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

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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]

Isaiah Thomas on Cavaliers trade to Lakers: “They were in panic mode”

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It seems Isaiah Thomas is a thorn in the side of many in the NBA these days. The Los Angeles Lakers point guard reportedly was the source of some locker room conflict while he was with the Cleveland Cavaliers, although it appears that Dwyane Wade was the first to lead the charge against Kevin Love in the infamous player rap session.

Thomas is now a member of the Lakers after being part of the worst section of the season in Cleveland. The Cavaliers, with their revamped roster, have just one loss since the trade deadline. LeBron James & Co. have moved on, and Thomas appears set for free agency this summer and yet another team.

A move for the Cavaliers seemed inevitable, even if the return for Kyrie Irving from Boston — conveyed through consequent trades — was less than ideal. Meanwhile Thomas, who didn’t appear to enjoy his time in Ohio, has now said that he was surprised Dan Gilbert’s team bailed on him so quickly.

Via ESPN:

“I didn’t think they would pull the trigger that fast, 15 games,” Thomas told ESPN’s E:60 in an interview that will air March 11. “But again, it’s a business. And the Cavs were, I mean, they were in panic mode. We were losing — a lot. And I think they felt like they needed to make a move, and they, they basically cleared house.”

Thomas went on to say that he didn’t think he had enough time to find a rhythm not only coming back from a hip injury but on a new team in a new system. Thomas also mentioned that he harbored no ill feelings toward the Cavaliers.

We’ll see if that’s the case when the Lakers take on Cleveland on March 11 in LA.

Coach Tyronn Lue says not to expect LeBron James to have “rest” games

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LeBron James has not missed one Cleveland Cavaliers game this season. At age 33 in his 15th NBA season, LeBron is fourth in the league in total minutes played, third in the league in minutes per game at 37, and is top 10 in the NBA in usage rate.

Don’t expect that to change.

LeBron doesn’t want to take games off — he even dominated the All-Star Game — and do you really think Lue is going to force him to sit while the Cavaliers try to adapt to a radical roster shakeup at the trade deadline? From Dave McMenamin at ESPN.

“I just think being the leader of this team, I don’t think he thinks he can take games off, because, you know, guys being hurt and going through a rough patch, and now new guys coming in,” Lue said before the Cavs’ 112-89 win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday. “So, I think he’s trying to lead and lead by example … I think we still got to be smart about the situation, but [the training staff] say he feels good.”

LeBron said this last month and things have not changed.

“I told you I want to play every game,” James said. “If my health continues as it is right now, then that’s what it is.”

While “load management” is a buzzword around the NBA — one ignored in Minnesota — LeBron has responded to his increased workload with an MVP level season. LeBron is averaging 26.5 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 8.9 assists per game, is shooting 35.9 percent from three, and has the highest value over replacement player in the league. (His less energized play in January likely cost him any real shot at his fifth MVP.) With the league emphasizing not resting players — particularly in nationally televised games, which the Cavaliers have a lot of — LeBron is not getting much if any rest. He wants to play in a full 82.

The only concern is will he wear down. LeBron is going to have to dominate in the playoffs for the Cavaliers to come out of the East. How much gas will LeBron have in the tank come May? There’s a reason Gregg Popovich, Steve Kerr, and a lot of other elite coaches give players a night off. That’s not going to happen with LeBron, at least not likely in a meaningful way.

Consider it something to file away and remember if the Cavaliers and LeBron look a step slower in the postseason.

Watch Kyrie Irving drop 31 on Knicks in Celtics’ win

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NEW YORK (AP) — Kyrie Irving had 31 points, nine rebounds and eight assists, leading the Boston Celtics over the New York Knicks 121-112 on Saturday for their second victory in two nights since the All-Star break.

Irving scored 15 points in a dazzling third quarter and then helped the Celtics finish it off with his passing in the fourth, highlighted by a behind-the-back dish to Jaylen Brown for a dunk that made it 115-106.

Brown had 24 points for the Celtics, who went into the break with three straight losses but came back with a victory in Detroit on Friday.

Trey Burke scored 26 points off the bench for the second straight game for the Knicks, but they couldn’t win this one after beating Orlando on Thursday to end an eight-game skid.

Irving was just 1 for 6 behind the arc in the first half but showed no lack of confidence in the third. He scored 14 straight Boston points, hitting four 3-pointers and pushing the ball right at the Knicks.

His last 3-pointer in that spurt gave the Celtics a 10-point lead, but the Knicks chipped away while he rested and it was a two-point game by the time he returned with 8:14 remaining.

Irving soon made another 3, and passed to Al Horford for a 3 that pushed the lead back to double digits.

Horford finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds.

 

Damian Lillard scores 40, hits game-winner to beat Suns (VIDEO)

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PHOENIX (AP) — Passing the ball inbounds at a critical time proved too big a challenge for the sputtering Phoenix Suns. So, Damian Lillard got one final chance.

Of course, he came through.

Lillard scored 40 points, the last two on a driving layup with nine-tenths of a second to play, and the Portland Trail Blazers rallied from 15 down in the final 7 1/2 minutes to beat Phoenix 106-104 on Saturday night, the Suns’ ninth straight loss.

Lillard called it one of his “more significant performances” of the season.

“Obviously, Damian was huge, showed his leadership, showed his talent,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “We overcame a horrendous shooting night for most of the night and found a way.”

Lillard, who scored 19 points in the fourth quarter, got the final chance because Phoenix’s Troy Daniels couldn’t get the ball inbounds on a five-second call that turned possession over to Portland with 20.6 seconds to play.

“We knew they didn’t have any time outs left,” Stotts said, “so we gave it a shot and made some good reads and didn’t give them any outlets.”‘

Devin Booker scored 30 points for the Suns, losers of 14 of their last 15.

His two free throws gave Phoenix its biggest lead, 93-78, with 7:26 to play. Lillard triggered the subsequent 18-4 outburst that caught the Suns at 97-97 on his 3-point play. Booker’s fifth and final 3-pointer gave the Suns a 100-97 lead with 2:19 to go. Lillard’s 3 tied it at 100 with 1:10 left.

Booker’s powerful driving basket put Phoenix up 104-102 with 33.6 seconds to go. But, after a timeout, Lillard’s step-back 15-footer tied it at 104-104 with 28 seconds left. The Suns called time out to set up the play but, on the sidelines, Daniels couldn’t get the ball inbounds for the five-second call.

“We had no timeouts. I didn’t see anybody open. If I did, I would have thrown it obviously,” Daniels said. “I’ve been in that position a lot of times, but like I said, it’s tough to be in that position when you have no timeouts. You learn from and you get it better.”

On the play, Portland’s CJ McCollum said “I just tried to take away Booker.”

“I saw how they were set up and I just guarded him normal and when I turned and saw him run toward half-court I just shaded toward him,” McCollum said.

Booker never broke open, Daniels decided not to chance it, and the last opportunity was gifted to Portland.

“There was 20 seconds left and I just wanted to make sure I got the last shot,” Lillard said. “I really just wanted to get the clock down, keep it towards half-court where it is further out and I can get downhill. I took a peek, the clock was at six and I got downhill.”

The Blazers, coming off a win at Utah the previous night, have won three straight and five of six.

The game was tied 10 times before Portland finished the first half with a 7-2 spurt take a 55-50 lead at the break.

But the Suns turned it on in the third quarter, outscoring the cold-shooting Blazers 31-16. Portland scored the first five of the second half to take its biggest lead, 60-50. But Phoenix overwhelmed the Trail Blazers 29-5 to go up 79-65 on Booker’s 3.