Give And Go: 2014 NBA draft lottery
Give And Go is a recurring feature in which The Point Forward’s Ben Golliver and Rob Mahoney bat an NBA topic du jour back and forth.
This week: Looking ahead to Tuesday's NBA draft lottery drawing. Click here for the odds for each team in the lottery.
1. Which team needs the No. 1 pick the most?
Ben Golliver: 76ers. Usually you can just go with the team that has the worst record and call it a day, especially when that club (the 15-67 Bucks) loses four more games than anybody else. Not this year. There are enough unusual circumstances at the bottom of the standings to warrant a deeper look.
Yes, Milwaukee endured the nightmare of nightmares this year, with Larry Sanders alternately exploding and imploding until there wasn't anything but rubble left. This was disappointing, disheartening, depressing ... the list goes on. But even with all of the Bucks' weirdness -- Sanders, the Gary Neal signing and subsequent trading, the Caron Butler trade and subsequent release, the Carlos Delfino signing and subsequent injury, Ersan Ilyasova's roller coaster -- I still think the Sixers need the No. 1 pick even more.
After a series of midseason moves, Philadelphia is down to exactly three worthwhile players -- veteran forward Thaddeus Young, Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams and Nerlens Noel, the sixth pick in 2013, who spent the season rehabbing a torn ACL -- which puts its talent base meaningfully behind Milwaukee's. Perhaps more important, Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie was shameless in his tanking maneuvers, whereas the Bucks were pathetic by accident.
If the 76ers don't luck out in the lottery, that 27-game losing streak, the back-to-back 40-point losses and the endless mocking from every direction will all go for naught. The Sixers' brass is already on record saying that it doesn't expect to be able to attract free agents this summer and that it is looking at a multiyear rebuilding program. This team needs some sliver of hope. Maybe this is the pity talking, but I don't think anybody will be in Philadelphia's league when it comes to desperation on Tuesday night.
Mahoney: Bucks. As Ben noted, the Bucks did not intend to have the best odds of winning the lottery; GM John Hammond swung for the playoffs and wound up with the worst team in the league. That's precisely why Milwaukee needs this pick more than any other team. Philadelphia has a tidy cap sheet thanks to Hinkie's maneuvering. Milwaukee, on the other hand, has $42.2 million committed over the next two seasons to Ilyasova, O.J. Mayo and Zaza Pachulia, in addition to Sanders' four-year, $44 million extension (a deal that looks significantly more risky now than at the time of its signing) that kicks in next season. That there's NBA talent on the roster shouldn't be confused with the fact that this team could be in a bad place, no matter the smiling promise of Giannis Antetokounmpo.
The Sixers are in good hands and on a clear track, regardless of whether they win the lottery. The Bucks might need to luck their way into stable, long-term progress.
2. If you were starting a team from scratch, who would you take with the No. 1 pick?
Mahoney: Joel Embiid. With no other factors to account for -- and assuming his back is OK -- I'm taking the athletic, free-moving 7-footer with loads of defensive potential. It will take some time for the late-blooming Embiid to mature as a player, but in the interim he's plenty big and resourceful enough to stay on the court and gain practical experience. The former Kansas big man is not a project -- he's simply a work in progress, capable of contributing throughout his developmental process. I trust that good scorers can be found elsewhere, be it in other draft classes, the trade block or the free-agent pool. Embiid, though, has a chance to develop into a very special defensive asset. I'll gladly take the plunge.
Golliver: Andrew Wiggins. You could have asked me this question at any point from the World Team's first practice at the 2012 Hoop Summit until today and the answer would be the same. Wiggins' performance that week as a high school sophomore -- before his reclassification and his one and only year at Kansas -- was Bobby Fischer-esque. What other word than "prodigy" applies when a sophomore clearly stands out from the best and brightest juniors and seniors?
Skipping a year of high school surely cost Wiggins some acclaim at the NCAA level. Who cares about that? He fast-tracked his way to the NBA so that he can get a jump on the lengthy process of developing into a franchise player. I trust Wiggins' out-of-this-world physical gifts, feel for the game and mental makeup more than any other option in this year's class. The knocks on him -- that he floats through games, that his shooting range could improve -- are nitpicks at this point and not red flags. If my mythical team wants to have a chance at winning a title someday, Wiggins is the prospect from this year's class I want leading the way.
3. If you could give the No. 1 pick to any team in the lottery, which team would it be?
Golliver: New Orleans Pelicans. Anthony Davis is on his way to becoming a generational talent and I would like to see him surrounded by as much talent as possible. The Western Conference has long been a place where power forwards can flounder without help -- Kevin Garnett, Dirk Nowitzki, LaMarcus Aldridge and Kevin Love all come to mind -- and it would be a shame if the Brow got stuck in a similar purgatory, waiting for the right mix of teammates.
Instead, let's envision Davis paired with Wiggins in one of the freakiest combinations in league history. Remember how exciting the Garnett/Stephon Marbury duo was in its early days? Now, imagine if instead of a point guard who didn't quite get it and wound up eating Vaseline, KG found himself alongside the second coming of Tracy McGrady. The Timberwolves' history would read quite a bit differently.
A Davis/Wiggins duo could compete for championships for years, and dropping Wiggins into New Orleans' roster framework is just mouth-watering. It would take a year or two for him to get up to speed as a go-to scoring option, but a quintet of Davis, Wiggins, Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson would be absolutely lethal. The other reason I'd gift the No. 1 pick to the Pelicans? If they don't jump into the top three spots, their first-round pick conveys to the Sixers as part of the Holiday trade, slowing down their ability to build around Davis.
Mahoney: Phoenix Suns. What better karmic reward for the best team to miss the playoffs than first choice of this year's prospects? Phoenix is already fairly young and talented with a flexible lineup. Its rotation still has room to improve, however, and adding one of the top frontcourt players in this draft would go a long way in shaping the Suns to be a potential championship contender. Wiggins could be a dynamite perimeter complement to Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe, a restricted free agent whom the Suns intend to re-sign. Jabari Parker could be drafted as a clear long-term upgrade over Markieff Morris -- a versatile, athletic combo forward who can rack up points and rebounds while filling in gaps. Embiid could pan out as the defensive counterbalance to Phoenix's backcourt stars, not to mention a handy catch-and-finish option as his game progresses.
4. If you could match up any prospect with any lottery team, what's your top priority pairing?
Mahoney: Dante Exum and the Cavaliers. Two years into the Kyrie Irving/Dion Waiters pairing, the same, basic questions about their chemistry still remain. Clearly the two can work together to decent effect at times, and there's enough offensive talent between Irving and Waiters to get Cleveland through some tough patches. Teams in the Cavs' position, though, aspire for more than decent and need not commit to such a disjointed backcourt.
Exum seems to be a perfect solution. Cleveland needs a player alongside Irving who can credibly defend both backcourt positions, work comfortably off the ball and help create both to ease Irving's burden and set him up as a spot shooter. Exum checks all boxes as a 6-6 combo guard with loads of defensive potential, which is crucial given how woeful Irving still is on that end. Adding Exum to a team with Irving, Waiters and Jarrett Jack would make for a crowded backcourt, but the 18-year-old Australian is worth nabbing now and leaving the rest to be sorted later.
Golliver: Joel Embiid and the Celtics. This is a clear-cut round peg, round hole, isn't it? Boston's makeshift frontcourt was brutalized this season, and the rebuilding Celtics aren't in a great position to address their interior needs in free agency. Embiid has the highest upside of any big man in this class and it shouldn't necessarily take him four or five years to be an impact player, especially in protecting the rim and hitting the glass. Boston committed to a long-term vision when it signed coach Brad Stevens to a six-year contract. Assuming good health (which is a big caveat to be sure), Embiid looks like a potential cornerstone on both sides of the ball.
5. What tweaks to the lottery system would you like to see new commissioner Adam Silver implement?
Golliver: Ratchet up the production value. I might be one of the few people left who has no problem with the lottery format and no real beef with tanking. I don't think the system is broken and I vastly prefer the relatively simple lottery system to something like the elaborate "wheel" concept that casual fans will never get excited about. I like the tradition of the lottery. I like the suspense. I like how the destinies of franchises and potential Hall of Famers hang in the balance up until the final reveal. Don't mess this up!
My tweaks would all be from a production standpoint. The lottery drawing could be bigger and better. The first thing I would like to see is a taped interview with the GM of every team in the lottery. I'd like the interviews to include some thoughts on what landing the No. 1 pick would mean to the team's current roster, the franchise historically and the general offseason plans. I'd like to hear whether the GM has a lucky charm, or whatever else might come up.
Once the lottery cuts down to the final three teams, I'd like the show to stop so that polished snippets of those interviews could play, thereby upping the tension. Here's Mitch Kupchak explaining why landing the No. 1 pick would help the Lakers transition into the post-Kobe Bryant era. Here's Sam Hinkie detailing why he might get fired in two years if his bold gamble doesn't work out. Here's Danny Ainge breaking down how exciting the No. 1 pick would be from a trade asset standpoint. Then you cut back to those three guys, anxiously awaiting the final results of the drawing. Now that's good television.
The next thing I would do is set up cameras with all of the projected top-five prospects to gauge their reactions to the final order. Let's get a real-time feel for how the most-coveted players -- and their families and agents -- respond to the final results. Is there groaning if Milwaukee wins? Do we get a fist pump from Dante Exum if the Lakers land in the top three? Can we get a split screen of the happiest guy and the most dejected guy as the commentators speculate as to the causes of their reactions?
Coaching political correctness has been a huge trend in professional sports over the last 10 years, but here we have an opportunity to get a real genuine look at life-altering circumstances for the future stars of the league. Extended follow-up interviews with each of the guys and/or their agents would round out the improved show and set the stage for the pre-draft workouts phase.
Mahoney: Spark a healthy debate over letting first-year players enter free agency. I wouldn't say that I'm ready to advocate for the change, but in all the talk over tweaking the lottery format, I'm surprised that this alternative isn't discussed with more seriousness.
From the players' side, there's really no reason why prospects should make rookie scale when their market value is, in many cases, so much greater. Consider it this way: What is it that separates first-year players and NBA free agents to the point that would require an entirely different system of acquisition? Established pros have a far greater sample from which to be evaluated, particularly against NBA competition. But teams should have the right, as circumstances permit, to accept risk for the sake of landing a potential star. Every franchise's situation is different and the league trusts its teams to operate effectively in free agency with respect to those differences. What reason is there in separating the influx of first-year players from the established means of talent distribution?
Some teams would be willing to pay far more than scale for top prospects, while others would approach the relative unknown more conservatively. Without the draft to acquire good players on the cheap, the value of every cap dollar would be heightened. Big contracts that don't pan out would be tougher to unload (doubly so without the ability to sweeten an offer with draft picks) and thus teams would have little choice but to spend wisely lest they lock themselves into an underwhelming roster.
From a league perspective, the prospect of so many talented young players entering the free-agent pool would generate an explosion of interest. The draft itself commands a lot of attention. By integrating rookies into the free-agent process (or by creating a separate free-agent window for first-year players), though, that allure could be extended in time and scope. Imagine if every team with cap space would have a chance to sign Wiggins or Parker. Fan bases of all kinds would be invigorated. The incentive to lose would be eliminated. The best-managed franchises would see their advantage (via responsible spending and cap flexibility) amplified. Those players who would otherwise have been signed out of the second round would likely receive equivalent (read: league-minimum) offers and salary, but they might find a better fit if given a chance to choose their employer. The lottery system is worth addressing, even without a perfect solution. Every proposal will have its flaws. I just don't know of a more realistically functional alternative than a free-agent framework that the NBA already knows, understands and accepts.