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Duke’s Irving appears to be lottery prize

NBA drafts usually are rated by the quality of talent, and this one isn’t considered elite. But it could produce a star with Duke point guard Kyrie Irving expected to be the No. 1 pick.
The NBA, in many respects, has become the era of the point guard, and in three years, the Bulls have gotten to the final four behind a point guard who at this time in 2008 wasn’t even considered the consensus No. 1 pick in the draft. Duke's Kyrie Irving generally is and most teams are hoping to follow the Bulls’ plan of having a 1.7 percent chance and getting the top pick. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

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

While the games go on, there is NBA business to be done, and this is a big week with the NBA draft lottery Tuesday and then the predraft camp in Chicago later this week.

NBA drafts usually are rated by the quality of talent, and this one isn’t considered elite. But it could produce a star with Duke point guard Kyrie Irving expected to be the No. 1 pick. The NBA, in many respects, has become the era of the point guard, and in three years, the Bulls have gotten to the final four behind a point guard who at this time in 2008 wasn’t even considered the consensus No. 1 pick in the draft.

Irving generally is and most teams are hoping to follow the Bulls’ plan of having a 1.7 percent chance and getting the top pick. It happens, and it can change the future of a franchise.

The lottery, as we know, gives the 14 teams a chance for the top three picks with the team with the poorest record—Minnesota—then getting no lower than four.

The draft is weakened some with the absence of several players who were considered top 10 picks who returned to school, like Harrison Barnes, Jared Salinger, Perry Jones and Terence Jones.

The general consensus among NBA executives is Irving is No. 1 and Arizona’s Derrick Williams is No. 2. It’s wide open after that with a large number of international big men mixed among Connecticut’s Kemba Walker, Kentucky’s Brandon Knight, San Diego State’s Kawhi Leonard, Colorado’s Alec Burks and Kansas’ Marcus Morris.

General curiosity remains about the most featured NCAA player, Brigham Young’s Jimmer Fredette, a sentimental choice among Jazz fans with Utah with two lottery picks from the Deron Williams trade with the Nets and generally regarded by NBA scouts as a marginal lottery prospect.

The Bulls have two No. 1 picks, Nos. 28 and 30, and if they don’t make a trade, I assume they will look for two role type players who can fit if they happen to lose players to free agency, like Taj Gibson. I’ve liked for their needs two guys mentioned as second rounders, Purdue’s JaJuan Johnson and Butler point guard Shelvin Mack. Given the success they’ve had going that way, I expect the Bulls to go for more ready-to-play types like Gibson, players with less upside than players who are more fundamentally sound and hard workers.

The principal big man prospects in the draft are both young, Jonas Valanciunas of Lithuania and Enes Kanter from Switzerland who was headed to Kentucky at one point. They’re both teenagers and thus projects, but both highly skilled. Donatas Motiejunas is a third in that group but with a bit more experience with a strong season in Italy. The three could go in any order in the lottery.

The odds favor the Timberwolves for the No. 1 pick, though the team with the poorest record rarely gets No. 1. The Timberwolves have waited patiently for point guard Ricky Rubio and are high on him as a star. If they were to get No. 1, you’d think they’d want to trade the pick, which is rare, or at least flip it. With Kevin Love at power forward, it’s uncertain where they’d play Williams. Though they have to be a bit worried about whether Love would stay and might want to trade him as he would figure to draw considerable interest. With the worst record, what’s the harm in starting with the No. 1 and 2 picks in the draft as your core?

You figure the Cavaliers if they get the pick would go with Irving even with trading for Baron Davis. That’s hardly a future. They have Anderson Varejao returning and with their second lottery pick, now projected No. 8, they could likely get one of the young big men.

The Raptors also can use a point guard, which would give them a top backcourt with improved DeMar DeRozan. The Wizards with John Wall definitely don’t need a point guard, but you figure they’d flip to take Williams and whatever they could get from the No. 2 team. Although Wizards GM Ernie Grunfeld likes to deal for veterans.

The Kings have Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins and might be in the market for a big deal if they get No. 1, though Evans really seems more like a shooting guard and I might still go with Irving.

The Pistons pretty much figure to go with the best big man to complement Greg Monroe, whom they are sending to the lottery. If they got No. 1, I assume they’d go for Irving as with all the point guards they have none really is a point guard. Rodney Stuckey can play off the ball best and Ben Gordon would then be a fixture at sixth man.

The Bobcats would love a Duke point guard after losing Raymond Felton, but also need any big as Kwame Brown was their best last season.

The Bucks need health the most, but with Brandon Jennings it would be intriguing. I’d go for Irving and try to trade Jennings, who has proven perhaps too erratic to succeed with.

The Warrior moving up would be intriguing as that likely would put Stephen Curry or Monta Ellis on the market, though they also need size and defense the most as their perimeter can score.

It’s rare to move up from the bottom, where the Suns and Rockets are, and either would take the top prospects in order, though Houston loves to rearrange the chairs and likely would want to make trades.

What now for the Spurs, Lakers and Celtics?

-- I think everyone is agreed there’ll be no “blowing up” of the Spurs, Lakers and Celtics, although one of the most intriguing question is who stays. Of course, there’s been all sorts of Dwight Howard talk with the Lakers, although you can see from the owners’ latest labor talks proposal, which was dismissed by the union, that one big issue remains trying to make it almost financially irresponsible for a top player to leave his team. While there are plenty of suggestions, Lamar Odom, the most likely available Laker, isn’t that valuable. He’s going on 32 with a second career as a reality TV personality. His trade value is slight. The Spurs could trade Tony Parker as they like George Hill, though the most interesting possibility may be Rajon Rondo. Already, Celts GM Danny Ainge says there’s no guarantee all main four will return, though who’s trading for old, former top players. How about Golden State, which would love to make Stephen Curry their shooting guard and could use some defense. Monta Ellis would be a heck of a pickup. It’s just a suggestion, but Rondo’s future given an erratic close to the season will be something to watch. … There was a lot of surprise when Doc Rivers said he’d return and began work on a $35 million contract. Actually, it’s a smart move. Making $7 million a year to coach is brilliant business, and now given Rivers’ position, if the team declines, as expected, the players or management gets the blame. Not Doc. You go somewhere else, it’s you if it doesn’t work, and it’s not like there seem to be any great jobs opening up with stacked teams. Plus, Rivers always has been a big advocate of Jeff Green’s and if they can move Rondo and maybe put together something to try to get someone like Andris Biedrins, who knows. Ainge, by the way, said “probably not” to trading Rondo. … Celts broadcaster Cedric Maxwell on Shaq in a radio interview: “If he was a horse, they would take him out right now and he'd be glue tomorrow." You can’t say Kendrick Perkins would have saved Boston. He’s had enough problems with Marc Gasol. But relying on Shaq and Jermaine O’Neal, players with major injury histories and unproductive in recent years, suggested an awful lot of arrogance that probably did as much to take the edge of Celtics players mentally as the physical strain.

Once you hit the 40,000 minute mark…

-- It’s pretty much a given in basketball when you are over 40,000 minutes, especially 45,000, you begin to break down and you really can’t be depended upon much anymore, especially if you are a perimeter type player. Michael Jordan’s knees went when he hit about 45,000, including playoffs. Kevin Garnett is past 45,000 now, Ray Allen is right there and Paul Pierce is about 40,000. Garnett failed to score in double figures in three of the last seven playoff games and averaged about three free throws per game in the playoffs. Boston likely is going to ride it down with them. Tim Duncan also is about 45,000. Shaq is over 50,000. … The New York Post printed its first of what is expected to be more than 100 “Phil is coming to New York” stories over the next year. I doubt Jackson will coach again, but I can see him being in an executive position and perhaps after Donnie Walsh is finished I could see Jackson willing to spend some time in New York team building. He’s actually very good at it and was instrumental with the Bulls in the selection of Horace Grant in the 1987 draft, the trade for Bill Cartwright and the acquisition of Dennis Rodman, helping persuade management each time of the merits of the move. … I ran across this interesting rating system that judged the most harmful players to their teams and named the top three as Andrea Bargnani, Darko Milicic and Michael Beasley. It sounded right, so I looked at the same rating system for MVPs, or players who helped their teams the most, where Rose was listed 21st behind such as Landry Fields, Andre Iguodala and Al Horford. Kevin Love was second to Dwight Howard. I hope that officially ends saber metrics in the NBA. … The Hawks’ Al Horford said the Bulls offseason model is the one for his team to follow. Said Horford to the Atlanta Constitution: “That’s the perfect example. They got that kid Asik. They got Korver, a shooter. They addressed their needs and got better. That’s a blueprint that I think if I’m the team I would look at.” … They don’t forget in Cleveland. Local columnists commemorated last Wednesday as “Quitness Day,” the one year anniversary of when LeBron James apparently gave up in the playoff game against the Celts. I guess his apologies aren’t working that great yet.

NBA news and notes

-- I believe the Magic wait out the collective bargaining agreement in hopes the new rules make Howard want to stay. But a preemptive strike can often be better in these situations. Maybe the Magic is better off to move now. Ship Howard to L.A. out of the conference for Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom and make them take Gilbert Arenas’ contract. Then with amnesty they maybe dump Hedo Turkoglu and can add a player and might look better in the East than Howard and that mess they have now. Plus with Pau, perhaps that’s enough to get long lost No. 1 pick Fran Vazquez to come to the NBA. That would be a better Magic team than they seem to have going forward even if Howard stays. Hey, they couldn’t even beat the Hawks. … Mark Cuban has barely been quoted in the playoffs and the Mavs look their best since 2006. Coincidence?…James and Wade had serious thoughts about coming to the Bulls, as they said in Miami last week before coming to Chicago? We’re supposed to believe that? And so they decided to go to Miami with Chris Bosh, Mike Miller, Mario Chalmers and Zydrunas Ilgauskas instead of Chicago with Derrick Rose, Luol Deng, Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah because that was a better chance to win? You know they went back to the locker room and poked one another and said something like, “We can say anything. They’re all idiots.”

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