NBA draft 2013: Winners and losers
A wild, surprise-filled NBA draft is officially in the books. Who won? Who lost?
Let's take a look.
Canadian basketball. Any time history is made, that's a good place to start. When the Cavaliers shocked the basketball world by drafting UNLV forward Anthony Bennett, our neighbors to the north registered their first No. 1 pick. Canada's program has been on the rise for a number of years, highlighted by the first-round selections of Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph in 2011. Joining Bennett in the lottery was Gonzaga center Kelly Olynyk, who was born in Toronto and raised in Kamloops.
This growing youth movement could well pay off in full if Andrew Wiggins, arguably the best wing prospect since Kevin Durant, is selected first in the 2014 draft, as expected. Imagine if someone had told you as recently as 2010 that Canadians would go No. 1 back-to-back in 2013 and 2014. Kaboom -- mind blown.
The only disappointment for Canada? Texas' Myck Kabongo, a high school teammate of Thompson's, went undrafted.
Anthony Bennett. There will be plenty of time for the pressure and expectations to sink in and the doubters to crow at full volume. In this moment, it surely must be an amazing feeling to have shocked the world.
"I'm just as surprised as everybody else," Bennett admitted.
It's not yet clear how he will function in the same frontcourt as Thompson or if the roster will get a freshening up now that Mike Brown is back in the saddle. Before worrying about those questions, Bennett need only concern himself with savoring the most pleasant of surprises before getting himself 100 percent healthy.
Kings fans. It's hard to imagine a greater joy than the one Sacramento's diehards felt when the Kings were saved from relocation, seemingly at the last possible moment. Getting a top-three talent and a possible future All-Star in Ben McLemore at No. 7 should rank right up there, too.
Dispose of any concerns about positional logjams. Changes in ownership, management and a new coach will always bring new ideas to a roster. With McLemore, the new Kings' brain trust gets a scoring guard with traditional size and significant upside. This train is no longer veering off the rails and McLemore could become the type of player whose talent can carry an organization in the right direction.
Steven Adams. There are plenty of reasons to be cautious -- or even skeptical -- about the Kiwi teen's ability to develop into an impact player. But if, before the draft, you had to imagine the single best situation for him in the NBA, wouldn't you have circled Oklahoma City? Playing for a perennial contender is a solid perk in and of itself, but the Thunder, thanks to the depth and untapped youth already on hand, have the ability to be patient with Adams and diligent in massaging his development. Being thrown into a major role on a bad team could have had crippling consequences; in Oklahoma City, Adams gets exactly the opposite. The hit rate on big-men projects is never great, but this looks like a pairing that will maximize the odds for success.
Orlando Magic and Washington Wizards. As chaos broke out above them on the draft board, the Magic and Wizards did what smart teams should do: They stuck to their plans. Both teams had been linked repeatedly in rumors to their eventual picks -- Victor Oladipo and Otto Porter, respectively -- and both went ahead despite the availability of Nerlens Noel and Alex Len. Although McLemore also seemed like a viable option for Orlando at No. 2, the Magic get more of a "sure thing" and an insane workaholic who can contribute to the rebuilding plan immediately. As for the Wizards, Porter's fit alongside John Wall and Bradley Beal is so logical it barely warrants further comment. Washington is essentially set at the 1-2-3 positions going forward and ready to proceed with its goal of making the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
C.J. McCollum. You couldn't miss the Lehigh guard's busting a move at his draft table once he realized he was headed to Portland. His relationship with Damian Lillard was likely the key driver behind his excitement. A friendship off the court doesn't have all that much lasting value in and of itself, though, and it's really McCollum's projected role with the Blazers that will have him headed cross-country feeling like a happy camper.
This is just a logical fit: The Blazers need a lead guard off the bench who can handle the ball, create a shot and attract enough attention to find open shooters. They also need a player who can help take a little pressure off the reigning Rookie of the Year when they opt to go to a lineup with two point guards. McCollum is well-equipped to handle all of those responsibilities, and he doesn't have to bear the "face of the franchise" pressures that are on Lillard's shoulders. If he emerges as a solid sixth or seventh man for coach Terry Stotts, that will do just fine.
New Orleans Pelicans: One of the major talking points entering Thursday was how many -- if any -- of this year's prospects had the potential to develop into All-Stars. While everyone else waits a few years to find out the answer to that question, the Pelicans landed a franchise point guard in Jrue Holiday who, at just 23, is already a certified All-Star. He will have a harder time getting back to the midseason classic now that he's in the Western Conference, but Holiday took a major step forward last season, posting career highs across the board and carrying an otherwise sad-sack Sixers team as far as he could.
The sweet part about acquiring Holiday, though, is his contract. Signed to a four-year, $41 million rookie extension last fall, it's important to remember that the clock on that deal starts ticking in 2013-14. In other words, he's locked in for four full seasons at a very reasonable rate. Holiday, Anthony Davis, Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon (if he's ever healthy) provide a very nice talent base. Even better, the Pelicans reportedly assured top-five protection on the 2014 first-round pick they sent to the Sixers, meaning they can still win big in a loaded lottery if things don't pan out immediately.
Last note: Thanks to Davis, New Orleans needed Noel less than just about everyone else in the draft. This was an excellent way to cash out on Noel as an asset that had greater external than internal value.
Trey Burke: All a young point guard can ask for is an opportunity and a solid group of talent around him. Michigan's Burke seems to get both in Utah after the Jazz traded up to acquire his rights from the Timberwolves. Whether the Jazz decide to give him the car keys from Day 1 or opt to ease him into a starting role by re-signing or acquiring a veteran presence, Burke will grow into his pro career with the likes of Alec Burks, Gordon Hayward, Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors. That's a well-balanced core that could make some noise in a few years.
San Antonio -- East. So, the Hawks drafted not one, but two foreign players in the first round? We all should have seen this coming, right? GM Danny Ferry and new coach Mike Budenholzer are clearly wasting no time putting their Spurs training to full use. Atlanta landed the ultimate "if he pans out, holy cow" big in Lucas "Bebe" Nogueira and a solid point guard in Dennis Schroeder. That pair offers a nice combination of intrigue and impact.
Click through for the losers.
David Stern. The booing was merciless. Nobody, not even someone as self-assured as Stern, could possibly enjoy such treatment, especially during his grand exit after 30 years leading the NBA. He completed the first round on a slightly higher note, and he got in his share of wisecracks, but the extended chorus of jeers at the beginning left its mark.
Nerlens Noel. We've seen prospects in both the NBA and NFL agonize in the green room as their stock unexpectedly dropped. But the fall from No. 1, where most expected Noel to go, to No. 6, where he finally landed, felt like a marathon. The incessant camera shots of a stunned Noel only drove home the pain. Impossible not to feel for him.
By the way, we haven't even mentioned the fact that he's heading to Philadelphia, which just suffered through a season of knee injury updates and disappointment from its supposed franchise center. Noel's post-selection interview included a number of questions about the Sixers, and he kept referring back to Holiday's adding an All-Star presence. Of course, Holiday was traded for Noel, leaving Philadelphia's top shelves stocked with the lesser likes of Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young. Perhaps we're only seeing the first stages of a larger sell-off under new general manager Sam Hinkie.
Charlotte Bobcats. Holding the No. 1 spot in the Desperate Franchise Power Rankings, the Bobcats passed on arguably the two players with the biggest upside, Noel and McLemore, to select Cody Zeller. The Indiana product should be ready to fill minutes as soon as training camp opens, but he hardly appears to have franchise-changing potential. On the bright side, he did drop a fantastic pre-draft Twitter wisecrack: "I was going to shave to get ready for tonight, but then I remembered that I don't have the ability to grow facial hair." (Insert Michael Jordan's ownership skills joke here.)
Phoenix Suns: For almost exactly the same reasons as the Bobcats above. McLemore, in particular, seemed like a no-brainer. Instead, Phoenix opted for Len over McLemore and Noel. The Maryland center should be a solid pro, but the rest of the Suns' roster is so terrible that they could have used an injection of upside. This wasn't a total loss. Disgruntled center Marcin Gortat is now available for trade offers and the tank is on for 2014.
Celtics fans. Few things are as painful as trading a franchise icon. Now multiply that feeling by two. No, Kevin Garnett didn't spend 15 years in Beantown like Paul Pierce did, but his impact on the Celtics, not to mention the 2008 title, won't soon be forgotten. The return haul -- particularly the three future first-round picks -- represents legitimate hope. That's all well and good, but Celtics fans are still waking up Friday morning with Kelly Olynyk, Gerald Wallace (and his three-year contract) and Kris Humphries as the new kids on the block. Just writing that sentence requires a stiff drink. At least the waiting game is over and the new course has been charted.
Minnesota Timberwolves. Credit the Timberwolves for making the most of their lot in life. Turning the No. 9 pick into Shabazz Muhammad at No. 14 and Gorgui Dieng at No. 21 -- both nice value plays that fill clear needs -- prevented Flip Saunders' first draft from being the type of mess we were accustomed to seeing with David Kahn.
Even after the trade and the selections, though, the lingering feeling is that they just barely missed out on the guy who was seemingly the perfect fit, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. The Georgia guard went to the Pistons at No. 8 -- just one spot above Minnesota -- going off the board at what I felt was his absolute ceiling. Now the finger-crossing over Muhammad's ability to overcome his red-flag label begins in earnest.
Ricky Ledo. The latest cautionary tale. A top-25 player in his high school class and a McDonald's All-American, Ledo never got eligible during his one year at Providence and failed to wow anyone during his pre-draft workouts. He plummeted to No. 43 and now must fight his way into a contract.
Bill Simmons. Overall, I'm a fan of what Simmons brings to ESPN's televised NBA coverage, and he supplied good energy and genuine reactions during a wild night. But the constant use of "We" when referring to colleague Jalen Rose was just too much. Within 30 minutes, it sounded like the two were Siamese twins. There was just no need to force a consensus opinion on player after player. Fully independent perspectives are more entertaining and informative.
Snapback hats. The whole concept is one size fits all, right? Try again. And again. Keep trying!