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Boston's Rebuild After 16 Months: Time For Patience And Optimism

As the NBA training camps for the 2014-15 season open, it is a good time to take stock and assess where the Celtics rebuilding effort is at. The proper place to start is not 2013 with the trade of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, but to go back two years, to the summer of 2012.

The fifth year of the Big Three era had just ended, and by all rights the Celtics should have been planning to enter a full rebuild mode. The 37-year-old Ray Allen and 36-year-old Kevin Garnett were unrestricted free agents, along with Brandon Bass and Jeff Green, and it was time to move on, clear capspace, accrue young players and draft picks, and commence the same sort of visionary rebuild Danny Ainge had launched in 2003 upon taking the job.

It did not look to be a fast turnaround. The Celtics had two no. 1 picks in 2012, but both picks were deep in the round, and they had no additional no. 1 picks in subsequent years. Nor did the team have a lot of assets. A full-throttle rebuild could hardly have been an appealing prospect to Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, or, especially, coach Doc Rivers.

So Ainge elected not to rebuild. The Celtics had a mediocre regular season in 2011-12, but the team blossomed in the playoffs, winning two series and taking the eventual champion Heat to seven games in the Eastern Conference finals. The backcourt of Rondo and Avery Bradley looked intriguing, and their defense combined with that of KG looked championship caliber. If the Celtics could take the champs to 7 games in the ECF, how might they do if they picked up a couple of free agents, saw Bradley improve, and got Jeff Green back from his heart surgery? Ainge decided to go all-in. There were no protests from anywhere in Celtics Nation. The taste of the playoffs was far too sweet to willfully abandon, even if the hopes of an actual title were remote.

In the summer of 2012 Ainge made a series of whirlwind moves dedicated to immediate success and with no concern for any eventual rebuild. Short of trading future no. 1 picks—Ainge is no dummy—all resources were applied to winning in the here and now. Ainge:

- signed Garnett to a three year $30 million deal, that would take him to his 39th birthday

- signed the 35-year-old (and rapidly fading) Jason Terry to a three-year $16 million with the MLE slot

- was surprised when Ray Allen rejected the large three-year offer from the Celtics to accept a much lower two-year deal with the Heat; this was not a good sign

- to compensate for losing Allen, made a complicated sign-and-trade deal including three future no. 2 picks to acquire Courtney Lee and a four-year $21 million contract

- signed Brandon Bass, a reserve forward, to a three-year, $20 million deal

- signed Jeff Green to a four-year, $36 million deal

When the dust cleared Ainge had added a lot of guaranteed salary for the subsequent three seasons, and two of the deals went a fourth year. None of the deals, except perhaps that of Green, made any sense unless a team was playing for all the marbles now, or was convinced global warming would lead sea levels to rise 10 feet by 2015.

It was not long into the 2012-13 season that most of the above deals began to smell like month-old fish left out on the kitchen counter. Terry sucked. Lee sucked. Bass and Green were overpaid. Garnett and Pierce still had game, but they were past their prime. Bradley battled nagging injuries. The team had no chance of playing with the contending teams in the league. Any hope had been dashed in January when the team’s best player, Rajon Rondo, tore his ACL and would be out the rest of the season, and half of the following season as well. The one exciting development, rookie no. 1 pick Jared Sullinger, had season-ending back surgery around the same time. The skies were dark in Boston.

So by May 2013 there was no debate over whether the Celtics should launch a full rebuild; it was the only option available. So there was Ainge with a mess largely of his own making. Untradeable contracts. Salary cap leaving little or no maneuverability before 2015 at the earliest, and probably 2016, barring deals for Green and Lee. A depleted number of no. 2 picks, thanks to the Lee deal. And his only keepers on the roster looking ahead to when the team might contend again—Rondo, Sullinger, Bradley and Green—all had serious injury concerns, and only Rondo was a clearly above-average player. No one else on the roster had a future with the team.

In short, in May 2013 the Celtics were entering a full rebuild with little in the way of assets. One suspects that very few, if any, other teams in the league would have traded rosters and future draft picks with the Celtics. It was that bad.  

Rivers saw the imminent demise and wanted no part of a series of 28-54 seasons that might lead to another series of 28-54 seasons. He had been through two rebuilds in his coaching career and that met his quota. Generally regarded as one of the premier coaches in the game—and beloved by his veteran players as well as the fans—he did not need to do the rebuild thing anymore. But he was under contract, so he could not just take another job without the Celtics getting compensation. Ainge traded Rivers to the Clippers for a 2015 no. 1 pick. The rebuild had begun. There was a 180 degree shift in direction for the franchise.

Next up were Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. With Rivers' exit, they had to ask themselves whether they wanted to do the rebuild thing during their last two or three years in the league as they were entering their late 30s. The answer was no. But what could Ainge get for these two aging superstars? Pierce only had one year left on his max-contract deal, while Garnett had two more years, but he was talking about retirement. Ainge faced the distinct prospect of just releasing them or letting anyone take them who would swallow their contracts and send him back an expiring deal. He certainly had no place for them on a rebuilding team; they might help win enough games to cost the Celtics a high lottery pick, and for what? At best, Ainge might get a contender to send a future lottery-protected no. 1 pick for each of them. Even then, as one perused the NBA rosters in June 2013 there were not many options discernible. Perhaps none.

At this point, the skies opened, the sun shined through, and Red Auerbach smiled down on the Celtics. It just so happened that the New Jersey cum Brooklyn Nets wanted to make a big splash. GM Billy King thought adding Garnett and Pierce to a line-up of Derek Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez would vault the Nets to elite contender status. That acquiring the huge contracts would give the Nets a payroll comparable to the senior executives at Goldman Sachs—with a massive luxury tax bill that could subsidize the Newark, New Jersey public school system—was of no apparent concern to Mikhail Prokhorov.

King’s thesis was not necessarily wrong; the devil came in working out the details of the deal. King was negotiating against himself to acquire KG and Pierce. There was no market otherwise. Once Ainge realized King was committed to getting Pierce and Garnett at any cost, he made a deal for the ages. The Celtics traded Garnett, Pierce, and the execrable Jason Terry to the Nets for the expiring deals of Kris Humphries and MarShon Brooks, the three-year entirely unguaranteed deal of Keith Bogans, and the one bad contract in the mix: Gerald Wallace’s $10 million per year deal that extended through 2016.  The Celtics also got a $10.7 million trade exception, which was put to good use. They also got some draft picks, which I turn to below.

Taking Wallace’s dreadful contract wasn’t that big of a deal for the Celtics, because thanks to Ainge’s contracts from the summer of 2012, there would not be any appreciable capspace until 2015 or 2016 anyway, so nabbing major free agents was not a big concern. If, in the summer of 2015, Ainge wanted to shed Wallace’s final $10 million to clear capspace, he could use the stretch provision to pay Wallace $3.3 million annually for three years.

So what did Ainge get by, in effect, taking Wallace’s contract off of the Nets hands? When one includes how Ainge parlayed Humphries, Bogans and the trade exception, this is what he has gotten (so far) in return for the deal:

- Tyler Zeller

- Marcus Thornton (deal expires in 2015)

- Dwight Powell

- Brooklyn Nets 2014 No. 1 pick—James Young

- Brooklyn Nets 2016 unprotected No. 1 pick

- Brooklyn Nets 2018 unprotected No. 1 pick

- Boston right to swap 2017 No. 1 picks with Brooklyn; if Boston does so, Brooklyn gets Boston’s 2017 No. 2 pick

- Cleveland top-10 protected 2016 No. 1 pick

- Cleveland 2016 No. 2 pick

- Cleveland 2017 No. 2 pick

- Washington top-49 protected 2015 No. 2 pick

- $4.3 million trade exception (through July 2015)

- $5.3 million trade exception (through September 2015)

When one adds in the 2015 Clippers No. 1 pick for Doc Rivers, and the 2015 and 2016 Philadelphia No. 2 picks as well as the 2016 Miami No. 2 pick that were acquired in small part for MarShon Brooks (as part of a deal including Jordan Crawford and Joel Anthony), this is a rather extraordinary haul. And, of course, the Celtics have all their own no. 1 picks going forward. In the next four seasons, the Celtics have eight No. 1 picks and eight, possibly nine, No. 2 picks. And that doesn’t include Young and Zeller and the trade exceptions that remain and should be parlayed into more players or draft picks.

The exact value of this haul will be determined by where Brooklyn’s draft picks land and how well Ainge drafts or uses these assets in trades. If Brooklyn descends into the deep lottery, which is possible, this trade could boggle the mind; it will become the stuff of legends. Even if Brooklyn stays out of the lottery, what remains undeniable is this: Danny Ainge has a pile of assets like almost no other rebuilding team in the league. And, if he chooses, he will have a considerable capspace, too, by 2016. He could even have a lot of space in 2015 if he wished to maneuver to create it.

Ainge has done some other housekeeping as well besides the great Brooklyn heist and its aftershocks. He hired Brad Stevens to replace Doc, and the preliminary returns are glowing; he seems the ideal coach for a rebuild. Ainge moved up three spots to grab Kelly Olynyk with the 13th pick in the 2013 draft. In 2014 he took Marcus Smart with the 6th pick overall, and James Young with the 17th pick overall. These look like keepers, though the jury is out to varying degrees on all of them. Ainge picked up Vitor Faverani form Europe. He dumped Courtney Lee’s contract at the cost of shipping out a future no. 2 pick. Slowly the assets pile is getting larger, and the debit pile is shrinking. When the 2015 season concludes, Bass, Joel Anthony—who came in the MarShon Brooks/Jordan Crawford deal and it the reason why the Celtics got those three second round picks— and Marcus Thornton will be off the books, and Gerald Wallace will be the last negative contract around.

There are far too many variables to predict how the Celtics will do in 2014-15, or when the team might return to legitimate contention, but this much is clear: Since Ainge made his 180 in May 2013, he has done a remarkable job of implementing a serious rebuild and putting the Celtics in a position to succeed. That means the future is less up to chance and more under the control of the Celtics. At this point, that is the best we can hope for.

Rondo Injury Leads To Experiment At Point Guard

The Boston Celtics will be without Rajon Rondo to begin the season for the second time in as many years following last week’s much-discussed left hand injury. Rondo suffered a left metacarpal fracture last Thursday night when he slipped in the shower.

There had been reports that Rondo injured himself at a local trampoline park, a visit he made with his children at least twice last week, but he was adamant that his story was legitimate during the team’s annual media day on Monday. 

Rondo expects to miss 8-10 weeks, which means the Celtics will be without their starting point guard for at least the first few weeks of the regular season. Danny Ainge said the club would be “cautious” with Rondo even though the injury is to his off-hand.

Regardless of whether Rondo is out for two weeks or more than a month, Brad Stevens will be forced to improvise. That means more ball-handling duties for two newcomers -- rookie Marcus Smart and free-agent addition Evan Turner. 

“Marcus being a rookie, it’s very important for him not to feel like he has to fill Rondo’s shoes. We’ll do that as a team and we’ll do that collectively,” Ainge said at the team’s practice facility in Waltham. “Evan will probably play some point guard, those are questions you can ask Brad. Phil [Pressey] can play some point guard.”

Boston has never had a ton of depth behind Rondo in terms of a true point guard, but this year the cupboard is more empty than usual. Avery Bradley spent a decent amount of time running the point with Rondo recovering from a torn ACL in each of the last two seasons, but wasn’t listed by Stevens as a potential option this time around. 

“We have multiple primary ball-handers on this team. I’ve always been a guy that thinks you can play two point guards together and you can play two combo guards together,” Stevens said. “We’ve just got to figure out who can best get the most out of everyone else and at the same time get the most out of the position as they can. 

“It’s an opportunity for Marcus. It’s an opportunity for Phil Pressey; it’s an opportunity for Evan Turner. It’s an opportunity for all those guys. The answer to that is only time will tell, I think that’s the best way to go about it.”

No mention was made of Bradley, who the coach raved about as a fill-in for Rondo prior to last season. Stevens told the Boston Herald in September 2013: I don’t think there is any doubt that Avery has elite ability in a lot of ways as a point guard. He’s an elite defender at the position. He’s an elite athlete at the point guard position. I think he’s a guy that’s gotten better. I think he’s a guy with more confidence, and I think he’s excited about the challenge if Rajon is out [in reference to Rondo’s ACL injury].

“As I’ve watched it, I didn’t think the struggles [at the point last season, which referred to 2012-13] were as bad as they were made out to be. The other thing is he did that midstream. He had to make that adjustment within a system already created. Maybe we do things that fit him a bit better early that you can tweak when Rajon comes back. You know, Bradley is still going to play. He’s still going to play a lot. He’s going to play off the ball and with the ball.”

It could very well be that Bradley hasn’t been considered because Rondo’s absence should be short. While not proven, Stevens has options worth looking at for the 8-to-16 games Rondo is expected to miss.

Pressey carries experience from last season, his first as a professional, when he played 15.1 minutes per game and started 11 times. His usage rate was low, 14.3%, but he showed an ability to distribute the ball effectively -- accounting for 44.3% of Boston’s assists when on the court.

It’s odd to think of him as the best option, but that may only be because he went undrafted 16 months ago.

Turner has the most NBA experience of the three -- having logged 306 games, mostly with the Philadelphia 76ers -- but could be third on the point guard depth chart when the season begins.

The No. 2 overall pick in 2010, Turner hasn’t played much point guard in the NBA, but the Indiana Pacers did experiment with him at the position sparingly during his brief tenure with the club. Ironically enough, the Celtics were one of the teams against which Frank Vogel played Turner at the point. I wrote about Indiana’s experiment here -- Pacers Show New Wrinkle With Turner At Point Guard -- in March.

Vogel made the decision to have Turner run the point -- which was forced by a brief injury to George Hill -- because the former National Player of the Year did so for a season at Ohio State. Stevens also referenced that when I asked him about his lack of professional experience running an offense.

“I think the [lack of] experience way, way, way outdistances any [lack of] success. I don’t think he’s played a lot of point, but maybe I’m wrong,” Stevens said. “I do know that he played point one year in college and was the National Player of the Year.”

The results weren’t bad in the limited time Turner spent at the point for the Pacers, but the situation was vastly different than the one in Boston. Hill, Indiana’s starting “point guard” is really one in name only, while Rondo carries much more responsibility. The cast of characters around Turner with Indiana was also more talented. Turner’s stat line was impressive in the aforementioned March game against the Celtics, which may have Stevens more optimistic than he should be about his skills as the primary ball-hander.

To his credit, Turner expressed a desire to do whatever Stevens asks him to do for the Celtics. “I’ve played the perimeter lately, and I’ve guarded the one-through-three,” he said. “I just want to do whatever is best to help the team.”

Regardless of how comfortable he is handing Turner the keys to the offense, Stevens seems most inclined to give Smart a chance to win the job outright. He made a point of emphasizing that he won’t restrict the sixth overall pick from starting simply because he’s a rookie.

“Marcus is going to get a ton of opportunity on and off the ball. I think he is physical, mentally and emotionally ready for those,” the coach said. “He doesn’t have any experience yet, but that will come quick.”

Team-By-Team Analysis Of The 2014 NBA Draft

With the new CBA magnifying the importance of the draft and one of the most talented groups of prospects in recent years, what happened on Thursday night will have significant ramifications on the balance of power in the NBA for the next decade. Who made the right picks will take a long time to figure out - how the draft is perceived today will differ a lot from how it is perceived next year, three years and five years from now. There’s a lot to get too, so let’s get to it.

Cleveland Cavaliers 

- Andrew Wiggins (No. 1)

- Joe Harris (No. 33)

- Dwight Powell (No. 45)

I wasn’t as high on Wiggins as most people, but in and of itself, I don’t have a huge problem with the pick. At the very least, he will be a two-way wing who contributes at a high level on both sides of the ball. He is still a young player and if he can develop his offensive game, as both a shot-creator and a distributor, he has as much upside as anyone not named Joel Embiid. He can slide between either wing position, although the Cavs said they view him as a big SG.

Given his somewhat raw offensive game, I can see the idea that he will be more effective as a SG. He has the athleticism to pull it off and he would tower over the vast majority of guards at 6’8 200 with a 7’0 wingspan. At the same time, it’s hard to picture a scenario where Wiggins doesn’t draw the bigger of the other team’s two wings. Unless the Cavs play him with another 6’8+ guy who can create his own shot at SF, the other team can afford to cross-switch on defense.

My concern with the pick comes from the drafts of Christmas past and the young core that is being built in Cleveland. If you commit to Wiggins as a SG, there doesn’t seem to be enough minutes and touches for Dion Waiters, a guy who is just starting to turn the corner in terms of becoming an effective pro. More broadly, the Cavs have made five Top-4 picks in the last four years and they still don’t have a rim protector on their roster. That doesn’t make any sense.

You could make a justification for why they didn’t go with a center at the time each pick was made, but whether it was Jonas Valanciunas in 2011, Andre Drummond in 2012, Nerlens Noel or Alex Len in 2013 or Embiid in 2014, at some point they needed to bite the bullet and not take the flashiest perimeter player who scored a lot of points in college. That’s how you build a roster and any roster with Kyrie and Anthony Bennett on it is going to need some interior defense.

In the second round, they grabbed a shooter (Joe Harris) and a versatile big man (Powell) who should round out their bench. Harris is pretty much a pure specialist, but he should be able to stretch the floor in a limited role. I’m not sure whether Powell will get the chance to play right away in Cleveland, but a 6’11 guy with his athleticism and skill should be able to find a spot for himself in the league. He’s a better player than Huestis, his Stanford teammate.

Milwaukee Bucks 

- Jabari Parker (No. 2)

- Damien Inglis (No. 31)

- Johnny O’Bryant III (No. 36)

- Lamar Patterson (No. 48)

The Bucks went with the player who could help them right away in Jabari Parker, as their owner had said they would do earlier in the week. He doesn’t have the upside of Embiid, but it’s a good fit of player and roster, as Milwaukee has the athletes upfront to hide Parker on defense, and they desperately needed a frontcourt player who could create his own shot and stretch the floor. The combination of Jabari at the 4 and Giannis at the 3 should be a great one-two punch. 

The big question with Jabari is whether he can make his teammates better. Brandon Knight is a SG in a PG’s body and they don’t have a ton of passing on their roster. He’s probably going to draw double teams early in his career, so he will need to be willing to make the extra pass and look to set everyone else up, which is not something he did too often at Duke. If he can get guys like John Henson and Larry Sanders easy shots, Milwaukee could improve quickly. 

The Henson/Sanders frontcourt duo was probably dead on arrival due to their complete lack of floor spacing, so it will be interesting to see how that dynamic plays out over the next few seasons. If Chris Bosh can survive as a small-ball center in the East, I’m not sure Henson can’t either, which would give Milwaukee a really interesting frontcourt on both sides of the ball. They still need a two-way guard who can pass and shoot, but their rebuilding effort is going well.

They’ve been a pretty ahead of the curve team when it comes to finding talent in the draft, so I’m curious to see whether anything comes of their three second round picks. Damien Inglis, as a 240-pound wing with a 7’3 wingspan, is an interesting long-term play while Lamar Patterson could provide value as an all-around player who do a little bit of everything. Johnny O’Bryant will need to be able to shoot, as there won’t be much room around the basket for him to operate. 

Philadelphia 76ers 

- Joel Embiid (No. 3)

- Dario Saric (No. 10)

- KJ McDaniels (No. 33)

- Jerami Grant (No. 39)

- Vasilije Micic (No. 52)

- Nemanja Dangubic (No. 54)

Philadelphia has dominated the headlines with their no-holds barred effort to rebuild through the draft and take the very, very long view when it comes to accumulating assets, which is a polite way of saying they’ve been tanking pretty egregiously. The good news for is if that there’s a player in this draft whose worth gutting your franchise and waiting several years for, it’s Joel Embiid. He’s a guy who makes a team instantly credible on both sides of the ball.

Just like with Nerlens Noel, the 76ers can afford to take their time with Embiid’s health. His upside is off the charts - at 7’0 250 with a 7’5 wingspan, he has the chance to be an elite offensive player and defensive player. He’s by far the best player in this draft and if you’re going to go down, you might as well go down with the guy who has the most talent and hope for the best. It’s unclear whether Embiid and Noel can fit together, but you can always trade a 7’0 who can play.

Saric is an interesting guy in that he’s got a lot of the same skill-set as Michael Carter-Williams, as big ball-handlers (6’9 230) with a good feel for the game and questions about their outside shot. The 76ers clearly don’t place a huge priority on outside shooting - McDaniels (30%), Grant (0%) and Micic (29%) are all subpar shooters from the perimeter. They’ll need to be in transition as much as possible, which fits with the style they played this season. 

Of their second-round picks, I think McDaniels is the one to watch. He can defend multiple positions on the perimeter and he’s a freak athlete who averaged 3 blocks a game from the small forward position, which doesn’t really happen at any level of the game. He should get all the minutes he can handle next season and he should be a great finisher in transition next to Carter-Williams. Let’s just hope some of Chip Engelland’s magic rubbed off on Brett Brown. 

Orlando Magic 

- Aaron Gordon (No. 4)

- Elfrid Payton (No. 10)

- Roy Devyn Marble (No. 56) 

After two years as the Orlando GM, it’s pretty clear that Rob Hennigan has a type - uber-athletic prospects who can do a little bit of everything, even if they can’t shoot. Victor Oladipo, Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton are all smart players who can fly around the court, crash the glass and defend multiple positions, but I’m not sure whether you can build a whole roster of players like that. There’s not going to be any floor spacing when those guys are in the game.

I’m on board with the Gordon pick because he fills so many holes on their interior defense, a must for a team with a frontcourt that features Nik Vucevic and Tobias Harris. But while you can get away with a poor shooter at one of the forward positions, there are not many examples in the modern NBA of a successful backcourt with two subpar shooters. Instead of the Splash Brothers, the Magic have the Clank Brothers - you can legitimately zone this team. 

Payton is a Rajon Rondo level shooter - college teams were playing 4-5 feet off him when he had the ball in his hands and he really couldn’t make them pay. He shot 26% from 3 and 61% from the free-throw line. It’s no coincidence that Rondo was most effective playing next to two knock down shooters in Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. His game is drawing defenders and kicking to the shooter, but you really can’t run plays for Oladipo (33% from 3) on the perimeter.

Orlando is going to have to play uptempo and try to force TO’s as much as possible, because they are going to have a real hard time scoring in the half-court. My worry is that Oladipo and Payton end up making each other worse, since the other guy’s defender can sit in the paint on defense and cut off their driving lanes. To me it all goes back to the Oladipo pick - you can’t draft a 6’4 guard at No. 2 overall if he can’t shoot 3’s or run point. He needs to hit the gym this summer. 

Utah Jazz 

- Dante Exum (No. 5)

- Rodney Hood (No. 23)

Combo forward was the biggest area of need on the Utah roster, but when Jabari Parker and Aaron Gordon were both off the board, they made the adjustment and took the best player available in Dante Exum. It’s hard to knock their choice, even if it extends the rebuilding period, since the draft is the only way the Jazz are going to be able to grab a star-caliber player. Outside of Embiid, I think Exum has the best chance of any player in the draft of being a two-way star.

The big storyline about Exum coming into the draft was about him benefitting from being an unknown, but that really wasn’t fair. Everyone saw him in play in the Hoop Summit and the U19 world championships and you don’t have to watch him play for very long to see that he is a special player. He’s a big guard (6’6 190 with a 6’9 wingspan) who is super-fast, very skilled and has a very good feel for the game. He has the tools that jump off the screen in one viewing.

Even though Utah picked behind Orlando in the last two drafts, I’d much rather have an Exum/Burke backcourt than Oladipo/Payton. The Jazz draft pretty well - Hood was another solid pick at No. 24. He’s not going to be a star, but he can eat a lot of minutes on the perimeter as a two-way wing. This draft does seem to make Alec Burks expendable and he could be an interesting buy low guy. He’s still only 22 and his per-36 minute numbers are solid. 

They are pretty set with Derrick Favors upfront and the perimeter trio of Burke/Exum/Hayward so the question becomes what they do at PF. They moved away from Enes Kanter and the two-post offense last season - do they shop him around this summer? Do they keep Marvin Williams? If the Jazz want to accelerate the rebuilding process, they might want to think about Channing Frye, who would give their young players a lot of space to operate. 

Boston Celtics 

- Marcus Smart (No. 6)

- James Young (No. 17)

I’m a Marcus Smart fan, but I think this pick is closer to the start of a rebuilding process for the Celtics than it is for the end of one. You can play him with Rajon Rondo, but Smart’s ideal scenario is to have the ball in his hands next to perimeter guys who can space the floor for him. At this point, it looks like the move is to trade Rondo and begin a 3+ year process of building a contender through the draft because there aren’t too many other assets on this roster.

The problem starts in their frontcourt, where they’ve got absolutely nothing at the C position, two question marks at PF and Jeff Green at SF. Green is a solid NBA player, but he has a career 13.1 PER and if he’s a starter on a playoff team, he’s going to have to be the 4rth-5th option. Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk both have the skills to put up some empty statistics on offense, but neither guy has the foot-speed or the athleticism to be much of a defensive player.

Even if they traded for Kevin Love, they would be still 2-3 pieces away from being a contender - the supporting cast in Minnesota is much better than the one he would have in Boston.

James Young should be able to stick in the league, but I’d throw water on the idea that he was one of the steals of the draft. Take a closer look at his statistics and nothing really stands out at you - shooting is the strength of his game and he shot 35% from 3 and 41% from the field. 

Los Angeles Lakers 

- Julius Randle (No. 7)

- Jordan Clarkson (No. 46)

Given the lack of talent on their roster, the Lakers could get the most immediate impact from their draft than just about any team in the NBA. For all the concerns about Randle, no one has ever doubted his ability to put up numbers if he’s given the ball enough. He may not shoot the ball at a terribly high percentage as a rookie, but he will work his way into double-doubles on a nightly basis if given the minutes and there’s no reason he won’t get 35+ right away.

Kobe Bryant is the ultimate high-usage player, but I’m a little skeptical he’s going to be able to play 39 minutes a game with a usage rating of 32 and miss only four games, which is what he did in his last healthy season two years ago. He’s going to have to take it easy and have his minutes managed more carefully so there should be plenty of opportunities for Randle as well as Clarkson, who could be one of the steals of the draft in the middle of the second round.

At 6’5 190, Clarkson is a talented scorer who can get to the rim and shoot off the dribble, so if he’s given the chance to play in space with the ball in his hands, he should be able to put up some statistics too. The Lakers are rebuilding, so they need to figure out some way to keep their 2015 pick, which is owed to the Phoenix Suns if it falls outside of the Top 5. A team with Kobe and Randle is going to need someone, possibly multiple someones, who can play defense.

Sacramento Kings 

- Nik Stauskas (No. 8)

Stauskas has the chance to be a pretty good NBA player, but this is still a fairly questionable pick since it blocks the development of last year’s lottery pick (Ben McLemore) and it doesn’t really address any of the needs the Kings have on their current roster. Stauskas is a guy with a lot of defensive question marks who needs the ball in his hands, which is the exact same thing you can say about DeMarcus Cousins, Isaiah Thomas and Rudy Gay.

As McLemore found out last year, it’s hard to develop as a young SG when you are playing with three guys who absolutely dominate the ball. McLemore and Stauskas could become a low-rent version of DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross, two guys who didn’t get a chance to show what they could do until Gay left town. Even in a best case scenario for Stauskas early in his career, he’s going to be playing off the ball, getting 6-8 shots and not playing much defense.

That’s how you end up staying in the lottery for an extended period of time - by taking a bunch of guys whose skills replicate, rather than complement, each other. McLemore had a very difficult rookie season, but he’s still only 21 years old and you have to trust the process you made in scouting him the year before. Neither Stauskas nor McLemore has the size to play as a SF or the skill-set to be a PG, so you are essentially choosing between one or the other.

Charlotte Hornets 

- Noah Vonleh (No. 9)

- PJ Hairston (No. 26)

I thought the Hornets were one of the real winners in this year’s draft, making the long-term upside pick and stopping Vonleh’s slide at No. 9 and then picking up an older shooter who can help them right away in Hairston. Vonleh didn’t put up big statistics at Indiana, but I thought he had one of the best all-around skill-sets in this year’s draft. He’s a big man who can shoot the ball, rebound, post up and who has the physical tools to defend either interior position.

Vonleh’s versatility makes him a great fit next to any type of big man - he should be able to play right away with Al Jefferson and he should be a long-term complement to Cody Zeller. Zeller was a forgotten man after a tough start to his rookie campaign, but he started to come around as the season went on. Zeller and Vonleh could play high-low and serve as versatile weapons in a two-post offense while still having the athleticism to defend and get out in transition.

Hairston is a 21-year-old who put up huge numbers in the D-League after washing out of UNC and his skill-set could immediately improve the Hornets. They desperately need three-point shooting and he’s a knock-down shooter who shot 36% from 3 on 7 attempts a game for the Texas Legends. At 6’5 230, he’s already got an NBA body, so he should be able to step into their rotation away and at least hold his own from a physical standpoint on the defensive side of the ball.

Chicago Bulls 

- Doug McDermott (No. 11)

- Cameron Bairstow (No. 49)

The Bulls went all-in on McDermott, sending three picks (No. 16, No. 19 and a future 2nd) to the Nuggets to move up five spots. If you were looking for an ideal landing spot for McDermott, it would have to be a team like Chicago, which needs scoring and has the team defense to hide him on that side of the ball. But while he should be a great weapon off their bench, I’m skeptical that he can ever be a starter on a good team, which isn’t a high ceiling for a lottery pick.

Combo forwards are some of the toughest players to project because the defensive responsibilities at the SF and PF position are so different. Just to give a few examples - if the Bulls faced the Indiana Pacers in a playoff series, can McDermott guard Paul George or David? If they played the Raptors, could he defend Amir Johnson or DeMar DeRozan? He’s not big enough to match up with PF’s around the basket and he’s not quick enough to defend SF’s on the perimeter.

If there’s anyone who should be able to hide a guy on defense it’s Tom Thibodeau, but the transition from being a small-ball 4 in the Mountain Valley Conference and the new Big East (which was essentially a mid-major) to playing as a 3 in the NBA will not be easy. Bairstow is a bruising PF with a well-rounded offensive game, but he can’t shoot 3’s, he’s not much of a shot-blocker and he’s not a very good athlete, so it’s unclear whether his game will translate.

Minnesota Timberwolves 

- Zach LaVine (No. 13)

- Glenn Robinson III (No. 40)

- Alessandro Gentile (No. 53)

The Wolves went full YOLO with their pick, which is exactly what a team in their situation needed to do. There doesn’t appear to be much chance that Kevin Love stays in Minnesota for much longer and they have too much peripheral talent on their roster to sink to the bottom of the lottery, so they could end up in the dreaded middle for many years to come, forever making picks in the 10-15 range. As a result, it makes all the sense in the world to take an upside guy like LaVine. 

Even though he didn’t do all that much in college, I’m firmly in the LaVine camp and I think he will be a very interesting player running the break with Ricky Rubio and spotting up off him in the half-court. Those two could quickly form the ultimate League Pass duo on the perimeter. And while LaVine is not a guy whose ready to play a big role on a playoff team and help convince Love to say, the reality is that ship has sailed regardless of who they picked at No. 13.

Phoenix Suns 

- TJ Warren (No. 14)

- Tyler Ennis (No. 18)

- Bogdan Bogdanovic (No. 27)

- Alec Brown (No. 50)

Warren has the potential to be one of the best picks in this year’s draft, from a fit and upside perspective. He’s an elite scorer who can run the floor and get buckets without having plays drawn up for him, so he should be a perfect in the Suns uptempo system. He’ll come off the bench as a rookie, but I could see him taking over for PJ Tucker at the SF spot long-term and his ability to fill it up while playing off the ball could make the Phoenix offense go nuclear. 

Ennis doesn’t have the next level gear of either Goran Dragic or Eric Bledsoe, but he’s a solid player who can step in and give them good minutes at the backup PG position right away. Bogdanovic is a draft-and-stash player who can do a little bit of everything - there’s some Marco Belinelli in his game. The Suns have made a remarkably quick turnaround under Ryan McDonough due to their ability to evaluate talent and that doesn’t look to be changing anytime soon. 

Atlanta Hawks 

- Adreian Payne (No. 15)

- Walter Tavares (No. 43)

Payne is an absolutely perfect fit for the Hawks system - he’s an athletic big man who can stretch the floor at a high level (42% from 3 as a senior) while also providing more interior defense than a lot of the guys on their roster now. Long-term, the combination of Payne and Al Horford could be absolutely lethal on both sides of the ball. Playing with those two will make all their perimeter players better and allow the Hawks to be better than the sum of their parts.

Atlanta pushed Indiana to the breaking point with the combination of Paul Millsapp and Pero Antic upfront and neither player is as good a shooter or interior defender as Payne and Horford. There’s something to be said for drafting players to fit a system, especially when that system is max floor spacing at all five positions. The Hawks also picked up a really interesting second round flyer in Walter Tavares, who I could see being a better player than Lucas Noguiera.

Denver Nuggets 

- Jusuf Nurkic (No. 16)

- Gary Harris (No. 19)

- Nikola Jokic (No. 41)

Trading back is almost never a good idea in the NBA draft, but the Nuggets worked it too perfection on Thursday, winding up with two players - Nurkic and Harris - whom they could have easily taken at No. 11 with no one blinking an eye. Nurkic is the best low-post scorer in this year’s draft and he represents a sea change from the George Karl era - he’s a mix of Nikola Pekovic and Tiago Splitter and he’s a guy Brian Shaw can run offense through in the post.

It’s unclear how many minutes there will be for Harris early in his career, but he’s a solid two-way player with a very high floor, which is excellent value in the latter half of the first round. Harris can defend either guard position, stretch the floor and serve as a secondary ball-handler and he’s still only 20 years old. Jokic is an interesting pick, as he’s another massive European big man who can score with his back to the basket, although he will likely stay overseas for awhile.

Toronto Raptors 

- Bruno Caboclo (No. 20)

- DeAndre Daniels (No. 37)

There’s not much I can say about the Brazilian Kevin Durant, but just from his physical measurements, it doesn’t seem like an insane gamble at this stage in the first round. There were plenty of good players still on the board, but a lot of the teams after the Raptors went with low ceiling guys who weren’t going to make an immediate impact on the Toronto roster anyway. In terms of talent, Daniels is right up there with most of the guys taken 21-36.

Oklahoma City Thunder 

- Mitch McGary (No. 21)

- Josh Huestis (No. 29)

- Semaj Christon (No. 55)

Oklahoma City seemed to take a bit of a change in philosophy with this year’s first-round picks. Instead of taking a swing for the fences and going with the high upside pick, like they did with Steven Adams, Reggie Jackson and Perry Jones III, they went for safe picks on older players from big schools who could fill a small role in their rotation right away. McGary is the bigger name than Huestis, but neither guy is ever likely to be a starter in the NBA.

The good news is for the Thunder is they don’t really that type of player, given that every position in their starting line-up is already spoken for with guys they’ve already drafted. McGary and Huestis seem like guys who max out as 15-20 minute players on a title contender - McGary as an energy big man and Huestis as a 3-and-D player. Keep an eye out for Christon, a talented guard who should have stayed in school and will likely head to the D-League.

Memphis Grizzlies 

- Jordan Adams (No. 22)

- Jarnell Stokes (No. 35)

Whatever shake-ups have occurred in the Memphis front office, it’s pretty clear that John Hollinger still has a very strong voice, as they picked two analytics favorites - Adams and Stokes - who raise red flags from a scouting perspective. Adams is an incredibly unathletic SG while Stokes is an undersized PF who can’t stretch the floor. They were both really good college players so it will be interesting to see how well these analytic poster boys end up doing.

Miami Heat 

- Shabazz Napier (No. 24)

No free agent comes to Miami without LeBron James' say so and that apparently extends to the draft as well. If LeBron is going to serve as their de facto GM, he should probably stop tweeting his scouting reports, as it allows other teams to extort them for the players they want. Napier is a fine player who should have a long career in the NBA as a PG, but the Heat could have grabbed a player like that in the second round.  The world isn’t running low on Mario Chalmers types.

Houston Rockets 

- Clint Capela (No. 25)

- Nick Johnson (No. 42)

With the Rockets trying to clear cap space and make a run at a max free agent, a draft and stash player like Capela was their only real option. I haven’t watched him play much, but from what I saw of him at the Hoop Summit, his skill level on anything but catching alley oops was pretty minimal. Given his size and athleticism at 6’11 220, he might one day replace Omer Asik as a backup C, but I’m not sure the Serge Ibaka comparisons are warranted at all.

Los Angeles Clippers 

- CJ Wilcox (No. 28)

Wilcox is a 23-year-old with an NBA body (6’5 200 with a 6’10 wingspan) and an NBA skill (39% from 3), so it makes sense why a contender would draft him, but his fit with the Clippers roster is questionable. He’ll be behind last year’s first-round pick (Reggie Bullock) in the pecking order and there aren’t many minutes available on the wings as is. LA doesn’t just need a third big man, they need a fourth and a fifth too, so taking another guard is a head scratcher.

San Antonio Spurs 

- Kyle Anderson (No. 30)

- Jordan McRae (No. 58)

One of the benefits of having the last pick in the first round is that you just let the draft come to you without having to over-think things. I was a big Kyle Anderson guy regardless, so him ending up in San Antonio is just a cherry on top - he’s going to be one of the big steals of the draft. A 6’9 guy with his skill-set, length (7’3 wingspan) and feel for the game is going to figure it out and carve out a niche for himself in the NBA, which is great value from the No. 30 pick.

New York Knicks 

- Cleanthony Early (No. 34)

- Thanasis Antetokounmpo (No. 51)

- Louis Labiyre (No. 57)

Cleanthony became the darling of draft night based almost entirely off his performance against Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament, but I’m not sure he’s going to be anything special at the next level. He’s a 6’8 combo forward who was pretty one-dimensional at Wichita State and will need to transition to playing solely as a SF in the NBA. He’s already 23 and he doesn’t offer much value as a passer or a defensive player. Their other two picks are Hail Mary passes.

Detroit Pistons 

- Spencer Dinwiddie (No. 38)

If I could have only one player from this year’s second round, it would be Dinwiddie. At 6’6 205, he’s a complete guard who can do everything - score, shoot, pass, rebound and defend - well. He can fit with almost any type of player in the backcourt, which will give him the chance to be a 10-year NBA player. Were it not for an ACL injury he suffered in college, he would have been a first-rounder. This was a strong start in the draft for the Stan Van Gundy regime. 

Brooklyn Nets 

- Markel Brown (No. 44)

- Xavier Thames (No. 59)

- Cory Jefferson (No. 60)

Buying second round picks is an excellent way for a cash-rich but pick-starved franchise like the Nets to get some youth on their roster. More importantly, Billy King made some excellent choices. He clearly was watching Big 12 basketball this season, as he took two guys - Brown and Jefferson - who were NCAA role players but have NBA athleticism and tools. The odds are against them as late second rounders, but I like their chances of sticking in the league.

New Orleans Pelicans 

- Russ Smith (No. 47)

I’m not sure he’s any better than Pierre Jackson, but Smith is an intriguing player whose definitely worth a gamble in the latter half of the second round. A guy taken at this stage in the draft needs a bit if he’s going to earn a spot on a roster and Smith has one - he’s an electric athlete who can impact the game as a scorer and a defensive player. Like Jackson, he’ll probably need to prove himself in the D-League, but he has a decent chance of making it back.

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