By Joe Manganiello
From the night’s first selection through the turn of round one when most of the lottery trades were finalized, Thursday’s NBA draft was about as unpredictable as it was entertaining. For such a disrespected draft class – it’s being casually referred to as the worst draft in thirteen years, and as harsh as that may be, the claim holds merit – I can’t remember a draft where each selection made you look at whoever else was in the room and say, “Holy crap, I have NO idea what Stern is going to read off that card.”
Sidebar: I really, REALLY loved Stern’s final announcement, followed by Adam Silver bringing out Stern’s first announced draftee, the legend Hakeem Olajuwon, who broke into a spontaneous speech about how revered Stern’s thirty-year tenure as commissioner has been. What an awesome microcosm for what the NBA has accomplished under Stern: the international superstar (Olajuwon) standing alongside Stern (the face of the NBA since the early 80s), discussing how the league has peaked in popularity, one week after the conclusion of the best Finals in years and all while on live, primetime national television. The Association continues to market itself better and better. End sidebar.
With about as many transactions per minute as possible on Thursday night, the NBA off-season has certainly begun. As NBA free agency quickly approaches, I give you my take on every team’s position following the draft.
The Hawks are one of those teams that figure to be brought up frequently this summer. They have a lot of spending money (approx. $34 million, per Hoops World), have ties to two of the biggest free agents (Dwight Howard, Josh Smith) and have Al Horford (signed through 2016) as both a recruiting tool or trading piece. This summer could go a million ways for the Hawks. A worst-case scenario (missing on Howard and Smith, getting out-bid for restricted free agent Jeff Teague, losing Kyle Korver and forced to find a much less ideal way to fill out a roster around a suddenly alienated Horford) and best-case scenario (inking Howard and Smith, retaining Teague and Korver, trading Horford for cheap assets and filling out the remainder of the roster with the foreign talent acquired in the draft) seem equally as likely as a middle-of-the-road scenario (miss on Howard, let Smith walk, retain Teague but cut ties with Korver, swap Horford for someone like Pau Gasol and rebuild around them).
Sidebar: For the record, I am much higher on Horford than Smith, and I think the Hawks would be crazy to invest long-term in a Howard/Smith combination if it means trading away Horford. I just think they’d do it.
Furthermore, the Horford-Gasol trade, which is going on its third summer in Rumorville, makes sense for the Hawks if only because at this point in his career, it’s uncertain if Horford can be the best player on a contender. With Pau Gasol, the Hawks know they would be competitive in the East, if for no other reason than I don’t think the Eastern Conference can guard him. I also think the Lakers would do just about anything to turn Gasol into Horford.
Sidebar (II): What if the Hawks traded Horford and Teague (sign-and-trade) to the Lakers for Pau and (get ready for this) Kobe Bryant? (1) The Hawks are among the only teams in basketball that could handle Kobe’s contract, (2) playing in the East would give Kobe and Pau’s careers new life and (3) the move keeps the Lakers out of salary tax Hell, while keeping the Hawks in the playoff mix. A win-win, right? Who cares about the PR-nightmare it would be for the Lakers to trade Kobe or how ridiculous Atlanta would feel if Kobe retired before putting on their jersey? From a purely basketball related sense, the move is gold for both sides. End sidebar(s).
What did Atlanta do on draft day to help themselves? Center Lucas Nogueira and point guard Dennis Schroeder are both promising foreign prospects who could play serious NBA minutes within the next few years, even if they don’t do much of anything for the Hawks in year one. They also added foreign guard Raul Neto (who doesn’t figure to play in the states anytime soon) and Bucknell graduate Mike Muscala in the second round. The odds that any of these players get significant minutes next season is very low, particularly when figuring that Atlanta will be motivated to stash the three foreign players overseas (where their contracts don’t count against the cap) while they compete to sign Howard and Smith to max deals. While Atlanta did not do much of anything that will impact the 2013-14 product on Thursday, be aware that just about everyday for the next three weeks, Atlanta is in a position to make some of the most vehement moves of the summer.
Predictions: Atlanta fails to sign Dwight, cuts ties with Smith and Korver, rebuilds the team around Horford and Teague and signs several one-year contracts (ala Dallas Mavericks in 2011 and 2012) to fill out the roster.
I could spend 1,000 words on the Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett trade, but the Atlanta Hawks ate up about 400 of them already. In short, the move is displeasing because nobody, including Boston, really wants to see those two guys in a different uniform next year. But the Celtics are attempting to be proactive, get younger and move on to a new chapter for the franchise, which is respectable if not smart. Sure, they are getting hosed from a talent perspective with this deal, as well as feeding two very capable veteran players to a division rival, but the Celtics can finally shut up the “Is their window still open?” talk, something that has weighed on this franchise each year since the 2010 Finals loss. Is it a bit bothersome that the price for shutting that window is trading away the second-most well-respected coach in the league and two Hall of Famers for a collection of low value first round picks, bad contracts and cheap role players? You bet. But the window (and all of the talk about windows) is finally gone.
What’s next for Boston? If all three draft day trades go through as planned, Boston’s roster is filled: (starters) Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley, Jeff Green, Brandon Bass, rookie Kelly Olynyk; (reserves) Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, MarShon Brooks, Keith Bogans, Jared Sullinger, Courtney Lee or Jordan Crawford and Fab Melo. If all those players are moderately healthy next season (specifically Rondo and Green), that team is probably a low-seed in the playoffs anyway, which is what they are now WITH Pierce and Garnett and Doc Rivers on the sideline.
If Boston found a way to turn some of those players into one more bonafide piece (ie: an Al Jefferson sign-and-trade), then the C’s might actually be, dare I say, better than last season. That won’t eliminate the emotional distress of the last week, but if there is one consistent in sports, it’s that winning (and/or a lot of money) fixes everything.
Predictions: Boston goes ahead with the Pierce/Garnett deal, trades a combination of Lee/Sullinger/Olynyk for Al Jefferson, hires a coach who will be a subordinate to Rondo, the unapologetic new face of the franchise…
Sidebar: Within two years, we will hold Rondo’s role in blowing up the Celtics in the same light that we hold Kobe in the premature demise of the 2000s Lakers. End sidebar.
… and the Celtics will double as (1) a dark horse contender in the East and (2) a trendy pick to finish last in the Atlantic, simultaneously.
Mikhail Prokhorov has made it clear that the Nets are willing to spend any amount of money in order to contend for championships. So let’s see what the Nets payroll looks like after the recent Celtics trade: (starters) Joe Johnson ($21.5 million), Deron Williams ($18.5 million), Paul Pierce ($15.3 million), Brook Lopez ($14.7 million), Kevin Garnett ($12.4 million); (reserves) Jason Terry ($5.6 million), Mirza Teletovic ($3.3 million), Reggie Evans ($1.7 million), rookie Mason Plumlee ($1.1 million).
Asking yourself, “Are they really overpaying every single player on their roster right now??!!!” is completely justified, because they are. It’s ridiculous. For a team that doesn’t have LeBron James or Kevin Durant to have a $94 million payroll BEFORE filling out the roster or using its taxpayer Mid-Level Exception ($3.2 million) is absurd. As long as Prokhorov is writing the checks, it appears that this is how the team will conduct business, like a mid-2000s New York Yankees 2.0 (without any of the pedigree).
Despite their egregious overspending and lacking of a transcendent basketball player in their prime, the Nets are actually in a good position heading into next season. They suddenly have the most experienced starting lineup in the Association – Albeit they have never played together and its possible that all five players have already peaked – and Terry/Evans are great role players off the bench when healthy. If they can fill out the roster and Plumlee can give the team minutes at center in year one, the Nets will be a top five team in the East again, with the chance to make a run at the Eastern Conference Finals.
Predictions: Kyle Korver takes the Mid-Level Exception (much less than what he is actually worth on the market, by the way), the Nets fill out the roster with young, cheap players and market the crap out of their brand new starting lineup… again.
Joe Manganiello (@joemags32) is a NBA fanatic, screenwriter and a New York sports fan (Syracuse basketball, New York Knicks, Buffalo Bills). He studied journalism and cinema at Oswego State University – Peace, love, recycle and ball.