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Though Luka Doncic should be—note: “should be” and not “is”—universally considered one of the top two prospects in the 2018 NBA draft, he’s not a guarantee to come off the board and join either the Phoenix Suns at No. 1 or the Sacramento Kings at No. 2. Already, we’re seeing developments that could lead to a slide down the board.
No, not the ones about the 19-year-old EuroLeague MVP potentially remaining abroad for the 2018-19 campaign. As he said before the Final Four, per Alex Madrid of EuroHoops.net, “Ι’m not sure if these are the last two games [in EuroLeague]. We have yet to make this decision. Perhaps after the season.”
The report that truly matters here is different. Courtesy of ESPN.com’s Jonathan Givony:
“The growing consensus among NBA decision-makers in attendance at Stark Arena in Belgrade is that the teams drafting behind the Phoenix Suns at No. 1, the Sacramento Kings and Atlanta Hawks are likely to pass on European prodigy in favor of American frontcourt players. The question remains whether a team will trade up into the top three to snag Doncic, or if he will fall to the No. 4 (Memphis) or even the No. 5 pick (Dallas) after being heavily scouted in the EuroLeague playoffs against Panathinaikos and mostly struggling.”
Let’s assume the Suns pass on Doncic and that a team wants to trade up for the Kings’ No. 2 pick. If that’s the case, these five squads should already be doing their due diligence and working the phones.
Los Angeles Clippers Consolidate Lottery Picks
After years of operating as Lob City, the Los Angeles Clippers are moving into an entirely different era. Now that they’ve narrowly missed out on the playoffs with DeAndre Jordan leading the charge (and he’s hitting the open market this summer if he declines his player option), they have to find other sources of upside.
Having Lou Williams on a team-friendly deal is great. Tobias Harris just seems to keep improving, but he’s only on the books for 2018-19 before he’ll need an extension that pays him far more handsomely. And with Danilo Gallinari coming off a disappointing campaign while Montrezl Harrell is sure to make boatloads of money this summer as a restricted free agent, where else can the front office find bright spots?
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The Clippers don’t have reliable sources of upside (sorry, Austin Rivers fans) and might not have the combination of financial flexibility and free-agency appeal necessary to expedite any rebuild. They could settle for their pair of lottery picks and draft two high-upside fliers after the top-tier prospects are off the board, or they could attempt to package them together and help the Kings trade down.
Sacramento is still seeking out more building blocks to pair with Bogdan Bogdanovic, De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Willie Cauley-Stein, Justin Jackson, Harry Giles and Skal Labissiere. That’s a long list, but how many of the names can reasonably be counted upon as long-term pieces capable of anchoring a playoff rotation? Even if you’re optimistic about everyone, the number won’t rise too high.
Getting a pair of lottery picks and two more intriguing youngsters fits the mentality of this rebuilding organization, particularly because it wouldn’t be giving up any of the youngsters in this scenario. It just gives the Clippers the chance to build around an elite talent and goes on their merry way, reveling in the addition of even more potential.
Los Angeles Clippers get: No. 2 pick
Sacramento Kings get: Nos. 12 and 13 picks, Sam Dekker and Sindarius Thornwell
Chicago Bulls Get Guard of the Future
Kris Dunn had a fine season.
After a lackluster rookie campaign with the Minnesota Timberwolves that saw his lack of shooting ability exposed on a regular basis, he seized upon his fresh start with the Chicago Bulls. A centerpiece in the trade that sent Jimmy Butler to the Land of 10,000 Lakes, Dunn averaged 13.4 points, 4.3 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 2.0 steals and 0.5 blocks as a sophomore while shooting 42.9 percent from the field, 32.1 percent from downtown and 73.0 percent at the stripe. The percentages still need plenty of work, but they were at least palatable while he improved as a facilitator and continued functioning as a havoc-wreaking defender.
But the Bulls can do better.
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What if Doncic was the one running pick-and-roll/pop action with Lauri Markkanen while shooters helped space the floor for their two-man game? We’ve already seen the teenager make wizardrous passes to EuroLeague teammates, decipher defensive schemes in the blink of an eye and immediately deliver the ball right into his running mate’s shooting pocket. He’d be the perfect point guard to take pressure off the Finnish sharpshooter.
Chicago didn’t have the lottery luck necessary to gain access to Doncic right off the bat. But with the No. 7 pick and an intriguing floor general in Dunn, it could sway the Kings into moving down five spots and gaining a chance at two long-time rotation members. That just requires belief in Dunn’s continued progress, which shouldn’t be too difficult to buy into two seasons after he came off the board at No. 5.
Every great shooting big man deserves an all-world point guard setting him up for easier buckets. Dirk Nowitzki wouldn’t have been Dirk Nowitzki without Steve Nash and Jason Kidd.
Markkanen doesn’t have that marquee running mate yet. He could before too long.
Chicago Bulls get: No. 2 pick
Sacramento Kings get: No. 7 pick and Kris Dunn
Charlotte Hornets Restart
Rather than bury the lede in this section, let’s begin with the details of our rebuild-starting, contender-creating three-team trade.
The Charlotte Hornets pull the plug on the Kemba Walker era and trade him for Doncic with the No. 2 pick and another upside-laden flier in Harry Giles. The New York Knicks part ways with the No. 9 selection, Lance Thomas and—painfully—Frank Ntilikina but get to create a dream pairing of Walker and Kristaps Porinzgis. The Kings give up Giles and the No. 2 pick, but they get to make a choice seven spots later while getting their hands on a useful veteran (Thomas) and a tremendous prospect (Ntilikina).
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Who wouldn’t be happy?
The motivation is most obvious for Sacramento, which couldn’t otherwise dream of gaining a youngster as talented as Ntilikina while maintaining top-10 positioning. Thomas may be little more than a throw-in, but his defensive abilities wouldn’t be worthless on the other side of the country.
New York is in the middle, but only because it has to part with a certain lanky 1-guard in order to facilitate this transaction. Still. Porzingis and Walker. Together. Assuming a typical recovery from the former, the mind can’t help but wonder about the devastating ability of a point guard with a lightning-quick first step and deadly pull-up jumper working in conjunction with an uber athletic big who can both finish thunderously around the rim and tickle twine from the perimeter.
As for Charlotte, it has to deal with trading away a franchise icon and effectively ending its window of playoff contention…for the immediate future only.
Doncic has the ability to become even better than Walker, though realizing such lofty potential is always a difficult proposition rife with significant hurdles. Perhaps just as important, this move would give the Hornets a chance to escape NBA purgatory, steer clear of luxury-tax implications and finally move in a direction that allows for an elevated ceiling.
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And who knows? Maybe Doncic would be good enough from the start that he, Dwight Howard and Nicolas Batum, especially flanked by other young talents such as Jeremy Lamb, Frank Kaminsky and Cody Zeller, could continue competing for playoff positioning.
Charlotte Hornets get: No. 2 pick (from Sacramento) and Harry Giles
New York Knicks get: Kemba Walker
Sacramento Kings get: No. 9 pick (from New York), Lance Thomas and Frank Ntilikina
Miami Heat Start a New Era
“Man, it’s annoying. Why we matching up? We got one of the best centers in the league. Why we matching up? A lot of teams don’t have a good center. They’re going to use their strength,” Hassan Whiteside bemoaned, per Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, after failing to get the playing time he coveted in a late-season contest against the Brooklyn Nets. “It’s bulls–t. It’s really bulls–t, man. There’s a lot of teams that could use a center. S–t. That’s bulls–t.”
The big man’s trade value has likely fallen, due to both his disgruntled status and a disappointing campaign that never saw him assert himself as a top-tier center. But the Kings might be the exception, still willing to pay a premium if they fall in love with the enduring athleticism and boundless two-way potential still contained within Whiteside’s physical frame.
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Of course, it wouldn’t hurt if the Heat also gave them a defensive stalwart with a burgeoning offensive game in Justise Winslow. And Rodney McGruder. And took back some unappealing salaries to help smooth out the swap (though they certainly wouldn’t mind getting their hands on useful veterans such as Zach Randolph and Garrett Temple).
But the South Beach residents should view those as necessary costs while looking to carve out more playing time for Bam Adebayo and setting the stage for the Doncic-Goran Dragic pairing.
The two guards have played together for the Slovenian national team and spent nine outings working with each other to win gold at the 2017 edition of EuroBasket. Per RealGM.com, Dragic averaged 22.6 points, 4.4 rebounds and 5.1 assists while slashing 48.2/38.5/84.4. His younger counterpart posted 14.3 points, 8.2 rebounds and 3.6 assists per contest on 40.6 percent shooting from the field, 31.1 percent from deep and 84.8 percent at the stripe.
Because of the established chemistry and overall familiarity, the Heat would function as an ideal introduction for Doncic’s NBA career. And beyond that, he’d be working for an elite head coach (Erik Spoelstra) and playing on a team that holds legitimate playoff aspirations for the 2018-19 campaign and beyond.
Miami Heat get: No. 2 pick, Kosta Koufos, Zach Randolph and Garrett Temple
Sacramento Kings get: Rodney McGruder, Hassan Whiteside and Justise Winslow
Blockbuster Time in Minnesota
During an episode of The Lowe Post podcast (h/t SBNation’s Christian D’Andrea), ESPN.com’s Zach Lowe and Brian Windhorst broke some major news when the former revealed Karl-Anthony Towns and the Minnesota Timberwolves are “not in a good place internally.”
Later, Windhorst agreed: “I don’t think Anthony Davis is going anywhere anytime soon, but Towns…now that might be a different story.”
If Towns is indeed shopped and moved, he’d be one of the most valuable assets ever traded. Already an established All-Star who often functions like a top-10 player and is still on a rookie-scale contract, the big man would bring the ‘Wolves quite a haul.
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Frankly, the No. 2 pick in this year’s draft, Willie Cauley-Stein and Justin Jackson may not be enough.
But it could be if Minnesota falls in love with Doncic’s potential, as well as his fit alongside Andrew Wiggins and Jimmy Butler. The Timberwolves already have Jeff Teague on the roster for another two years (assuming he picks up a $19 million player option in 2019-20), but the Slovenian standout could begin his career as an understudy before gradually taking the reins. His playmaking and facilitating abilities would be an immediate jolt for a squad that sometimes struggles to create offense.
Maybe Minnesota wants more than this for Towns. Perhaps it would deal its 22-year-old superstar, but only so it could replace him with another big in Deandre Ayton. But a third possibility does exist, and that’s a burning desire for a certain EuroLeague MVP ready to help push the ‘Wolves into a more advantageous seed at the conclusion of the 2018-19 campaign.
Minnesota Timberwolves get: No. 2 pick, Willie Cauley-Stein and Justin Jackson
Sacramento Kings get: Karl-Anthony Towns