Ask Sam Mailbag: 05.11.18
Sam opens his mailbag and answers readers' questions
Do you think Doncic could fall to 6?
Sam: No. Particularly lately with the Suns, who have the best odds for a top draft pick, hiring Doncic's coach, Igor Kokoskov, as their head coach. Would they pass on general consensus No. 1 DeAndre Ayton for Doncic if they get No. 1? Trade down since plenty of teams will be looking to trade up for Ayton? Like Boston did last season landing a potential lottery pick for next season in letting the 76ers get the No. 1 overall pick and injured Markelle Fultz. I've included below a representative lottery mock draft. It's reasonably common and pretty much the consensus of league general managers, at least from what few legitimate reports are available so long before the June draft.
The consensus seems to be there are three levels of the draft in the top 10. The first is the top three, generally thought to be Ayton, Bagley and Doncic. When drafting top three, the view is to get an impact player. Doncic perhaps raises the most questions in that group because of a lack of high level athletic ability. But he's got great size and excellent skills for such a young player and likely deserves that top three recognition. Then at the next level there's Jackson Jr. and Porter, both of whom raise some questions, though could be breakthrough players. Porter, of course had back surgery and there were questions about his interactions with teammates. But he was considered the No. 1 pick in this draft before this season and a fabulously talented wing player. Jackson is the youngest player in the draft coming off not the greatest of freshman seasons, somewhat unready but with a high talent ceiling. Which is what the top of the draft generally us about. Those two are considered perhaps as talented as the top three, but with more risk. Then to the third level there's the next five, all limited in some way, though talented. It's generally accepted to be Mo Bamba, Mikal Bridges, Wendell Carter, Trea Young and Collin Sexton. Though remember last year Donovan Mitchell didn't crack the top 10 in any of the mock drafts. Bamba is tall and long, but extremely skinny and a question mark in this era about playing against those common small matchups the top teams use. Can you even play him in the fourth quarter? A lottery pick. Bridges can shoot and defend, but isn't much with the dribble. Carter is a big man without great athletic ability. Young is a top shooter and passer, though small and a poor defender. Sexton isn't a particularly good shooter, though a tough, aggressive point guard. You figure three of the five will be really good. But which three? And the other four, Knox, Bridges, Williams and Shai, aren't that far behind those five and some will be better. Again, which ones? Still a lot of questions to be answered and some pretty nervous people making draft selections.
There's a lot of debate nowadays regarding who the GOAT is in NBA history. I think it's funny how soon people forget how good MJ was. Who do you feel is better between Michael and LeBron, and why? Also do you think Michael is indeed the GOAT.
Sam: No one is forgetting Jordan's excellence. He's generally regarded as this mythical best ever. But it is becoming a tiresome debate and almost sad the way some fans need constant assurance every time someone, lately LeBron James, does something special. There's obviously more attention to it in this era of media diaspora. Also, remember, there's a whole generation of people getting ready to vote—we hope—who never even saw Jordan play. And then there's this avalanche of new records seemingly every game. So this is the way I think this debate should be: The greatest by decade. Clearly, James is doing things, especially at his age, that have never been accomplished and for this era, it's certainly understandable why many would say they've never seen anyone better. Because they probably haven't. I authored There is No Next about Jordan's incomparable impact that extended well beyond the basketball court because making a strict basketball comparison is too arbitrary. After all, neither Jordan nor James were or will be the greatest winner. And we seem to value winning and championships these days as the tiebreaker for any debate. So then you'd have to go for Bill Russell, who impacted a franchise and an era like no player ever.
Jordan got my support for his all encompassing effect, basketball first, but also on fashion, media, marketing and the public conscious. He ranks perhaps only with Ali and Babe Ruth that way. No athlete ever captured the zeitgeist like Jordan. There's really no debate about that. But others won more and scored more and were in more playoffs. So here's my new greatest and most dominant starting with the modern era of the NBA, which basically matches the coming of the black athletes in the early 1960s:
- 1960s: Russell and Wilt
- 1970s: Kareem
- 1980s: Magic and Bird
- 1990s: Jordan
- 2000s: Kobe and Shaq
- 2010s: LeBron
That's your Hall of Fame penthouse.
Pathetic showing by the Raptors in this series. No one will ever take this bunch seriously ever again.
Sam: That management endorsement for coach Dwane Casey didn't sound too enthusiastic. In some respects, it's the fate of a coach who does too good a job in pushing pretty good talent to beyond its apparent ceiling. The Raptors were a 60-win type team like the Hawks a few years back, a hard working coach pushing committed players to their limit. Unfortunately for them, it was their window. Which now is closed after they let a reeling Cavs team escape with Boston and Philadelphia about to blow past them in the standings next season as both teams already have superior talent. It's sort of setting up the community for disappointment in Toronto. Heck, the whole country. It never was a championship roster in talent; or even close. They recognized that after being blown out by the Cavs last year. So they grabbed onto that formula of depth and effort, which can carry you in the regular season if you have a modicum of talent. Toronto did. DeRozan and Lowry don't match the top backcourts in talent, and management probably understood that. But they didn't want to rebuild again, so they paid Lowry and Ibaka toward the end of their careers and took a shot. I don't blame them. It was a heck of a fun season and worth the effort. There's really nothing wrong with continuing to compete, which is what I think they should do.
Patience sometimes pays off, like the Jazz being out in the first round several times before breaking through almost a decade later. Though being swept is really bad because it suggests a lack of competitive spirit. The players acted beaten and the coaching staff didn't push them enough. LeBron and the Cavs were reeling coming out of the Indiana series on short rest. The Raptors should have pressed them and taken them right out of game one. The Cavs would have accepted that. But a lazy effort allowed the Cavs to steal the game and the Raptors panicked. So some change probably is in order. The Raptors were close to being in dumping mode in 2013 with Lowry about to be traded to the Knicks for scraps and a draft pick. The thinking then in Toronto was to take a run at the lottery and Toronto native Andrew Wiggins as a home grown star. The Knicks backed out at the last minute. Lowry and Ibaka likely are untradeable given their ages and huge contracts. With the Timberwolves losing in the first round and Wiggins with a big extension and clearly not Tom Thibodeau's kind of hard nosed player, perhaps a Wiggins-DeRozan swap seems reasonable to give both teams something different and fans in each city reason to look forward with optimism and excitement. Instead of where they are now.
Here's a good mix to make next years team better. Sign Jabari Parker and Derrick Rose to next years team. Make rose our 6th man like he did on the wolves. Then draft Bridges from Villanova and Caleb Martin from Nevada. I think that team would be legit.
Sam: The all-ACL team with LaVine? Derrick, as we saw, has been working out at the Advocate Center, though more a courtesy given that he's back in Chicago since the end of the playoffs. He'll probably soon spend the summer in Los Angeles with the rest of the NBA players. Derrick seemed to revive his career, at least on the margins, with that playoff performance for the Timberwolves and all the indications are he'll return there. I'd heard he hadn't been averse to going anywhere, including Chicago, after the trade from Cleveland. But the Bulls have moved on. I also don't see Parker as a target given he's a restricted free agent and had two acl surgeries. He didn't look very facile and agile, as Clyde Frazier might say, in the playoffs. But it's understandable with all he's gone through. You hear he is interested in change, but they appear to want him back and I cannot see given his injuries that he'd turn down any significant contract at this point. Mikal Bridges, we all assume, is on the Bulls list if they don't move up into the top three. He's an excellent three-point shooter, and the Bulls sure need shooting. He's a wing player, and the Bulls sure need a starting wing player. He's considered an excellent defender, and the Bulls sure need better defense. You'd like to have a guy who can get to the basket and handle the ball better, but you're not getting perfect after the top three. And maybe not there, as well.
I heard reports LBJ has told people he will never ever play for the Knicks as long as Dolan is the owner. But I believe he's not leaving Cleveland. Yes he and Dan hate each other but he makes Dan a ton of money and for LBJ Dan gives him basically full control of moves. How about Cavs get a top 3 pick?
Sam: Oh no! Here's maybe the biggest issue facing the Bulls: The Eastern Conference may be better than the Western Conference next season. We've long maintained this is a pendulum and it would swing back, and maybe it finally is. The Celtics get back Kyrie and Hayward; the 76ers are coming fast, as we can see. There has been plenty of LeBron to Philly speculation, and no one says no to LeBron. But I also can see him staying now that they may well be onto the Finals again. We haven't talked much about the Nets pick with the way that trade blew up with Isaiah Thomas' departure and the Cavs looking very vulnerable in the first round. But they come into the conference finals the favorites over a tough, but injured Celtics team. Can they really do it again? The Cavs have the Nets pick, which is eighth, which means about a 10 percent chance of moving to the top three. It's not so much about the Cavs getting another top young talent for the post LeBron era, which is what that pick was supposed to be about. But now what can you get for that pick, like the Wiggins for Kevin Love deal. Kawhi Leonard? He's the superstar in the room. The Spurs can give him the biggest offer, though more lately see the Spurs trying to put together a package to retool to some extent. After all, even with Kawhi they don't quite look better than Golden State and Houston. How about some package with No. 8? Love, Rodney Hood and the pick? LeBron and Kawhi? You could fill around that. Kawhi supposedly has expressed interest if traded in both LA teams and the Knicks. The 76ers most likely have the No. 10 pick unless the Lakers move up. Include Saric in a deal with the pick and Markelle Fultz. You assume the Spurs jump on that and then you have Kawhi, Simmons and Embiid. Yikes. The East could be really loaded by next season. And who knows what the Bucks will do given they still have a star in Giannis. And could the Wizards appeal to the Spurs with, say, Beal? And those Celtics sure have a lot of extra wing players and some draft picks to come. It may not be that easy to climb into that East top four.
Do you see the Bulls possibly looking to include a player like Holiday and/or Valentine, Portis along with the 22nd pick to move up in the draft and acquire a #13-15 pick such as Kevin Knox or Miles Bridges if they don't fill their gap at the wing early on in the draft? Centers Mitchell Robinson and Robert Williams could also be available.
On the other hand, I would be fine with an opening lineup of Portis-Markkanen-Porter-LaVine-Dunn...
Sam: Where'd Lopez go? Oh, right, perhaps traded. We'll see. As I mentioned above, there still are some pretty good players at the end of the lottery and perhaps even into the teens in this draft. I don't think it's a super draft for impact players, but it looks like one to supply some nice starters in coming seasons. I really don't see the Bulls having either quite enough for that sort of deal or being willing to give up someone like Portis after they let go Mirotic. The NBA draft isn't like the NFL draft. There rarely is much trading up and down, and you're certainly not doing it for role playing reserves. The talent thins out quickly in the NBA draft late in the first round with some exceptions. To move up you usually have to give up multiple No. 1 picks like the Bulls did for McDermott. And that didn't go that well.
Michael Jordan was saying that 'superteams' were ruining the NBA. Teams like Golden State Warriors, Cleveland Cavaliers, and even Houston, were ruining the NBA because Golden State didn't really need Kevin Durant to win a title, Cleveland shouldn't have needed J.R. Smith to win a title etc..... Michael won the next 3 because they had Rodman/other superstars who were practically All-Star material, but not from the very start. Some claim Horace Grant was a star because he became an All-Star in one All-Star break season. What's your opinion to that, seeing as how he won his first 3 rings w/o that much of a superteam?
Sam: In other words, how the heck do I get a star here in Charlotte? A little help. The NBA isn't baseball, where you in some sense can do that without a salary cap, though it often didn't work when the Yankees were doing it in the 1980s. I have no problem with players joining up like Durant did, if they so choose, because they earned that right and fought hard for it, and that Michael isn't sympathetic as a former player only suggests he's an owner now. It seems to me the strength of sports always has been super teams, the Cowboys in football, Yankees in baseball, Jordan's Bulls, who were pretty super. With Golden State and the Cavs perhaps headed to a fourth straight Finals the NBA's ratings only continue to grow. People want to see greatness. They want to see the best; otherwise, they'd go down to the park to watch games. They saw history with the Celtics of the 60's, the Lakers of the 80's, Jordan's Bulls and now the Warriors and LeBron. It's no fluke LeBron's games always are the highest rated. Plus, the excitement also is in seeing someone beat them. I know, it's not often. But I don't see how the best players going against one another, even concentrated on a few teams, is boring. The problem, really, is there just aren't enough stars to go around for a 30-team league. So what if eight teams had a chance to win instead of four? Charlotte still wouldn't be among them.
PLAYOFFS... GS will make Houston go away. Better (and more) talent, better D... and better coaching. Cavs should beat Celtics, but Celts have played better than they 'should', so maybeeee? The way LeBron is playing & willing them to victory reminds me a little of MJ & the Bulls in '98. This season, he deserves the MVP. And if he can get them there, he's really earned a ring. On the other hand, the Celtics have been doing it w/out Kyrie & Hayward. Tatum & Brown were excellent picks. If they can get past LeBron on a roll like this, then they deserve to go all the way. I guess GS deserves it too. Maybe I still have a bad taste from Durant's 'decision'; no love for the likely 'Hampton Champs'. BTW... Niko is still Niko, disappearing for that decisive game. Good season overall, but not there when they needed him.
Sam: My picks...have not been that great. I did have Boston in round one, but I had them being blown out by the 76ers in the second round and then losing to the Raptors in the conference finals. Ooops. Anyone trying to take the ball out of LeBron's hands at least a few times? Hello? Picking him up higher, making him work? After all, did he ever come out of the game? OK, OK, I'm trying to move on. We all had the West semis since what the heck was Utah doing there, anyway, and Niko helping take down Golden State? C'mon. Yes, you are right, we know Niko and he had 19 points combined on five of 16 shooting the last two games. And they had four guys guarding Davis. But let's be reasonable here. Niko was terrific in the first round sweep of Portland, a big upset, and he truly had an amazing season to be able to still do that from the summer holdout and negotiations and just about willing to play out his option to the punch, the mime act with Portis when they actually played the best of any two guys playing together among any of the Bulls this season, and then the trade, back to the bench, starting, shaving. The guy endured an awful lot with a pretty upbeat attitude. Congratulations to him for an excellent season. He looks like he's finally on the way to a good NBA career.
So for the NBA's Final Four: I agree on Golden State. I don't see how Houston with all that isolation can outdo the Warriors with the best ball and player movement in the league. (And how do you feel as a Thunder fan watching Durant against Harden?) And Curry is back healthy. I'm not sure it goes more than five. As for the East, again, that's where the better basketball is. It was a great overall first round in the playoffs and awful second round. That Boston/Philly series, though just five games, was the most ferociously and consistently competitive series in the playoffs. Those two teams really went at it. And they showed with the seriousness of their play that everyone in the East better take a giant step in effort to match what they do. I still cannot believe Boston got here in five, and that they were able to score like that. But they sure look like they are going to make it a series and won't surprise anyone if they win. They were the hardest playing team on a regular basis all season, and they added to that in the playoffs. They're going to attack LeBron like the Pacers did and the Raptors were fearful to. And that they are more talented than Indiana suggests they do have a chance. Hey, am I talking myself into Boston? I felt the absence of George Hill early was crucial. I know, whoever said that? Not because he's so great, but without Kyrie the Cavs need a second playmaker around all those catch and shoot guys. Hill can do that, though he is fragile. If he makes it through the series, I like the Cavs in six or seven. Winning a seventh in Boston? The 76ers just about did. LeBron can do that now that the Raptors allowed him to get on a run and get some rest. It's going to be the most compelling series left in these playoffs. Let's get started. Three days in May without NBA basketball? It's not fair.
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