Losers: Golden State Warriors
In time, it’s possible that Wednesday will be remembered as the night the Warriors drafted a perennial all-star big man in James Wiseman and set up another title window for the twilight of Stephen Curry’s career. In the moment, Wednesday was the devastating night that Golden State’s Klay Thompson suffered a significant right leg injury. Yahoo Sports reported Wednesday that there is “fear” that Thompson, who spent the last 17 months recovering from a right ACL tear suffered during the 2019 Finals, might be looking an at Achilles’ tendon injury. Further tests are expected on Thursday.
This is simply awful news for Thompson, the Warriors and the NBA as a whole. Losing Thompson for a meaningful period of time would completely shift the focus for the Warriors two days before free agency is set to open and less than two weeks before training camp. They would likely be a borderline playoff team at best without Thompson, and they would be susceptible to another ugly losing season should Curry miss any time along the way. Golden State ownership must now decide whether it’s willing to take on salary in a season that might not pay off with title contention or whether it should pivot toward a dramatic retooling to ensure the team’s best shot at a deep playoff run in 2022. Life came at the Warriors so fast.
If there’s a silver lining, it’s Wiseman. His development was going to be a secondary priority for the Warriors if they were fully healthy this season, and now the 19-year-old from Memphis rises rapidly up the ranks of important figures in the franchise. If Thompson is out for a while, the pressure to win should subside, allowing Wiseman more room to learn on the job.
The Minnesota Timberwolves took Anthony Edwards instead of Ball with the No. 1 pick, and that could wind up being really good news for Lonzo’s younger brother. In Minnesota, Ball would have needed to tread lightly and fit his game around D’Angelo Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns. He would also have faced some pressure to help the Timberwolves win after a disappointing 2019-20 season. In Charlotte, Ball should have more opportunity to develop and less pressure to deliver instant results. Though he is a spectacular passer, Ball’s game needs plenty of refinement. That could take years, and he’s better off undertaking the project without wearing the “No. 1 pick” label and with a fan base that isn’t especially demanding.
Footnote: Ball’s entire dynamic would change if Hornets owner Michael Jordan decides to pull the trigger on a Russell Westbrook trade. If that happens, Ball’s immediate role and long-term standing with the franchise would get very complicated.
Losers: Fans of lottery trades
This seemed like a perfect year to produce a lot of trade activity in the draft lottery. The Timberwolves could have used an injection of veteran talent. The Warriors were trying to win now. Teams like the Chicago Bulls and Detroit Pistons had good reason to trade up for lead playmakers. Instead, there were no trades in the lottery. That inactivity likely points to a lack of interest in this year’s top-tier prospects. Even highly motivated sellers can’t make a trade if there aren’t buyers willing to include worthwhile pieces to move up the board.
Winners: Philadelphia 76ers
Sixers President Daryl Morey wasted little time undoing GM Elton Brand’s work from last summer, trading away Al Horford, Josh Richardson and multiple picks to acquire Seth Curry from the Dallas Mavericks and Danny Green from the Oklahoma City Thunder.
In Curry and Green, Morey added shooters to flank his two stars, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Neither of these trades necessarily precludes Morey from building a trade package for James Harden, the Houston Rockets’ disgruntled superstar, around Simmons either. A theoretical lineup featuring Harden, Curry, Green, Tobias Harris and Embiid looks awfully nice on paper.
Back to reality: The immediate win for the Sixers was needing to attach only one first-round pick to dump the three remaining years of Horford’s massive contract. It’s worth noting, too, that Green is a significant downgrade from Richardson at this point in their respective careers.
Thunder GM Sam Presti also did exceptionally well this week, getting great value for Chris Paul, decent value for Dennis Schroder and taking on numerous future picks in a flurry of deals. Horford now looms as an intriguing chip for Presti, who loves nothing more than flipping players he has acquired by trade.
After two trades on Monday, the Bucks had a dreamy starting five all lined up: Jrue Holiday, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez. That group is big, athletic, and versatile while also being loaded with two-way players, and it would qualify on paper as the East’s best lineup. Antetokounmpo would have four shooters around him, and the Bucks would have plus defenders at four positions.
That plan is on hold now that Bogdanovic reportedly plans to test restricted free agency rather than head to Milwaukee as part of a sign-and-trade agreement with the Sacramento Kings. Such a U-turn is rare, and it’s possible the deal gets put back together. But the Bucks gutted their depth to make these moves, and they really need the scoring punch and fearlessness that Bogdanovic brings to the table. If they can’t find a way to acquire him, they will be hard-pressed to find a comparable replacement. The stakes are massive, of course, because Milwaukee parted with three first-round picks and two pick swaps to acquire Holiday and because Antetokounmpo is weighing whether to accept a supermax contract extension.
Winners: Dallas Mavericks
Richardson isn’t a splashy name, but he’s a really nice fit next to Luka Doncic in Dallas. Don’t bet against the Mavericks being one of the West’s best regular season teams this season assuming Kristaps Porzingis is back on the court relatively soon after a meniscus injury. Doncic was brilliant during the bubble playoffs, and Richardson brings some much-needed size and defensive versatility on the wing.
Suns GM James Jones doesn’t give a rip about mock drafts. For the second year in a row, Jones drafted a player well above his anticipated landing spot. Last year, it was Cameron Johnson, whose selection famously elicited a “Wowwww bro, that’s crazy” from Bulls draftee Coby White. This year, it was Maryland power forward Jalen Smith. After trading for Chris Paul, the Suns clearly targeted Smith to balance out a frontcourt rotation lacking in interior physicality. Drafting on short-term needs can be a good way to make a mistake, and a number of intriguing guards went after Smith. Indeed, the next four players selected — Devin Vassell, Tyrese Haliburton, Kira Lewis and Aaron Nesmith — might have been better options for Phoenix. With that in mind, the San Antonio Spurs (Vassell), Sacramento Kings (Haliburton), New Orleans Pelicans (Lewis) and Boston Celtics (Nesmith) all left the night looking and feeling like winners.
Hayes, a French teenager who spent last season playing professionally in Germany, jumped out in a draft class that was largely bereft of lead playmakers with major upside. He might not get there, but there’s a chance he develops into a star thanks to his comfort with the ball, pick-and-roll ability, passing skills and fondness for the step-back three-pointer. If Hayes is going to deliver on that potential, he needed a landing spot that would give him a wide berth and a long runway. The Pistons, who just hired a new GM and have limited backcourt talent on hand, look well-suited to giving Hayes every chance to succeed.
To be clear, taking Dayton’s Obi Toppin at No. 8 is no grave mistake. The 22-year-old scoring forward was projected higher on many draft boards, and he will be able to help right away on one of the NBA’s worst rosters. If there’s a concern for Knicks fans, it’s that the new front-office regime and Coach Tom Thibodeau chose to draft on instant impact rather than long-term potential. New faces, same old problematic philosophy?
Winners: Cleveland Cavaliers
In contrast to the Knicks, the Cavaliers resisted the obvious temptation to take Toppin, given his Ohio ties and dependable scoring, and went with Auburn’s Isaac Okoro instead. Cleveland had the worst record in the East last year and it needs help at virtually every position. It’s a good sign that its front office felt empowered to add a 19-year-old, defensive-minded wing to the mix rather than seeking a shortcut to success. The Cavaliers will need to sort out pretty quickly whether they really need Collin Sexton, Darius Garland and Kevin Porter Jr., given their overlapping interest in scoring. Okoro should fit with any of them, regardless of how long that process takes to unfold.