Welcome to the week that fans of 29 NBA teams have been waiting for all summer (and spring, too, in a few instances.) The NBA Draft happens this week, and along with it comes hope for the long-suffering fans in *fill-in-the-blank* city.
The trade deadline last season was the busiest ever, the current Olympics are the strangest ever and the recently-concluded playoffs were not the best ever... unless you are a fan of the Milwaukee Bucks.
We are about to have an epic week, and here is one thing to keep in mind that not a lot of people are talking about: this Thursday’s draft is very much a mystery draft. NBA scouts have been homebound for the most part during the pandemic, so they are not operating with the type of first-hand knowledge they are accustomed to from the past having scouted prospects in person, whether overseas or at college gymnasiums.
Not many executives will acknowledge it, but there will be some degree of guesswork involved. Normally, an NBA scout would attend a college game and get there super early to see if the player he is scouting is on the court early, putting in extra work. That same scout would pick the brains of college coaches and athletic directors, make calls to AAU coaches and get a reading on how a certain player performs in pressure situations in front of big crowds.
The pandemic prevented many of those things from taking place after March 2020, so this will be an especially tricky week for NBA talent evaluators. Will that prompt general managers to bail out on this draft and unload their picks for already-established NBA talent? It bears watching. We are all flying blind to a certain degree when it comes to which teams are all-in on competing in 2021-22, and which teams are all-in on trying to get the No. 1 overall pick in 2022 so that they can draft Gonzaga freshman Chet Holmgren, who recently led Team USA to the U-19 World Championship in Latvia.
Being a three-time National Player of the Year and having led his school to four consecutive Minnesota Class-A state championships, the 7-foot Holmgren will have every tool he needs (except muscle mass). The former high school teammate of Jalen Suggs, whom our Lead NBA Draft Analyst Matt Babcock has going No. 4 to Toronto in his latest Mock Draft, Holmgren will almost certainly be a top draft pick one year from now. Holmgren is a building block that every NBA team will salivate over, so do not be surprised if franchises with little hope of competing this season do everything they can to acquire unprotected 2022 lottery picks.
The only unprotected 2022 first-round picks that have already been traded are the Lakers’ (to New Orleans), the Nets’ (to Houston) and the Clippers’ (to Oklahoma City), and neither Brooklyn nor the Los Angeles teams figure to miss the playoffs. If he cannot trade up to get Oklahoma State’s Cade Cunningham with the No. 1 pick, one guy we can be certain will try to load up on unprotected 2022 picks is Oklahoma City’s Sam Presti.
In the next few seasons, the Thunder are sitting on:
- Three first-round picks this year (own, plus Miami’s and Boston’s)
- 2022 first-round pick from Phoenix (1-12 protected), a 2022 unprotected Clippers’ first-round pick
- Lottery-protected first-rounders in 2023 from Miami and Denver, along with pick swap rights with the Clippers
That's just through 2023. There are a plethora of future picks in Presti's possession over the next half-decade and then some. So, yes, we should expect Presti to try to package a bunch of those assets, perhaps with Kemba Walker or Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, if it gets him additional chances to win the Holmgren lottery.
Teams with multiple first-round picks in the upcoming draft include: Houston (Nos. 2, 23 and 24), Orlando (Nos. 5 and 8), Oklahoma City (No. 6, 16 and 18), Golden State (Nos. 7 and 14) and New York (Nos. 19 and 21). Minnesota does not have any picks as the Timberwolves go through an ownership change, and you have to wonder whether Karl-Anthony Towns will eventually ask out. He is the franchise’s only premiere asset, and would bring a boatload of assets in return if he was ever traded.
Also, New Orleans has four second-round picks, and Oklahoma City and Detroit have three apiece. All three of those teams are in different stages of rebuilding, with the Pelicans the closest to contender status simply by virtue of having Zion Williamson on their roster.
This will be a wild week in the trade rumor department. The Lakers are desperate to add a third superstar, the Raptors are trying to discern whether Kyle Lowry is best kept or best signed-and-traded and the Knicks are eager to improve on their surprising fourth-place finish in the East.
The Sixers are apparently done with Ben Simmons, the Mavericks (with a new front office) have to decide whether to keep going with Kristaps Porzingis, the Rockets are trying to figure out what to do with John Wall and the Cavs -- one of the most active teams in the rumor mill -- are reportedly dangling Collin Sexton as bait.
A week from now, the NBA is going to look a whole lot different; by the second week of August, we are going to see a bunch of the new guys – presumably a list that begins with Cunningham on the Detroit Pistons – at NBA Summer League in Las Vegas.
So brace yourself. This will be an epic week.
And the good news (or better news) is that things will get even more interesting on Aug. 6 when free agency opens. Normally, the NBA is in its dead zone at this time of the summer. This year, we all get lucky. The Association is about to go into overdrive.
The so-called Summer of Love is going to be especially lovely for NBA fans. And in two months and two days, training camps begin. And Opening Night is reportedly going to be Oct. 19.
It’ll be here before you know it, and normalcy (fingers crossed) will finally return. We’ve all earned the right to enjoy it, so the advice here is to start enjoying it this week.
No matter who your team is, you have hope.