NBA Draft grades for all 30 teams (yes, we know it is too early)

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Let’s be honest here, we don’t really know how to grade this draft right now. A more accurate way to do this would be to grade the 2008 draft tonight (Chicago for Derrick Rose and Seattle/Oklahoma City for Russell Westbrook/Serge Ibaka get the top grades).

But we are a society of instant answers, and who am I to fight society? So here are grades for all 30 NBA teams out of the draft. But as your read these, consider these midterm grades (or first quarter grades, really), the serious tests lie ahead still.

We’ll do this by conference, in the order they finished last season.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Chicago Bulls (62-20): In Jimmy Butler they took an athletic guy who can defend, someone who fits the Bulls system. In Nikola Mirotic they got a guy people will forget about until he comes in from Europe and looks good in a few years. No game changers, but hard to do that deep in the draft.
Grade: B

Miami Heat (58-24): Norris Cole will get a chance to be a backup point guard. He can’t be worse than Mike Bibby.
Grade: C

Boston Celtics (56-26): They end up with two guys from Purdue, and in bars across Boston plenty of Boilermakers were ordered. I really like getting E’Twaun Moore late in the second round, good value pick.
Grade: B

Orlando Magic (52-30): The rumors were more interesting than reality by far (they still had Jameer Nelson when they woke up in the morning). They got two guys who fit their system, nice but not dynamic picks.
Grade: B-

Atlanta Hawks (44-38): Only one pick in the second half of the second round, used on a project big man in Keith Benson. Meh.
Grade: C

New York Knicks (42-40): They were not able to move up in the draft to get the shooters they wanted, so they settled for Iman Shumpert, the guy who won the combine. It’s a gamble, not a bad one (he’s a ridiculous athlete). But not what they needed.
Grade: C-

Philadelphia 76ers (41-41): Good pick up with Nikola Vucevic, the kind of genuine, low-post center and rebounder they could use. Sorry Spencer Hawes.
Grade: B+

Indiana Pacers (37-45): They traded away both their first round picks — two good prospects but unproven — for a solid all-around guard in George Hill. I like the move, the Pacers needs some guys who can do, not just more projects.
Grade: B

Milwaukee Bucks (35-47): Their real move was the big trade that brings them Stephen Jackson and Beno Udrih — which saves them about $10 million (with the difference in draft pick salaries) and gives them a guy who can create his own shot. Like they expected John Salmons to last season.
Grade: B+

Charlotte Bobcats (34-48): New GM Rich Cho tore down the last vestiges of the playoff team from 2010 and has started to rebuild with picks like Bismack Biyombo and Kemba Walker. It’s going to take time, and this was a tough draft in which to find really good rebuilding pieces. Biyombo is a gamble, but a good one to take for a team starting over.
Grade: B

Detroit Pistons (30-52): Point guard Brandon Knight fell to them and they wisely took him. They made some nice picks, but the rebuilding work is just starting.
Grade: B

New Jersey Nets (24-58): They were very fine hosts for the event, and getting Marshon Brooks was a good gamble for a team looking to rebuild because he has the dreaded.
Grade: B

Washington Wizards (23-59): Three quality picks, Jan Vesley will surprise, Chris Singleton will defend and Shelvin Mack will scrap.
Grade: A-

Toronto Raptors (22-60): Picking Jonas Valanciunas was the perfect move. They may not see him for a year or two, but good to gamble on a guy with a lot of skill.
Grade: A

Cleveland Cavaliers (19-63): They made the right move with Kyrie Irving, but Tristan Thompson seems like a reach. A lot of teams like him but his offense is so raw, I wasn’t a fan. Not loving their night because it feels like it could have been better, but they got the best guy overall.
Grade: B

WESTERN CONFERENCE

San Antonio Spurs (61-21): They traded away George Hill and took some risks on prospects — probably good risks, but it does not help them win right now and Tim Duncan’s window is closing.
Grade C

Los Angeles Lakers (57-25): Four picks after 40 so they weren’t getting much anyway, but they took some real leaps after a nice pickup with Darius Morris. They could have gotten guys more likely to help, but it looks like they wanted guys they didn’t every have to pay.
Grade: C-

Dallas Mavericks (57-25): They traded their pick to bring them Rudy Fernandez, which is a fantastic fit for them and helps more now (when they need it, their window is not open long). Now it’s all about keeping Tyson Chandler.
Grade: A

Oklahoma City Thunder (55-27): They played it well – they liked Reggie Jackson, promised him early and didn’t let anyone else work him out. Smart move if he pans out.
Grade: B+

Denver Nuggets (50-32): I like the trade to bring them Andre Miller and I think Kenneth Faried will be a perfect fit with this team (once he gets a few more tattoos).
Grade: B+

Portland Trail Blazers (48-34): At the end of what seemed a busy day they ended up with Raymond Felton — younger but not much better than what they had — and a couple of nice shooters who don’t do much else. This is the same team it was 24 hours ago, basically.
Grade: C

New Orleans Hornets (46-36): They had only one pick, middle of the second round, they took a real reach then sold it to the Knicks. Well, cash is nice, I guess, but this team is no better after draft night. And they need to soon.
Grade: C-

Memphis Grizzlies (46-36): They only had one pick and at 49 it wasn’t likely to be thrilling, still John Selby is a good reach there.
Grade: B

Houston Rockets (43-39): Jonny Flynn (via trade, and they may trade him away soon) and Marcus Morris (via draft) are the only two likely to make any impact short term (not a big Parsons fan). And I’m not sure that’s much of an impact at all.
Grade: C

Phoenix Suns (40-42): They have one pick and make a solid one with Markieff Morris. Solid but not spectacular.
Grade: B

Utah Jazz (39-43): They went into the draft wanting a big and a shooting guard, they got Enes Kanter and Alec Burks. Well played Jazz, well played.
Grade: A-

Golden State Warriors (36-46): Klay Thompson was a good get (not exactly fitting the newfound commitment to defense they talk about, but we’ll forgive them). This means somebody currently in the backcourt gets traded (we’re looking at you, Monta). Jeremy Tyler was a good gamble in the second round.
Grade: B+

Los Angeles Clippers (32-50): They only had second round picks (because they traded their first rounder to the Cavaliers to swap Baron Davis for Mo Williams). Trey Thompkins is a nice gamble in the second round.
Grade: C+

Sacramento Kings (24-48): One wild day for the franchise. At the end of it there is hope in the form of a Tyreke Evans/Jimmer Fredette backcourt, with John Salmons returning to the fold and DeMarcus Cousins in the paint. Tyler Honeycutt was a good risk to take as well. Not sure they are a whole lot better, and they are spending more money, but there is hope.
Grade: B-

Minnesota Timberwolves (17-65): They traded Jonny Flynn and drafted a bunch of Euros (some very obscure). I do like the trade for Malcolm Lee, he can defend at the NBA level. But in the end they got Derrick Williams to run the floor with Ricky Rubio, and that should make them better.
Grade: B

Alex Abrines says Russell Westbrook stood by him through mental health issues

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Alex Abrines is a big fan of Russell Westbrook the person.

Westbrook takes some hits as a selfish teammate from some quarters of NBA fandom, but Abrines had to leave the Thunder due to personal, mental health issues and said Westbrook stood by him. This is from an interview with Basket en Movistar+, via Eurohoops.

“He’s a very nice guy. He helped me a lot especially in the first year. In most of our trips we did something together, watch a movie, have dinner. When I went through all this and did not travel with the team, he kept in touch. He asked me to meet him for dinner. He cared for the person beyond the player. He calmly told me what I should do noting that he would support me if I decided to leave.”

“Athletes are normal people, but are pressured above average. Medication helps, but at the end of the day you must seek professional aid, discuss with friends and family, move forward with their support” adds Abrines on his illness, “It is a different kind of pain. Physical pain is something you can see and feel. Mental pain can not be observed and can not be treated like an injured knee for example. If you don’t go through something similar, you can’t realize it. In the end of the day, money is not above everything. Until it happens, you don’t realize that you don’t give a shit about money.”

Abrines signed with FC Barcelona, but could not travel with the team to all its games last season. He’s still on his path to wellness, and hopefully he gets there.

We tend to think of professional athletes in two dimensions, focusing on how they entertain us or help our fantasy teams. However, as Abrines notes, they are ordinary people with families and challenges, including mental health issues. More and more players are willing to speak out about that, but having friends — not just teammates, but real supporters like Westbrook was here — is also a big help.

Andre Drummond focused on conditioning heading into contract season

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Andre Drummond can be a free agent next summer. That would mean walking away from a $28.8 million player option for that season, so he’s not going to do it unless he thinks he can land an even bigger payday (a max contract) or he decides he wants some security long term. Drummond has said he’s excited to be a free agent (then quickly tried to walk that back).

How Drummond plays this coming season will play a big role in what kind of offers he will get. What is Drummond doing to prepare for this contract year? Improving his conditioning, reports coach Dwane Casey to Pistons.com.

“One, his overall conditioning. He’s in the best shape since I’ve been around him, the year and a half that I’ve seen. His body is slim and trim, his body fat is down, he’s been in Vegas working with Coach Gerg (Tim Grgurich) and Sean Sweeney all summer religiously, two and three times a day. That in itself is going to pay great dividends. Watching him in pickup games, he’s running like a deer. His decision making, I think the 3-point shooting experiment, we kind of put that on hold in the second part of the year last year but still, catching the ball on pick and roll, making decisions, he’s doing a great job of that – a much better job than he did last year. That’s something he’s worked on this summer, making the right read, the right decision.”

This time of year, right before training camp, reports of players being in “the best shape of their life” is worth as much as tickets from the Fyre Festival. It’s good to hear this about Drummond, but we’ll want to see it before we believe it.

Can Drummond punish teams that go small against him? Can he find a way to get easy buckets in transition and space the floor a little more? Do that, with his rebounding, and he may get the payday he wants. But he’s going to have to show it all season long.

 

Report: Kawhi Leonard talked to Paul George — and PG asked for trade — before free agency opened

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This story is a perfect example of why small and middle-market owners were pissed off (to put it mildly) after this summer’s free agency. It’s why the league did an investigation. It’s why there are new rules, new talk of enforcement, and preaching a “culture of compliance” around tampering in the NBA.

None of that may have mattered in this case, either. The anti-tampering crackdown sounds good, but how much will it slow down how the real recruiting gets done: player-to-player? From Draymond Green texting Kevin Durant just after the Warriors 2016 Finals loss to this summer, it’s the game’s best players recruiting their peers that really bothers some teams.

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, on his latest podcast, talks about just that and uses Kawhi Leonard‘s recruitment of Paul George as an example — and in the process blows up Doc Rivers idea that Leonard made his choice in a meeting when presented with a list.

“The idea that Kawhi Leonard first introduced the idea of trading for Paul George in his meeting with the Clippers, from a list, we know that days before free agency started, well days before, Kawhi and Paul George were talking. Paul George’s agent went to Oklahoma City prior to the start of free agency and said Paul would like to be traded to the Clippers. He wants to play with Kawhi. But, at that point, Kawhi wasn’t allowed to be talking with the Clippers. They couldn’t officially have contact with him until after June 30, 6 p.m.

“But among small markets, the player-to-player [tampering] is the issue. As a GM said to me recently, the teams are often the last to know in these instances. The star player goes out and starts working a guy, then says ‘I want this guy.'”

If you don’t think that is true, think back to the Brooklyn Nets saying Kevin Durant chose them without there even being a pitch meeting. It may not have been a total shock to Brooklyn Durant was coming, but they were not in the loop on decision-making process (except via Nets point guard Spencer Dinwiddie, who was recruiting Irving).

The problem comes back to enforcement: How exactly is the league going to stop players who work out together in the summer, who go to dinner with each other, who may share agents (LeBron James and Anthony Davis, for example), from talking and recruiting each other? When Leonard spoke to George, he was about to be a free agent — he could talk to anyone he wanted. Leonard may have orchestrated all of this. How much the Clippers were in the loop is certainly up for debate, but this was Leonard’s power play.

Tampering may be less of an issue next summer with a soft free-agent class, but just wait for 2021 when potentially Kawhi and George, LeBron, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and more hit the market. Those players will be talking, the league will be hard-pressed to stop it, and it all could lead to impressive fireworks.

Klay Thompson: ‘That is the plan. I would love to be on the Olympic team.’

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Stephen Curry wants to go to Tokyo and play for Team USA next summer. So does Draymond Green.

How about three Warriors?

If Klay Thompson is healthy, he wants to play in the Olympics next summer he told Marcus Thompson II of The Athletic.

“I would love to play (for) Team USA,” Thompson said. “That is the plan. I would love to be on the Olympic team.”

The biggest question for Thompson’s candidacy will be health. He is expected to be out until at least after the All-Star break recovering from the ACL he tore during the Finals last season. He could miss all of next season. That said, if he is healthy he would be a perfect fit for the international game — he is a dangerous three-point shooter, can handle the ball when needed, and is an outstanding perimeter defender. Team USA could use guys like that.

It won’t just be the big-name Warriors players who will want to step up next summer.

After USA Basketball finished seventh at this summer’s World Cup in China — due mostly to numerous top players choosing not to play for their nation this summer — it was expected that a wave of elite players will sign up for the 2020 Tokyo Games.

Players are doing this less because revenge or re-establishing the USA’s basketball dominance — although expect that to be the narrative they pitch — and more about timing. FIBA, in its “infinite wisdom,” decided to move the World Cup from its usual spot, which would have been 2018, to 2019. Playing for USA Basketball is a 6-8 week summer commitment, and now the World Cup and Olympics are in back-to-back years. That left a lot of elite NBA players — and not just for Team USA — looking at the calendar and feeling they had to choose one or the other. And for American players, the Olympics will almost always win that fight.

USA Basketball president Jerry Colangelo said he is going to remember who was willing to make the sacrifice to come this summer when it comes time to choosing an Olympic team. That may happen with a couple of roster spots, but he’s not turning elite talent away, either.

And all three of those Warriors would be the kind of elite players Team USA will want in Tokyo. If Thompson is healthy enough to go, expect him to pack his bags for Tokyo.