The 2018 NBA Draft order is officially set. On Thursday, June 21, the Phoenix Suns will be first at bat; whether they pick Deandre Ayton or Luka Dončić, they’ll finally be well-positioned to definitively rebuild their franchise. But what about some of the other lottery teams? Let’s make a few predictions and flesh out some draft-related implications for a handful of fluctuating franchises.
The Grizzlies Are About to Lose Marc Gasol
And Mike Conley, if they can find it within themselves to set him free. The Sacramento Kings had a 6% chance at nabbing the No. 2 pick, but De’Aaron Fox’s lucky smile came through. The Grizzlies will now be picking fourth come June instead of second like they had planned on.
Marc Gasol is disgruntled. After seven straight years of competitive basketball and (relative) playoff success, the three-time All-Star watched the Grit and Grind era die a slow death in 2017-18. Losing Zach Randolph, Tony Allen, and Vince Carter in free agency was one thing; losing Conley to an Achilles injury was another. With the firing of David Fizdale setting the tone for the season, Gasol watched Memphis choose “development” (read: tanking) over competition, effectively putting a dagger in the Grizzlies’ best run in 23 years as a franchise.
Losing 60 games was bad, but somehow not bad enough. The Grizzlies will (likely) lose out on the opportunity to draft a franchise-changer like Deandre Ayton or Luka Dončić. Most remaining top prospects are new-era centers and power forwards, and if the Grizzlies pick Marvin Bagley, Jaren Jackson, Mo Bamba, or Wendell Carter, this could indicate that they’re ready to replace the aging Gasol.
Coincidentally, Conley was picked at No. 4 in 2007, and he worked out fantastically well for the Grizzlies. The most underrated point guard in the league signed a five-year max deal with Memphis in 2016. If the Grizzlies are about to devote another long season to talent development, Conley should consider his window in the Southwest closed. His contract would be hard to sell in this economy, but Conley has a lot left to give to the game, and it would be worthwhile for him to seek out greener pastures. Meanwhile, Gasol has a player option in 2019. While he’s expressed support for J.B. Bickerstaff earning a guaranteed coaching gig, Bickerstaff isn’t the Popovich type he might be yearning for.
Vince Carter’s, uh, subtleties when prodded about trusting the Grizzlies’ front office in this draft might be an indication of what goes on behind closed doors at the FedEx Forum. It would be prudent for Conley and Gasol to reevaluate their futures in Tennessee. Their best days in Memphis are behind them, and it certainly wouldn’t hurt to look eastward.
The Cavs Are Back at Square One
Hello, darkness, Cleveland’s old friend. 2018 is suddenly looking a lot like 2010.
Cleveland officially secured the No. 8 pick of the 2018 Draft on Tuesday night. They couldn’t do much to control this (except for beating the Nets last October, which would have marginally improved their odds at a higher slot), because it was contingent on Brooklyn’s season-long performance. But in case you weren’t keeping track: the Cavaliers essentially traded Kyrie Irving for Ante Žižić, Rodney Hood, Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr., and this pick. And they certainly controlled that.
Between that trade, this draft lottery, and the Eastern Conference Finals happening above all the noise, this is poetry in motion. While Boston may not have been able to secure a lottery pick this year–what a darn shame–they secured a potentially league-shifting victory on Tuesday night anyway.
That’s right, folks: LeBron James is down 0-2 to an Eastern Conference team for the first time in a decade, and we very well could be watching the finale of the mini Cavaliers dynasty of the mid-2010s. The Boston Celtics didn’t just expose the absolute mediocrity of the team around LeBron last night at the Garden–they put on blast the idiocy of agreeing to a blockbuster trade with Danny Ainge, the type that comes with years of franchise-damning ramifications.
Look: in the next nine days, LeBron could very well singlehandedly win two games at home in Cleveland, carry that momentum back to Boston, and polish off a four-game winning streak at the Q en route to the 2018 NBA Finals. He could, because he’s the greatest athlete of this generation, and betting against him is futile. But the team around him is not performing when it matters most. Hood, Clarkson, and Nance combined for two points in Game 2! Cavs GM Koby Altman engineered two extreme makeovers to the roster within six months, yet LeBron is treading water while his teammates drown in their own incapacities.
No one knows LeBron James‘s free agency plans, but it’s getting ever more difficult to convince ourselves that he’ll happily stay put in northeast Ohio come July. Drafting Trae Young isn’t good enough, by any stretch of the imagination, to convince the King that the Cavaliers are still serious about winning. They let that ship sail last August. Letting Kyrie walk may not have let LeBron choose where he wants to go, but it probably let LeBron figure out where he doesn’t want to stay.
The Knicks Won’t Screw This Up
We’re now 33 years beyond the frozen (or creased) envelope that yielded Patrick Ewing, and the Knicks haven’t earned a single top-3 pick since. Karma? In fact, since the advent of the lottery in 1985, New York has never once mustered the luck to defy any odds to move up a single slot. Go figure.
The Knicks’ incriminating lottery history is against them, and much of the blame should rest on the shoulders of front office executives from Ernie Grunfeld to Isiah Thomas to Phil Jackson. But New Yorkers can, with guarded hope, begin to enjoy a new era. Team president Steve Mills and GM Scott Perry have, in under a year, already engineered a promising rebuild from within. By making the composition of “one of the most efficient, well-run, cohesive staffs in the league” a priority, Mills and Perry are resetting a culture steeped in miserable mediocrity.
For the Knicks, basketball-related success has always reflected front office harmony (or lack thereof). This may always be a top-down issue, and whether ousting James Dolan from his embarrassing role in all of this would truly set the Knicks free will remain unknown. In the meantime, we must trust Mills and Perry: in a progressive move, they’ve fired Jeff Hornacek and replaced him with David Fizdale, perhaps the most promising young coach on the job market. Fizdale has verbally committed to approaching the 2018-19 roster–however it may look–with patience, accountability, and development in mind. With a healthy dose of hard-nosed competition, of course.
That said, it behooves the Knicks to make the most of their No. 9 pick. Please draft Villanova’s Mikal Bridges. The two-time NCAA champ is a fabulous defender and gifted shooter (43.5% from three last season!), whose familiarity with patience and growth mirrors the Knicks’ new movement. Bridges, a versatile guard-forward, carries a well-roundedness and maturity at 21 years old that would be a welcome presence in the locker room. If he can rub off on Frank Ntilikina and be a bright spot for as long as Kristaps Porzingis‘s absence glooms, the Knicks will, at least morally, be at their healthiest and most auspicious position in years.
Philly Will Offer the No. 10 Pick in a Trade For…
Kawhi Leonard. Does this mean R.C. Buford and Gregg Popovich will bite? Probably not. But if Kawhi is really shopping around up north, then it’s worth entertaining the idea.
We all know a lot less about the Kawhi situation than we think we do. The notoriously demure superstar ostensibly wants out of San Antonio–it’s the narrative, but that doesn’t mean it’s the truth. What we do know for certain is that the 2014 Finals MVP is concerned enough about his health and wellbeing to seek advice outside the Spurs organization. We also now know, thanks to ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne, that one medical professional Kawhi has consulted with is an orthopedic surgeon named Dr. Jonathan Glashow–someone who happens to have ties to the Philadelphia 76ers.
How much stock should we put into this information? Well, the doctor in question is based in New York, and is the co-chair of sports medicine at Mount Sinai Medical Center; Kawhi relocated to New York during the season and anchored his rehab at the Players’ Association headquarters. Dr. Glashow is the chief medical officer of the New Jersey Devils, who play just across the Hudson in Newark; he holds the same position for the Sixers, who share co-owners and a CEO with the Devils. Dr. Glashow was directly involved in Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid‘s foot surgeries in 2015 and 2016, respectively. He was also tapped to medically assess future draft picks at the 2016 NBA Draft Combine.
It’s all probably a coincidence: reputed, NBA-endorsed orthopedic surgeon in the right place at the right time for a concerned superstar with an expiring contract coming up. It’s an aptly timed coincidence, though. Want another? Kawhi’s uncle-slash-agent, Dennis Robertson, lives in New Jersey.
It could all be a sham. Kawhi might just be leveraging himself to test the waters. We don’t truly know if his relationship with Pop & Co. has changed as dramatically as it seems, but Pop’s references to “Kawhi and his group” down the stretch of the season weren’t much of a smokescreen.
One sure thing? Kawhi Leonard, Joel Embiid, and Ben Simmons would reinvent the superteam as we know it.