson. The rumor mill has churned way too much with talks of the Grizzlies being open to trading out of this slot, and quite frankly it’s infuriating. Memphis has long been chastised for being a boring brand of basketball, but if there was ever a time to make the boring move…this is for sure it. No trade should happen here. Don’t talk about it. Don’t think about it. Just turn off your phones until we’ve reached a point of no return.
New York Knicks: Don’t P*** This Up!
Wondering what that expletive is? Let’s just say it’s a reference to a certain ex-executive, with a propensity for lottery miscues. I’ll give credit where it’s due, he got the Porzingis-pick right. But considering the current regime undid that in no time-flat, really the Knicks don’t have a draft-day win on their record since 1985. I think the 34th time is the charm, but only if the Knicks don’t overthink this one. RJ Barrett is so in love with the Knickerbockers. Yes you read that correctly, a sure-fire star is actually excited about the prospect of playing for the NBA’s most chronically dysfunctional franchise. So much so, that he has actually declined to workout for any team that doesn’t play 41 games a year in MSG (if the Knicks screw the pooch, the Globetrotters might have a shot). How did New York return the favor you ask? The only way the Knicks possibly could: consistent reports of not being sold on Barrett, trade talks surrounding the pick, and workouts with every other prospect who was going to be in the city for draft night anyways. At a certain point, you can’t site “doing your due-diligence” in this scenario; now you’re just offending the guy who was down to pledge his loyalty to you forever. Wow the Knicks are starting to sound like my ex-girlfriend…but unlike her, they still have a chance to say “I’m sorry” and then “I do”.
Cleveland Cavaliers: 2 Piece Wings
The Cavaliers are doing their best in the post-Bron era. Considering the unbearable blow to morale that was the Lakers jumping them in the Draft Lottery, they seem to be doing well. Darius Garland appears to be the object of everyone’s affection when looking to climb to the 4th overall pick (it’s either him or praying for a Knick blunder), the Cavaliers are one of few teams whose draft strategy will remain unencumbered by what transpires before they’re on the clock. They desperately need to address their wing rotation and this draft offers a seemingly limitless supply of interchangeably even prospects who can fill that spot for them. It’ll come down to teach-ability and fit when John Beilein, the new Cavs head coach, gives his recommendation to the decision makers on draft night. Against my better judgement here, I actually like the risk of a reach for Cam Reddish here. Regardless of the route they go here, my advice is to stay the course when they come up again at number 26. Because of how dead even the post-top-3 picks are in the eyes of so many, there’s a strong chance you’ll get a number of “irrational” draft fallers tonight. Someone you liked at 5 but thought was too big a reach so early, will undoubtedly still be on the board when you get to 26, and for the sake of immediate improvement it’d better be another wing!
Phoenix Suns: Impact PG by Any Means
The Suns have been looking for their franchise-PG since Steve Nash bolted to join the worst super team in NBA history back in 2012. Heck even when they simultaneously had 3 such guys, they traded them all away out of sheer indecision. With your incumbent superstar, Devin Booker, now entering the first season of his max-extension the fact of the matter is that you have to turn the corner from rebuild to win-now. The core make up of this roster is still very young, so in trying to properly pair a ready-to-win lead guard with them, you have to seek that rare combination of young and impactful. The only guy I think who fits the mold is Ja Morant, but considering the fact that the Grizzlies are literally unreachable at the moment in this fantasyland, your best bet is to look beyond the confines of the prospects available. This would be a good time to engage the Pelicans about Lonzo Ball as a potential running mate for Booker. If that falls through, then take Coby White here as a reasonable backup while you extend max offer sheets to RFAs like D’Angelo Russell and Terry Rozier.
Chicago Bulls: Build That Bench
The Chicago Bulls are actually in a remarkably good situation going forward. There’s really no expectation to win-now, and there isn’t a startling need for a starting-caliber talent via the draft. Which actually makes the number 7 pick perfect for them this year. At this point their options will be a pretty widespread crop of ready-to-contribute but not ready-to-lead prospects, so they’ll get some bang for their buck here. Kris Dunn probably isn’t their long term plan for the lead guard role, but he’s better suited for it in 2019-2020 than any of the remaining draftees, barring the Suns not taking White a pick ahead of you. Otherwise though this is a time to find the right backup to build your second unit around, and have him mesh together well with your already phenomenally built core of potential All-Stars.
Atlanta Hawks: Diversify Your Prospects
The Hawks new core is off to a fantastic start, and with four draft choices tonight it appears as though we’re going to see an even more outstanding crop of youngsters next year, headlined by the incumbent Trae Young & John Collins. There has been some talks about the Hawks looking to swap pick quantity for quality this evening, potentially trading at least two of these selections to catapult themselves up the draft order. It’s not a bad move if you’re able to get into that highly coveted number 4 slot for a shot at a possible Knicks blunder (I’m sorry, I really have no faith in them), but there are a lot of teams vying for the rights to that selection. So if the Hawks have to hang tight with their four, then any financial guru can tell you that the best way to invest in your future is to diversify. The Hawks young nucleus (also includes Kevin Huerter) is a deserving centerpiece, but beyond them the current role player makeup is pretty underwhelming in Atlanta. The Hawks should be looking to take players at several different positions tonight, with varying strengths and weaknesses. For instance, I wouldn’t mind seeing a combination of Sekou Doumbouya and Jaxon Hayes with the 8th and 9th selections respectively. Get your athletes out of the way at the 3 & 5 respectively, and then take a look at more shooting later with your pair of second round selections.
Washington Wizards: Be Aggressive With Beal
For my money, no team in the NBA is in quite as much long-term trouble as the Washington Wizards. Their cap space is non-existent. Their prospects are mediocre at best. Their point guard is out for all of next season on an immovable contract. They’re going to be understandably weary of trying to max out another contract for a very long time, so their best bet might be to part ways with a guy who is in line for one in the very near future. Bradley Beal is just 25 and still sits on his rookie extension for another two seasons. He’ll be incredibly attractive to a team like the Houston Rockets or the Brooklyn Nets who are trying to add another star to make themselves a stronger contender. He can also be dealt to a rebuilding team who are looking to take a big step forward quickly like the New York Knicks or perhaps the Atlanta Hawks… With the 9th overall selection here, I think the best bet is for the Wizards is just to take best available. More specifically though, they don’t exactly have much to lose so why not roll the dice with a high risk/high reward talent like Bol Bol.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Find Their Four
Please forgive me for the negativity, but the Minnesota Timberwolves have been the biggest rebuilding disappointment in the NBA this decade. The problem has not been in their selections on Draft Night, as evidenced by the franchise-talent of Karl-Anthony Towns. The problem also hasn’t been there outside acquisitions like Andrew Wiggins (he was drafted by the Cavs), Jeff Teague, Derrick Rose, and Robert Covington. No, the problem hasn’t been how they build a roster it’s been how they build a culture. That is why Jimmy Butler was so enraged, and forced his way out of a situation that on paper should have been a match made in heaven. While attempting to accumulate a talented roster, the front office allowed their youngsters to be comfortable with losing on a regular basis. It’s an issue that would have similarly plagued the Sixers after their years of tanking, except that their new stars were “hurt” and missed out on all of those miserable losses. That isn’t something that is ever going to fly with veterans looking to capture the elusive Larry O’Brien trophy. This whole Jimmy Butler saga in Minneapolis is going to weigh heavily on the minds of star free agents when they’re looking for a place to contend for a championship. So back to the draft the Wolves go, and the first step is finding the right frontcourt mate for Towns. Nobody screams star at this stage of the draft, but maybe PJ Washington can continue his year-to-year growth from college and become a worthwhile starter.
Charlotte Hornets: Big Risk, Big Reward
Make no mistake about it, I think Bol Bol should absolutely be the pick for the Hornets if the Wizards don’t snag him instead. He’s a major risk, but for a franchise without hope for immediate contention why not run the risk here. Like it has been stated so many other times, this is a top heavy draft with significant drop off as we exit the top 3. This far out you’re looking at functional role players or big question marks. There’s no bigger question mark in this draft than the Oregon big man. At his massive size and skill level, some might wonder why he doesn’t slot it a lot higher on everyone’s draft boards. With an already troubling injury history, the big man would scream bust any higher in this draft. But for a team like the Hornets with little to lose, you can risk throwing away the 12th pick on a potential bust. Best case scenario here, Bol becomes your poor-man’s Joel Embiid, and a franchise cornerstone for the post-Kemba era in Charlotte. Which brings me to another point, Kemba Walker is an incredible man for wanting to stay loyal to the team who drafted him even if it means throwing away years of his prime on a perennial lottery squad. But Charlotte needs to do the right thing here and let him walk in the hopes of a better situation. Hey, best case scenario you get some good karma out of this, and can jump to the top of the lottery for 2020!
Miami Heat: Set the Stage for 2020
The first priority for Miami should be to try and move themselves up the ladder in this draft to get a Darius Garland or Jarret Culver if possible. If they can’t do that though, then the next best thing for them would be to just take themselves out of it altogether. The Heat are operating in something of a one year delay to the rest of the NBA’s big markets. While everyone else geared up for this presumed juggernaut of a free agent class, the Heat are actually positioned for a pair of max-contract spots next summer. What better way to entice a class that’ll feature spillover from this year’s free agent crop (a la the now highly coveted 1 year deal) and new market additions (Kyle Lowry, Demar Derozan, Draymond Green, etc.), than with a shiny new asset to come and play with. Regardless here, the Heat’s play in this draft is all about next summer. With a number of teams having built the money to spend this summer, they’ll have to take on sizable deals regardless of whether it’s attached to a big name or not (some of them likely lengthy), so the Heat are slated to be one of very few potential players in the summer of 2020.
The Boston Celtics winter Draft Night in a very different situation than they could’ve possibly expected to be. Their ownership of the Grizzlies pick won’t be conferred until 2021 now because it finished within the top three in 2019 and their debt to the 76ers is to be conferred first in 2020. Their play for Anthony Davis was thwarted by his affinity for major cities, and without pulling him in their play to retain Kyrie Irving has also gone by the wayside. To make matters worse, the C’s are now prepping for life without Al Horford. The big man has arguably been Boston’s most consistent if not best player over the last two seasons, but after restructured-contract talks between the two sides went awry it appears he’ll be searching for a new home this summer. So Boston is now in something of a conundrum. Their roster is still very young and capable of expanding even further given some time to grow, but the culture of winning b-ball in BeanTown is a tried and true tradition. So they enter tonight’s draft in search of a move that’ll give them long term potential and immediate impact. If they can’t jump to Darius Garland territory, I could see them making a play to move out of the draft altogether in exchange for a high-upside big to add to their core.