2016-2017 Phoenix Suns Preview

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2016-2017 Phoenix Suns team preview.

Team Name: Phoenix Suns

Last Year’s Record: 23-59

Key Losses: Mirza Teletovic, Ronnie Price, Jon Luer, Chase Budinger

Key Additions: Dragan Bender, Marquese Chriss, Tyler Ulis, Jared Dudley, Leandro Babosa

What Significant Moves were made during the off-season?

The Suns had one of their better summers in recent memory following the 2015-2016 season. Armed with the 4th pick in the NBA Draft, Phoenix swung for the fences (which is EXACTLY what you should do at the top of the draft) and drafted European phenom Dragan Bender. Although some of the intrigue surrounding Bender could just be a bout of wishful thinking from this year’s Porzingis hangover, Bender has showcased the skill and athleticism to excel in the “new” NBA’s small ball revolution (which, of course, was brought to the forefront by the very franchise that drafted him). The Suns have had a particularly strong draft history when they actually own their picks, and although no sure-thing, Bender was a good gamble at #4 in a two-player draft.

What separated Phoenix’ draft from every other team this year, was the fact they held two Lottery picks (#4 and #13). Ryan McDonough was able to coerce the Sacramento into trading their #8 selection to Phoenix for #13, #28, Bogdan Bogdanovic, and a 2020 second-round pick. The Suns used that selection on the draft’s fastest riser, athletic wunderkind Marquese Chriss, another high-risk, high-reward prospect. Although the argument could be made that there’s a bit of a skill set overlap with Chris and Bender, drafting best-available is always preferred to best-fit, especially when your franchise hasn’t made the Playoffs in 6 seasons and only won 23 games.

The Suns reach backed into their Wayback Machine and re-signed franchise-favorites Jared Dudley and Leandro Barbosa. Both players will bring a much-needed veteran presence in the locker room, as well positive production in limited minutes on the floor. Both have been known as World-Class teammates at every stop during their careers, and bring a plethora of both regular-season and Playoff experience, which should mesh nicely with Tyson Chandler (for however long he stays there).

 

 What are the team’s biggest strengths?

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Devin Booker, Dragan Bender, and Marquese Chriss are potential stars, if given the proper time and coaching to develop.

 

The Suns biggest strength, without a doubt, is absence of expectations. The fanbase might yearn for the glory days of deep playoff runs and title contention with the Steve Nash/Amare Stoudemire/Shawn Marion led teams, but they would just as quickly marry themselves to the franchise again if there were a glimmer of a future.

Last year, that glimmer became a shining beacon of hope when the youngest player in the league, 2015 #13 draft pick Devin Booker, began getting increased playing time.

Devin Booker blew past all expectations, and became the Suns first rookie since Amare Stoudemire in 2003 to make an All-Rookie Team (1st or 2nd). He is a sweet-shooting two-guard in the mold of a Klay Thompson/Bradley Beal. As long as he continues to develop incrementally, the Suns have found their starting two-guard for the future (heck, even presently he’s better than half the starting shooting guards in the league).

Devin Booker’s season really took off once he was inserted into the starting lineup following an injury to Eric Bledsoe. In fact, the Suns’ backcourt is potentially the deepest in the league, with borderline All-Stars Eric Bledsoe, Devin Booker, and Brandan Knight. The advantage of such depth, is that the team can withstand an injury to any one of those players without missing a beat. Brandon Knight can excel playing either guard position, while Bledsoe is big enough to guard bigger two-guards while the other Suns guard sticks with the small point. The interchangeability of those three is fascinating, if somewhat frustrating, knowing someone isn’t going to be getting the optimal amount of minutes.

Because the Phoenix Suns aren’t expected to make the Playoffs, this means that all of the young prospects the team currently has should be given the chance to play and develop in a real NBA environment. Besides their two lottery picks, the Suns still employ Alex Len, T.J. Warren and Archie Goodwin, and the jury is still out on whether any of them has a future on the team, and what better way to find out than playing each one a minimum of 20-25 minutes a night?

 What are the team’s biggest weaknesses?

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Robert Sarver and Ryan McDonough need to avoid short-sighted, “win-now” moves.

In contrast with the team’s strength being their absence of expectations and in turn giving opportunity to let the unproven prospects develop, the franchise’s biggest weakness is the organization’s constant self-sabotaging actions.

The front office in Phoenix has been taking a public relations beating the last handful of years. From Robert Sarver’s tight wallet (selling picks, like Rajon Rondo), to questionable basketball moves (signing Michael Beasley, trading the valuable Lakers’ pick from the Steve Nash trade, dumping Isaiah Thomas and his cap friendly contract for pennies on the dollar, holding onto Markieff Morris and his cancerous locker-room presence far too long while surrounded by impressionable young players, not allowing Amare to sign a contract to allow him to retire as a Suns player, etc), the Suns organization is never far from making a disastrous decision.

Sarver insists the team is goal is winning and it’s not difficult to see a scenario where he recognizes the team’s plethora of capable veterans (Tyson Chandler, Jared Dudley, Leandro Barbosa, Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight, P.J. Tucker) and determines (inaccurately) they are one or two moves from the Playoffs, and mandates going all-in.

The most disastrous outcome for the Suns this season would be another short-sighted move at the expense of the development of the potential star-talent youth, either by restricting their minutes, or moving them for more veteran help.

The decision to cut ties with Jeff Hornecek and handover the reigns of the team to Earl Watson is puzzling. Following the premature dismissal of Hornecek after a 14-35 start last season, Watson’s 9-24 record should have been enough for the Suns to move onto a coach search at the end of the season.

Instead they removed Watson’s interim tag, signing him to a 3 year contract, citing the positive effect his stint had on the locker room.

Hornecek was quickly scooped up by Phil Jackson and the Knicks and is entering a season in which he will be coaching Carmelo Anthony, Kristaps Porzingus, Derrick Rose, and Joakim Noah. Although the Knicks haven’t had the best track record when it comes to hiring coaches, Hornecek was universally seen as an up-and-coming coach and was pursued by multiple teams looking to add the former Jazz standout to their coaching staff.

What are the goals for this team?

The goals for 2016-2017 Phoenix Suns aren’t quite as cut-and-dry as most teams, due to their unpredictable front office, and evenly split roster consisting of experienced veterans and under-developed, high-upside talent.

A lyric keeps coming to mind that seems to summarize the Phoenix Suns’ current state:

“There’s something happening here. What it is, ain’t exactly clear”

There’s a start of something on the Suns roster, something almost Thunder-ian or Jazz-ian. If the organization could just let go of the self-imposed expectation stemming from their recent past, and embrace the growing pains of developing youth and talent within the franchise, the team could set itself on a trajectory to true title contention within a few years.

The long-term, sustained success of the team would best benefit from maximizing the rosters’ veteran talent as trade assets. One of either Bledsoe or Knight should be moved, opening up consistent, starter-level minutes for Devin Booker. Since both point guards were signed under the old salary cap, before the new T.V. money kicked in, they are on extremely cap-friendly deals, which maximize their attractiveness to other teams.

Unfortunately, the point guard position is the deepest it has ever been in NBA history, so finding a team in need of point guard help, that also has attractive trade assets, might be more difficult than it seems.

 What is the prediction for the Suns 2016-2017 season?

Ultimately, the Suns will be better than most projections, and they will return to respectability (they won’t sniff the playoffs, though). Now that Markieff Morris is gone, the team will begin to gel, and Devin Booker will continue his ascension to stardom.

As Devin Booker solidifies his spot at the two-guard position, Phoenix will find a taker for Brandon Knight’s cap-friendly contract. Eric Bledsoe and Devin Booker will become one of the more exciting backcourts in the league.

Alex Len will show just enough promise for the Suns to sign him to a rookie extension, leaving them with a young, athletic center for the foreseeable future.

Dragan Bender will struggle making the adjustment to the NBA, while Marquese Chriss plays well from the jump, albeit in limited minutes.

The Suns and Tyson Chandler will either agree to buyout or move him via trade, finishing his career competing for another championship.

2016-2017 Projected Record: 33-49

 

-Tom Kaczor (@fishkzor on Twitter)

________________________________________

All the SBNation NBA Previews for 2016-2017:

Atlanta Hawks

Atlanta Hawks 2016-17 Season Preview – Peachtree Hoops

The Hawks broke up a successful team for Dwight Howard. Will it be worth it? – SBNation.com

Boston Celtics

Boston Celtics Preview – More of the same, only better – CelticsBlog

The possibilities are endless for the Celtics – SBNation.com

Celtics Season Preview: Buckle Up for a Fun Season! – CelticsGreenBlog.com 

Boston Celtics 2016-17 Season Preview – Lucid Sports Fan

Brooklyn Nets

2016-2017 SB Nation NBA Season Preview: Brooklyn Nets – NetsDaily

The Nets are finally starting over from scratch – SBNation.com

2016-17 NBA Preview: Brooklyn Nets – Baller Mind Frame

Charlotte Hornets

Charlotte Hornets 2016-17 Season Preview – At The Hive

The Nets are finally starting over from scratch – SBNation.com

Chicago Bulls

Chicago Bulls Season Preview: with these additions, anything (good or bad) can happen – Blog a Bull

The Bulls’ roster is so weird that it somehow might work – SBNation.com

Cleveland Cavaliers

NBA 2016-17 Season Preview: Cavaliers look to build legacy as Cleveland’s title team – Fear The Sword

If LeBron James is healthy, the Cavaliers are going to the Finals again – SBNation.com

2016-17 Cleveland Cavaliers Season Preview | Waiting For Next Year

Dallas Mavericks

Where the Mavericks stand headed into the 2016-17 season – Mavs Moneyball

Dirk Nowitzki must carry another hodge-podge Mavericks roster – SBNation.com

Denver Nuggets

SB Nation Denver Nuggets season preview – Denver Stiffs

Is it too soon to expect the Nuggets to make a playoff run? – SBNation.com

Detroit Pistons

Detroit Pistons Season Preview: Young team ready to take the next step – Detroit Bad Boys

The Pistons are coming. Watch out, East – SBNation.com

Golden State Warriors

2016-17 NBA Season Preview: Warriors aim to regain title with the help of Kevin Durant – Golden State Of Mind

Why did we start to hate the Warriors? – SBNation.com

Houston Rockets

The Houston Rockets 2016-2017 season preview – The Dream Shake

James Harden and Mike D’Antoni will be a fascinating partnership for the Rockets – SBNation.com

Indiana Pacers

Indiana Pacers 2016-17 Season Preview – Indy Cornrows

Paul George is great. Can the rest of the Pacers’ roster keep up? – SBNation.com

LA Clippers

2016-17 NBA Season Preview: The Clippers Are On The Cusp – Clips Nation

This is a make-or-break year for the Clippers, just like last year and 2 years ago – SBNation.com

LA Lakers

The Silver Screen and Roll 2016-2017 Lakers season preview – Silver Screen and Roll

Kobe Bryant’s gone, so we’ll finally learn if the Lakers’ young core is any good – SBNation.com

Memphis Grizzlies

Season Preview: What to Expect from the Memphis Grizzlies – Grizzly Bear Blues

The Grizzlies keep putting off rebuilding, even if they’re better now – SBNation.com

Miami Heat

SB Nation Miami Heat Season Preview – Hot Hot Hoops

The Heat are hanging on Pat Riley’s next master plan – SBNation.com

Miami Heat Preview – Behind the Arc

Milwaukee Bucks

Milwaukee Bucks 16-17 Season Preview – Brew Hoop

The Bucks are still weird as hell – SBNation.com

Minnesota Timberwolves

Minnesota Timberwolves Team Preview – Canis Hoopus

The Timberwolves’ bright future will still have growing pains – SBNation.com

New Orleans Pelicans

2016-17 New Orleans Pelicans Preview: Anthony Davis looks to rebound amid new teammates – The Bird Writes

Anthony Davis is worth the price of admission, even if the Pelicans aren’t – SBNation.com

New York Knicks

The Posting and Toasting 2016-2017 Knicks season preview – Posting and Toasting

We don’t understand Phil Jackson’s plan with the Knicks – SBNation.com

Oklahoma City Thunder

Thunder Season Preview: Can we get rid of the three point line? – Welcome to Loud City

Russell Westbrook needs to do everything to carry the Thunder to a top-4 seed – SBNation.com

Orlando Magic

2016-17 NBA Season Preview: New look Magic gunning for playoffs – Orlando Pinstriped Post

Whatever happens with the Magic, at least they’ll be watchable – SBNation.com

2017 Orlando Magic Preview: Eye on the Playoffs

Philadelphia Sixers

2016-17 NBA Season Preview: Sixers, Philadelphia on the verge of a new era – Liberty Ballers

The 76ers finally look like a typical bad basketball team, which is progress – SBNation.com

Phoenix Suns

Phoenix Suns Season Preview: Training Camp Style – Bright Side Of The Sun

The Suns’ young core needs patience and we’re not sure they get it – SBNation.com

Phoenix Suns Preview – Poor Execution

Portland Trail Blazers

Portland Trail Blazers 2016-17 Season Preview – Blazer’s Edge

The Trail Blazers are good, but let’s not get carried away with expectations – SBNation.com

Sacramento Kings

2016-17 Sacramento Kings Season Preview – Sactown Royalty

It’s time for DeMarcus Cousins to rise above the Kings’ dysfunction – SBNation.com

Sacramento Kings’ Season Preview

San Antonio Spurs

San Antonio Spurs 2016/17 season preview: The post-Tim Duncan era begins – Pounding The Rock

Tim Duncan is gone, but the Spurs will be just fine – SBNation.com

Toronto Raptors

Toronto Raptors 2016-17 Preview: Can the Raps avoid regression? – Raptors HQ

The Raptors don’t need to improve for this year to be a success – SBNation.com

Utah Jazz

Utah Jazz 2016-17 Preview – The Basics – SLC Dunk

The Jazz have the kind of roster that can make the Warriors uncomfortable – SBNation.com

Washington Wizards

Washington Wizards preview: Can they be more than fine this season? – Bullets Forever

There’s no excuse if the Wizards miss the playoffs again – SBNation.com

 

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Green with Envy

2014 Oklahoma City Thunder Media Day
 Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)

As of the writing of this article, the Celtics are 12 games above .500.

That’s the third-best mark in the Eastern Conference.

Seems reasonable, with a talented roster loaded with All-Stars, featuring Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo.

But this isn’t that team.

This roster is stacked with Evan Turner, Jae Crowder, Kelly Olynyk, Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart, Jared Sullinger, and Isaiah Thomas. With a coach that’s younger than Kevin Garnett.

To say the Celtic’s post-Big Three rebuild has been a success would be a gargantuan understatement. Not only did the Celtics seemingly get the very best of every transaction it took to dismantle that Championship team, they didn’t sign a single bad contract, and they certainly didn’t simply hire a coach that’s “been there” before.

The hiring of Brad Stevens from Butler, following the trade of coach Doc Rivers to the Clippers for a 2015 first round pick (that turned into R.J. Hunter), the Celtics’ organization immediately proved that they were in it for the long haul. No quick fixes with savvy vets, like the Mavs have done so many times. No forcing a respected, tenured coach to oversee the development of young players in the current NBA culture that so many old school coaches can’t seem to understand, or respect.

Brad Stevens has instilled a culture into the Celtics locker room and basketball court where everyone knows their role, and executes his amazing play-calling flawlessly. The team is truly greater than the sum of their parts when they are clicking, and more often-than-not, they’re clicking like crazy.

Jae Crowder is the glue guy on a team filled with spare parts, tossed away projects, and overlooked prospects. Considered a “throw-in” in the deal that sent Rajon Rondo to Dallas, Crowder has absolutely out-played expectations and is now an integral cog in the well-oiled Celtics machine. Sacramento never bought into what Isaiah Thomas was selling, then Phoenix promptly (and foolishly) shipped him out of town once it was determined a Bledsoe/Dragic/Thomas point guard-by-committee wasn’t working and needed to be broken up.

Danny Ainge, ever the opportunist, gladly scooped him up, knowing how underpaid Thomas would be under the new rising salary cap, in relation with his then-current production. Then IT4 blew past those projections to make his first All-Star team this year, while being the Celtics primary go-to scorer.

Marcus Smart is in year number two, and has already cemented himself as a defensive bulldog who plays with a relentlessness that would have fit right in with those Garnett-anchored defenses of a few years ago.

Avery Bradley inked a four-year, $44 million dollar contract for his potential as a 3 and D guy. While his defense has never waned, this season, his three-point stroke has found its rhythym, and he has already exceeded the value of that once questioned contract.

Evan Turner has completely rehabilitated his career as jack-of-trades, after failing to live up to his draft position (Number two overall) in Philadelphia, and then in Indiana. He doesn’t shy away from the big moments, yet always seems to know when to make the right play, even if it isn’t self-serving.

Then you throw in Olynyk and Sullinger, stretch bigs that fit the mold of the ideal stretch four (or even five) of the current NBA, and you have an extremely talented, deep team that players the right way, and frankly, overachieves. That isn’t even including the three draftees selected in the 2015 draft, as well as veterans Amir Johnson and Jonas Jerebko.

Not only are the Celtics near the top of the Eastern Conference already, they have amassed a plethora of draft picks. The Brooklyn Banquet (unprotected first-rounders in 2016 and 2018, with swap rights in 2017), the Dallas 2016 first-rounder (top 7 protected), as well as the Celtics own first rounders for the foreseeable future, plus the multiple second-rounders coming to them from various trades, and loads of open cap space, the present and future are overwhelmingly bright in Boston.

Really, they only lack one thing. Unfortunately, that one thing is the absolute most difficult thing to acquire in the NBA. Some franchises go decades without one, while other teams are able to regularly sign them outright: an unquestionable superstar player.

Most teams draft them, and unless one of the Brooklyn picks hits that number one spot with a transcendent player going pro that summer, Boston might be forced to go another route, which historically-speaking, has never been their forte.

Taking all the forementioned players, assets, coaching, savvy front office history, and the fact that they’ve been able to build a winner before, this summer will hopefully grant them the ability to take a meeting with someone who will be one of the biggest NBA players to ever hit the open market: Kevin Freakin Durant ( shout out to @zachlowe ).

Yes. Kevin Durant.

The fact that this is even a remote possibility for Boston is a triumph. The Celtics were able to keep their team fluid and malleable, waiting for that star player to become available via trade. Disgruntled Boogie Cousins? Volatile Blake Griffin? Jimmy Butler? Paul George? It doesn’t matter. From a value standpoint, the Celtics could offer the absolute best package for any star player.

Unfortunately, that scenario has not played out as soon as most fans would have liked.

Sure, Ainge could have dealt the farm for free agent-to-be Dwight Howard, but he was never going to do that. Al Horford was apparently on the trading block as well, but Ainge preferred to keep his assets for the summer of 2016, when the Celtics may just luck their way into the number one overall pick. Or maybe they received a strong indication from Horford’s camp to stand pat with their treasure trove of goodies, and maybe Al would heavily consider signing there outright this summer. The team is much more attractive with the roster intact, instead of say, what James Dolan gave up to get Carmelo Anthony to New York instead of waiting until the summer to sign him outright, while keeping his supporting cast stocked.

Lets put Horford on the back burner for a minute, and talk about the Durantula in the room.

If Kevin Durant decides Oklahoma City will never be able to build a true Championship team around him by going in the luxury tax, Boston may be his best option. Sure, the rumors about Golden State being a potential landing spot seem to be real, but there’s no way Durant’s brand would ever be the same. He’d be simply jumping aboard the Warriors machine that’s poised to make a run at the Finals for a few years, even without him.

If people question his and Russell Westbrooks relationship and basketball fit, how would he respond to being Curry’s sidekick, along with Klay and Draymond? As salivating as the idea is, ultimately Durant is too dominant a player for a supporting role.

Boston could give him his first real taste of NBA royalty. There’s no NBA franchise with a deeper tradition and history of success. The 2008 Championship team was assembled by the same ownership and GM that are currently sitting on a pile of team-altering assets, able to tweak the roster on-the-fly to bring in the ultimate complementary players. Russell Westbrook? Horford? Anyone would be fair game. Remember, KG didn’t approve of the trade to Boston until Ray Allen was acquired. One star often leads to another in the new NBA.

Kevin Durant has never had a coach on the level of Brad Stevens. If he’s capable of squeezing this much production and success out of Evan Turner and Jae Crowder, it’s almost unfathomable what Durant could become.

Another huge selling point: Durant would escape the Western Conference, and dodge the Warriors/Spurs freight train. Setting up in the East, with a youthful roster, and Cleveland as their only true competition, Durant could conceivably find himself in the Finals year-after-year. The Eastern Conference is still a handful of years away from The Next Great Team’s emergence, and nothing is guaranteed as Lebron piles all those minutes on his aging and aching body.

Furthermore, the city of Boston would adore him. He would follow in the footsteps of the All-Timers to play, and win for the Celtics. He would be putting his career and legacy in experienced hands, as OKC continues to remind us of just the opposite with every post-Harden trade transaction.

In the end, the most likely outcome will be Durant taking a cue from LeBron, by signing a one year deal, giving the Thunder another year to prove he should resign. Short of a Finals appearance this year, and/or next, they could very well lose Durant and Westbrook, and be forced to truly feel the pressures of a small-market NBA franchise.

Boston has been waiting to choose that star player that becomes available in a trade. It would be serendipitous if the star player chose the Celtics for change.

NBA Draft Lottery: The Winners & The New York Knicks

2015 Lottery picks pose with hats from their potential suitors.
2015 Lottery picks pose with hats from their potential suitors.

Tuesday’s Draft Lottery passed, and left in it’s wake; Hope for one of the leagues most down-trodden franchises, a key ingredient to a fabled institution’s rebuild, another key asset for the NBA’s red-headed stepchild, and absolute misery for the New York Knicks’ baffled franchise and fanbase.


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#1 Pick: Minnesota Timberwolves

For the Timberwolves, life post-Kevin Love s better than most could have imagined a season ago. What Kevin Love brought to the table night-in and night-out was never going to be something replicated by his eventual replacement:

26.1 PPG, 12.5 RPG, 4.4 APG, 46% FG, 37% 3PT  PER: 26.9

Those aren’t the stats of a good NBA player. Those are the stats of an ALL-NBA caliber player, and rarely does a team receive a 1:1 return when trading a superstar. The best a franchise can hope for is, well “Hope”.

And now Minnesota has “Hope” in spades.

Not only did they receive the 2015 NBA Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins, and former #1 pick Anthony Bennet, they now have the first pick in an extremely top-heavy draft. They can go any way they want: Go big with a defensive-minded center in Towns, or offensively gifted in Okafor. No good? Okay, how about choosing between a pair of guards in Russell and Mudiaye? Maybe something different? Sweet-shooting Latvian big man Porzingas. If he IS your cup of tea, or perhaps Willie Cauley-Stein, then swap picks, move down 2 or 3 spots, get YOUR guy, and other asset (maybe a young player like Nik Stauskas or Ben McClemore, How about Kenneth Faried?)

The point is, Minnesota holds all the cards, for once. If things play out the conventional way, they’ll have a team fielding Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns, Ricky Rubio, Zach LaVine, Shabbazz Mohammad, Gorgui Dieng, and Anthony Bennet, not to mention players like Kevin Martin, Chase Budinger, and Nikola Pekovic which could be easily moved for more youth and picks.

Oh, and they also have one of the NBA’s greatest locker room guys ever in Kevin Garnett. Wiggins and potentially Towns will get to see first hand what it takes to become a superstar in the NBA from one of the greatest to ever play. They will learn accountability. They’ll learn hoe to play tenacious defense. How to get into the opponents heads. How to squeeze the most of of their talents and potential. KG’s presence cannot be overstated enough. They will receive invaluable information from Garnett that will help shape them not only as players, but as men as they begin their ascension into the leagues upper elite.


Lakers NBA Champ 2014-2015

#2 Pick: Los Angeles Lakers

How the mighty have fallen.

Uu until a couple of seasons ago, no one cold have predicted this. The lakers had just traded for Dwight Howard and Steve Nash to team with Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. Everything seemed to work out perfectly for L.A. like it always does. Whether trading for top-tier talent, or always swooning elite free agents to sunny California, the Lakers were about to make a run to the Finals again.

But as well all know now, theres a first time for everything: Howard played hurt and fled the Lakers and Kobe’s constant ire for Houston. Nash’s body began breaking down the moment he left the Sun’s miraculous training staff. Kobe hasn’t been healthy in years, and Pau finally left the negativity of the L.A. media for the cold winters in Chicago.

The rebuild-on-the-fly routine hadn’t worked in the Lakers favor this time, leading 2014-2015 being their worst season in team history. The silver lining?

The second overall pick in an increasingly good draft.

The Lakers lucked out and drafted a potentially special player in Jordan Clarkson, and have Julius Randle as their long-term pieces going forward. The team should and will more likely than not draft whichever player falls to them between the two big men: Towns or Okafor. Either will do as they both fit needs and could be dubbed as the Next Great Lakers Big Man.

The #2 pick benefits the team in more than just the draft. Knowing the team will have a 3 good young players going forward means that it’ll be easier to persuade a star free agent to sig there. If not, they have the valuable pieces to send back in a sign-and-trade scenario. Kobe appears to be headed into his final season, so he shouldn’t be viewed as a detriment to potential free agents any longer who would have to be able to co-exist with Bryant.

It seems the days of placating Kobe Bean Bryant are over, and the team will be better for it the sooner it comes to that realization.


150101135854-joel-embiid-nerlens-noel-photo-shoot-2014.home-t1

#3 Pick: Philadelphia 76ers

Oh what a tangled web we weave when we don’t want our team to succeed.

It’s easy to be upset with Philadelphia for not putting the best possible product on the floor overnight for fans to consume. But the fact that they are playing within the rules, and have a transparent plan, and are executing it without wavering is something that other, much more established franchises cannot say. One could easily question what exactly the Knicks, Lakers, and Kings are doing.

You can not say that about the 76ers.

That said, they fell into a pretty decent situation, where they will not have to draft a highly rated big man with their lottery pick for a third year in a row, as they are both most likely gone by #3 This allows them to draft a player for more or less “need”, although they have the caveat that the player will also be the best available as well, which works firmly within their plan.

The team is already setup for future success, be it a championship, or simply a perennial Playoff team. Noel and Ebiid are, worst-case scenario, solid starting-caliber NBA players. Saric, stashed overseas, is at least a serviceable 6th man type, with tremendous upside if he figures it all out. They also have a few intriguing young pieces such as Covington and Wroten that should either help fill out that future roster, or could be packaged with their plethora of picks for a veteran, or to manipulate their  draft position. This years #3 pick is going to get them another starter. Thats a decent team that can sell the fans on patience and hope.

The lesser discussed asset is their cap space, because it seems unfathomable right now that any free agent of consequence would choose to play of the Sixers. But if they are able to sign a player like Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler, or to a lesser extent Khris Middleton to bloated, front-loaded contracts, they would have an incredible team with a long, bright future ahead of them.

And luckily for them, the front office put them in a position to be players in the offseason for many years to come, just waiting for a superstar to become available, like Houston with James Harden, Boston with Kevin Garnett, or New York with Carmelo Anthony.

Speaking of which……


carmelo-anthony-sad

#4 Pick: New York Knicks

The New York Knicks are a team clinging to hope, and nothing else, more than any other franchise.

  • The hope that the player they could draft at #4 could become a franchise player.
  • The hope that a marquee free agent will want to join forces with an aging Carmelo Anthony in New York.
  • The hope that Phil Jackson will figure it all out and bring the genius he brought to coaching to running an NBA franchise.
  • The hope that paying Derek Fisher, a first time coach, all that money was not a huge mistake.
  • The hope that some other franchise will give the Knick everything, plus the kitchen sink, in exchange for that #4 pick, re-ignitning the franchise, and city, and proving all the losing was worth it.

Ultimately, the hope is that for once during his tenure, James Dolan will not step in and completely flip things upside down to try yet another “quick-fix” all while mortgaging the future of the team.

The hard truth of the problem with the New York Knicks is this: James Dolan and the Knicks worst enemy is James Dolan and the idea of the New York Knicks.

If you were new to the sport of NBA basketball, and did a quick survey of internet articles, merchandising, general NBA “news”, you would come to the following conclusion:

Lebron James sucks and is the best player since Michael Jordan. Kobe Bryant is in charge of the NBA elite franchise: The Lakers. Steph Curry is the People’s/Player’s Player. The Celtics are involved in all trade scenarios. The Sacramento Kings are about to do something phenomenally stupid. The New York Knick are the most storied franchise in professional sports and every player is dying to play in the Mecca so the team and continue their championship-winning ways.

(….record scratch!)

If the 76ers are bad on purpose to receive the most chances picking at the top of the draft in order to have as many chances to draft a transcendent player as possible, you could say the Knicks themselves things just didn’t break their way this season and they are in the lottery by complete, utter bad luck. They would much rather be competing for the 8th Playoff spot every year (which is about the best the team could have hoped for the past 15 years) than to be building through the draft year-after-year.

This is a problem.

An adopted mantra for many NBA teams supports the idea that, as team, you either want to be competing for titles, or ping pong balls. Being stuck in the middle, just missing the playoffs, is the worst position for a franchise, and ultimately, their fans.

When a team sneaks into the Playoffs (And we use the term ‘sneaks’ very loosely. of the 30 NBA teams, 16 make the post season every year), ownership gets to make some extra money from hosting more NBA games, all of which sell out. On top of that, players get their Playoff bonuses depending on how their contracts are written up, and most importantly, the fans get to root for their teams the same way fans of championship caliber-teams get to annoy everybody every season. The casual fan can stay up all hours of the night, determining the perfect road map to getting their team into the finals. A few stellar game from their star player, or a bad break of luck with an injury to an opposing team has the momentum to swing a series. Any team, at any time can have their luck changed and find themselves 4 wins from a title, theoretically. ON top of that, suddenly the team becomes much more attractive to potential free agents, who can now envision themselves as perhaps the final piece to the franchise’s Playoff puzzle.

But when a team wins just enough games to not have a negative stigma attached to itself, but loses just enough to not be invited into the Playoffs, then their course to become better just got a little more complicated. With a lottery pick, they have the means (with a  little luck of course) to draft a player that can become anything, from solid, to transcendent. For every Greg Oden, there’s an Anthony Davis. But for every Kyrie Irving, there are hundreds of Derrick Williams littered though NBA history. But the best avenue to get a Kevin Durant or Lebron James is to have draft picks and actually use them to select players. And these players typically are found at the top of the draft, available to the worst of the worst.

The Knicks, somehow, for some reason, see themselves as team that constantly needs to trade in whatever chips they have to chase that championship, except that never realize that they can barely chase that final Playoff spot first. The the  is in constant financial and roster trouble, trading away draft picks and young players with untapped potential, for known quantities, no matter if the player fits the team needs or not. And it happens over and over and over, and it’s most likely about to happen in a couple of months when they trade their 4th overall draft pick for another cast off player from a team that no longer values them.

It’s going to happen. The question isn’t “If”, its “When”.

On paper, the names always seem tantalizing. The front office, media members, fanatics with instantly recall a career highlight of said player, as if thats the version that the Knick with acquire and unleash upon the league. Andrea Bargain, Amare Stoudemire (his knees were so shot, Phoenix passed on re-signing him and insurance companies wouldn’t cover them. The Knicks response? $100 million dollars!), Metta World Peace, Rasheed Wallace, Marcus Camby, Kurt Thomas, Jason Kidd, Mike Bibby, Baron Davis, and so-on and so-on. The list is long, these were just a handful from the last few years that came to mind. And sure, each one had at least one moment that sent the New York media into a frenzy, which they use for temporary justification of their signing. But soon enough, each time, the story stays the same. The player is overpaid, ultimately underperforms by the Knicks bloated expectations, their names are dragged through the mud. Eventually, they get out of NYC and either retire, or have a few good years elsewhere, which leads Knicks fans again lamenting why they never played that way for their franchise.

All the fortunes the Knick have amassed, both good and bad, for the last 15 seasons can be attributed to owner James Dolan. He spends recklessly, exchanges assets for players with reckless abandon, uses the media to take jabs at not only players, but people within the Knicks organization, which he was responsible of hiring in the first place. The entire 2000s were bad contract after bad contract, not to mention Isiah Thomas’ sexual harassment scandal at MSG, which even Dolan himself knew would have to slowly be undone if they ever wanted a shot at Lebron James in free agency in 2010.

He hired basketball lifer Donnie Walsh to come in, shed contracts, make smart player acquisitions that did not negatively affect their cap situation going forward, to set the team up for a sustainable run at the championship, and much more importantly, to carve out a roster and max cap space that could entice Lebron James to leave Cleveland, the only NBA team he’d ever know, from his home state of Ohio, once he hit free agency in 2010.

And boy did Walsh execute his job excellently.

But alas, Dolan reverted back to his own ways once Lebron signed with Miami and the relative horror of not signing a max player that summer began to sink in.

He ordered that Amare Stoudemire (knees be damned!) be signed for a max contract, believing he could help lure other free agents to NYC. Sure enough, that following season, Carmelo let the Nuggets’ front office know that he intended to walk as a free agent, preferably to New York. Upon hearing this, Dolan once again decided it as wiser to surrender a truckload of assets for Carmelo Anthony, rather than wait 6 months for him to sign outright. Those assets helped NYC to a surprise start to 2010 with a rejuvenated Amare Stoudemire playing like a league MVP, before, of course, his knees gave out on him.

Against Donnie Walsh’s wishes, Dolan called for the trade, sent over most of his team to Denver, and got his white whale. Donnie did’t stick around much past the destruction of his cap friendly roster, and the Knicks have been without direction since.

That was to change at the Draft Lottery. With an inexperienced and expensive President, as well as head coach, the Knicks were about to put their stamp on the rebuild with an elite big man to build around, like Ewing, David Robinson, Olajuwon, Shaq, Duncan, Dwight, and Anthony Davis.

Some things just aren’t meant to be. The New York Knicks were the lone team to move down the draft board that night. But if James Dolan’s history tells us anything, it’s that it won’t matter much in the end anyway. The pick will ultimately be moved, a new savior will come to town. MSG will be rocking for a little while, until that #4 pick blossoms elsewhere.

And the Knicks will begin to clear cap space to make a run at that player when he enters free agency in almost a decade.