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NBA Draft uncertainty at top of the board

The hope of teams with the top picks in Thursday’s NBA Draft appears to be basically to get a starter or strong contributor to a rotation, reports Sam Smith of Bulls.com. Which is why there’s been so much talk of the Cleveland Cavaliers considering trading the No. 1 pick. And so much talk of no one being that interested.

"Top picks usually don’t work out for teams as they don’t have to," explains Sam Smith. "But this season Noel, Len (above) and Bennett all have been unable to with current injuries and surgeries."
(Streeter Lecka/Getty Images Sport)

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 NBA Draft is Thursday, and that’s always one of the most entertaining days on the NBA calendar. It’s prime time televised, of course, and unofficially begins the NBA trading season.

And this season it could be one of the most unpredictable ever, given the first five picks in the draft are expected to be:

Tony Allen

2013 NBA Draft

Brad Miller

Tayshaun Prince

Stromile Swift

Jameer Nelson

Get ready for the role player draft.

“This is the draft,” said one NBA veteran involved in the process, “where you hope to get Nick Collison.”

And that’s in the top 10 picks. Yes, someone from that group can make an All-Star team. Perhaps two. But the hope of teams with the top picks appears to be basically to get a starter or strong contributor to a rotation. Which is why there’s been so much talk of the Cleveland Cavaliers considering trading the No. 1 pick. And so much talk of no one being that interested.

The problem of trading the No. 1 overall pick in the draft is the intrinsic value of having the No. 1 pick. It’s supposed to be the way to build your team. Though we know it involves having it in the right season. When, for example, LeBron James is No. 1 instead of Kwame Brown. This draft is starting to be likened to the 2000 draft when the top picks were Kenyon Martin (pretty good), Swift, Darius Miles, Marcus Fizer (who is trying out now with the Warriors), Mike Miller (who went on to be rookie of the year), DerMarr Johnson, Chris Mihm, Jamal Crawford, Joel Przybilla, Keyon Dooling, Jerome Moiso, Etan Thomas and Courtney Alexander. Your NBA draft lottery.

That draft generally is considered the worst for talent in league history, but this 2013 draft is not considered to be that talent poor. Martin, Jamaal Magloire at No. 19 and Michael Redd at No. 43 were the only players from that 2000 draft to play in an All-Star game.

Personnel experts say the next two drafts are supposed to be much better with the 2014 draft shaping up, at least early, as one of the best for top talent along the lines of the 2003 draft that now has LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh all in Miami. It’s not fully clear yet, but the talk is Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Julius Randle already are planning to join together as free agents after their rookie deals expire in 2018.

It’s rare for teams to trade the No. 1 pick in the draft. In the last 30 years, it was done twice with mixed results. Orlando did in 1993 when it selected Chris Webber. But they got Penny Hardaway and three No. 1 picks, which should have led to a dynasty with better ownership that let Shaquille O’Neal go. Perhaps the worst ever draft day was for the 1986 Philadelphia 76ers, who traded the rights to Brad Daugherty at No. 1 to Cleveland for Roy Hinson and then in a separate deal traded Moses Malone for Jeff Ruland.

The top picks Thursday are expected to be in no particular order Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel, Kansas’ Ben McLemore, Georgetown’s Otto Porter, Indiana’s Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller, UNLV’s Anthony Bennett, Maryland’s Alex Len and Michigan’s Trey Burke. Lately, the talk has been Noel, McLemore, Oladipo and Zeller are sliding. Though it doesn’t appear anyone is moving up, which can be confusing as it’s tough to start the draft at No. 5.

Noel had long been most mentioned at No. 1, but he’s coming off ACL surgery and had problems with the same knee in high school. Yikes. McLemore, the shooter, was then moving up to No. 1, though lately there’s been talk of poor workouts and background concerns. The same happened with Paul Pierce, who fell to No. 10 in 1998. But things worked out for him.

I’ve heard Len described as like Zydrunas Ilgauskas or Brad Miller, who weren’t bad after a while, Burke like Jameer Nelson, Oladipo a shooting guard who can’t shoot, Porter like Prince, who was a solid piece but a good team’s fifth best starter.

Top picks usually don’t work out for teams as they don’t have to. But this season Noel, Len and Bennett all have been unable to with current injuries and surgeries.

Not that much to get excited about. But if you are trading a No. 1 or No. 2 overall pick, you better come back with more than a role player or spot starter. After all, fans don’t know Noel or McLemore or Porter or Burke will not be a star. They know the other guy isn’t. So, in the end, there usually isn’t much movement of top picks.

But there could be trades…

-- Here’s one trade an NBA friend suggested to me. It’s not being talked about as far as anyone knows. But I’m always here to help. We know Toronto hates Andrea Bargnani and we know the Hornets have to get rid of that huge Eric Gordon salary even as no one is sure his knees will hold up. And where else can you dump money? So how about this one: Toronto sends Bargnani to the Hornets. They get a serviceable big man owed about $22 million less that Gordon. The Hornets send Gordon to the Knicks, who would love a big time shooter to play off Carmelo Anthony, and they take chances with money no one else does. Toronto gets Jason Smith, Marcus Camby and Steve Novak and maybe a second rounder.

Rivers’ departure signals changes for Celtics

-- OK, I’m rolling now. The big news over the weekend was Doc Rivers being released from his Celtics contract to agree to a three-year deal with the Clippers. It also seems like the Celtics theft of DeAndre Jordan and draft picks for Kevin Garnett won’t be happening as the teams apparently talked too much and got someone in the league office to realize you can’t trade coaches for players. But this may not be over. Not that he was going anywhere, but Chris Paul’s free agency certainly is over. You can be sure the wily Rivers wasn’t pulling a Byron Scott, who went to Cleveland before James left. So though there is no connection, it seems more and more likely Dwight Howard will leave the Lakers. It was bad enough for him last season with all the scrutiny he didn’t deal well with. But with the Clippers becoming more the attraction and attracting the in demand Rivers, the Lakers are quickly falling to the second act in L.A. No way Howard can deal with that and the uncertainty about a Kobe Bryant return. So it also looks like the first time in NBA history both the Lakers and Celtics will be rebuilding at the same time.

Rivers’ seemingly welcomed departure by the Celtics for a 2015 draft pick suggests the Celtics are breaking it down as well. It has all the signs of 1997 again when they went for broke in giving up a season to get a shot at Tim Duncan. It crapped out. But this Celtics’ group with Rivers’ departure has had its run. It seems likely the Celtics buy out Paul Pierce to save $10 million. Garnett has a no trade, but he’s also owed at least $18 million (half his 2014-15 season) and isn’t about to hang around on a losing team even though he can block any trade. He lives in L.A. and the Clippers apparently are out. The Lakers as well, you’d figure, though maybe the Celtics take Pau Gasol in exchange for one season. But that is unlikely given his huge contract. After all, it seems obvious the Celtics are saving money now. So it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Boston move Rajon Rondo as well. Then certainly Garnett isn’t holding up trades. I don’t believe he’d retire and leave all that money. And, no, it seems Jason Kidd has enough assistants already. Pierce if bought out could well end up with the Clippers as the league would have no basis to stop that one.

But what about this one: Garnett and Rondo to the Heat for Chris Bosh and Mario Chalmers. That would give the Celtics loads of cap room and a star, assuming one can sell Bosh as that. Bosh isn’t opting out as no one’s paying him more than the $20 million a year he gets for two years after next season. The Heat get an All-Star point guard and a tough power forward, both with two years left, which could be good enough reason to persuade James not to pursue his opt out after next season. And maybe Pierce goes down to join them after his buyout. Just thinking out loud, of course. But you get the sense this could be a wild, wild offseason.

New arena in Bucks’ future?

-- This is a big week for the NBA as well as the United States, though not in that order for everyone. The U.S. Supreme Court this week is due to hand down some major decisions on same sex marriage, affirmative action and voting rights. That came to mind after a high court decision last week that benefitted consumers, a decision that likely will put more low cost generic pharmaceuticals on the market by limiting the big drug companies’ ability to, as they’ve done, basically buy off cheaper products so they can sell their more expensive ones. So what does that have to do with the NBA? I’m getting there. The generic issue was a longtime project led by former U.S. Senator Herb Kohl, who also is Milwaukee Bucks owner. Nowhere in the story in the New York Times was Kohl mentioned, but he pushed it for years. He preferred to remain behind the scenes quietly working for consumers. Now, he is trying to be in a similar place to get a new arena for the Bucks. The Bradley Center is the oldest arena in the league except for Madison Square Garden, which was redone last year, and Golden State with the Warriors building a new arena. Detroit and Sacramento opened the same time as Milwaukee, and the Kings had to commit to a new arena or would have lost the team to Seattle. It would be a shame to lose Milwaukee, a franchise rich in tradition. Kohl, like many owners, is in a difficult spot trying to fund a new arena at a time of economic pressure and political rivalries, especially in Wisconsin. But his track record with an issue like generic drugs shows an abiding concern for consumers no matter the conditions or politics, and Milwaukee should be able to keep its team. Who else better to quietly and with probity to be behind a project like that at a time like this to get a great franchise to stay where it belongs?

Best ever debate continues on

-- Well, Michael Jordan was 6-0 when he was in the Finals and LeBron James is 2-2. So there. It seems now less than crowning a champion, the post Finals discussion every season is whether James is, could be or should be considered the best player ever. Enough. Obviously, this isn’t an official measurement, so it will always be difficult to prove. Consider that a large number of people discussing this issue have never seen Jordan play in a meaningful game, his last being in June 1998, 15 years ago. So basically everyone in college or younger doesn’t know what they are talking about. Regarding Jordan as well. I remember when Jordan first retired in 1993, the talk even then was whether we’d ever see anyone like him again. But I recall Kevin McHale pooh poohing it all, as he is good at, and saying in five years no one will remember what Jordan did. It was overstatement, of course, and the point was there’s always someone new who comes along who becomes the pick for greatest because that’s who you are seeing. I remember my father always telling me how no one would be better than Joe DiMaggio and me arguing for Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays. I still talk to NBA players from the 1960’s who’ll say there still hasn’t been a perimeter player better than Oscar Robertson. Best ever? What about Andrew Wiggins?

NBA news and notes

-- One team that’s been quiet has been the 76ers, who still don’t have a coach or even seem to have many candidates. They have No. 11 in the first round. Would you give up Evan Turner, a former No. 2 overall pick who hasn’t seemed to fit, to get No. 1 in this draft? Of course, then he’d have the same issue he has in Philadelphia of wanting to play point forward along with a ball handling point guard. ... Several 76ers players, meanwhile, are lobbying for assistant and former Pistons coach Michael Curry. ... With four potential lottery picks and $20 million in salary cap space in the next two seasons, the Bobcats are talking about becoming a playoff team within that period. It’s also likely, according to local reports, Tyrus Thomas will be released under the amnesty provision. ... There were a lot of questions and skepticism. Pat Riley gave a lot of money to shooters one after another, Mike Miller, Shane Battier and Ray Allen. But it paid off for Miami with a second straight title and only showed again the value of three point shooting in the NBA the way the game is played these days.

-- While the Clippers/Celtics trade talk cooled, with Rivers coming to the Clippers and Chris Paul almost certain to re-sign, the Clippers figure to be looking to deal backup point guard Eric Bledsoe with recent reports of Orlando interest for Arron Afflalo. The Pacers supposedly would like Bledsoe as well, likely for Danny Granger. But Granger’s knee issues probably make him untradeable until he plays. ... DeJuan Blair might be an interesting free agent to look at as he’ll likely leave the Spurs and probably play for a minimum. But what about Stephen Jackson? Yes, the Spurs dropped him and he spouted off some about Gregg Popovich. You figure he’s at a minimum deal now to try to work his way back into the league. He’s been a long distance shooter and he’s certainly had a lot of rest. You can’t have all A students. ... The end of the Spurs Big Three? Would they bring back free agent Manu Ginobili? The Spurs if they let go Ginobili and Tiago Splitter, who didn’t play well in the Finals, could add a major free agent ... Another team expected to be active this week is the Suns. They have No. 5 in the draft. Would the Cavs be interested in center Marcin Gortat? The Trail Blazers also are looking for a center and they’ve been mentioned as a possibility. They have pick No. 10. ... With Mike Malone moving to coach the Kings, former Bulls assistant Pete Myers likely becomes the top assistant with the Warriors. ... Marcus Fizer had a two-day workout with the Warriors last week and told the San Francisco Chronicle he didn’t take playing for the 2000 Bulls seriously. Who did? Said Fizer: "I took for granted the gift of my talent. I just didn't approach it the right way, not at all. I was rolling in 15 minutes before practice. I wasn't getting taped. After practice, I was running out of there. I was like, 'These guys are crazy (to practice hard),' but I understand it now." Fizer played in Puerto Rico and Argentina last season after playing in Taiwan the season before. His world tour after the NBA also included Israel and Spain.

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