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Winners and losers from 2019 NBA Draft

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Let’s just own this up front: Picking the winners and losers from a draft the night it happens is a fool’s errand. If we were doing this right, tonight we’d be picking the winners and losers of the 2016 NBA Draft, because it takes about that long to get a real sense of how teams did. (Denver with Jamal Murray, Toronto with Pascal Siakam, and the Bucks with Malcolm Brogdon nailed it; Philly did fine with Ben Simmons at No. 1, but Phoenix took Dragan Bender at No. 4 and misfired.)

That, however, is not the instant gratification world we live in.

So here are our winners and losers from the 2019 NBA Draft.

Winner:

The New Orleans Pelicans. Thanks, Captain Obvious. The Pelicans won the NBA Draft Lottery, so when the draft itself rolled around all they needed to do was not screw it up. They got it right and took Zion Williamson No. 1. That is a massive win. New Orleans gets the highest rated player in the draft since Anthony Davis, and the most marketable rookie probably since LeBron James. It may have been a no-brainer, it doesn’t make the night any less of a success.

As for the rest of their moves, David Griffin traded out of the No. 4 pick and turned it into the No. 8 pick (Jaxson Hayes), No. 17 pick (Nickeil Alexander-Walker), and the No. 35 pick (Marcos Louzada Silva of Brazil). There are some development projects in there, but we don’t need to see how they pan out to know the Pelicans still win because they drafted Zion Williamson.

Winner:

The Atlanta Hawks. Atlanta moved up in the draft last year to get Trae Young, and a year later that seems a wise call. This year the Hawks moved up again, this time to the No. 4 pick to get De'Andre Hunter — the highest floor player in this draft whose first name doesn’t start with “Z.” Hunter is going to be a quality wing defender who can knock down shots and make plays on the perimeter, having a Trevor Ariza kind of impact. Put that with Young, John Collins, and Kevin Huerter, and you’ve got something to build on in the ATL. The Hawks also snapped up Duke’s Cam Reddish at No. 10, a player with All-Star level upside who should be able to thrive in the NBA with more space on the floor (at least that’s what his supporters say, Reddish needs to prove there’s not some Andrew Wiggins in him).

The Hawks were already League Pass favorites the second half of last season, this season they will be even more show-stopping with these pick ups.

Loser:

The Phoenix Suns. They came into the draft with the No. 6 pick and a glaring need at point guard, plus they could use some more consistent wing play. Jarrett Culver was on the board at six and would have been a good fit next to Devin Booker. Coby White, the third highest rated point guard in this draft, was on the board. Instead, the Suns traded down in a deal with the Timberwolves, picking up Dario Saric — a nice stretch four but one who hits restricted free agency next summer and will be expensive to keep — and the No. 11 pick, which they used on Cameron Johnson, a good shooter out of North Carolina, but one who has hip issues and most teams had in the 20s on their boards. Earlier in the day, the Suns traded in-demand T.J. Warren and the No. 32 pick to the Pacers for cash considerations.

So to recap: The Suns gave up Warren, didn’t take Culver, and surrendered the No. 32 pick for Cam Johnson and Dario Saric. Um… not good.

The Suns aren’t total losers because they got Ty Jerome at No. 24, a quality pickup at that spot, and maybe they get a good, veteran point guard in free agency. Still, their moves remain head scratching.

Winner:

The Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavaliers are a bad, rebuilding team. It’s understandable in the wake of a title run and LeBron leaving, but that is their reality right now. They simply need more talent on the roster. That means they had one goal in this draft: Take the best player, the guy with the highest upside, regardless of position. The Cavaliers did that. At No. 5 they took Darius Garland, a player some teams had as high as third on their draft boards — and they did it despite the fact they had Collin Sexton on the roster. That’s how you draft, take the best players and sort it out later. Then they took high upside guys late in the first round: Dylan Windler out of Belmont at No. 28 (42.9 percent from three) and trading up to get Kevin Porter Jr. at No. 30. Maybe that pans out, maybe it doesn’t, but they were good gambles at that point in the draft on guys who could be steals that late.

Loser:

Bol Bol. He was a winner in this sense: Not everybody can pull off that suit, but he did.

However, a 7’2″ skilled big man who captured the imaginations of fans — and who some teams might have taken late in the first round — fell all the way down the board to No. 44, when the Miami Heat took him. Then immediately traded him to Denver. He’s got a lot of potential, but two things scared teams off. First was the foot injury that required two screws be put in his foot — those kinds of injuries in big men scare teams. Second, and even a more significant factor, were serious concerns about his work ethic and how much he loves the game. Is he going to put in the work? Still, to see him fall and all the players taken ahead of him at the start of the second round — once the contracts are no longer guaranteed — was stunning. And awkward as he sat in the NBA’s Green Room, waiting.

Winner:

R.J. Barrett. He desperately wanted to be a Knick. Now he is, New York took him No. 3. Barrett was leaning into it and the New York crowd all night. Good for him, Barrett has the potential to be an outstanding player in the NBA. He’s got the tools.

But be careful what you wish for… New York has chewed up and spit out a lot of good players.

Paul George says there’s more to his Pacers exit: ‘I promise you, I’m not the one to boo’

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In 2017, Paul George told the Pacers he planned to leave in free agency the following year. It wasn’t a trade request, but George knew his message would likely prompt Indiana to deal him. He wanted out.

George said he preferred the Spurs. (Or was it the Lakers?) The Pacers dealt him to the Thunder.

Now with the Clippers, George returned to Indiana and got booed.

George, via Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN:

“You know, someday I’ll do a tell-all and tell the leading events of how I left Indiana,” George said. “And I promise you, I’m not the one to boo.”

“… I’m not gonna share the teaser,” George later added. “… I like being the villain. I’m here two nights out of the year. The people they should boo is here a lot longer than I am.”

Maybe George felt he got wronged. Maybe George actually got wronged.

But fans generally side with their favorite team over a star player who chose to leave.

It’s hard to imagine a set of circumstances where Pacers fans would boo someone other than George for his exit. My hunch: His grievances are significant to him but wouldn’t persuade Indiana fans. Still, I’m at least curious about his full story.

LeBron James on 2011 NBA Finals: ‘I lost my love for the game’

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LeBron James became a villain by leaving the Cavaliers for the Heat on The Decision in 2010. He arrived in Miami promising “not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven” championships.

By the end of his first season with the Heat, he was beaten down. The Mavericks topped Miami in the NBA Finals, winning the last three games of the series. While Miami blew its 2-1 lead, LeBron averaged 15.3 points and 4.7 turnovers per game. He shot 2-for-12 on 3-pointers and 4-for-10 on free throws.

After Game 6, he callously mocked his critics:

“All the people that were rooting for me to fail… at the end of the day, tomorrow they have to wake up and have the same life that (they had) before they woke up today,” James said. “They got the same personal problems they had today. And I’m going to continue to live the way I want to live and continue to do the things I want to do.”

ESPN:

LeBron emerged from his funk and led the Heat to consecutive titles. He returned to Cleveland and won another title there. He’s now with the Lakers leading another championship pursuit.

He plays well. He plays smartly. He plays with joy. He often rises to the biggest occasions.

LeBron probably had to go through a setback like the 2011 Finals to sharpen his mental edge. But it’s incredible how far he has come from the defeated player who left that series against Dallas.

Tristan Thompson on Cavaliers anonymously griping about John Beilein: ‘Y’all better find them names ‘cause I’ll pull up on ‘em right now’

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The Athletic – quoting at least three unnamed players – reported the Cavaliers are rebelling against John Beilein’s collegiate coaching style.

Cleveland big Tristan Thompson, via Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com:

“Y’all better find them names ‘cause I’ll pull up on ‘em right now,” Thompson said. “You can’t do that s—.

“At the end of the day if you’re going to build a culture and a family, you can’t have that Chatty Patty s— going on. That s— is whack to me. Everyone’s got to look in the mirror, there’s only so much coach can do and there’s only so much we can do. Do we have the best roster in the NBA? No. But we’re going to go out there and compete every night. Guys got to look in the mirror. So I hope whoever reported that was just bulls——g and blamed it on a player.”

That’s quite the rhetoric from Thompson. I wonder whether he has the same energy in the locker room.

Thompson confronting his teammates would certainly raise the stakes. And make no mistake: His teammates are among the unnamed sources. The report not only specifically cited players, it said “Veterans and younger players, from all corners of the roster” are having issues with Beilein.

Even if he supports his coach, that’s a lot for Thompson to take on.

But if he’s looking for a place to start, I have a guess.

Report: Raptors president Masai Ujiri would be intrigued by Knicks

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The Knicks are reportedly “obsessed” with Raptors president Masai Ujiri.

Would he actually leave Toronto?

Howard Beck of Bleacher Report:

Sources also say Ujiri would be intrigued by the challenge of fixing the Knicks, the chance to build something from scratch and, not insignificantly, by the opportunity to elevate his Giants of Africa philanthropy by working in the New York market.

Influential voices in the NBA have strongly advised Ujiri not to take the job, if it’s ever offered, sources say. But those same sources say Ujiri might do it anyway, if the money is right, if he’s granted the necessary autonomy and if Dolan funds Giants of Africa as generously as the Raptors ownership group has.

Ujiri’s contract is believed to run through 2021 but with an out clause under certain circumstances. He turned down a lucrative extension last summer, sources said, leaving the impression that he wants to keep his options open.

Michael Grange of Sportsnet:

contrary to a report that Ujiri turned down an extension – there has never been one been offered, according to sources

There’s no good reason to believe one reporter’s unnamed sources over another reporter’s unnamed sources in this case. Maybe the Raptors offered an extension. Maybe they didn’t.

Without knowing the terms, it doesn’t matter much for predicting Ujiri’s future, anyway. If it were truly a “lucrative” offer, that’d indicate Ujiri values flexibility more than staying in Toronto. But if it were a lower offer considering how much time is left on his current deal, that could mean Ujiri is just trying to negotiate more from the Raptors.

Still, even Grange wrote extensively on way Ujiri might go to New York. There’s smoke here.

The upside of running the Knicks is higher than the upside of running the Raptors. That’s just the reality of market, ownership spending and team prestige.

The Knicks also have owner James Dolan and all the complications he brings. He will be New York’s biggest obstacle in any attempt to lure Ujiri. Past dismissive comments can easily get written off to Ujiri having a competitive streak. Dolan – particularly his temperament and insistence on keeping unproductive employees around – is the real challenge.

Ujiri has a good thing going in Toronto. I doubt he’s rushing to leave. But I also wouldn’t be surprised if he’s at least willing to hear out the Knicks.