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Building a contender in a not so great draft

The conference finals are big news for four teams. But the majority of the NBA was holed up in Chicago trying to figure out ways to join the Bulls, Heat, Thunder and Mavericks. The big discussion was about the NBA draft, which once again isn’t considered great.
The big news was the Cleveland Cavaliers getting the No. 1 pick, though not with their poor second worst record but with the unprotected pick they acquired from the Clippers so the Clippers could unload Baron Davis. This is a huge disaster for the Clippers, though we’ve said that before.

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

Sam Smith Mailbag

The conference finals are big news for four teams. But the majority of the NBA was holed up in Chicago trying to figure out ways to join the Bulls, Heat, Thunder and Mavericks.

It was the NBA predraft camp, basically now just a series of interviews and physical exams and a chance for league executives to spend a week in Chicago and have some really good meals.

The big discussion was about the NBA draft, which once again isn’t considered great. Though as it gets closer you’ll begin to hear it is much better than previously thought and to comparisons to the woeful 2000 draft, I think that’s well off.

There will be trades, of course, though there remains considerably uncertainty because no one knows what the new rules will be on salary total after the new labor agreement. So there is a bit more caution than usual. Though as the draft approaches, teams will begin to shed that to make a splash. Tickets still have to be sold.

There are going to be maybe five very good players off the top of the draft, and there’s usually not much more than that. Sure, there do not appear to be any superstar types. But teams will find rotation players will into the lottery and beyond.

The big news was the Cleveland Cavaliers getting the No. 1 pick, though not with their poor second worst record but with the unprotected pick they acquired from the Clippers so the Clippers could unload Baron Davis. This is a huge disaster for the Clippers, though we’ve said that before. I know they tried some damage control about going for veterans. But with the chance to get a point guard like Duke’s Kyrie Irving, very good if not great, they were looking with Blake Griffin at a Stockton/Malone tandem for years to come.

Losing that pick will set back the Clippers for years as teams are built through the draft. Frankly, it’s shocking they traded the pick without top three protection as general managers in Chicago were buzzing about how the rebuilding Cavs likely would have taken it anyway with protection given the little chance it had of moving up, anyway. You could see the move costing them Griffin at some point of they cannot make a deal of Chris Kamen for a point guard. Griffin, Irving and Eric Gordon would have been a heck of a young core.

Most team executives in Chicago last week were saying they expected the Cavs to take Irving with the No. 1 pick and then hope Turkish center Enes Kanter slides to four.

Kanter was intriguing in doing some basic workouts and basically the only real center in the draft and regarded by some as maybe the best young prospect. So there is a lot of potential maneuvering regarding him even though he just turned 19. Sure, there’s a risk given the Bulls history with teenage big men. But size does matter in the playoffs.

Kanter was quoted saying he’d like to play for Washington, which has the No. 6 pick. The talk is you can get basically anyone but John Wall from the Wizards, and perhaps JaVale McGee or Andray Blatche would intrigue someone.

So here are some possibilities I heard about:

-- Some executives are saying the Cavs might be better off taking Derrick Williams No. 1. Some GMs believe he’s the best talent in the draft class and could be an All-Star. The thinking is you’d get a point guard, anyway, at No. 4 with Kentucky’s Brandon Knight, whom some executives like better than Irving. Then you get the template point guard/power forward combo with both having All-Star potential. Though many project Williams as a small forward, which could be intriguing with J.J. Hickson. With Anderson Varejao that could be a core you could build with quickly.

The Cavs do have Baron Davis and could take a shot at Kanter at No. 1, though that might be too much risk and unpopular given Irving and Williams are generally considered the top of the draft. No one really expects them to do that, though with Varejao that would give them size to compete.

-- The biggest wild card is Minnesota with the No. 2 pick. They expect to bring in point guard Ricky Rubio from Spain and have Luke Ridnour. Not that it’s a championship front line, but they do have All-Star Kevin Love and Michael Beasley. So would they take Williams? Many expect Minnesota to move the pick for a veteran. One thing I’ve heard is Houston getting in. They are desperate for size with Yao, if he does come back, likely a limited player. Minnesota has room to absorb a player and you could see them without a shooting guard moving the pick for Kevin Martin and Houston’s No. 14 pick. The Rockets have been desperate for several years to make a splash in the draft or in trade and getting the young big man could be a step in that direction as they play the smallest lineup in the league.

-- The other contender for Kanter appears to be the Jazz, whom some executives say really want a point guard with the loss of Deron Williams. But Utah’s main issue has been size and it’s unclear how much they can count on Mehmet Okur, who is going into the final season of his contract, anyway. They are rumored to be interested in Kanter and perhaps willing to do a flip for the No. 2 pick with Minnesota, who then could select someone like, say, Kawhi Leonard, a fierce defender, or one of the European swingmen like Jan Vesely or Jonas Valanciunas and maybe steal someone like Paul Millsap or C.J. Miles and pass someone back to Utah, though that latter part is just speculation.

NBA news and notes

-- Maybe Miami will win the NBA title. Maybe they won’t and will not get past this round with the Bulls, though at 2-1 they are in good shape. But in either case you have to wonder about Chris Bosh. Yes, he’s been big in this series as leading scorer with the Bulls concentrating on LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. But is this team a long term one for Miami? I know this has been brought up before, particularly earlier this season when the Heat was in turmoil. And Heat president Pat Riley has given no indication he is unhappy with his offseason acquisitions or with Bosh. But it’s obvious the Heat much more need a point guard and center.

So how about this: Bosh to Denver and the more open, less physical Western Conference for Nene and Ray Felton. The Nuggets remain uncertain about resigning Nene, who has indicated he would like to test the market. He has an opt out or can opt in and make $11.6 million. Also, the Nuggets seem to prefer point guard Ty Lawson, and Felton wants to be a starter. The Knicks really were at their best this season when he was running that pick and roll with Amar’e Stoudemire. Plus, Denver wants to bring back shooting guard Arron Afflalo. Bosh would be a return of that star player they lost and would be unlikely to obtain while Miami fills its two big holes. It’s certainly something to watch although I haven’t heard anything about the teams in discussions.

Trade No. 2. Perhaps more than anyone, and for the wrong reasons, Russell Westbrook has become the story of the playoffs. No one has gotten as much criticism or second guessing, it reaching a crescendo when Westbrook was benched for the fourth quarter of Game 2 as the Thunder won in Dallas. There was all the talk during the Grizzlies series about Westbrook shooting too much and you so sense if not friction, an uneasiness between Westbrook and Kevin Durant. It seems obvious the Hornets should trade Chris Paul for Westbrook. I know no one wants to do any deal involving a star until the new labor rules come out. The NBA is negotiating internally as much as with the players’ association as many owners want some prohibitions preventing the kind of free agent haul Miami pulled off. The Dwight Howard rumors should be on hold at least until then. Paul has been widely rumored as the Knicks target, though paying Carmelo Anthony and Stoudemire under the old rules with a combined $37 million salary next season it’s almost impossible to see where the Knicks could have money no matter what contracts expire to recruit someone like Paul. Though many still believe Paul is no more than 50/50 to stay. Why not take a run at Westbrook, who is a star talent and clearly seems to want to be the main player on a team and not defer to Durant. I could see Oklahoma City doing it as Paul would be ideal with Durant. Sure, Westbrook has to be signed, but why wouldn’t he with a team he can be the principal player? Why take the risk of losing Paul? You can build with someone like Westbrook and certainly do at least as well as you did with Paul.

-- It wasn’t what Bryan Colangelo imagined, but he was extended for two seasons. The Raptors have gone 183-227 (.446) under Colangelo, which actually was better than the record under Isiah Thomas, Glen Grunwald and Rob Babcock. It was .392 in the previous 11 seasons. Now that’s a loyal fan base. Coach Jay Triano is expected to have his final season option picked up as with a lockout a possibility, several teams are reluctant to hire a new coach and pay for no games. That thinking seems to be in Minnesota as well… Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks says the Mavs have to be considered the favorites to win the title: “They’re probably playing the best basketball in the playoffs. When you beat the Los Angeles Lakers 4-0, you have to be considered the favorite.” ….On the video alone, I’d have to give Frank Vogel the Pacers coaching job. There’s a great YouTube clip of 14-year-old Vogel on Stupid Human Tricks segment of the David Letterman show spinning a basketball on the end of a toothbrush while brushing his teeth. Dave loved it. He not only did that as a kid but got Danny Granger to get inside 20 feet of the basket. Hire him!

-- So how do you win in the NBA? Basically, it’s get a star. I was talking to one of the bright minds in the league and he made this observation: Who’s in the conference finals? Who do they have? Derrick Rose, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Durant. That’s five of the top 10 scorers in the NBA. The other five? Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire, Kobe Bryant, Monta Ellis and Kevn Martin. Certainly, Ellis and Martin are not in that class. Bryant is, though the question is how much he is in decline. Clearly, his best days are past, though he still is very good. Anthony and Stoudemire are not quite as versatile stars who need support. So one can say the best five players in the NBA still are playing. Maybe Dwight Howard gets into that mix on talent. But the question for everyone else may be how you get one when there really aren’t that many to go around.

-- I’m guessing Tony Parker’s interview with French newspaper L’Equipe put him closer to the door, though you figured Parker is the most expendable Spur given their depth at point guard and his value. “I don’t think this current team will play for the title in the future,” Parker said. “We are aging. We must be realistic. It was sort of our last chance this season. We’re all frustrated because we had a great regular season during which we dominated. But it was a tough matchup for us (against Memphis.) They dominated us inside.” Certainly both Gar Forman and Pat Riley were deserving executive of the year choices, but if there is a lifetime achievement award it maybe should go to the Spurs R.C. Buford, who quietly continues assembling high level teams without much notice, the management version of Jerry Sloan... “If they have a player they can trade, it is clearly me,” Parker said, “But Pop told me I will not go anywhere, so we’ll see. Obviously, the NBA is a business. You have to be ready for everything.” Given the Spurs interior needs with Tom Duncan aging, you would think it makes the most sense to deal Parker… There’s lots of talk about who returns with the Grizzlies, and O.J. Mayo, almost traded to the Pacers in February, seems the most likely to be dealt. Though one interesting player who was hurt and never got into the rotation is Xavier Hanry, who might be a good pickup for someone if the Grizzlies, as they say, intend to keep Rudy Gay and resign Marc Gasol… It’s sounding preliminarily like Kevin McHale is front runner in Houston and Rick Adelman with the Lakers.

-- A reader from Australia sent me a wonderful interview with Luc Longley on a Melbourne radio station. Luc’s not doing much now, though his wife is the Rachel Ray of Australia and he says he does eat a lot. He also had an interesting take on what many of us knew about those champion Bulls of 1996 through 1998: They were great teammates but not great friends. In Australia, teams have a habit of frequent reunions and great camaraderie, so the radio show hosts were surprised to hear those Bulls players rarely ever did anything together.

“It’s just a different scene in America,” Longley said. “I won three championships with the Bulls and until the third one and twisting guys arms could we get 20 blokes together. After (winning) the championship we’d come in the locker room for maybe an hour and then everyone would go off in a different direction. You wouldn’t see anyone until (the rally). Maybe you can call that mercenary or professional, but they don’t invest a lot of energy in creating bonds between players. Really, the bond is on the court. I understand. You can be traded the first half of the season. Not part of landscape over there. It’s not part of the landscape over there.”

Though it also was a fun again to hear Longley’s dry humor, one of the highlights among that group of players. Asked about the NBA today, Longley said, “The whole league is more athletic. Actually, it’s been more athletic since I left.”

Asked what he is doing, Longley said with three teenaged girls he’s getting a lot of therapy. One of the girls is a highly ranked basketball player in Australia and Longley described her as, “6-4, fast left and right and mean like her mum.”

Now that’s a guy I miss.

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