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NBA draft lottery teams wishing it were 2014

It is possible given consensus top pick Nerlens Noel from Kentucky is not nearly last year’s first selection, Anthony Davis, someone might want to make a deal for a future look if a team farther down likes him a lot. The larger question may be who can use this draft to make a move, writes Sam Smith of Bulls.com.
"The consensus among NBA scouts at last week’s Chicago draft combine seemed to be that despite his ACL injury and being unable to play until maybe December, Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel, an athletic slot blocker, would still be the No. 1 pick," writes Sam Smith.
(Andy Lyons/Getty Images Sport)

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

Sam Smith Mailbag

Tuesday is the NBA’s draft lottery, and no one is exactly bringing all their horse shoes and four leaf clovers. This is being widely regarded as the draft you wished was 2014, though they’re never as bad as the scouts project at this stage.

There are perhaps a half dozen or more future starters in the lottery even as some top teams, like Charlotte, are working out players out of the top five, suggesting some top teams might try to trade down. It doesn’t happen much, but this season there’s considerable uncertainty.

With Orlando and Charlotte having the greatest odds of the top pick, it’s not like there is a great balance of power change coming. The consensus among NBA scouts at last week’s Chicago draft combine seemed to be that despite his ACL injury and being unable to play until maybe December, Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel, an athletic slot blocker, would still be the No. 1 pick. So it is possible given he’s not nearly Anthony Davis someone might want to make a deal for a future look if a team farther down likes him a lot.

The larger question may be who can use this draft to make a move.

In the Eastern Conference, it seems like the Heat, Pacers, Bulls, Knicks and Nets are locks for next season’s playoffs. Boston, Atlanta and Milwaukee seem uncertain. So you can see perhaps the Wizards with John Wall healthy and the Pistons with a young, talented front court perhaps adding one player who can help push them into the playoffs.

They have the seventh and eighth spots as far as odds, so they could get lucky and move up. Given the Pistons cap space, I could see a scenario in which they would go for Pau Gasol. The Lakers desperately need to cut salary and luxury tax without doing amnesty for Kobe Bryant and could just use some bench help as they are expected to retain Dwight Howard. The Pistons have some pieces to throw into a deal to enhance the Lakers bench. Gasol has just one year left and with Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe, you can see the Pistons making a jump to the playoffs were they to add a talented young player.

The top players are considered to be Noel, shooting guard Ben McLemore, who would be ideal for Detroit, smallish power forward and Larry Johnson type Anthony Bennett, small forward Otto Porter, likened to Tayshaun Prince, defensive minded Victor Oladipo, Michigan smallish point guard Trey Burke and big men Cody Zeller and Alex Len. Maybe Washington adds a wing like Porter. They could jump into the top eight in the East, finally, which also is vital for the Pistons to get some traction. Similarly in the Western Conference with Dallas, Utah, Portland and Minnesota, all on the verge of being playoff teams.

You need a LeBron to jump to the Finals, like the Cavs did. But a young, athletic starter can help you be a playoff team.

NBA news and notes

-- NBA coaching jobs are great jobs paying from $1.5 million to $5 million or more annually. Which is why no matter what the expectations, plenty of guys line up. But Nets general manager Billy King is burying his new coach already in continuing to try to justify the firing of P.J. Carlesimo after the team was 35-19 under him. That’s a 52-win season for a full season. King told New York reporters last week: “I thought we could be a better basketball team, but we need to create a culture that becomes the identity of the Brooklyn Nets. Something where I think it has to be a vision of the Brooklyn borough, where it’s got to be tough-minded and when you come to play us you know it’s going to be a dogfight every night. That’s what I’m looking for, and a coach to instill that in the team.” Actually, the image of Brooklyn really is a guy yelling and threatening to fight, but settling for pizza. And with that huge luxury tax roster with the likes of Joe Johnson and Gerald Wallace having seen their better times good luck winning 50 games. ... I don’t get into anyone’s religious preferences much, but I did have to get a second look at the New York Post report of Amar’e Stoudemire leaving the Knicks’ Saturday shootaround wearing a black yarmulke and greeting reporters with, “Shabbat Shalom.’’ It is a Jewish Sabbath greeting. Stoudemire says he has Jewish roots on his mother’s side. Given he played just six minutes, all in the first half, in the closeout loss, I guess it was appropriate that Stoudemire, as required, rested on the Sabbath. Stoudemire finished the post season averaging 3.8 points in 8.3 minutes per game. He was back from knee surgery, but it seemed obvious Woodson had no interest in using him and wasn’t even sure how. He has two years left on his contract at about $22 million per season. Also with two years is Tyson Chandler, dominated by Roy Hibbert and owed almost $29 million, and Jason Kidd, who also didn’t play second halves the last two games and failed to score in the series. Kidd has two years left at $3 million per season. Steve Novak, who is owed about $11 million over the next three seasons, scored three points in the six games, thus showing he’s no Jason Kidd. Marcus Camby, who makes $4.3 million next season, didn’t play in any of the games against the Pacers, obviously because the Knicks interior bigs were so dominant. And how much did potential free agent Smith cost himself with that series?

-- It was a nice and symbolic touch to see all five Pacers go to the media interview room after their game 6 victory and be interviewed together. It was an appropriate statement about a team without even a No. 1 guy. Not that they are champions — they are big underdogs in the conference finals — but you can have a great season without even one superstar player. ... Though he stepped away before the season, Larry Bird gets the credit for putting together this Pacers team and showing he may be one of the best executives in the NBA at team building, a relatively rare specialty. Bird for years touted Lance Stephenson when nobody did and Stephenson was the star of Game 6 as every Pacers starter was a leading scorer in one of the games. Roy Hibbert was viewed as a backup, at best, and his block on Carmelo Anthony to change momentum in Game 6 was a season highlight. Bird also put together the controversial trade for George Hill and believed in David West after he had an ACL injury. It’s been one of the best jobs of putting pieces together to create a unit greater than its parts in years. ... Who knew anyone even listened to Frank Vogel? The former David Letterman Stupid Human Tricks star was innocent enough after the Pacers beat the Knicks saying, in effect, the Heat was just another team in their way. I love these proclamations of people being shocked when a player predicts victory. Are they supposed to say they plan to lose? Was Vogel supposed to say they were happy to get where they are but no way they beat Miami? So LeBron James apparently was offended by this and announced to reporters: "He said we're just another team in their way. We're not just another team. We're a great team. We're very confident. We'll be ready for them.” So there. Vogel also said last year when the teams played that Shane Battier flopped. Another stop the presses. Well, if there were presses anymore. Battier is to flopping what people are to breathing. Just second nature anymore.

-- At least Ray Felton didn’t rip Jeremy Lin again after averaging seven points and shooting 28 percent the last two games against Indiana ... A Philadelphia newspaper quoted an anonymous general manager (which means either a general manager who won’t give his name or a reporter who has a good line he wants to use) about the new craze of teams hiring the number guru analytics experts after the 76ers hired Houston’s Sam Hinkie: “Analytic guys are the ones who look at their shoes when they are talking to you. A personable analytics guy is one who looks at other people's shoes when he is talking to you." It is funny, but it also reflects the popular division in the league and why Houston’s Daryl Morey finished so low in the executive of the year vote despite the heist of James Harden. ... Toronto media is saying general manager Bryan Colangelo may be out this week. The Raptors are among several teams who have been trying to hire Phil Jackson. ... Congratulations to Isiah Thomas, who is putting his money where his mouth is, however that goes. Thomas has been working with Mayor Rahm Emanuel with the community basketball program and in non violence efforts and Sunday received his master’s in education from the University of California at Berkeley. A lot of people talk about education as a way out of trouble. Thomas didn’t need another degree, but by working to get another is showing he can back up his words helping Chicago kids with deeds. ... Truly impressive effort by Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson to put together a group and get a commitment for an arena to save the Kings. We’ll see with their mess of a roster and declining economic base whether they’ll support the team. But NBA commissioner David Stern made it clear to owners he wanted the team to stay as the moral thing to do given how much effort Sacramento had made. Owners have been reluctant to split TV revenue, which has held off expansion, but Seattle effectively has been promised a team either in expansion or if the Kings arena deal falls through. ... Many scouts at the draft combine at Attack Athletics last week were dreaming about Andrew Wiggins. The Canadian and son of former Bull Mitchell Wiggins is headed to Kansas. Several general managers said he’s the closest player they’ve seen to LeBron James in impact, and that quickly turns around a team like Charlotte, which seems headed to another last place or close finish.

-- Someone finally came up with the game plan to play Memphis. No surprise it was Gregg Popovich. I’d wondered why it took so long for teams to drop everyone on Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol and dare Memphis to beat them from outside. It’s surprising it took this long as Memphis gave up most of its shooting in O.J. Mayo, Rudy Gay and Wayne Ellington in the last year. It’s just one game, and Memphis usually loses the first, and it’s on the road, anyway. But it’s the game plan to challenge them. It also was surprising to see their best perimeter defender, Tony Allen, not on Tony Parker. His penetration opened up all the Spurs’ shooting. You have a great defender, you have to play him on the other team’s best offensive player. It was reminiscent of the 1996 Finals when it took Seattle coach George Karl until the fourth game to put Defensive Player of the Year Gary Payton on Michael Jordan. Down 3-0, Seattle then won the next two games. Some coaches fear foul trouble, but like Popovich did, you make a team beat you with their second option. It also was classic Popovich to bench Tim Duncan down the stretch in the closeout win over the Warriors and play Tiago Splitter. It was funnier even when someone asked afterward, Popovich growled it was just what he did and the reporters began to cry. ... Players are condemned for the stupidest things, and last week it was Kevin Durant for saying he enjoyed the season. How dare he without winning a title! “Nothing’s ever a wasted year for me. It’s basketball,” Durant told local media in Oklahoma City. “I’ve grown so much as a man since the beginning of the season. I’ve grown so much as a leader. Nothing is ever wasted. Of course the ultimate goal in this league is to win a championship. But I’m never going to say I wasted a year. I’m blessed to even wake up and do something I love every day. So it’s never wasted. We take that for granted a lot. But that’s something I’m not going to do. I enjoy playing this game. I enjoy playing for this city, my teammates. So every day I get to see those guys and go through some tough times and laugh and argue it’s never wasted. I’m just blessed to be here. And I’m never going to take it for granted.” He’s exactly right. It is the journey that makes you a great player, and Durant has succeeded in doing all he could despite the injuries and inefficiency around him.

-- Those Mike Woodson coaching clinics are classics. Like when the camper asked what you do when a team goes into a 2-3 zone.

“Throw it to ‘Melo!”

Or when a team switches the pick and roll.

“Throw it to ‘Melo!”

Or when they blitz the pick and roll.

“Throw it to ‘Melo!”

You could hear even over the Pacers crowd in Game 6 of the Pacers Eastern Conference semifinals victory over the Knicks Woodson on basically every possession calling for isolations for Anthony. As a native New Yorker, I know the view of basketball perfection in New York is much like the idea of football fantasy in Chicago. The 1985 Bears are to Chicago what the 1970 Knicks are to New York. Yet, this isolation heavy, selfish, all perimeter Knicks team is the antithesis of those early 1970’s Knicks teams in everything from style of play to character. You get what is inevitable when you hire low character actors, like J.R. Smith and Kenyon Martin. They’ll quit on you at the biggest times, which is what they did with cheap shots and indifferent play. Smith’s late night date, singer Rihanna, outing him apparently because even she was so embarrassed he was running around all night between games. Smith shot 33 percent in the playoffs and 28 percent against the Pacers, 27 percent on threes overall and 21 percent the last five games against Indiana. Guys like that have tremendous talent. But they are not about team or team building, which was the success of the 1970’s Knicks, a great team much greater than the sum of its parts. This Knicks team is much less. It was no surprise, really, when Tyson Chandler noted no one on the team exactly passes the ball, which upset Anthony and Smith, who apparently took it to mean them. Where would they get that idea? Chandler said he meant no one individually. Which I presume meant Chandler should pass more, since he averaged four shots and shot 54 percent in the playoffs. Tough playing with Chris Paul and then the Knicks. Woodson, by the way, changed rotations and lineups almost constantly throughout the Pacers series. It’s popular to talk about playoff adjustments, but if you have to change your rotation and lineups every few games after winning the second most games in the conference, it suggests more desperation and lack of confidence in your players. Stoudemire, by the way, said Woodson never gave he and Anthony playing together a chance and he’d have to talk with the coach this summer. Presumably before Yom Kippur.

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