An NBA-ready 2-guard, Ben McLemore
is unlikely to fall out of the top five. (David E. Klutho/SI)
One of the bubbling themes in advance of Thursday's draft is that it lacks a feeling of consensus, as the debates around the top spots continue to rage.
That sentiment only increases as you go down the board: this year's draft has an extraordinarily wide variety of meanings to its various participants. Hope is a year-in, year-out constant, but the feeling is more pronounced this year with so many teams making changes to ownership, management and their coaching staffs. On the flip side, Thursday is essentially an afterthought for a number of teams: the six without first-round picks, those with veteran-dominated rotations returning next season and those with massive payrolls eager to avoid any additional salary. Somewhere in between are a number of teams hoping to pluck a nice rotation player this week before turning their full roster-shaping attention (and cap space) to the July free-agency period.
MORE COVERAGE: Mock Draft 5.0 | Scouts weigh in | Overrated/Underrated prospects
With those differing goals in mind, here's a rundown of the league's 30 teams, their respective roster needs and whether they might hope to address those needs on Thursday.
Atlanta Hawks | First-round picks: No. 17, No. 18
Needs: Wings, interior depth
Reading the tea leaves can be tricky when it comes to a team with a new coach in former San Antonio assistant Mike Budenholzer and a GM, Danny Ferry, who has so thoroughly cleaned house in less than a year. Conventional wisdom suggests that Josh Smith walks and Jeff Teague is kept in the fold, leaving Atlanta with a core of Al Horford, Lou Williams and Teague to build around. Rumors have linked Atlanta to Shabazz Muhammad and that makes a bit of sense, even if the no-pass, all-shoot UCLA product who may or may not know how old he is by now comes off like the anti-Spur. Muhammad is ready to play rotation minutes, and that will be a necessity from one or both of the Hawks' first-round selections. Reggie Bullock, a shooter with good size, might be an even more logical fit. Rudy Gobert or Gorgui Dieng could make sense as a hole-plugger in a bare (for now) frontcourt rotation.
Boston Celtics | First-round pick: No. 16
Needs: Hope, a time machine forward or backward (either way!), Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce replacements (gulp)
You can open your eyes now, it's safe to come out. The Doc Rivers saga officially ended Tuesday, when the Clippers officially announced the longtime Celtics coach has a new home in Los Angeles. Garnett and Pierce have been the subject of trade rumors for months and either or both could find themselves in new duds next season. Even if the All-Star duo can't find greener pastures, Danny Ainge has reached the point where his long-term planning now revolves around Rajon Rondo, Jeff Green and Avery Bradley. Boston could well find itself in a position to select from the glut of big men projected to go between 10 and 20, a group that should include Steven Adams, Cody Zeller and Kelly Olynyk. Upside guys like Tony Mitchell or Giannis Adetokunbo could appeal to Ainge's gambling instinct. Muhammad, once seen as a top-five prospect, would figure to be an option as a value play should he last until to 16.
Brooklyn Nets | First-round pick: No. 22
Needs: Quality bench contributors, preferably in the frontcourt
The Nets are who we thought they were... and will continue to be who we think they are for at least the next few seasons, thanks to a bloated salary cap figure that includes big-dollar, long-term deals for Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Brook Lopez and Gerald Wallace. All of those obligations put Brooklyn deep into the luxury tax and necessitate a focus on winning now; this group would seem to have no patience for projects. An upperclassmen big man to fill minutes behind Lopez makes a lot of sense. Brooklyn did well to add Reggie Evans, Andray Blatche and C.J. Watson as affordable rotation players last summer and a similar effort should be the focus of their strategy again this offseason.
Charlotte Bobcats | First-round pick: No. 4
Needs: Absolutely everything
The talent pool is so shallow in Charlotte that it doesn't even qualify as a puddle. The upshot of lacking good players is total freedom on draft night. Redundancy is not a problem! The Bobcats are assured of a nice player at No. 4, even if none of the available options will have an immediate transformational impact on the NBA's saddest sack. The thought of a Ben McLemore/Michael Kidd-Gilchrist wing combination is probably the most tantalizing, but a reliable two-way guy in Victor Oladipo or a centerpiece in Alex Len would work too. The real excitement starts this time next year, as the Bobcats gear up for their rebranding as the Hornets and the top of the 2014 draft promises to deliver the type of franchise-changing talent Charlotte desperately needs.
Chicago Bulls | First-round pick: No. 20
Needs: A reserve shooting guard or center
The Bulls' 2013-14 story will be determined by how well former No. 1 pick Derrick Rose handles the transition from his one-and-done season at Rehabilitation University. His return will complete a core group that has proven it can keep up with anyone and everyone around the league over the last few years. With Rose, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler, Chicago has most of the difficult bases covered. Their offseason activity will entail keeping -- or replacing -- the likes of Nate Robinson, Marco Belinelli and Nazr Mohammed. It's hard to see anyone who will be available at 20 carving out a meaningful role in Year 1 on this roster. Chicago ranked No. 21 in three-point shooting percentage last season, so Best Available Shooter could be an appealing route.
need help on defense and Nerlens Noel
is the most defensive-minded big in the draft. (Porter Binks/SI)
Cleveland Cavaliers | First-round picks: No. 1, No. 19
Needs: An NBA-caliber small forward, a defense-first off-guard, a durable big man
Cleveland was bad on both sides of the ball last season, but their No. 27 ranked defense is where the roster-building must start. When healthy, franchise point guard Kyrie Irving has the potential to carry the Cavaliers to excellent offensive heights thanks to his excellent shooting numbers and solid playmaking abilities. An abundance of cap space and tradable assets should make this the summer that Irving gets some legitimate help. The long-term improvement on defense starts by adding talent and length inside. As noted earlier this week, exercising patience and selecting Nerlens Noel No. 1 overall should be the preferred strategy, even if it's a difficult one to sell to an ownership focused on a 2014 postseason trip. Meanwhile, even Dion Waiters' biggest proponents wouldn't claim that he will evolve into a plus-defender any time soon. Will the three-and-defense 2-guard that they need be available at No. 19? Maybe. Bullock and Jamaal Franklin seem like options, but the Cavaliers will surely need to address the 3 at some point.
Dallas Mavericks | First-round pick: No. 13
Needs: A starting point guard, a starting 2-guard, a starting center and a bench
Is it a bad sign that the most exciting thing about the Mavericks' offseason -- by far -- was the notion that Brittney Griner might get a look in Summer League? It sure is. After a hard, beard-driven charge toward the playoffs came up short, the Mavericks are stuck between a rock and a hard place, and might very well decide that the best course of action is to maintain total flexibility heading into the summer of 2014. Recent rumors have the Mavericks shopping their pick or drafting a player they can stash overseas, which fits that plan. Maybe one of the point guards -- Shane Larkin, Dennis Schroeder or, if he is still available, Michael Carter-Williams -- winds up catching their eye?
Denver Nuggets | First-round pick: No. 27
Needs: Shooting. Shooting. Shooting
Former executive Masai Ujiri did a masterful job building a deep, talented, well-balanced roster in recent years. That work paid off with a 57-win season that has the Nuggets picking late in the first round. Denver is in position to spend the dollars needed to bring Andre Iguodala back as a free agent without exceeding the luxury tax; should that happen, the Nuggets will have an eight-man group (Iguodala, Ty Lawson, Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried, Wilson Chandler, JaVale McGee, Andre Miller and Kosta Koufos) that will be primed to wrack up a big win total again next season. If he leaves, though, filling that hole becomes the top priority. The big need --with or without Iguodala -- is perimeter shooting. Allen Crabbe is linked to the Nuggets in a number of mock drafts, and other late-first, early-second wings that could fit include Glen Rice and Tony Snell.
Detroit Pistons | First-round pick: No. 8
Needs: Dynamic wings, a distribution-minded point guard
After years of toiling in a hopeless existence brought on by terrible contract decisions, the Pistons are finally poised to enter a new chapter, even if that requires some growing pains and patience. A major building block -- 2012 first-round pick Andre Drummond -- is in place with two other worthwhile pieces, Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight, flanking him. Knight's role is a critical question: Do the Pistons, under new coach Maurice Cheeks, believe he can run the team as a point guard or is he better suited to an off-ball role? At No. 8, Detroit should get a crack at one of the Trey Burke/C.J. McCollum/Michael Carter-Williams trio. True help on the wings will likely need to come via free agency or trades, but Detroit just might represent the ceiling for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
Golden State Warriors | First-round pick: None
Needs: A never-before-seen salary cap loophole that could dispose of both Richard Jefferson and Andris Biedrins
The Warriors face the possibility of two key departures with Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry both heading for free agency. They can't hope to plug either hole in the draft unless they acquire a pick before Thursday. After a dream season that carried through to the Western Conference semifinals, the temptation for ownership will be to do what it takes financially to keep the band together, but the potential for luxury tax penalties looms large. Still, the Stephen Curry/Klay Thompson/Harrison Barnes/David Lee/Andrew Bogut group -- even if stripped of its key accentuating role guys -- is nothing to sneeze at.
Houston Rockets | First-round pick: None
Needs: Dwight Howard, a psychologist that can bring the best out of Dwight Howard
Years spent churning through picks and players in search of marginal improvements has brought Houston to a major moment for the franchise. After snaring James Harden and riding him straight into the playoffs, the Rockets have the opportunity to take a major leap by adding a second superstar, namely Dwight Howard. Houston's roster has talented, uber-affordable contributors in Chandler Parsons and Patrick Beverley and a number of intriguing youngsters to help make a top-heavy, star-loaded cap situation function properly. All the pre-draft noise has been focused on the Rockets increasing their flexibility -- possibly by moving out the recently-acquired Thomas Robinson for a more liquid future asset -- and that makes all the sense in the world.
North Texas' Tony Mitchell could find a home in Indiana's rugged frontcourt. (Eric Francis/Getty Images)
Indiana Pacers | First-round pick: No. 23
Needs: Reserve point guard, random frontcourt banger
Much like the Bulls, their Central Division rivals, it's difficult to see a late-first round pick cracking a veteran-dominated, defensive-minded Pacers rotation, even if there are holes to fill. Assuming David West decides to re-sign as a free agent, Indiana's top summer priority should be finding an upgrade over D.J. Augustin. Will that guy be on the board at 23? Maybe not, but they did work out Murray State's Isaiah Canaan twice during the pre-draft process, and he should be available when Indiana picks. Next up on the wish list: An extra foul-giving power forward or center never hurts, particularly if unrestricted free-agent-to-be Tyler Hansbrough doesn't return. And you know what they say: The Pacers have never met a Plumlee they didn't like.
Los Angeles Clippers | First-round pick: No. 25
Needs: Frontcourt depth
If this week's splashy hiring of Doc Rivers is any indication, the Clippers plan on making lots of noise in the postseason next year. With any luck, the rumored deal with the Magic for Arron Afflalo will go through, helping consolidate and finalize a very solid backcourt group. That would leave the second-unit big men as the main remaining agenda item. Expecting 2013 Lamar Odom, Ronny Turiaf and Ryan Hollins to hold down the fort was always asking a lot, and the Clippers will look to free agency to upgrade that trio, with no patience for developing long-term projects. Using the pick on Dieng or Jeff Withey -- 23-year-old, defensive-minded centers who are who they are -- might make sense under these conditions.
Los Angeles Lakers | First-round pick: None
Needs: Where to even begin?
The Lakers as we have known them for the last half-decade are broken beyond repair. The bad news: They moved their first-round pick to get to this point so help won't be coming that way. The good (?) news: Even a home run in the middle of the first round wasn't going to matter in a big picture that's tied up by the indecisive Howard, an injured Kobe Bryant and a past-his-prime Pau Gasol. Next summer should be significantly more promising.
Memphis Grizzlies | First-round pick: None
Needs: 2-guard, perimeter shooting
Memphis looked like a fairly polished unit as they advanced to the conference finals for the first time in franchise history, but their lack of perimeter shooting eventually caught up with them. The major free-agency decision concerns Tony Allen, a key piece in their elite defense but a sore-thumb liability when it comes to the other end. If Allen stays or goes, the Grizzlies can't expect reserves Jerryd Bayless (also a possible free agent) and Quincy Pondexter to carry the perimeter scoring load. The Grizzlies are armed with three second-round picks with which to find a diamond in the rough before they get busy come July 1.
Miami Heat | First-round pick: None
Needs: A few Advil to handle their championship party hangover
The Heat have clearly made an executive decision as an organization to just pretend the draft doesn't exist so that they can continue partying for weeks straight. Finding a rugged Udonis Haslem-type this summer would be helpful, as the original isn't what he used to be, but the two-time defending champions will bring back the vast majority of their rotation and aren't hurting in any major way. LeBron James solves all problems and covers up all needs.
Milwaukee Bucks. First-round pick: No. 15.
Needs: 2s and 3s
The most sensible plan for the Bucks involves retaining point guard Brandon Jennings, set to become a restricted free agent, and re-signing midseason trade acquisition J.J. Redick, while allowing Monta Ellis to walk. Jennings' desire to remain in Milwaukee is the obvious complicating factor, and if that relationship is actually as polluted as it sometimes seems, a point guard (Larkin, Dennis Schroeder or Michael Carter-Williams, if he falls) should become the Bucks' top draft priority. Assuming Jennings returns, the Bucks can size up the likes of Adetokunbo, Muhammad, Franklin and Tim Hardaway Jr.
Minnesota Timberwolves | First-round picks: No. 9, No. 26
Needs: A true 2-guard who can stroke it
Minnesota faces essentially the same roster situation that led former president David Kahn to roll the dice on Brandon Roy last summer. If healthy, the Timberwolves appear on paper to be a team that is just a legitimate 2-guard away from making a postseason run. After the horrors of last season, that "if healthy" qualifier is enormous, and there are free agency decisions coming with Nikola Pekovic, headed for restricted free agency, and Andrei Kirilenko, who holds a player option for next season. Assuming those two return and Kevin Love is back to his All-Star form, Caldwell-Pope makes perfect sense if he's available. The Georgia guard has traditional size, shooting range and sufficient athleticism to fill what has been a gaping roster hole in Minnesota. Would anyone complain if they doubled down on wings by using their second first-round pick to nab Bullock, Crabbe, Franklin or Snell?
averaged 16.1 points and 8.1 rebounds at UNLV last season. (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
New Orleans Pelicans | First-round pick: No. 6
Needs: A starting-caliber small forward, a long-term solution at point guard
You have to pity the Pelicans a bit given that they are drafting at No. 6 when the one surefire small forward prospect at the top of the board, Otto Porter, is unlikely to make it past the Wizards at No. 3. What's more, they are sitting at the top of what feels like the draft's second shelf, picking sixth when the top-five players (Noel, McLemore, Porter, Victor Oladipo and Alex Len, in some order) seem a cut above the rest of the class. Might that be enough to compel New Orleans to move up? Deciding between Burke, Carter-Williams and C.J. McCollum represents the worst-case scenario should they stay put, and that's not too shabby at all. Greivis Vasquez had a breakout campaign this year but a set-up man that could be groomed for the full-time job down the road would make a nice addition to a backcourt that also includes score-first guys in Austin Rivers and Eric Gordon. Although the fit might be a bit tricky with Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson expecting to log big minutes for the foreseeable future, UNLV's Anthony Bennett has a strong case for being the best player available at No. 6, and the Pelicans need talent regardless of form.
New York Knicks | First-round pick: No. 24
Needs: Point guard(s), energy-oriented power forward
Put me in the camp that believes J.R. Smith is back, no matter what. That leaves Jason Kidd's departure and the uncertain futures of Pablo Prigioni and Chris Copeland as topics to address. New York is already capped out thanks to big-dollar deals for Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler, and that problem isn't going anywhere anytime soon. It's difficult to imagine coach Mike Woodson turning over the point guard duties to Raymond Felton with only a rookie behind him, thus paving the way for a possible frontcourt target with the No. 24 pick. A productive rebounder with some offensive game like Mitchell or Jackie Carmichael could be a fit if the Knicks are willing to let Copeland depart.
Oklahoma City Thunder | First-round picks: No. 12, No. 29
Needs: A 2-guard who can do the best possible imitation of James Harden without opening up old wounds
Sam Presti's brilliant roster alignment has the Thunder entering the 2013-14 season with one of the league's deepest, most talented teams, even if regret over the James Harden trade is in full bloom following Russell Westbrook's knee injury and the subsequent early postseason exit. Harden's departure, and Kevin Martin's impending free agency, make the designated scoring 2-guard role the Thunder's clearest need. Unless they move up, the three best candidates -- McLemore, Oladipo and Caldwell-Pope -- will likely all be gone. Plan B: another cheap big man to throw into the mix. For some reason, this draft has "Cody Zeller slides to 12 and Presti gets called a genius for snapping him up" written all over it. Oklahoma City could afford to wait on the development of less-polished bigs like Gobert or Lucas Nogueira, too, in the event that either is still on the board at No. 29. Really, this is the last team in the league that needs two first-round picks, with the likes of Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones already struggling to get burn.
Orlando Magic | First-round pick: No. 2
Needs: Star-caliber building blocks, long-term solution at point guard
No team screams "Trade!!!" quite like the Magic. Trading Afflalo to totally open the door for either McLemore or Oladipo while addressing other roster holes makes sense, as does keeping Afflalo and trading down a few spots to take Burke while banking an extra asset in the process. Assuming no trades, I like McLemore over Oladipo for the Magic, barely, as the former looks like a better complement to Afflalo on the offensive end.
Philadelphia 76ers | First-round pick: No. 11
Needs: Center ... some other stuff, too, but mostly a center
New GM Sam Hinkie made it clear when he was hired that his world doesn't revolve around Andrew Bynum. Given that stance and Philadelphia's thin frontline rotation, it's no surprise that the major mock drafts have the Sixers targeting a big man. Despite the fact that he's not cut out to be a traditional center, Zeller has been a very popular name at No. 11, perhaps because his strong advanced stats might pique the analytically minded Hinkie's interest. Zeller or not, the Sixers will have a number of bigs to choose from at No. 11: Adams, Olynyk and Mason Plumlee are all in range.
A two-way guard, Victor Oladipo would be a good fit in Phoenix's backcourt. (Greg Nelson/SI)
Phoenix Suns | First-round picks: No. 5 and No. 30
Needs: Absolutely everything
This is the worst roster in the NBA besides the Bobcats. The good news is that, unlike the Pelicans right behind them, the Suns are positioned in the top-five, assuring themselves of one of this class' top-tier talents. It's quite possible that Phoenix's draft strategy boils down to simply taking whoever is left from the Noel/McLemore/Porter/Oladipo/Len quintet. The ideal scenario: Len slips to five and the Suns snag him, freeing them up to cash out on disgruntled center Marcin Gortat in a trade before proceeding with an unavoidable full-on tank for 2013-14. A solid back-up plan: take McLemore or Oladipo, whoever drops, as either would fit just fine alongside point guard Goran Dragic. Either way, this looks like a can't-lose for the Suns, which is great news for new GM Ryan McDonough. At 30, they're fine playing the Best (Non-Knucklehead) Player Available game.
Portland Trail Blazers | First-round pick: No. 10
Needs: Center, a scoring 2-guard
Blazers GM Neil Olshey has made it clear that his goal is to acquire a starting-caliber center, although it's not yet clear whether he will be able to achieve that via trade on draft night. With 2012 first-round pick Meyers Leonard already on the roster -- and struggling to get consistent minutes under Terry Stotts -- Portland would be foolish to draft another big man if he's not ready to contribute immediately. That could make Zeller the guy. A preferable approach would be to address their need for a reserve scoring guard to complement Damian Lillard and three-and-D starter Wesley Matthews. Unfortunately, the top two options on that front -- Caldwell-Pope and McCollum -- could both be gone by 10. Carter-Williams represents a fallback plan, as back-up point guard Eric Maynor is headed for free agency and didn't play well enough after the trade deadline to warrant "must retain" status.
Sacramento Kings | First-round pick: No. 7
Needs: Point guard, defense at every position
Sacramento's No. 7 pick is the most exciting in the draft. For one, their fans get to be legitimately excited about a basketball event after months -- well, years -- in a torture chamber created by the franchise's horrific ownership. Two, that old ownership group has been replaced by a new one that has also cleaned house in the basketball operations department, bringing in a new GM, Pete D'Alessandro, and a new coach in Michael Malone. Both men come from playoff teams (the Nuggets and Warriors, respectively) that played exciting, winning basketball last season. This type of opportunity is what the draft is all about. The below-average roster figures to be in major flux over the next year or two, meaning the Kings could go in several directions. Point guard would be a logical place to start, and you couldn't blame the Kings for righting their 2012 wrong of passing over Lillard for Thomas Robinson by snagging McCollum, another small-school, four-year, polished floor general. Burke or Carter-Williams are the obvious alternatives in that range.
San Antonio Spurs | First-round pick: No. 28
Needs: Antacids after Game 6, a scoring guard that can do the things being asked of Manu Ginobili, pure size in the middle
Much like the Heat, the Spurs are in a position to bring damn near everyone back next season should they so desire. That San Antonio got within five seconds of a title this year is proof enough that their short-term needs, even considering the ages of Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, are not that grave. Free-agent center Tiago Splitter would be foolish to leave but you couldn't blame the Spurs for covering their bases by selecting a big at 28. The options may include Gobert, Dieng, Withey or Bucknell's Mike Muscala. Another logical path -- should they opt against drafting-and-stashing -- would be to replace Stephen Jackson and Tracy McGrady with a physical wing that works hard, hits the occasional three and otherwise keeps his mouth shut.
Toronto Raptors | First-round pick: None
Needs: Four or five amnesty clauses
Soon after Ujiri was hired away from the Nuggets, rumors started kicking up that the Raptors wanted to find a way into the draft. That's all well and good, but this roster's path to redemption begins with subtraction, not addition. Ujiri's summer homework will be finding a way to pass off one or two of the unnecessary contracts handed out by Bryan Colangelo. Once some dead weight is jettisoned, then we can begin the discussion about building around Jonas Valanciunas, DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry and Rudy Gay.
Utah Jazz | First-round pick: No. 14 and No. 21
Needs: Point guard, small forward, frontcourt depth
That list of needs makes the Jazz's situation sound a bit more dire than it really is. Yes, there are key players hitting free agency -- Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Mo Williams -- but the Jazz have plenty of flexibility to retain some combination of those players or pursue a totally different direction. With four talented youngsters -- Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter and Alec Burks -- already gathered, the obvious missing link is a point guard. Unfortunately, there's a very good chance that the top three point guards -- Burke, McCollum and Carter-Williams -- are all gone by No. 14. Perhaps the Jazz's extra first-round pick could be used as a method for moving up slightly to snag a point guard? Utah has operated for years under the doctrine that there's no such thing as too many big men, so we shouldn't expect them to be crestfallen if that trio of floor generals is drafted by the time pick No. 14 rolls around. This is another team that will quite clearly do its real offseason work in July, not June.
Washington Wizards | First-round pick: No. 3
Needs: Small forward, reserve point guard
Georgetown's Porter and the Wizards have been locked in a mutual mock draft embrace for weeks and the marriage seems to possess the right positional fit. With John Wall
and Bradley Beal
set in the backcourt, the Wizards need size, depth and reliable spot-up shooting on the wing, even if Martell Webster
returns. It's easy to imagine the Wall/Beal/Porter trio growing together over the next three-to-five years, or longer, and the fact that Porter is ready to contribute immediately is a nice plus for a Wizards team that hopes to climb out of the lottery next season.