After the NBA Lottery screwed them, where do the Nets go from here?

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cousins.jpgSo, that didn’t go so well for the Nyets.

The franchise savior will be headed to Washington, or, if they lose their minds, Philadelphia. The odds of landing LeBron, Wade, Bosh have just shrunk to tiny proportions, and they’re looking at the third pick in a two-superstar-pick draft. That’s a pretty big fall on the first big day of the new Nets, or whatever they’ll be called.

But third pick it is, and they’ll have to try and come up with the best option available. So what do they need?

Obviously, Devin Harris isn’t going anywhere. Brook Lopez is their best player now that Wall’s out of the picture. Courtney Lee can work as a two guard. Terrence Williams showed a lot of promise at small forward. So that just leaves power forward, if we’re going from a true need standpoint. Yi Jianlian has not been a viable option from production or injury stability so that’s the easiest way to go. Let’s look at some options.

1A. Derrick Favors, PF/C, Georgia Tech: The (un)sure thing. You can go ahead and take the “/C” off Mr. Favors. Brook Lopez is the big here. Favors is the easy choice. 6-9 and change (depending on who you ask), with a good frame and excellent athleticism, he’s got a lot of the words you want associated with a third overall pick as a forward. But while everyone seems to be certain that this is where the Nets should go, there have to be some doubts.

For starters, and most glaringly, is the situation of redundancy. Lopez provides them with a superb all-around big. He has touch around the basket and an arsenal of moves, but also the brute strength to rebound and fight down low. Adding Favors as a superfreak athlete doesn’t really address their biggest need from an offensive standpoint, and that’s a forward that can stretch the floor. An ideal candidate would have Favors athleticism but a more polished offensive game. Even a handful of post moves would be handy. But at Georgia Tech, in a limited system, albeit, Favors failed to showcase that kind of potential.

The Nets geared their strategy around getting Wall and signing free agents. They now do not have Wall, nor Turner (most likely), and going with Favors would be acquiring another hyperathlete that can’t necessarily move the NBA’s worst offense forward.

1B. DeMarcus Cousins, PF/C, Kentucky: The headcase.  Cousins is at least one spot lower than he should be, and possibly two, based solely on his maturity level. Which is remarkably questionable. Cousins is a massive headcase, prone to fits, tantrums, freak-outs, and mouthing off. Let me put it this way. If we’re taking bets on “Most likely to say something in the press that will result in a NBA veteran destroying him” for the 2010 rookies? The money line is Cousins (-50) and field (-7000). He’s got the potential to rival Sheed in technicals by the end of his career. So he certainly deserves a drop and that may be too much for the young Nets.

But on the flip side, it’s hard to find a prospect outside of Wall with as powerful a combination of immediate impact and upside as Cousins. He has the most impressive set of physical assets of any big in the draft, with length, frame and muscle all to the standard of an NBA starter from the get go. Give him the ball, and he knows what to do with it. At Kentucky he showed not only a patience in working to develop a shot but a ridiculous ability to draw fouls. He’s just too big and physical to contain. Pair that polish and aggressiveness with Lopez and you have a pretty killer frontcourt.

Cousins is questionable defensively but that’s tied into the headcase thing. When motivated, he can be smothering, and between he and Lopez, opponents might never see the light of day again.

Cousins is a remarkably risky pick but has the highest chance of making an immediate impact.

2a. Wesley Johnson, SF/PF, Syracuse: The complication. Okay, let’s say the Nets decide that the Orange wing is the way to go. He’s simply not big enough to play power forward in the NBA, but that’s alright, because Terrence Williams logged most of his time at the shooting guard position anyway. So you push Courtney Lee to the bench, move Williams to the 2, slot in Johnson as your dynamic three, figure out something at power forward, and keep Lopez banging along. Not a bad option. Even Courtney Lee as the backup shooting guard seems like a good plan. But it does create somewhat of a glut at the position, particularly if the team elects to re-sign troubled but talented wing Chris Douglas-Roberts.

Having too much talent isn’t exactly something New Jersey needs to be concerned with right now, but in planning for the future, a small forward that has difficulty in creating his own shot might not be the best option.

2b. Al-Farouq Aminu, SF/PF, Wake Forest: The reach. Aminu brings a lot of what the Nets are looking for. Versatility, an ability to spread the floor, enough size to play 4 in a jam, enough versatility to play 3 as a natural position. He’s long, talented, has good work ethic and can score at the rim. He doesn’t have terrific range, but the other wings for the Nets have those things. The problem is that he’s simply too much of a reach. He’s not considered on level with Wesley Johnson, Cousins, or Favors, and is part of the “soup” of picks between No. 5 and No. 12 in most mocks.

If the Nets can move down a few slots to take him and either pick up another pick (to bundle together for a later trade) or a veteran that can contribute, that might be a wise move. The Nets have so many concerns from a talent standpoint that trying to maximize their options may be the best approach. Getting Aminu would serve a lot of needs while not necessarily solving any, and a move down would relinquish them of the intense scrutiny of any of the other picks listed.

3a. Cole Aldrich, PF/C, Kansas: The bust. This would be a disaster. Aldrich was a phenomenal college athlete but his upside in the pros is limited, as is how he would fit in with Brook Lopez. The Nets would have a considerably bigger team, but how much that would help given their other deficiencies has to be a concern.

3b. Greg Monroe, PF/C:
The slip. Monroe was as high as No. 3 in some drafts earlier in the year, but a subpar season along with a poor showing in the tournament has left him plummeting back down to double digits. Monroe’s offensive game is developed enough for him to play at the four and his size is a huge plus at 6-11, but a lack of passing ability and limited athleticism have him hampered. And the reach factor again comes into play here, as Monroe would be available later. There’s also a similar concern as with Aldrich as to his ability to fit in with Lopez. Monroe may be the most ready to make an immediate impact but his longterm viability and upside may render this too much for the Nets to go for.

4a. Trade the pick:
The gamble. The Nets have three of the first 32 selections in the 2010 NBA Draft, including the number three. They aren’t tethered to anyone but Lopez in terms of a talent standpoint, and have the cap space to take on any large contract a team would need to dump off in a talent upgrade. While the biggest prizes of the summer may be out of reach, that doesn’t mean there aren’t options if Thorn is willing to pursue them.

The Nets are in the weeds, but at least there are some choices. For the sake of the franchise, they’d best tread carefully though.

Report: Leaders in Lakers’ locker room think team ‘only a couple of players away’ from contending

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There’s a sense of optimism around the Lakers: They have won 5-of-6 and are expected to have both Anthony Davis and LeBron James healthy Monday night, plus Russell Westbrook has found a role and comfort level off the bench and other players are settling into roles. They may be 7-11, but it’s early enough there is a sense this could be turned around.

That is echoed by “locker room leaders” who think the team is just a couple of players away from being a contender in the West (where no team has pulled away), reports Dave McMenamin at ESPN.

There is belief shared by leaders in the Lakers’ locker room, sources said, that the team is only a couple of players away from turning this group into a legitimate contender. But acquiring the right players could take multiple trades.

Let’s unpack all of this.

• “Leaders in the Lakers’ locker room” means LeBron and Davis (both repped by Rich Paul). Let’s not pretend it’s anything else.

• If the Lakers don’t make a move to significantly upgrade the roster, how unhappy will those leaders become? How disruptive would that be?

• It is no coincidence that McMenamin’s report comes the day the Lakers face the Pacers, a team they went deep into conversations with this summer on a Myles Turner/Buddy Hield trade, but Los Angeles GM Rob Pelinka ultimately would not put both available Lakers’ first-round picks (2027 and 2029) in the deal and it fell apart. Turner said the Lakers should “take a hard look” at trading for him. The thing is, the Pacers are now 11-8, not tanking for Victor Wembanyama but instead thinking playoffs, so are they going to trade their elite rim protector and sharpshooter away? Not likely. At least not without an overwhelming offer, and the Lakers’ two picks may not get there anymore.

• While Westbrook has found a comfort level coming off the bench (and not sharing the court as much with LeBron), he is still a $47.1 million contract that no team is trading for without sweeteners. To use NBA parlance, he is still a negative value contract, even if it feels less negative than a month ago.

• Are the Lakers really a couple of players away from contending? While they have won 5-of-6, three of those five wins came against the tanking Spurs, the others were against the so-injured-they-might-as-well-be-tanking Pistons, and the Nets before Kyrie Irving returned. The Lakers did what they needed to do and thrived in a soft part of the schedule, but that schedule is about to turn and give the Lakers a reality check on where they really stand. After the Pacers, it’s the Trail Blazers (likely still without Damian Lillard), then an East Coast road trip that includes the Bucks, Cavaliers, Raptors and 76ers. The next couple of weeks will be a better marker for where the Lakers stand, and if they can build off of the past couple of weeks.

Dallas Mavericks near agreement to sign Kemba Walker

Oklahoma City Thunder v New York Knicks
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Looking for help spacing the floor and with secondary shot creation behind Luka Doncic, the Dallas Mavericks are turning to Kemba Walker.

Marc Stein was first with the news the sides were close to a deal, but since then multiple reports — plus comments from team owner Mark Cuban — confirmed it is happening.

This will be a veteran minimum contract (all the over-the-cap Mavericks can offer). To create the roster spot, the Mavericks will waive Facundo Campazzo, who was signed a few weeks ago and has barely touched the court for the team.

Walker averaged 11.6 points and 3.5 assists a game playing solidly in stretches for the Knicks last season, but the concern was his staying on the court — he appeared in just 37 games due to ongoing knee problems. Walker spent the offseason working on getting past those, but the Knicks traded him to Detroit for picks, but the Pistons were stacked at the point guard spot (at least before the season and injuries hit Cade Cunningham), so they bought out his $9.2 million for this season.

Walker worked to convince teams he still had plenty in the tank, but it was always going to take a situation where a team reached a certain level of desperation. Enter the Mavericks.

Doncic calls Antetokounmpo ‘the best player in the NBA right now’

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It was a matchup of two of the NBA’s top five players and two guys high in the way-too-early mix for MVP this season: Giannis Antetokounmpo and Luka Doncic.

Doncic carried the Mavericks again with 27 points on 10-of-20 shooting plus 12 assists.

Antetokounmpo was a force of nature with 30 points on 11-of-19 shooting plus 11 rebounds, plus he had more help around him leading the Bucks to a 124-115 win.

There is a mutual admiration society between these two players, and after the game Doncic called Antetokounmpo the best player in the NBA. Via Jack Maloney at CBS Sports.

“Enjoy [competing against him] is hard because I want to win, so it’s hard to go against a guy like that,” Doncic said after the Mavericks’ fourth consecutive defeat. “He’s the best player in the NBA right now. He’s almost impossible to stop. It’s really fun to see him play, but it’s not that fun to go against him.”

Antetokounmpo had praise for Doncic as well.

“That’s a great compliment and I appreciate that,” Antetokounmpo said. “When you play against the best players in the league, being able to say something like that feels good. No matter wins or losses, just being respected by your peers, it’s always a good feeling.”

We have many years of these two players testing each other, and someday it may be Antetokounmpo calling Doncic the best in the NBA.

Three things to know: The Warriors are starting to look like the Warriors again

Golden State Warriors v Minnesota Timberwolves
David Berding/Getty Images
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Three Things is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks that make the NBA must-watch.

1) The Warriors are starting to look like the Warriors again

About that slow start in the Bay Area…

Over their last 11 games, the Golden State Warriors are 8-3 with a top-10 in the league offense and defense and a +4.5 net rating (fourth best in the league over that stretch). The latest win was Sunday’s destruction of the stumbling Timberwolves, 137-114, a game that saw the Warriors up by more than 20 in the first quarter and never truly threatened again.

“I think we’re starting to put it together and if we can keep building at this rate, you know, we’ll be poised for a run pretty soon here,” Draymond Green said.

All season long the Warriors have had Stephen Curry playing at an MVP level, carrying the team. So what has changed over the past few weeks that has the Warriors rolling? Three things.

First, Steve Kerr started staggering the rotation and separating Green’s and Curry’s minutes some, something he tried not to do much in the past. It’s one way Kerr dealt with the fact the Warriors’ bench has struggled (getting Donte DiVincenzo healthy helped as well). Curry now stays in for the entire first quarter, while Green gets his first rest about the five-minute mark, then Curry sits to start the second and Green returns to play with more of a bench unit (both stars finish the quarter together on the court).

“I’ve said for years Draymond is kind of the heartbeat of our team,” Kerr said. “He’s the guy who kind of makes everything go and he’s the motivator, he’s the bully, he protects his teammates on the floor, talks trash. But this guy is just so good at basketball.”

Second, the other way the Warriors dealt with the bench issue was Kerr scaled back the “two timelines” experiment. The idea was that the roles Otto Porter and Gary Payton Jr. filled last season could be filled by the young trio of James Wiseman, Moses Moody, and Jonathan Kuminga. That plan failed spectacularly. Wiseman is now down in the G-League, while Moody is out of the rotation. Kuminga is getting his shot — he played well against the Timberwolves — but has been up and down this season.

“I think we’ve settled into some roles, guys are comfortable now with when they’re gonna play who they’re gonna play with. So I think that’s been helpful,” Kerr said.

Third, Klay Thompson found his legs. He kept saying he needed more time, and whether it was a spark lit by Charles Barkley or Thompson getting off of social media and out of his own head, it’s worked. In his last 10 games Thompson is averaging 20.8 points a game and shooting 46.2% from 3. He is not defending like his old self (and may never again), but he’s back to being a No.2 scoring option on an elite team.

Green would throw in one more reason, the Warriors’ defense is back.

“Most importantly our defense has picked up which allows us to push the pace more,” Green said. “Like it’s one thing to push off makes, which we want to do, but when you’re pushing off a miss and getting a rebound then going, that’s tough to guard because it creates a lot of cross-matching.”

There was no magic bullet for Kerr to fire, it took a number of things to turn for the Warriors to get back to being themselves. But they have now, and the rest of the West should be worried.

2) Doncic says Antetokounmpo is “the best player in the NBA right now”

The Dallas Mavericks had no answers. Not that teams really ever do.

Giannis Antetokounmpo was a force of nature Sunday and dropped 30 with 11 boards on the Mavericks, leading the Bucks to a 124-115 win.

After the game, Luka Doncic called Antetokounmpo the best player in the game. Via Jack Maloney at CBS Sports.

“Enjoy [competing against him] is hard because I want to win, so it’s hard to go against a guy like that,” Doncic said after the Mavericks’ fourth consecutive defeat. “He’s the best player in the NBA right now. He’s almost impossible to stop. It’s really fun to see him play, but it’s not that fun to go against him.”

Antetokounmpo returned the compliment.

“That’s a great compliment and I appreciate that,” Antetokounmpo said. “When you play against the best players in the league, being able to say something like that feels good. No matter wins or losses, just being respected by your peers, it’s always a good feeling.”

Antetokounmpo and Doncic are two of the guys in the early MVP conversation, along with Curry, Jayson Tatum and a few others. It turns out, those first two also have a mutual admiration society going.

3) Clippers Ivica Zubac put up a monster 31 and 29 line against Pacers

No Kawhi Leonard, no Paul George, but the Clippers picked up another win on Sunday knocking off the Pacers 114-100.

Thank Ivica Zubac, who had a monster 31-point, 20-rebound game.

After the game, Zubac was made he fouled out before he could get his 30th rebound and have a 30-30 game.

Quietly, Zubac is having a fantastic defensive season for the Clippers, but like the rest of the team his offense has been up and down as they try to adjust to ever-changing lineups. That Clipper defense locked down the Pacers in the second half, plus Indy was just off shooting 9-of-42 from 3.

Zubac found his offense, the Pacers had no answer for him, and the Clippers have a win and improved to 12-9 because of it.