Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Winners and losers from 2019 NBA Draft

7 Comments

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.

Kevin Durant reverses course on championship: ‘Every day I woke up, I just felt so good about myself, so good about life’

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Following his first NBA title, Kevin Durant said, “After winning that championship (last season), I learned that much hadn’t changed. I thought it would fill a certain [void]. It didn’t.”

How does Durant now reflect on that time with the Warriors?

Durant, via J.R. Moehringer of the Wall Street Journal:

“It’s very rare in our lives when we envision and picture something and it comes together the perfect way you envision it. [Winning a title] was the only time in my life that happened, and that summer was the most exhilarating time. Every day I woke up I just felt so good about myself, so good about life.… That was a defining moment in my life—not just my basketball life.”

It’s difficult to reconcile those two quotes. I’d love to hear Durant eventually explain.

I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t relish the championship aftermath as much he initially expected but, looking back, now realizes how much he actually enjoyed it. The end of his time with Golden State wasn’t totally pleasant. That might have provided perspective on the better times. Or maybe the difference is simply his mood on the day of each interview.

Durant is continuing to try to find himself while in the public eye. That isn’t easy, and it’ll lead to contradictions like this along the way. I appreciate his openness, even when he’s still difficult to understand.

Jerry Colangelo: Team USA would’ve won FIBA World Cup if not for injuries

Yifan Ding/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Team USA finished seventh in the 2019 FIBA World Cup – the Americans’ worst-ever finish in a major tournament.

Why did the U.S. fare so poorly?

USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo had sharp words for the many stars who withdrew. But that’s not his only explanation.

Kyle Kuzma suffered an ankle injury that kept him off the roster. Jayson Tatum missed the final six games with his own ankle injury. Marcus Smart was banged up and missed time throughout the event.

Colangelo, via Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated:

“I believe that if we didn’t have those injuries, we would have won,” said Colangelo. “The injuries were just too much to absorb.”

Maybe.

Those players – especially Tatum and Smart, who occupied a roster spots – would’ve helped. But even with those two, the Americans were vulnerable. Australia beat them in an exhibition, and Turkey nearly upset them in the first round. France and Serbia clearly outplayed them in the knockout phase. Team USA just lacked its usual talent.

Perhaps more top Americans will play in the 2020 Olympics. That will make the biggest difference.

If USA Basketball had attracted more stars for the World Cup, it likely could’ve withstood a few injuries. This roster allowed little margin for error.

Jarrett Culver enlivens Timberwolves’ otherwise-quiet offseason

Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

The Timberwolves are the only team with two max-salary players under age 29. Heck, they’re the only team with two max-salary players under age 25.

But Minnesota isn’t set.

Far from it.

Though Karl-Anthony Towns (23) is already a star and sometimes looks like a budding superstar, Andrew Wiggins (24) has stagnated on his max extension. Add expensive contracts for Jeff Teague and Gorgui Dieng, and the Timberwolves have limited cap flexibility. With veterans too good to allow deep tanking, Minnesota also has limited means to upgrade through the draft.

New Timberwolves president Gersson Rosas was likely always bound to limit his impact this summer. Minnesota faced few clear pressing decisions. Any big moves would start the clock toward Rosas getting evaluated on his prestigious job. In one of his main decisions, Rosas retained head coach Ryan Saunders, an ownership favorite.

Yet, in this environment, Rosas still found a simple way to add a potential long-term difference maker.

The Timberwolves entered the draft with the No. 11 pick – right after a near-consensus top 10 would’ve been off the board. They left the draft with No. 6 pick Jarrett Culver.

All it took to trade up with the Suns was Dario Saric, who would’ve helped Minnesota this season but probably not enough to achieve meaningful success. He’ll become a free agent next summer and is in line for a raise the Timberwolves might not wanted to give.

Culver is not a lock to flourish in the NBA. But Minnesota had no business adding a prospect with so much potential. This was a coup.

Otherwise, the Timberwolves remained predictably quiet, tinkering on the fringe of the rotation. They added Jake Layman (three years, $11,283,255) in a sign-and-trade with the Trail Blazers. They took Shabazz Napier and Treveon Graham off the hands of the hard-capped Warriors, getting cash for their trouble. They signed Noah Vonleh (one year, $2 million) and Jordan Bell (one year, minimum). They claimed Tyrone Wallace off waivers.

With their own free agents getting bigger offers, Minnesota didn’t match Tyus Jones‘ offer sheet with the Grizzlies (three years, $26,451,429) and watched Derrick Rose walk to the Pistons (two years, $15 million). For where the Timberwolves are, the far-cheaper Napier should handle backup point guard just fine.

Minnesota is methodically gaining flexibility. Teague’s contract expires next summer, Dieng’s the summer after that. The big question is how to handle Wiggins, but that will wait.

With Towns locked in the next five years, Rosas has plenty of runway before he must take off. Nabbing Culver was a heck of a way to accelerate from the gate.

Offseason grade: B-

Report: Iman Shumpert rejects offer from Rockets, who’ll have several familiar names in minicamp

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
1 Comment

Iman Shumpert is the best free agent available.

Why hasn’t he signed yet? Apparently because he spent the offseason negotiating with the Rockets, but those talks haven’t produced a deal.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Kelly Iko of The Athletic:

Alykhan Bijani of The Athletic:

I wonder whether Houston tried to sign Shumpert to a contract similar to Nene’s, creating another trade chip. The Rockets are close to the luxury tax and probably wouldn’t guarantee Shumpert much. It doesn’t take months to negotiate a simple minimum contract.

Shumpert (29) is a credible wing in a league starving for them. He played well for the Kings last season before getting traded to Houston, where he struggled. Other teams should be interested.

The Rockets have just nine players with guaranteed salaries. There’s plenty of room for some of these past-their-prime veterans to make the regular-season roster. It might mostly depend on which of Terrence Jones (27), Nick Young (34), Luc Mbah a Moute (33), Corey Brewer (33), Raymond Felton (35) and Thabo Sefolosha (35) are in the best shape at this stage.