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David Aldridge

Andrew Wiggins and Marcus Smart
Andrew Wiggins (right) and Marcus Smart are Lottery picks, for sure. Where they'll go? That's anyone's guess.

An annual drill: Believe this Mock Draft at your own risk


Posted Jun 23, 2014 1:14 PM

I begin, again, in protest.

There is nothing dumber, more a waste of our collective brief time on this planet, than a mock Draft. A mock NBA draft, a mock NFL draft, a mock snack foods draft. (Check that last one: I actually did one of these years ago, on Tony Kornheiser's old radio show. I believe I had the third pick overall and took Twinkies, as Ho-Hos and Ring Dings had already been taken.)

The utter folly of trying to guess what any group of people will do, much less a group of people who have lied, been too clever by half, manipulated and massaged the truth to within an inch of its life for months and engaged in deceptive practices -- and those are the GMs, mind you, not the agents -- makes this an insane exercise in futility. (Agent Lying is its own separate sport, with its own rules, like Arena Football is totally different from NFL Football.)

But you like these things. So, there's that.

Now comes 11th hour word of Joel Embiid's not-simple navicular bone stress fracture, and surgery. It's not that the injury or the operation put Embiid's future as a pro in jeopardy; he's young and the assumption is that he'll recover. But Embiid was zeroing in on being the top pick overall, to Cleveland; that is now quite in doubt. Will Embiid fall out of the top three? The top five? Would the Celtics or Lakers try to move up to take him?

Who knows?

But you like these things. So I'll guess.

That leaves the likes of Dante Exum, the Australian teenage prodigy who has played well in, well, Australia, and whose measurables are phenomenal, but who has yet to play much against anyone much older than he. And Julius Randle, the Kentucky freshman, who may or may not need an operation on his foot. No one knows if Randle will go under the knife in a week, a year, or never.

But you like these things. So I'll speculate.

There is no way that Phoenix is going to hold on to all three of its first-rounders. There is no way that Philly, with five second-rounders in its back pocket, won't make a half-dozen deals moving in, out and back out of the end of the first round. There is no way that Chicago or Oklahoma City, respectively, use both of the firsts they currently have.

That means a hundred possible permutations in the first round alone, not to mention your assorted Indianas and Brooklyns that may buy their way into the back end of the first. Which means the picks in a mock draft are utterly meaningless, as you don't know for whom a team is picking.

But you like these things. So I'll debase myself.

Not to mention the fact this is one of those years when a half-dozen teams will move heaven and earth to clear cap space, in Draft night trades that don't seem to make any sense, because of the caliber of free agents that will be available July 1. And they'll offer some of these picks as bait for other teams to take their bad, swollen contracts. As I have no idea which teams will be suckers, I have no idea who'll be taking what picks back.

But you like these things. So I'll laugh at myself.

I went back last year and checked on my success rate in the first round. Thirty picks. Two were correct. Two. That works out to about seven percent right, 93 percent wrong.

Did I mention how much I hate doing mock drafts? There are guys that do seven, eight, 40 mocks, constantly shifting their selections based on what lies they choose to believe from teams, and they still get almost everything wrong.

But you like these things. So I'll humiliate myself.

As ever, the ground rules.

1. I will totally sell out someone at NBA.com when these picks come crashing down to earth, and say he/she ghostpicked for me, and it's their fault I got only two out of 30 right again this season.

2. If I stumble into anything approaching prescience and get more than half of these picks right, I will proclaim myself the seer of seers, and dine out on these wild guesses for years to come!

1) Cleveland

Needs: Small forward, center

Pick: Jabari Parker, SF, Duke

The Cavaliers have gambled on talent over need in two of the last three Drafts. Under new GM David Griffin, the wagering stops. Parker is just too solid and too good to pass up, and will finally fill the Cavs' need at the three. Can't see -- never could, actually -- LeBron coming back to play in Cleveland, and especially for an unknown quantity (his success in Europe nothwithstanding) in the Cavs' new coach, David Blatt. With Parker aboard, that doesn't matter any more.

2) Milwaukee

Needs: Center, frontcourt help

Pick: Dante Exum, PG/SG, Australian Institute of Sport

Could the Bucks upset the apple cart -- and Embiid's uber-agent, Arn Tellem -- by taking Embiid anyway? Even though Tellem made it clear he doesn't want Embiid there? It's possible. But the sense here is that the Bucks will go the safer route. That means either Andrew Wiggins or Exum, and unless the 76ers pay a hefty ransom to move up one spot for Wiggins, I'm guessing the Bucks stay here and take Exum, the Australian teenager who's risen up Draft boards for months. O.J. Mayo, it is safe to say, didn't work out last year at two guard. Bringing in Exum to play on the wings with the Greek Freak, Giannis Antetokounmpo, would give the Bucks a chance to play up-tempo and create more driving lanes for Brandon Knight. Exum's on-ball skills also would help Knight and the Bucks could play a two guard front. Andrew Bogut seemed to do OK with the fan base here coming from Down Under. Why shouldn't Exum?

3) Philadelphia

Needs: Everything but point guard

Pick: Andrew Wiggins, SF, Kansas

The 76ers, I'm sure, are quite tempted, despite his injuries, to take Embiid. That would allow Nerlens Noel to play exclusively at power forward next season. The defensive possibilities with Embiid, Noel and Michael Carter-Williams in a year or two are mouth-watering. But asking Philly fans to be patient for a second year on an injured player is asking too much, even for GM Sam Hinkie's take-it-slow approach. Anyway, the Sixers love Wiggins. He's healthy and his star potential for a team taking the long view toward building a contender is worth waiting for.

4) Orlando

Needs: Scoring, size

Pick: Noah Vonleh, PF, Indiana

The Magic are a prime candidate to try and move up (Exum? Wiggins?) if their first choice is likely to be gone by this pick. They have some assets to use, including Arron Afflalo (the Magic have been rumored as a possible facilitator for a Kevin Love trade to Denver, for example). If they stay here, Vonleh's off-the-charts length would be a terrific complement to Nikola Vucevic's interior play.

5) Utah

Needs: Backcourt/shooting

Pick: Nik Stauskas, SG, Michigan

Of course, the Jazz would love to bring Parker, a Mormon, to Salt Lake City -- not just because he's a Mormon, but because he's a Mormon with mad game. If they can't figure out how to do that, though, Stauskas and his emerging game would be an acceptable fallback. Utah was in the bottom third of the league in 3-pointers made and in 3-point percentage last season; taking Julius Randle here wouldn't make sense, given Utah's commitment to Derrick Favors. Stauskas or Marcus Smart are the likely possibilities, and the choice here is Stauskas.

6) Boston

Needs: Interior presence

Pick: Julius Randle, PF, Kentucky

Does Randle somewhat duplicate Jared Sullinger's game? Yes. But the Celts can't be picky about passing over talent. Randle may have shorter arms than you'd like in a power forward, but he's got grown man moves in the paint. There are legit questions around the league about Randle's defense -- and, more importantly, his right foot, and whether he'll ultimately have to go under the knife. (He and his camp say no. What do you expect them to say?) It is possible Boston could roll the dice here on Embiid if he's still on the board; taking a potential franchise center at six, even if injured, is certainly worth the gamble.

7) L.A. Lakers

Needs: Defense

Pick: Joel Embiid, C, Kansas

If Boston passes on Embiid, the Lakers won't. Whatever you think of Andrew Bynum, L.A. won a title with him, and he had worse medicals coming out of high school than Embiid does now. It's a marriage that makes sense, given Tellem's long-held affinity for the franchise and L.A.'s gaping need to improve at the defensive end. If Embiid's off the board, could see Aaron Gordon here.

8) Sacramento

Needs: Shooting

Pick: Doug McDermott, SF, Creighton

The Kings were 28th in threes made and 3-point percentage this past season. "Dougie McBuckets" can flat-out stroke it, and his performance as one of two college players invited to USA Basketball's senior camp last summer in Vegas (Smart was the other) solidified his standing with NBA types. Sac needs somebody to keep teams from putting a second defender in DeMarcus Cousins' lap.

9) Charlotte (from Detroit)

Needs: Shooting, scoring

Pick: Gary Harris, SG, Michigan State

Harris isn't a knockdown shooter yet, but he's likely to be much better in the pros than in college, and will certainly get some open looks playing off of Al Jefferson. And his defense is first-rate. Can't see Michael Jordan passing on someone with Harris' talents and pedigree.

10) Philadelphia (from New Orleans)

Pick: Aaron Gordon, PF, Arizona

If Philly still has this pick -- and it wouldn't surprise me in the least if they don't -- Gordon's motor would be hard to pass up. Philly fans love passionate, hard-working players, so they'd love Gordon. The jumper is definitely suspect now, but Gordon could provide a half-dozen jaw dropping plays in Philly next season running the floor with Michael Carter-Williams -- assuming MCW is still around.

11) Denver

Needs: Frontcourt depth

Pick: Dario Saric, PF, Cibona

Saric kept his name in the Draft, but there still is no guarantee that the 20-year-old will come over next season from Europe. But the gamble's worth it for the Nuggets. Saric is an off-the-charts talent, and even if he stays overseas another year, he's worth the wait, especially given Denver's uncertainty about what Danilo Gallinari will look like after returning from his ACL injury.

12) Orlando (from New York, Denver)

Needs: Scoring, size

Pick: Marcus Smart, PG, Oklahoma State

It would be more of a surprise if the Magic kept this pick than dealt it. If they keep it, though, Smart is an easy pick to become the heir apparent to Jameer Nelson. Smart's not a great shooter or scorer, but his toughness and leadership skills -- and his size for his position -- will be hard to ignore. Smart could obviously go much higher than this, but this is his absolute floor.

13) Minnesota

Needs: Shooting

Pick: Adreian Payne, PF, Michigan State

Payne's development as a 3-point shooter his junior and senior seasons make him a good fit with the

Wolves. Plus, he gives them badly-needed Love insurance. Payne is a first-rate guy for a franchise that doesn't need any more drama. Whether Love stays this season or not, he's certainly not going to be in Minny for the long haul. Taking Payne now gives the Wolves at least a credible four for the future.

14) Phoenix

Needs: Frontcourt size, depth

Pick: Jusuf Nurkic, C/PF, Cedevita (Turkey)

He's not a fluid athlete in the mold of some of the Suns' other big men, and Phoenix already has a young center in Alex Len. But Nurkic is too physical and imposing to pass on. At worst, he becomes Len's backup and gives Phoenix solid depth at the five spot for the next several seasons. Not bad for the middle of the first round.

15) Atlanta

Needs: Small Forward

Pick: Rodney Hood, SF, Duke

A Danny Ferry-Mike Budenholzer organization is going to value a three man who can shoot. Hood made 42 percent of his 3-pointers in his one season in Durham. While he wasn't as consistent with it as pro scouts would like, he showed he can make enough of them to be worth taking here. Plus, he has significant upside as a wing defender.

16) Chicago (from Charlotte)

Needs: Backcourt depth

Pick: James Young, SG, Kentucky

With the caveat that I don't think the Bulls will keep this pick (they need to shed as much guaranteed money as possible off their cap to max out room for a Carmelo Anthony free-agent bid), Young's offensive skills will be welcomed to whomever Chicago trades this selection. Young is a flat-out scorer in the Nick Young tradition, and putting the ball in the basket is still a valued commodity.

17) Boston (from Brooklyn)

Pick: Shabazz Napier, PG, Connecticut

The Celtics could well be picking for someone else here. Napier has shot up Draft boards ever since his star turn in the NCAA Tournament, and he'll be a strong backup for a good team trading up to this spot. If Boston keeps this pick, it needs a point guard to perhaps replace Rajon Rondo soon. No, I don't believe the pledges of fidelity Rondo and the Celtics have made to one another in the last few months. I'm a bit of a cynic.

18) Phoenix (from Washington)

Pick: T.J. Warren, SF, N.C. State

It's highly doubtful the Suns keep this pick. But if we're going strictly on best player still available at this point, it's Warren. A big-time scorer who will not be taken by teams driven by advanced stats people, but there are still a few dinosaurs out there who aren't horrified by players who score two points at a time rather than three.

19) Chicago

Pick: Zach LaVine, PG, UCLA

See Chicago, Phoenix above. The Bulls will likely not keep this pick. But LaVine has shown historic levels of athletic ability in his pre-Draft workouts. Though his one college season at Westwood was up and down, to say the least, somebody will bite on his amazing physical gifts.

20) Toronto

Needs: Backcourt depth

Pick: Elfrid Payton, PG, Louisiana-Lafayette

If Payton got a Green Room invitation from the league for Draft night, that means it believes he's going in the first round. On a good Raptors team, he should fit in with his on-ball defensive chops and pass-first ways. At worst, he gives Toronto a solid backup for Kyle Lowry -- if the Raps can re-sign him.

21) Oklahoma City (from Dallas, Houston, Lakers)

Needs: Ball movement

Pick: Kyle Anderson, PF, UCLA

The Thunder thrived when James Harden was around. Not because he was a great scorer for OKC; that part of his game was kept under wraps most of the time while he was there. They thrived because of Harden's great passing. With Harden on the ball, defenses had no chance to stop both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook coming off pin downs. Anderson is a power forward in name only; his real position is distributor, as he was for the Bruins. And, at 6-foot-9, he would have passing angles few guards of any size have. OKC desperately needs a player who can contribute without having to shoot. Anderson is that guy.

22) Memphis

Needs: Backup point guard

Pick: Tyler Ennis, PG, Syracuse

With Nick Calathes looking at bigger offers abroad (Panathinkaikos and CSKA Moscow), and still needing to serve the remaining 13 games of his 20-game suspension issued by the NBA last spring, it's in the Grizz's best interests to have a legit backup option for Mike Conley. Ennis is a solid prospect who had an outstanding freshman season for the Orange.

23) Utah (from Golden State)

Pick: Walter Tavares, C, Gran Canaria (Spain)

Once again, it's unlikely the Jazz will keep this pick. (In case you forgot: Brooklyn, Dallas, Detroit, Golden State, Indiana, New Orleans, New York, Portland and Washington currently do not have firsts.) Utah has plenty of young talent. Utah could keep this pick, though, if it was certain that Tavares would stay overseas at least another season. (That appears to be up in the air at the moment.) Otherwise, this is probably someone else's pick. Tavares is raw but he's improving at a rapid rate.

24) Charlotte (from Portland)

Pick: K.J. McDaniels, SG/SF, Clemson

If the Hornets keep this pick, McDaniels would be excellent value here and fit right in with Steve Clifford's defensive ways. If they don't, he'll be a rotation guy for a good team that buys the pick from Charlotte. McDaniels led the ACC in blocked shots last season and has Tony Allen-like potential as an NBA perimeter defender. And as Jim Lynam used to say, McDaniels fills up the box: he was fifth in the ACC in rebounding and seventh in scoring.

25) Houston

Needs: Stretch four, even more shooting

Pick: P.J. Hairston, SG, Texas Legends (NBA D-League)

With the Rockets desperate to clear max cap room to take a run at somebody -- LeBron, Carmelo, Love, take your pick (owner Les Alexander is determined to make another splash and the Rockets don't really care who it is) -- they won't be keeping this pick in all likelihood. Hairston had his issues at North Carolina and left school, but he played very well in the D-League during his stint there and his long-range ability will get him a look from someone. (If Indiana is looking to get into the first and isn't sure it can re-sign Lance Stephenson, Hairston would make an awful lot of sense here for the Pacers.)

26) Miami

Needs: Youth, size

Pick: Mitch McGary, C, Michigan

The Heat may sacrifice this pick if it helps them keep the SuperFriends together, but it's possible to do both. McGary is a big, strong kid whose best basketball is almost certainly in front of him. He could help a Miami team that has to add some young, cheap talent to its roster and desperately needs more frontcourt production.

27) Phoenix (from Indiana)

Pick: Vasilije Micic, PG, Mega Vizura (Serbia)

On the off chance the Suns don't dump this pick, Micic is too good to pass up, even though Phoenix is currently loaded in the backcourt. It also wouldn't hurt to have someone this talented around just in case somebody goes nuts on July and puts an offer sheet on RFA Eric Bledsoe that's too rich for GM Ryan McDonough's blood.

28) L.A. Clippers

Needs: Frontcourt depth

Pick: Clint Capela, PF, Elan Chalon (France)

It's more likely the Clips add the player(s) they need through free agency. They're in win-now mode and a rookie is not likely to crack the 2014-15 rotation. So taking Capela, the 19-year-old Swiss big man who needs to bulk up and who's likely to remain overseas for at least a year, if not longer, would make long-term sense for the Clippers or any other elite team.

29) Oklahoma City

Pick: Jerami Grant, SF, Syracuse

You never say never, but it would be a shock if this remains the Thunder's pick -- unless OKC moves its higher pick first. Grant has the pro pedigree -- son of Harvey, nephew of Horace -- and he became a very hard-working player for Jim Boeheim. He needs to improve his shot but he runs the floor extremely well and will be able to help somebody right away on the second unit.

30) San Antonio

Needs: Depth, more restaurant selections on the Riverwalk

Pick: Glenn Robinson III, SF, Michigan

Given the Spurs' history with rolling sevens late in the first or later in the Draft, this is by no means a throwaway pick. I think San Antonio keeps it because of the relatively minimal guaranteed money involved, and if so, Robinson's got the same kind of potential to help his team out early in his career as his former Wolverines teammate Tim Hardaway, Jr., taken late in the first last year by the Knicks.

DRIBBLES

There are -- I've seen them -- actual unretouched photos of Kawhi Leonard smiling. (See?)

Everybody's happy in San Antonio this morning, with a fifth NBA championship in the books and the hope that Tim Duncan will return for an 18th season next year increasing. Having slayed the Miami dragon, the Spurs can now turn toward history. The only thing the franchise hasn't accomplished during the David Robinson-Duncan Era is repeat as champions.

But while that will be a difficult feat to pull off in the rugged Western Conference, San Antonio has a distinct advantage over just about every team in the league.

Miami will have to navigate the minefield of free agency with its SuperFriends all eligible to opt out. Other teams, like Chicago and Houston, have to make significant moves to clear cap space.

Yet the Spurs march along, their core group already signed for next season. And if history is any indication, San Antonio won't have much problem keeping it together.

For all the success the Spurs have had the last 15 years, their biggest achievement may well be how they've somehow managed to build and maintain a contending team, year in and out, without paralyzing themselves financially.

San Antonio has made a science out of somehow getting Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker to take less than they'd get on the open market, contract after contract. They're not playing for the minimum; each has made more than $100 million over the years. But they've also walked away from more, doing on multiple occasions what the SuperFriends did once in 2010 in order to keep playing together.

"I don't know how they've done that," said Lon Babby, Duncan's former longtime agent and now the president of the Phoenix Suns.

"In Tim's case, it was genuinely more important to him to be in a situation where he thought he could win than anything else," Babby said. "That's the reality of it. He knew he was being well-compensated and he wasn't spending any money. That's what motivated him. He kind of invented that Miami scenario before Miami did. It just wasn't as prominent. It was a different time and a different place and a different personality."

The Spurs have two free agents from their core group to re-sign starting next week: Boris Diaw and Patty Mills. No one expects Diaw to leave, given his lifelong friendship with Parker and his total embrace of San Antonio's pass-first system. Mills is likely to return as well.

During Robinson-Duncan, the Spurs have only given out one full-blown max deal, signing Duncan to a seven-year deal in 2003 worth $122 million. Other than one three-year max extension each for Duncan and Ginobili during their careers, the Big Three have left money on the table.

But, why?

"Everybody asks me that," Parker told me nearly two years ago. "I was talking with a couple of my friends and they were asking that. I was like, I don't know. I think it's just the atmosphere here, the family atmosphere.

"For me personally, why I did it was because, deep down in my heart I know Pop will take care of me until the end of my career. So that's why I felt like I can take less now and help the team out. And we were able to sign Danny [Green] and Boris. And I know when I get a little bit older, I know Pop will take care of me. I really feel that."

It is true: the Spurs don't forget their own. Robinson now owns a piece of the team. Sean Elliott is the team's color commentator on its TV broadcasts. Numerous former players have wound up on the bench as assistant coaches, the latest being Sean Marks and Ime Udoka. Even people with no current affiliation with the team, like former forward/center Fabricio Oberto, were around during The Finals and welcomed like long lost relatives.

It starts, as so many things in San Antonio have since 1997, with Duncan.

Duncan, famously, spurned Orlando's six-year offer in the summer of 2000 to remain in San Antonio, signing a three-year deal for $32.6 million, the most the Spurs could offer. It was the closest Duncan ever came to leaving the Spurs, so enticed was he by the idea of playing next to Grant Hill. Desperate entreaties from Robinson and Popovich saved the day.

"It was close. It was extremely close," Babby said. "It was David Robinson calling and saying, 'What are you doing? We just won a championship.' And it was his belief in Pop. But we engaged in the process. It wasn't just for show. And they were sufficiently worried."

After winning another championship in 2003, Duncan finally cashed in, for the maximum $122 million. But in 2007, Duncan negotiated a two-year extension to follow the last three years of the max deal. As the invaluable Mark Deeks points out here, Duncan could have signed a three-year extension for more than $76 million, or a two-year extension worth almost $49 million. Instead, he took a two-year extension for $40 million.

Parker and Ginobili have given the Spurs similar hometown discounts.

Parker got a six-year extension in 2004 for $66 million -- outstanding money for a then 22-year-old who had split time with Speedy Claxton in the 2003 Finals a year earlier. (That same summer of '04, Steve Nash signed with the Suns for five years and $65 million, a better average per year than Parker, but not ridiculously more.)

But Parker chose to sign another extension in 2010 rather than test free agency. Back then, he was 28, a Finals MVP, a three-time NBA champion and a three-time All-Star. If ever a guy could have been wined and dined and gotten the max, it was Parker. Yet he chose the security of a four-year, $50 million extension that runs through next season. Again: not chump change. But he didn't hold the Spurs hostage for the absolute max.

In 2012, James Harden signed a max deal with the Rockets after being traded by Oklahoma City. And I wondered why Parker never demanded the max from the Spurs.

"On the one hand, you can take less money like I did, like what Manu did, and stay with a winning team," Parker said then. "Or you can do your own thing and be your own man, like [Tracy] McGrady, and try to be a superstar and want to make the All-Star team, and [Harden] decided to do that. I wish him luck. Both ways, you can't go wrong. It depends who you want to be."

Ginobili has been even more generous. After getting his first big deal, a $52 million extension in 2004, he took a three-year extension for $39 million during the 2009-10 season rather than play out his existing contract and try free agency later that summer. Now, at the time, Ginobili was coming off an injury-plagued few seasons, and taking the security of a deal with people you knew may have been the smart move.

Yet after showing he could still play at a high level again, Ginobili signed a two-year deal with the Spurs for $14.5 million last summer.

"He could have said 'Herb, I don't want this. I don't want to take half of my salary,' " Ginobili's longtime agent, Herb Rudoy, said Sunday. "He never said that. He said 'I'll sign this.' For the good of the team. Years ago, he could have gone to Denver or Utah for a lot more money, but he never even thought about it."

By taking less, Ginobili allowed the Spurs to be able to comfortably sign free agent guard Marco Belinelli, who helped San Antonio stay atop the West during the regular season, while Parker and Leonard missed significant time with injuries.

Rudoy credits Ginobili's presence on the celebrated Argentina teams -- the "Golden Generation" -- that won Olympic gold in 2004, the silver at the World Championships in 2002 and a bronze in the Beijing Games in 2008, as part of the reason Ginobili so values team over individual accomplishments. The other part, Rudoy said, is Buford.

"R.C. gets a lot of credit for it," Rudoy said. "He has really paid attention to the psyche of all his players."

Babby also cites the Spurs' organizational approach as central to understanding why players, literally, give back.

"In 1999, they won the championship in New York at the Garden," he said. "They always took great care of me, and that was something I learned, how attentive they were to everyone -- to families, to agents, and I've tried to do that here [in Phoenix].

"If Tim twisted an ankle in a game, they would call me, so if Tim's family heard about it and called me, I could tell them what had happened. So they win the championship in the fifth game, and I'm right behind the bench, right behind the basket. And the players are going crazy in the middle.

"And there's Pop, sitting on the scorer's table, just watching them in the middle, not trying to be a part of it. Fast forward 17 years later, and you don't see Pop, you don't see R.C. Buford, just standing back, understanding that the players are responsible for it."

In the front of that celebration last week was Leonard, named Finals MVP.

Popovich has consistently maintained that Leonard has star potential, calling him the future face of the franchise after Duncan retires. Leonard certainly displayed some of that potential in last year's Finals against the Heat. But it was cemented in this year's series -- which was all the more impressive because it basically came in the last three games of the series; Leonard scored nine points apiece in Games 1 and 2.

But the star turn sets up, potentially, an interesting negotiation down the road between Leonard and the team.

As part of the 2011 Draft class, Leonard will be eligible for a contract extension beginning July 1 for five or six seasons. The Spurs would have until the end of October to work out the extension. If they don't, Leonard would become a restricted free agent that summer. The Spurs would still be able to match any offer he'd receive from another team.

It's a near certainty, though, that the Spurs will work something out with Leonard's representative well before then. The only question is for how much.

The Spurs picked up their fourth-year option on Leonard last fall, locking him in for the 2014-15 season at a criminally low $3.05 million for a Finals MVP. Such are the advantages for a team when a young player vastly outplays his contract. (And you wonder why players balk at rookie wage scales and maximum salaries for superstars!)

The Spurs can negotiate one of two possible deals with Leonard.

The first is the normal four-year extension for which players on their rookie deals are eligible. Under the CBA rules, a player on his rookie deal with six or fewer seasons in the league can get an extension following the fifth year of his rookie deal for up to 25 percent of a team's salary cap in the first year of the new deal (though, for reasons only known to the lawyers, the player actually receives a little less than 25 percent, even though it says 25 percent in the CBA. Don't ask why.)

The league's current cap projection for that season is $66.5 million, representing increased revenues from all areas of Basketball Related Income, including ticket sales, local television deals and other areas. (Salary cap expert Larry Coon speculated last April that Brooklyn's move to Brooklyn and Barclays Center provided a huge revenue bump.)

Based on that 2015-16 cap projection, San Antonio could -- could -- offer Leonard a maximum four-year extension beginning in 2016-17. Twenty-five percent would be $16.625 million (though, as noted above, the actual outlay would be slightly less than that; for the purposes of this exercise, though, we'll work off the $16.625 million.) With annual 7.5 percent raises based on that first-year salary, Leonard could get an extension for just under $74 million. Add the existing fifth year of his rookie deal, when Leonard will make $4.268 million, and the total of the new contract would be $78.2 million. (Again, it would actually be slightly less.)

The Spurs could also offer Leonard a "designated player" extension running five years after the last year of his rookie deal. Teams are allowed to pick -- designate -- one player on their roster during the current CBA to get an extension with that crucial extra year. Once a team uses the designated player extension, it can't use it again during the length of the CBA -- though it can trade for one player who got a designated player extension from another team. This was the genesis of Minnesota's problems with Kevin Love -- the Wolves offered Love the standard four-year extension instead of the designated one, saving that for Ricky Rubio.

So far, six teams -- Chicago (Derrick Rose), Oklahoma City (Russell Westbrook), Houston (Harden), Indiana (Paul George), the Clippers (Blake Griffin) and Washington (John Wall) -- have used the designated player extension.

(There's also that 30 percent max criteria stuff in which a player on his rookie deal can get even more in an extension if he's voted to start two All-Star teams while on his rookie deal, is named first, second or third All-NBA twice or is named league MVP. Only the latter is still possible for Leonard now, and it's so unlikely that it's not really worth exploring.)

Cap room will not be an issue for the Spurs in 2015-16, when Duncan, Parker and Ginobili all come off the books. Only Tiago Splitter, at $8.5 million, is currently under contract. Of course, it's a near-certainty that Parker will get one more significant contract, and Ginobili and Duncan might still be around, too. But they'll make a lot less money than they do now. There would be plenty of room for a big Leonard deal.

The obvious comparison for Leonard is Paul George, who got a $90.6 million designated player exception from the Pacers last summer. George went 10th in the 2010 Draft, a year before Leonard. (By being named all-NBA third team for a second time this season, George is eligible for the 30 percent max instead of 25 percent.) George is the face of Indiana's future, just as Leonard represents San Antonio's.

But how will the Spurs handle it? Will they pay in full, or point back to their championship past, when their stars, so often, took a little less off the top? And what will Leonard say if they make that request?

"A lot of people ask me, 'How are you so successful in San Antonio?' " Parker said in 2012. "Because, I say, we did a lot of sacrifice. When you look at Manu, Manu did a lot of sacrifice to stay here. I did the same thing. Sometimes when you want to win championships, you have to do that."

TOP O' THE WORLD, MA!

(Final 2013-14 rankings)

1) San Antonio (62-20, won NBA championship): The ultimate triumph of mental toughness and teamwork overcoming age and crippling doubt after losing a title in the toughest way possible a year ago.

2) Miami (54-28, lost NBA Finals): Four years after The Decision, The Shoe, as they like to say in Cleveland, is on the other foot.

3) Oklahoma City (59-23, lost Western Conference finals): The trajectory between the Thunder and the 1980s Bulls -- not the Bulls teams who ultimately won six championships, but the teams that kept bumping up against Boston and Detroit in the playoffs, but couldn't break through -- is striking in its similarity. But does Kevin Durant have yet another gear to go to, as Michael Jordan ultimately displayed?

4) Indiana (56-26, lost Eastern Conference finals): Is it outside the realm of possibility that the Pacers' front office reaches out to free agent Danny Granger and tries to bring him back? Way crazier things have happened.

5) L.A. Clippers (57-25, lost second round): A stealth candidate for the LeBrons and Carmelos and Loves. But it will cost them DeAndre Jordan at minimum.

6) Brooklyn (44-38, lost second round): Andray Blatche opts out, and that could hurt more than you'd think at first blush.

7) Washington (44-38, lost second round): The sweet spot for Marcin Gortat's new contract would seem to fall somewhere between Minnesota's Nikola Pekovic (making $12 million per year on his new deal, signed last summer) and Tyson Chandler (a little less than $14 million per year).

8) Portland (54-28, lost second round): Do Blazers stand pat, or use some of their depth to try and make a bold move to bring a third All-Star in for Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge?

9) Houston (54-28, lost first round): If Dwight Howard and James Harden struggled to find continuity on offense, how would bringing in Carmelo make things easier? Houston's fascination with him doesn't make sense, given its roster. Now, Kevin Love? He makes sense.

10) Toronto (48-34, lost first round): Raps have a decent shot at keeping Kyle Lowry, but there will be suitors -- and the Lakers are at the top of the list.

11) Memphis (50-32, lost first round): Memphis Commerical Appeal reports a deal for Zach Randolph looks increasingly likely.

12) Dallas (49-33, lost first round): Can't imagine Mavericks won't buy their way into the first round, with all those picks in the bottom 10 of the first available.

13) Golden State (51-31, lost in first round): Hearing Suns' Channing Frye will definitely opt out of his deal (player option for 2014-15 at $6.8 million). If that happens, I'm sure the Warriors will go hard after him, and that he'd be interested. There's mutual respect between Frye and Steve Kerr.

14) Charlotte (43-39, lost first round): Seriously, who does Patrick Ewing have to kill to get a head coaching job?

15) Atlanta (38-44, lost first round): The Hawks are sitting on a lot of cap room. Don't be surprised if the sneaky little devils get in on some Draft night action.

NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT ...

What was that all about, Riles?

Pat Riley's season-ending media availability last Thursday was certainly not dull.

He was profane, testy, chesty, historical, wistful -- but not at all shy about laying down his cards for LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. You have something special here, he intimated over and over. You are promised nothing. But if you want a chance at greatness, you have to stick around in the tough times.

Well ... didn't Pat Riley leave New York for Miami after the Knicks lost the 1995 Eastern Conference finals? As was, you must add quickly, his perfect right to do. But, it's relevant.

And, to be fair, Riley said, over and over Thursday, that his SuperFriends have every right to explore free agency. But he also made his position clear: the Heat have won two titles and made four straight Finals with this group. With a little "tinkering," as Riley put it, he thinks they can win even more.

"Well, I'm an Irish guy that believes in big dreams," Riley said late in the availability, after he'd calmed down a bit. "I'm optimistic."

His words weren't exactly new to the trio and their camps, I'm certain. Riley's is the only voice of the Heat organization, and no one with a brain believes he was winging it out there last week. That's why I continue to believe the chances of the SuperFriends returning to Miami are much greater than the chances of any of them leaving -- voluntarily, at least. To know Riley, even a little, is to know that he's war-gamed a dozen different scenarios for July 1, each designed to make sure his king never gets exposed.

But James is, at 29, a fully formed man, in all ways -- physically, emotionally, monetarily. He is more in charge of the NBA's future now than he was in 2010, when The Decision became the last poor decision he made. And Riley knows it. He pulled the ultimate straight flush then to bring championship starpower to Miami. Now, he has to do it again, for bigger stakes.

More than ever, James can shift the balance of power in the NBA in any direction he chooses. If he were to go West, the Eastern Conference would become a free for all. What team wouldn't go all in to try and win now, knowing that Miami was done, leaving only the shaky Pacers as a standard bearer?

Those heavily-parsed comments James made on the off day before Game 5 of The Finals, when he said his two championships have helped him achieve a peace of mind he may not have had before, should weigh heavy in Biscayne Bay. There's no doubt that James and his family are comfortable in Miami, and could continue to be.

But he's also a grown man now, free to be happy wherever happiness is. And that certainly makes a return to Cleveland, if not likely, certainly something that can't be dismissed out of hand. No one should doubt that James loves his hometown of Akron.

James has maximum leverage now, and if he squeezes Miami a little, makes it plain that he needs to see some improvement in the roster before committing to an extension, that's how you play hardball. Riles knows this better than anyone. He played the Cavaliers' inability to surround James with championship-caliber talent into his own dream team. Just bringing that same trio back isn't going to be good enough for James going forward.

There's no doubt that James respects Wade, and what he's done to stay on the court. But James is a student of the game, too, and he knows what he saw in The Finals.

Wade killed himself to be ready this season. The Heat did everything it could this year to make sure Wade was fresh for a deep playoff run. Miami had as easy a trip to the Finals as a team could have. And Wade still struggled in the Finals. Yes, San Antonio's defense was outstanding. But Wade has faced outstanding defenses before. He had no response this time.

Wade will be in the Heat organization for life. No one doubts that. But what will Riley pay him next season? No one knows. Yet.

Even if Wade returns to form next season, the Heat's bench is in desperate need of an upgrade. Mike Miller was amnestied, Shane Battier is retiring, and Michael Beasley and Greg Oden gave Miami nothing when it mattered. Chris Andersen was hurt, true, and is still valuable. But that's about it -- even though Miami's high on the future of swingman James Ennis, picked up in a Draft night trade last year from Atlanta. But there are big holes to fill.

Not to mention: What will the Heat offer starting point guard Mario Chalmers, a free agent to be, after his dreadful Finals performance? If they seek an upgrade, how much would that cost?

Riley has to answer all of these questions, and in a hurry. He's got goodwill and a bunch of rings as collateral, and he's got an obvious trump card if he can bag Carmelo Anthony. (The Bulls, who always seem to be runners-up in the free agent pageant, need to win one of these things for once.) But Riley has already asked James, Wade and Bosh to take a pay cut once to play with one another. Getting a second sacrifice will take all of his powers of persuasion. And James may be harder to reach through those billion-dollar headphones this time.

... AND NOBODY ASKED YOU, EITHER

It's like asking what my favorite Two Live Crew album is. From Jose Cuellar:

Do you think this Spurs team is one of the top 5 teams ever? Not talking about the dynasty but just this year specifically.

Well, Jose, I'd probably say no. I figure we can all agree that the 1995-'96 Bulls team that went 72-10 in the regular season and went 15-3 in the playoffs, beating Seattle 4-2 in The Finals, was the best team of all time, right? (Right?) And Chicago defended its championship the following season with a 69-13 regular season, followed by a 15-3 postseason and a six-game win over Utah in the Finals.

The '71-'72 Lakers that went 69-13 in the regular season -- including the NBA single season record 33 straight wins -- and easily dispatched the Knicks in five games in The Finals would be a top-three all-time team, to me.

Then there was the '67 Sixers team that went 68-13 and won it all for GM Jack Ramsey and Coach Alex Hannum. There's Boston's '85-'86 team that went 67-15 in the regular season and 15-3 in the playoffs en route to the title and the '86-'87 Lakers, who went 65-17/12-3 before beating Boston in six games in the Finals.

And Milwaukee went 66-16/12-2 in 1970-'71 with a young Lew Alcindor and soon-to-be Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson. I would pick those seven teams over this year's Spurs, but after that, San Antonio is next; in fact, this may be the best Spurs team ever. That means I consider this year's Spurs team one of the top eight or nine (I'm sure I'm forgetting somebody) single-season teams of all time. (I await the e-mails and Tweets on how I'm "dissing" the Spurs.)

In the same way you'd advise, say, Kerry Washington to leave her husband and come "vacation" with you in the South of France. Because it's good for her! From Terence Stoeckert:

Some thoughts for LeBron James.

Opt out. Sign a one year contract with the Knicks for whatever they can pay, probably the mini mid-level. Take out an insurance contract against a career-ending injury. Next year he and 'Melo can sign max or near-max contracts and the Knicks would still have room left to bring in another solid player or two. LeBron would sacrifice perhaps $20 million this year, but easily make that up and more in extra endorsements over coming years. He would certainly sacrifice less than he would by signing a long-term contract for under $14 million with Anthony, Wade and Bosh in Miami.

At this point, he doesn't owe Wade, Bosh or Miami anything. Why, you ask? Many reasons. First, LeBron and Melo with the rest of the current Knicks roster immediately becomes better than Miami with a worn out Wade and the usual Bosh. Likely the Knicks would be favorites in the East. Certainly LeBron cannot be happy at the moves Miami made to avoid the luxury tax this season, giving up Miller and Joel Anthony for no return. One thing about the Knicks, you know they will spend whatever the rules allow for players without concern for the luxury tax.

As for rings and legacy, would success in, say Houston, or Dallas, have the same impact as success in New York? A New York-centric point of view? Of course. Would you prefer maybe a Houston-centric point of view?

I love how fans can talk themselves into taking any position if it benefits their team. Yes, LeBron could sign with the Knicks using one of the exceptions they'd have available. He could sign with the Kings for the vet minimum, too. Why would he do as you suggest when he could re-sign for several million more than you suggest in Miami and play with Carmelo, Wade and Bosh? Or sign with the Bulls for millions more and play with Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and (maybe) Taj Gibson? Or sign with the Rockets and play with James Harden, Dwight Howard and a freshly re-signed Chandler Parsons?

Next thing you're going to tell me, McCartney was in a band before Wings. From Toney Cobb:

Liddy actually "stole" that candle line from Lawrence of Arabia...just happens to be my favorite movie :-)

Are you telling me that G. Gordon Liddy, who was convicted of conspiracy, burglary and bugging the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee, and who served four-plus years for said crimes, was a dishonest person? Elizabeth, this is the big one! I'm comin' to join you, honey!

Send your questions, comments, criticisms and delayed gratifications for Michelle Wie to daldridgetnt@gmail.com. If your e-mail is sufficiently funny, thought-provoking, well-written or snarky, we just might publish it!

BY THE NUMBERS

55 -- Age of new Cavaliers coach David Blatt, who finally has his chance at an NBA job after more than a decade coaching for several teams in Europe, including Russia's bronze medal-winning team at the London Olympics in 2012.

9 -- NBA teams that have won championships since 1980. The Spurs' fifth title brings the franchise within one of Chicago's six rings, currently good for third all-time behind Boston (17 championships) and the Lakers (16). Only 17 of the league's 30 teams have won even one title, and just 10 teams have won more than one.

$3.2 -- Million. Sale price for the Lake Shore Drive penthouse formerly owned by Michael and Juanita Jordan. Juanita Jordan, Michael Jordan's ex-wife, sold the downtown Chicago property last week to an unnamed buyer. The Jordans divorced in 2006 and Juanita Jordan received the penthouse, covering two floors of the building.

I'M FEELIN' ...

1) Not one, not two, not three, not four ...

2) Tyronn Lue didn't get the Cavaliers' coaching job, but being a finalist there augers well for the 37-year-old, who will go back to being a top lieutenant for Doc Rivers in L.A. next season. It is encouraging to see an African-American who wasn't a star player be thought of as a future coach. That is progress.

3) Okay, Hornets, I can live with these, especially the purple joints. Nicely done.

4) The legendary Dick "Hoops" Weiss details how USA Basketball has made national team participation matter all the way down to the high school level, ensuring what Hoops calls a "titanium pipeline" of future Senior Team participants.

5) Clint Dempsey almost had the stomach to push the United States to the knockout round, didn't he? (Thank you. I'll be here all week. Try the veal.)

6) As someone who's never shot 78 anywhere on earth during two-plus decades of hacking up golf courses around the world, the fact that 11-year-old Lucy Lee did so in the first round of the U.S. Open last Thursday ... I don't know how to process that.

NOT FEELIN' ...

1) You feel terrible, of course, for Baylor center Isaiah Austin, who will have to stop playing basketball after being diagnosed with Marfan syndrome just before the Draft. (Austin was projected as a second-round pick.) The young man has already been through so much, having lost the sight in his right eye at 16. But I am old enough to remember several basketball players in the '80s who dropped dead playing pickup games, and only after their deaths were found to have Marfan, which often leads to enlarged hearts in taller athletes. (The great volleyball star Flo Hyman, considered by many the greatest player the United States has ever produced, collapsed and died soon after coming out of a match in 1986. Her autopsy revealed a ruptured aorta caused by Marfan.) So while Austin is no doubt disappointed he won't be in the NBA, he has a chance to live a long, productive life because of an early diagnosis. A fair trade.

2) I think I'm fairly sensitive when it comes to matters of race. And so I'm fairly confident in saying I think this is a really poor attempt to make the Spurs' Finals win, somehow, about race and racism. Anyone who think praise of San Antonio's playing style is code for "Miami plays street ball" is really, really reaching, and wrong. First, Miami -- led by LeBron James, who regularly is excoriated for passing the ball to teammates instead of shooting it himself -- has been an outstanding team the last three years, moving the ball consistently and brilliantly to find the open man en route to winning two titles. Second, Kawhi Leonard is, the last time I checked, an African-American. So is Danny Green. Tim Duncan is from the U.S. Virgin Islands -- and is an African-American citizen. And Tony Parker has a black father and a white mother, and...so what? The Spurs have a great, great story to tell -- a multicultural story in which players from all over the world, and the United States, came together to play great, great basketball. Anyone who ascribes appreciation of that to running down African-American players or their supposed "style" of play is looking for a reason to bring race and/or prejudice to a subject where they don't belong.

3) I am no expert on soccer. But that was a brutal last 10 seconds Sunday afternoon, wasn't it?

4) In the wake of Tony Gwynn's death, Major League Baseball must be proactive, and it must get rid of smokeless tobacco in its clubhouses and dugouts. To argue that there's no definitive link between smokeless and cancer is to have one's head in the sand.

5) Whatever side you're on with regard to the Redskins name issue -- and, as a fan of the team since I was five, I am genuinely wrestling with it -- this is compelling, persuasive opinion writing.

TWEET OF THE WEEK

he wasn't good enough for you to stay though huh
-- Nuggets forward Wilson Chandler (@wilsonchandler), Thursday, 5:02 p.m., to former teammate Andre Iguodala, who had just tweeted praise to Denver's longtime strength coach, Steve Hess. Iguodala left the Nuggets last summer to sign a free agent contract with the Warriors. Chandler later Tweeted it was "all jokes" and that he, of course, loves Iguodala.

THEY SAID IT

"I feel like he could get stronger, in my opinion. I think that would help him a lot. I told him all the good and great players that played the game, from Jordan, Kobe, LeBron, they all put size on them, and it helped them."
--Thunder center Kendrick Perkins, to The Oklahoman, on what he thinks teammates Kevin Durant can do this summer to add to his game for next season.

"He may not remember, but I talked to him last year about adding to the pot and we call it corporate equity. When you are able to build a relationship, whether it's working in the gym or being in the city of New Orleans as a representative of our team. He's been phenomenal in those areas, so he's building equity with me."
--Pelicans Coach Monty Williams, to the New Orleans Times Picayune, on why he's pleased that guard Tyreke Evans is rehabbing following arthroscopic surgery at the team's practice facility in Metarie instead of out of town.

"I'm a big fan of the Bucks, I have been for a long time. Love going to the games. They've been great to me. I'm excited about the new ownership and it seems like they have the desire to keep the team in the area. But I've been a fan for a while."
-- Green BayPackers QB Aaron Rodgers, to Milwaukee reporters, who were asking about the possibility of Rodgers joining the Bucks' ownership group as a minority investor. Rodgers has been rumored to be one of several people who could join majority owners Marc Lasry and Wesley Edens in the investment group.

Longtime NBA reporter and columnist David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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