Intrigue Starts at No. 2

Pistons’ options could be shaped by Minnesota’s course

Minnesota possibly selecting Derrick Williams at No. 2 could affect who Detroit choose at No. 8.
Juan Ocampo/Getty Sport Images
Not many NBA drafts offer up intrigue with the very first pick. The 2007 draft – Greg Oden or Kevin Durant? – was a memorable exception. Last year’s draft didn’t have a whole lot of intrigue by the time draft day rolled around until the sixth pick, when Golden State went for Ekpe Udoh and left Greg Monroe for the Pistons.

This year’s draft starts at No. 2.

Unless Kyrie Irving completely blows his individual workout for Cleveland or sabotages his interview – the way Isiah Thomas deliberately gave Dallas a negative impression to facilitate his delivery to the Pistons with the No. 2 pick in 1981 – he’s going to the Cavs.

But Minnesota is a wild card all the way. If the Timberwolves keep the pick, Derrick Williams is the favorite but hardly a slam dunk. If Minnesota sees him as a power forward, as most NBA teams do, then what does it do with Kevin Love, never mind Michael Beasley?

It’s worth remembering that Minnesota’s No. 2 man in the front office is assistant GM Tony Ronzone, who until last spring had been with the Pistons as their international scouting guru. Ronzone’s contacts are world-wide, so there’s nobody better positioned to find out every bit of pertinent information required to do full evaluations on the many Euro big men projected as lottery picks.

It was Ronzone who discovered Mehmet Okur all those years ago, which is relevant today because Enes Kanter, like Okur, is a native of Turkey. With so little hard evidence of Kanter’s potential available, maybe Ronzone will mine his contacts to turn up the one or two nuggets of information to make Minnesota comfortable that the player generally considered the best big man available is worthy of the No. 2 pick.

Among the teams rumored to be aggressively looking to trade into the No. 2 spot is Washington. It’s no stretch to believe the Wizards want that pick to land Kanter, who stated his preference for Washington at last month’s NBA draft combine in Chicago.

John Wall, who shares a Kentucky-John Calipari connection with Kanter, has said Kanter is the player he covets for the Wizards – and since Wall is the future for Washington, it’s also no stretch to think the Wizards would be inclined to accommodate Wall’s wishes, especially if Ernie Grunfeld and Flip Saunders can project Kanter as an instant starter and potential star.

The Pistons never expected Kanter to get to them at No. 8, of course, but if he goes second it could affect their options. Conventional wisdom now has Kanter going to Cleveland at No. 4. If he’s already gone, though, the Cavs will still have the same frontcourt needs. They won’t be looking at Brandon Knight, projected by many to be Utah’s choice at No. 3 but still available under this scenario because the Jazz are likely to pounce on Williams if he’s still there.

Nor will Cleveland be interested in Kemba Walker, not after taking Irving No. 1. So unless they love Kawhi Leonard, the Cavs will be left to choose among the remaining big men: Jonas Valanciunas, Bismack Biyombo and Jan Vesely, most prominently. It’s not inconceivable the Pistons could have their choice of those three – or at least two of the three – under the more commonly accepted scenario that has Irving-Williams-Knight-Kanter going 1-2-3-4.

Here’s how the Pistons could wind up having the choice of Valanciunas, Biyombo or Vesley. Toronto, picking fifth, takes Walker. Washington grabs Leonard, a logical pick for a team that would have to start Mo Evans at small forward as of today. (Josh Howard is a pending free agent.)

Sacramento takes anybody but one of the big men – and with DeMarcus Cousins, Jason Thompson, project Hassan Whiteside and the Kings’ stated intention to spend to bring back Samuel Dalembert, given its needs on the perimeter, that’s a strong possibility. The Kings could go for Jimmer Fredette – especially given his marquee appeal for a team in desperate need of selling season tickets – or a wild card like Chris Singleton, Marcus Morris or Alec Burks.

This weekend’s Eurocamp in Treviso, Italy could begin to untangle some of the mysteries of the first seven picks. But it’s more likely we get to June 23, draft day, without knowing what Minnesota really intends to do with the No. 2 pick – which means the Pistons have to be prepared for the scenarios we’ve just laid out and every other conceivable alternative scenario.