Now that LeBron James and Kyrie Irving have ended the Cleveland Cavaliers’ title drought, all eyes turn to the NBA draft. And this year’s edition could be full of trades and intrigue, as several teams look to take a major step in their rebuilding process.
Let’s take a look at a few of the most intriguing rumors and speculation making the rounds.
Sixers Looking to Move Back Into Lottery
At this point, it’s hard to imagine that the Philadelphia 76ers won’t select LSU star Ben Simmons with the top overall pick. He’s the sort of potential franchise cornerstone that the organization has been craving.
But what happens after that for the Sixers will be intriguing. According to Gary Tanguay of CSNNE, the Sixers and Boston Celtics have been engaged in trade talks, and Tanguay passed along a report from his colleague, Tim Welsch, who noted that the Sixers were interested in drafting Providence point guard Kris Dunn.
Jon Johnson of 94.1 WIP also reported that teams around the NBA were inquiring about Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel, including the Celtics and New Orleans Pelicans.
It isn’t hard to connect the dots here. The Sixers are likely dangling Okafor or Noel as the centerpiece of trades that would help get them back into the lottery, where they could draft a player like Dunn, Kentucky combo guard Jamal Murray, Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield or perhaps California wing Jaylen Brown.
The Sixers, after all, have a glut of big men that includes Okafor and Noel—who simply don’t fit well together—along with Joel Embiid (once he’s healthy enough to play) and Dario Saric (once he comes over from Europe).
With Simmons likely to play power forward, the Sixers simply won’t be able to find minutes for five young big men, so dangling Okafor or Noel makes sense.
More than likely, the Sixers will prefer to move Okafor. While he has the potential to become one of the best scoring men in the NBA, he doesn’t have the positional versatility of Noel or the ability to make a difference as an elite defender or rebounder. It’s easier to see Noel pairing with Embiid than it is imagining Okafor and Embiid on the court together.
Okafor’s scoring prowess and the fact that he’s younger than Noel might be more appealing for certain teams as well. It certainly isn’t difficult to envision a trade between the Sixers and Celtics that includes Okafor heading to Boston and the No. 3 pick going to the Sixers.
And pairing Simmons with Dunn would certainly address the team’s lack of playmakers. While Dunn wouldn’t address the team’s desperate need for perimeter shooting, he’s an excellent defender who drives to the basket, would provide leadership and could share the playmaking duties with Simmons.
Certainly, he would be an upgrade over anybody the Sixers have at guard at the moment. The team’s interest in Dunn could also be a smoke screen to disguise their true intent, of course, but the prospect of adding Simmons and Dunn on Thursday certainly will leave Sixers fans excited.
Lakers Dangling D’Angelo Russell for Top-5 Pick?
ESPN’s Chad Ford noted on a SportsCenter appearance (h/t James Herbert of CBS Sports) that the Lakers could offer last year’s No. 2 overall pick, D’Angelo Russell, to get a second top-five selection:
I think we all assume that [Brandon] Ingram’s going to be the guy at No. 2, but they’ve brought in Marquese Chriss, they’ve taken a long look at him. They’ve brought in Dragan Bender, Jaylen Brown, and while I still believe that it will be Ingram at No. 2, the Lakers have explored other options. And again I think the concern with Ingram is his lack of strength and how NBA-ready he’s going to be because of that. I think more likely the Lakers are trying to pick up another pick in this draft in the top five and the guy that they have that they can shop is Russell, a guy who was their No. 2 pick in the draft last year but burned some bridges in the locker room.
While it would be a bit surprising if the Lakers gave up on Russell after one season, the former Ohio State superstar didn’t exactly set the world afire in his rookie year. Russell averaged 13.2 points, 3.4 rebounds and 3.3 assists in the 2015-16 campaign, though he certainly didn’t make any friends in the locker room when he filmed a private conversation between himself and teammate Nick Young without Young’s consent.
Russell certainly showed some upside this season, so if the Lakers are actually considering adding another top pick by moving Russell, there will be interest around the league. But should the Lakers give up on a potential core of Russell, Ingram (assuming the Lakers select him), Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson? Will they be getting a better player in this year’s draft than Russell?
Perhaps they think so. For now, however, it would be surprising if the Lakers ditched Russell after one season.
Spurs Could Be Busy at Draft
According to NBADraft.net and Alex Kennedy of Basketball Insiders, the San Antonio Spurs are interested in moving up during the first round on Thursday. That led Jody Genessy of the Deseret News to speculate that the Spurs might have interest in the Utah Jazz’s No. 12 selection:
I’ve heard multiple teams have contacted the Jazz about their No. 12 pick. Wonder if the Spurs are one of them. https://t.co/qmxee2tdla
— Jody Genessy (@DJJazzyJody) June 19, 2016
Certainly, it wouldn’t hurt the Spurs to get younger. Tim Duncan is 40, Manu Ginobili is 38 (both may retire this offseason), David West is 35, Tony Parker and Boris Diaw are 34 and Kevin Martin is 33. While the Spurs are now built around Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge, Duncan, Ginobili and Parker remained the three most important players in their supporting cast this season.
The Spurs need some more young players, in other words.
While it may be difficult to land one of the elite prospects in this draft outside of the top 10, the Spurs have traditionally unearthed the hidden gems other teams miss on. It will be fascinating to see just how busy the Spurs are on Thursday.