NBA Draft winners and losers: Good day for the Sixers, rough day for their fans


Let’s just admit this up front: Projecting the draft winners and losers just hours after the draft is a fool’s errand. There is no way to know how these players are going to pan out long term — guys we think were steals will fade away, guys we shrugged at tonight will be the guys fans ask their GM “how did you pas on this guy?” a few years from how. An injury or two will change everything.

That said, I’m willing to play the fool tell you who won and lost. And do it fully expecting to be proven right in five years.

This was a quieter draft than expected, what was supposed to be a beehive of trades saw only a few. Teams were drafting for themselves and some did it better than others.

Winner, Denver Nuggets. They were my biggest winners on draft day. Over the course of Thursday they turned Evan Fournier, Doug McDermott and a second round pick into Arron Afflalo, Gary Harris — maybe the steal of the draft after he fell to 19 — and potential future big man Josef Nurkic (stashed in Europe for a couple years). Two guard was the Nuggets weak spot 24 hours ago, no more. The Nuggets got better without giving up much.

[MORE: Every trade involving a 2014 NBA draft pick]

Winner: Philadelphia 76ers. They took a smart gamble and got maybe the best player in the draft in Joel Embiid — when you’re rebuilding and you need elite talent you swing for the fences not play it safe. Put Embiid next to Nerlens Noel in a couple years and if they can stay healthy they can be a force in the paint. The Sixers got a good future point forward in Dario Saric (who will spend the next two years in Turkey, developing. They picked up the very athletic Jerami Grant out of Syracuse, who should make some plays and fits an up-tempo system like the Sixers run. They rolled the dice on a few Europeans as well who may pan out down the line.

Loser: Philadelphia 76ers fans. This team lost 26 games in a row late last year and isn’t going to be much if any better next season. Embiid could pan out to be a great pick (and is likely at least a good one) in a couple years, and when Dario Saric comes to the NBA in a couple years he could be a big boost. But neither of those guys is playing next season. It’s going to be the largely same tanktastic roster in Philly, and that sucks for fans asked to sit through another year of it. Intellectually Sixers fans get the building plan, but it’s hard to watch right now.

[MORE: Top five players passed over in the draft]

Winner: Charlotte Hornets. Two great picks… see what happens when Michael Jordan lets GM Rich Cho do his job. First they got Noah Vonleh. Indiana power forward slipped down the board on draft night, right to the Hornets. He is a great fit — they have Al Jefferson banging inside and needed a stretch four to space the floor, Vonleh is that guy (he shot 48.5 percent from three last season). Then later on they traded with the Heat and got one of the underrated studs of the draft in P.J. Hairston — the guy can flat out shoot the rock and after much of a D-League season he is more ready to step in and contribute from Day 1 then most of the other guys in the draft.

Winner: Adam Silver. The handling of the Isaiah Austin situation, selecting the Baylor star for the league and brining him on stage, was almost as masterful as how he handled the Donald Sterling situation. Classy act. Silver continues to just kill it as commissioner so far (except for the age limit thing).

Loser: Zach LaVine. The UCLA prospect did not exactly want to go to Minnesota. Way to endear yourself to a fan base already pissed their star player is trying to push his way out of town.

Winner: Andrew Wiggins. He’s the No. 1 overall pick and he’s going to have Kyrie Irving feeding him the rock. The owner is desperate to make the playoffs and if everyone can just stay heathy the roster as it is now can do that in the East.

[MORE: Wiggins goes No. 1 overall, just like he always planned]

Loser: Kevin Love. He and his agent pushed to get traded before the draft and to a destination he wanted, but he is still a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves as you read this. Wolves president Flip Saunders doesn’t feel the need to make a move until he is ready, and he’s willing to wait for a better deal. Even if that means Love has to come to Timberwolves training camp, which would be very awkward.

Winner: Boston Celtics. Marcus Smart fell to them at No. 6 and with Rajon Rondo potentially being on the move this is a brilliant pick. Smart defends, competes and is going to be a good PG in the Association for a decade. Then they got another guy with great potential in James Young down at 17. Two guys who can be part of the future Celtics.

Winner: Los Angeles Lakers. Julius Randle is a guy who can step right in and play for them now and can be part of whatever the post-Kobe future is for the Lakers. He was long projected to fall all the way to 7 but this was a guy the Lakers liked and is a guy that may well pan out better than a number of guys taken ahead of him.

[MORE: Julius Randle hopes to learn plenty from Kobe Bryant]

Report: Yi Jianlian has asked for release, will be waived by Lakers

Yi Jianlian, from China, newly acquired by the Los Angeles Lakers, poses in his new jersey during his introduction at the NBA basketball team's headquarters in El Segundo, Calif., Friday, Sept. 16, 2016. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)
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On paper, Chinese center Yi Jianlian made a lot of sense for the Lakers, especially in Luke Walton’s system — he was the only floor spacing big on the roster. Watching Yi at the Olympics, it was easy to imagine it working out for him in the NBA this time around.

In practice, he was struggling to find a consistent role with the team. He had averaged less than 11 minutes a game in the preseason, shooting 35 percent overall and 16.7 percent from three. His defense wasn’t good, and he remains a player who doesn’t exactly have a high motor. With Julius Randle, Larry Nance, Timofey Mozgov, and Tarik Black, Yi wasn’t finding a consistent niche.

So he has asked out of his contract and the Lakers are going to oblige, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.

This likely means Thomas Robinson will earn the final Lakers’ roster spot.

Yi has a strong and lucrative international career to return to.

This was a smart gamble by the Lakers — he had about the most team-friendly contract imaginable, and this was not a big financial hit. It’s a little disappointing it didn’t work out, but both sides will move on.

Duncan-less Spurs eager for another run at NBA postseason

San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker (9), of France, talks with forward Kawhi Leonard during the second half of the team's preseason NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets, Friday, Oct. 21, 2016, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Darren Abate)
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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — The San Antonio Spurs responded to their most successful regular season in franchise history with the greatest turnover in Gregg Popovich’s two decades with the team.

Tim Duncan’s retirement played a large role in the reconstruction, but so did losing in six games to Oklahoma City in the Western Conference semifinals.

Duncan is gone along with veterans Boris Diaw, Matt Bonner and late-season additions Andre Miller and Kevin Martin. While San Antonio added another veteran in Pau Gasol, they also brought in a lot of youth and athleticism as they prepared for life without Duncan, the power forward who led the franchise to five NBA titles in 19 seasons.

“Right now we don’t know what we’re going to miss on the floor because we haven’t been through the season yet,” Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard said. “(But) just knowing he’s not here, his personality isn’t here. Jokes that he makes during practice, that’s the things I’m missing right now.”

Duncan will be with the team occasionally as an unofficial assistant coach, but San Antonio is placing the team squarely in Leonard’s hands. The 6-foot-7 forward finished second in MVP balloting after averaging a career-high 21.2 points and 6.8 rebounds last season. He also was named Defensive Player of the Year for the second straight season.

After spending his first five seasons adding a pull-up jumper and honing his 3-point shooting, Leonard spent this offseason working on something else: “Just becoming a leader. Just making sure I know what’s going on on the floor at every position. Just getting ready to get my mentality of just leading the group this year.”

Leonard’s evolution as a leader should be aided by Gasol. The 17-year veteran won two NBA championships while with the Los Angeles Lakers.

“One thing that makes me feel a little better with (Duncan’s) loss is Pau Gasol,” Popovich said. “He is a very intelligent man and he understands how to play and he’s played for a lot of good people. That’s going to help us in that loss, but having said that, it will take time to get all the new guys to understanding exactly how we play and who goes with whom.”

Gasol averaged 16.5 points and 11.0 rebounds for Chicago last season while earning his sixth All-Star appearance. Duncan averaged 8.6 points and 7.3 rebounds in the final season of a Hall of Fame career.

Gasol’s numbers will likely drop this season, though, as San Antonio will continue to develop around Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge.

“It starts with me and L.A. first,” Leonard said. “If we win a championship, it’s going to be up to us to lead the group.”

The duo earned All-Star berths last season while leading San Antonio to a franchise-record 67 victories. But the Spurs dropped four of five games to the Thunder in the West semifinals and San Antonio knew changes were needed. The Spurs drafted 6-foot-5 point guard Dejounte Murray and brought in 2011 second-round pick Davis Bertans at forward along with signing 7-foot center Dewayne Dedmon along with David Lee.

Some other things to know about the Spurs, who open the season Tuesday night at Golden State:


Aldridge struggled to fit into the team’s offense in the first half of last season, but closed strongly to lead the team in rebounding and finish second in scoring. He said he was not bothered by reports San Antonio was willing to trade him.

“(Popovich is) a pretty direct person and this organization is first-class, so if that was the issue, I would have known way before the media knew,” Aldridge said. “So, I wasn’t worried about it at all.”


Point guard Tony Parker suffered a drop in scoring for his third straight season, which is a product of the team’s evolution rather than any decline in his game. The 6-foot-2 guard averaged 11.9 points last season, but he had a career-low 1.8 turnovers per game and shot 49 percent from the field. It was the third time in four seasons that Parker has shot 49 percent or better from the field. He also shot 42 percent on 3-pointers, marking the second straight season he has shot over 40 percent on 3s. Fellow veteran Manu Ginobili said he will not decide if this his last season until after it’s done.


After averaging 7.9 points and shooting 47 percent on 3-pointers in 15 games for Baskonia in the Euroleague last season, Bertans is averaging 5.4 points and shooting 31 percent on 3-pointers in five preseason games for the Spurs. He has astounded his teammates with his leaping ability especially after right ACL surgery twice in the past three years.

“I think in the second ACL they put something special in there,” Bertans said.


Dedmon is expected to be one of the team’s primary frontcourt reserves if he can stay on the court. The 7-footer has struggled with foul trouble in his career, averaging 2.1 fouls in just 13.1 minutes per game. He is averaging 3.2 fouls in five preseason games, including fouling out in 22 minutes in San Antonio’s preseason opener against Phoenix.


Gasol has stepping into Duncan’s spot in numerous ways, not just in the starting lineup. Gasol has taken Duncan’s spot standing next to Parker and Ginobili during the national anthem and is also handling tip-off duties.

Damian Lillard’s goal for season: Win MVP

Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) poses for a photograph during NBA basketball media day in Portland, Ore., Monday, Sept. 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Steve Dykes)
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When the PBT staff made our predictions for MVP you saw some expected names — LeBron James, James Harden — and a smart pick off some people’s radar in Kawhi Leonard. Russell Westbrook was discussed as someone with a chance.

What about Damian Lillard? You know, the hip-hop star.

Lillard told a Jay Allen of Portland area Fox Sports Radio that’s his goal.

Lillard averaged 25.1 points and 6.8 assists per game last season, he is unquestionably a dynamic offensive force — he has a great pull up jumper and he can get to the rim and finish. Plus, he’s just entertaining to watch.

But MVP? That’s going to take more than numbers.

Portland won 44 games last season. The MVP almost always goes to the best player on a top two or three seed, meaning a team winning around 55 games or more. For Portland to add 10 wins or so and get Lillard noticed in the MVP race is going to be about defense — Portland was bottom 10 last season in defense and they need to be at least middle of the pack this time around. Which comes back to Lillard on some level, he’s often an overmatched defender and he can lose focus on that end. He’s gotten better over the years, but Lillard is going to have to lift up the Blazers defense, not just offense, to get in the MVP discussion.

I’m skeptical (of Lillard’s chances and the Trail Blazers taking a step forward), but we all underestimated Portland last season, too.

LeBron James says he can still win MVP with reduced workload, cites Stephen Curry

OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 02:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers with the ball against Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors in the fourth quarter in Game 1 of the 2016 NBA Finals at ORACLE Arena on June 2, 2016 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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The door is open for LeBron James to win a legacy-altering fifth MVP.

But his Cavaliers could also win another championship, leaving Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue planning to limit LeBron’s minutes in preparation of a long playoff run.

LeBron, via Dave McMenamin of ESPN

“No,” James said Saturday when asked if he was concerned that planned rest could affect his MVP case. “Because Steph played 31 minutes a game and he won the MVP.”

“Well, I’ve never set into a season saying I want to win MVP,” he said. “I’ve always thought of the season saying I want to be MVP for my team and it’s resulted in me getting four of them. So I’ve been available, for the most part, every night and I’ve been available on both sides of the floor. I’ve been healthy.

Curry won 2015 MVP while playing 32.7 minutes per game, the fewest by any MVP. He played 34.2 minutes per game last season, third-fewest by an MVP – ahead of just himself and 1978 Bill Walton, who played 33.3 minutes per game.

To contrast, LeBron has set career lows the last two seasons with 36.1 and 35.6 minutes per game. So, LeBron could get a reduced workload and still play more than Curry did.

But Curry, to some degree is an anomaly. He often sat late in games with his Warriors on the right side of blowouts. The Cavs aren’t good enough regularly rest LeBron as much in those situations.

It’s not that voters care directly about minutes. But the less LeBron plays, the lower his per-game averages will be and the less Cleveland will win. Those factors matter significantly.

LeBron can overcome that. He’s darned good, and there could be a push to reward him after the last two Finals have shown he’s still better than Curry when it matters most.

Playing fewer minutes per game won’t eliminate LeBron from the MVP race, not even close. But it will – and should – hurt his case. After all, MVP should reward the player who does the most to help his team win. MVP-caliber players don’t significantly help while sitting on the bench.