This morning's headlines:
- Celtics reportedly trade top pick to Sixers
- Trading top pick risky business for both sides
- Lakers locked in on Ball
- Bulls prepared to stray from usual Draft plan
No. 1: Celtics trade top pick to Sixers -- The Celtics and Sixers will swap positions in Thursday's Draft after agreeing on a deal that is not expected to shake things up, in terms of the player expected to go off the board first. Washington guard Markelle Fultz is still the likely No. 1 pick. But instead of joining a crowded backcourt rotation in Boston, he'll become the new point guard of the future in Philly. Our David Aldridge explains the motives of all involved:
The Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics have agreed on a deal that will send the No. 1 overall pick in next Thursday’s Draft to Philly in exchange for the third overall pick and at least one future first-round pick, per a league source. Barring some 11th-hour change of heart, the deal is set to be finalized on Monday.
Acquiring the first pick will allow the Sixers to take University of Washington freshman guard Markelle Fultz, considered by many to be the top point guard prospect in the Draft. Fultz worked out for the 76ers in Philadelphia on Saturday as the two sides got close to agreement on a deal; the 76ers’ agreement was contingent on getting clearance from their medical staff after reviewing Fultz’s physicals and getting other medical information on the 19-year-old.
Boston will receive the third overall pick in Thursday’s Draft, which will still allow the Celtics to choose—if they keep the pick—from a group of quality prospects. Either Kansas forward Josh Jackson or UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball will be available at three, along with other talents like Duke freshman forward Jayson Tatum, Kentucky freshman point guard De’Aaron Fox and Florida State freshman forward Jonathan Isaac.
The Celtics will also get at least one future first-round pick from Philadelphia, believed at present to be the unprotected 2018 first-rounder the 76ers will receive next year from the Lakers, via the Suns, as part of a three-team deal in 2015 between Philly, Milwaukee and Phoenix. The 76ers got the 2018 first from the Suns in a deal that sent Michael Carter-Williams from Philly to Milwaukee, and guard Brandon Knight from Milwaukee to Phoenix. The Suns had originally acquired the pick from Los Angeles as part of the trade in 2012 that sent Steve Nash to the Lakers.
Boston will thus have at least two potential lottery picks in 2018—the Celtics already have Brooklyn’s unprotected first-round pick next year—along with 2019 first-rounders from the Clippers and Memphis. That haul will give the Celtics an opportunity to package all those firsts and make a run at an established star player to go with their current core group, featuring All-Stars Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford, and second-year forward Jaylen Brown. The Celtics had discussions with both the Pacers and Bulls before the trade deadline last February on Paul George and Jimmy Butler, but couldn’t come up with a deal. Many around the league believe Boston will take another crack at Butler this offseason; the Celtics would still be able to create enough cap room even if they got Butler to make a max offer to an unrestricted free agent this summer. Boston has been linked to both Utah’s Gordon Hayward and the Clippers’ Blake Griffin for months.
No. 2: Trading top pick risky business for both sides -- The risk and reward of gambling on the first pick in Thursday's Draft is not lost on any of the decision makers in Boston or Philadelphia. Celtics boss Danny Ainge is known for making moves that shake up the basketball world, as are his counterparts, the Colangelos, running the show for the Sixers. We won't know for sure who wins out in this case for perhaps years to come. But assessing those risks is something Bob Ford of the Philadelphia Inquirer is taking care of on the front end:
The practice of trading away the top pick in the NBA draft, or being caught in the vortex of such a move, is perilous business, and few franchises have more firsthand experience with that than the 76ers.
By Thursday night, we’ll know for sure if the potential trade between the Sixers and Celtics, which would send the No. 1 pick to Philadelphia and the No. 3 pick, along with other as-yet unspecified assets, to Boston, becomes a reality. There is still a lot that could derail the deal, including an agreement on the compensation, and the pesky fact that another team sits between them on the draft board with the ability to muck things up.
Having been on both ends before, even if the previous administrations are long gone, the Sixers are playing it cool and keeping their options open. They worked out Markelle Fultz on Saturday after the University of Washington point guard was diverted from Boston like a plane searching for a runway. If Fultz, a ball-dominant guard proficient at the pick-and-roll game that dominates the NBA and the possessor of a very good outside shot, becomes their pick, the Sixers will have to scrap the notion of playing Ben Simmons on the ball. They might accept that readily should they believe Fultz is that good, but there’s no question that will be a collateral result.
Seismic shifts always seem to accompany this sort of move. The Sixers made the worst mistake in franchise history when they traded the top pick in 1986 (Brad Daugherty) for Roy Hinson in a draft-day disaster that included packaging Moses Malone to Washington for Jeff Ruland. Even with Charles Barkley on the roster for much of the next decade, it took at least that long to recover – with the selection of Allen Iverson – and in some ways it really never recovered.
The Celtics, by contrast, did pretty well when they traded away the No. 1 pick in 1980, sending it to Golden State along with the No. 13 pick in exchange for the No. 3 pick and center Robert Parish. The third pick became Kevin McHale, while the top pick, Joe Barry Carroll, became a poster boy for failed potential.
The most direct comparison to the current situation, however, was in 1993, when the Orlando Magic, holding the top pick, got into a trade discussion with the Warriors, who were sitting at No. 3. In between, in the position where the Lakers are now, were the Sixers with the second pick.
Let’s assume, as has been reported by various Boston sources, that the Celtics are setting their sights on Kansas forward Josh Jackson, but felt they could move back and still get him, figuring on Fultz to the Sixers and UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball to the Lakers. Moving back does several things for the Celtics. It gets them future assets, probably from the sack of first-rounders the Sixers hold, and it gets them a few million dollars in cap relief by not having to pay the top pick. As Boston marshals its funds for free-agent offers – and, sure, Gordon Hayward is a logical bet there – that will be useful.
But what if the Lakers, happy enough to stick with D’Angelo Russell at the point, are planning to either take Jackson for themselves, or take him in order to hold him hostage from the Celtics? Rather than simply selecting Ball, Magic Johnson could grab Jackson and force Boston to draft Ball, swap the players, and then fork over those future picks they just acquired from the Sixers. You can be very sure Danny Ainge, whatever his faults, is not going to walk into that one with his eyes closed.
In 1993, Orlando was stone in love with Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway, and Golden State, coached by the iconoclastic Don Nelson, wanted to sneak up and grab 7-foot-6 center Shawn Bradley, whom Nelly saw as a game-changer. I know, I know. Don’t get me started. At the time, however, Bradley was touted as freakishly athletic and versatile for a man his size. Frank Layden, the portly Utah Jazz general manager who watched Bradley closely at Brigham Young, liked to point out that Bradley wasn’t just an erector set. He could water-ski and play baseball and ride horses. NBA scout Gary Fitzsimmons said, “I don’t know what that means. If you told me Frank Layden could ride a horse, I know what I’d do. I’d draft the horse.”
No. 3: Lakers locked in on Ball -- While the Celtics and Sixers shake up the Draft order, the Los Angeles Lakers appear to be settling in with their choice at No. 2 in Thursday's Draft. UCLA guard Lonzo Ball has long been the name most associated with that pick for the hometown team. And as longtime Lakers observer Mark Heisler of the Daily News reports, they are locked in on Ball, for better or worse:
To Ball or not to Ball? For the Lakers, that is the question.
Unfortunately for Lonzo and his father, LaVar, who announced the Lakers are their best fit, they’re not running the draft. Magic Johnson is and he has questions about Lonzo, not to mention the three-ring circus around him with LaVar as ringmaster.
If this is Lonzo’s pro debut, it’s Magic’s, too, as head of the Lakers’ basketball operation. For Lonzo, it’s win-win since he’ll go high to someone. For Magic, it’s excruciating with the dire impact that being wrong would take on the once-proud/now-raggedy franchise.
On the plus side for the Lakers, before Johnson got lucky — or Magical — they had a 58-percent chance of not being in the lottery or in the first round of the 2019 draft. By that standard, this is gravy.
By any other standard, it’s a tough call.
It’s not Lonzo or bust in this extraordinarily deep draft. There’s usually a dropoff after the top one or two players, but not this year. “In a normal year, four players in this draft could have gone No. 1,” a GM told me last week, naming Washington’s Markelle Fultz, Ball, Kansas’ Josh Jackson and Duke’s Jayson Tatum in that order.
That’s Josh Jackson, the Kansas small forward whom the Lakers were reportedly taking a closer look at. He’s a can’t-miss prospect in his own right, a more slender, more skilled version of Andrew Wiggins.
The GM hotline still has the Lakers taking Lonzo, who is harder to evaluate as prospects go, but is, all agree, a gifted playmaker, not to mention a point guard, which the Lakers need.
No, D’Angelo Russell isn’t a point guard, even if he plays there, however imperfectly, after converting to the position in his one season at Ohio State.
It remains to be seen just what D’Angelo is. Insiders say immaturity remains an issue, as do party lights, even if he didn’t out any more teammates for infidelity this season.
For all the Lakers’ devotion to “our young players,” Coach Luke Walton is said to have tired of post-adolescent hijinks. I didn’t hear who, specifically, he was down on, but the one he likes best is Brandon Ingram, the youngest of them.
Other young Lakers might be expendable, more so with Magic expected to make a run at Indiana’s Paul George, a 2018 free agent whom the Pacers are open to moving for prospects — such as, say, D’Angelo.
For better or worse, it would be hard to believe Magic doesn’t see himself in Lonzo.
Unlike Magic, Lonzo is a long way from 6-foot-9. In 2014, he was officially measured at 6-3 1/2 at the USA Basketball camp.
If Lonzo is still plenty tall, it’s a prescription for disaster to go around comparing draft prospects to all-time greats as Magic, himself, knows full well.
Reputations zoom up and down on the pre-draft circuit. Lonzo’s has been one of the ones under pressure, as they say of stocks on Wall Street.
Not that it necessarily means something. Draft history is replete with stars who were scoffed at such as Russell Westbrook (not a point guard), Karl Malone (too short), Alex English (too skinny), Danny Granger (bad knees) and Dan Majerle (bad back). Oh, and Kobe Bryant (high school kid).
Nevertheless, if you’re at No. 2 with a choice of all but one player — Fultz, bound for No. 1 Boston (or Philadelphia, if the teams pull off a trade that is reportedly in the works) — it’s easier if everyone loves the player you’re about to take.
No. 4: Bulls prepared to stray from usual Draft plan -- For years the Chicago Bulls have relied on a tried and true formula this time of year. As the Draft approaches, they stick to a theme of seasoned players from blue chip college programs as their prospects of choice. But with the rest of the league embracing the youth and athleticism and risk involved with one-and-done talent, K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune suggests could be the time the Bulls stray from their usual plan:
Whether by draft makeup or dominance of the Warriors and Cavaliers, the Bulls may be forced to stray from their preferred philosophy this year.
You know the one: Find the multi-year player from the established, blue-chip program who's on the board when the Bulls select 16th in Thursday's NBA draft and slap a red baseball cap with the familiar horns logo on him.
There have been exceptions, of course. Luol Deng, who made two All-Star teams, arrived in a 2004 draft-day trade after just one season at Duke. Regrettably, so did Marquis Teague in 2012 after one season at Kentucky.
But from John Paxson's first draft in 2003, when Jay Williams' motorcycle accident pushed him toward grade-A pick Kirk Hinrich after Hinrich's four seasons at Kansas, to last season when — jury still out — Denzel Valentine arrived after four years at Michigan State, the reputation is there for a reason.
This Warriors-Cavaliers trilogy has the feel of staying power, depending on what LeBron James does in 2018 free agency. And if teams are realistic, they will admit they're playing more for the future. Such is the hold Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry and company have on the West and King James has on the East.
What better time to take a chance on a player whose potential outweighs his previous production?
Bulls management, which mentioned adding athleticism and shooting as priorities, talked about future player development often during its season-ending news conference. Those two qualities, by the way, are critical to coach Fred Hoiberg's preferred pace-and-space offensive philosophy.
"We're going to put a lot of resources and time into our player development this offseason to try to create a culture where they can grow and try to become the best players that they can," Paxson said in April. "This offseason, all of us understand the importance of finding out about these young guys. I personally would hate to move a young guy without knowing. We have to find out and see who they are, if their ceiling is high and if they'll play to it."
Ever since the Bulls traded the draft rights to LaMarcus Aldridge to those for Tyrus Thomas in 2006, management has seemed to focus more on so-called safe picks. This stance drew esteem when the Bulls added Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler from the back of the first round. It hit a speed bump with February's admission of failure on — and trade of — Doug McDermott.
In April, CSN Chicago pre- and postgame host Mark Schanowski asked general manager Gar Forman directly that if, in light of recent drafts and current league trends, the Bulls might value athleticism more highly in this year's draft.
"Our philosophy has been we're going to draft who we feel the best player on the board is at that time," Forman said. "We take from physical tools to their skill level to their ceiling, obviously their background work — all those things are taken into account.
"I have a lot of confidence on how we go about our scouting process and our veteran scouting staff. We all know with drafts there's going to be some hits and some misses. But we feel good about some of these young guys on our roster."
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Who is the better fit in Boston, Hayward or Griffin? ... Strength in numbers indeed. The Warriors are picking up that $4 million tab from that championship parade in Oakland ... Honest mistake? Warriors' Kerr apologizes for forgetting Steph Curry in speech ... Say what you want LeBron, but you're right in the middle of this "super team" mess ... It's not just the locals pointing the finger at LeBron, they feel the same way about him from afar ... ICYMI (Cavaliers fans) Paul George makes it clear that he intends to be a Pacer for the foreseeable future ...