Who Has the Most to Lose on Draft Night?
A lot of the attention this draft season will be on the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers, two storied franchises that hold the top 2 selections this June. However, if you believe the notion that Paul George is predestined to sign with the purple and gold, then both LA and Boston (currently playing in the Eastern Conference Finals and with another Brooklyn Nets pick owed to them) are in good shape regardless of what happens this offseason. However, not all franchises are this lucky. Here are three teams in dire need of coming up big on draft night.
New York Knicks:
The Knicks find themselves in an interesting predicament this offseason. On one hand their fan base doesn’t expect to be in the lottery in 2018 and beyond, but the only true building block on their roster is Kristaps Porzingis, who has reportedly been at odds with the front office. New York has become a bit of a laughing stock since Phil Jackson took over as team president and the hall-of-famer desperately needs to find a high-upside and instant impact player with the 8th overall selection in June’s draft. Even with the Knicks picking up the final two year’s of his contract, Jackson may enter the offseason facing more pressure to find talent than any other executive in the league now that the Magic have fired Rob Hennigan. However, this draft is being touted as one of the deeper classes in recent memory and there will be several exciting prospects for Jackson and the Knicks to choose from by the time they’re on the clock with the 8th pick.
Jackson and general manager Steve Mills have hinted that New York will mainly target wings and guards with their first round selection, as they have some solid frontcourt depth in Porzingis, Willy Hernangomez and Carmelo Anthony (as long as he’s not traded). The 2017 class will cater well to the Knicks’ backcourt needs as Dennis Smith Jr, Malik Monk and Frank Ntilikina all project to be on the board in the middle of the lottery. Whether or not one of these guards will fit into the triangle remains to be seen, but each prospect offers an elite trait, whether it be Monk’s shooting, Smith’s scoring ability or Ntilikina’s length and athleticism. After four straight losing seasons, it’s now or never for the Knicks and they must be able to find a backcourt compliment to Kristaps Porzingis with the 8th pick in the 2017 draft.
The Kings continued with their perpetual rebuild this February when they shipped DeMarcus Cousins to New Orleans before the trade deadline. At the time (and even now) it seemed like Sacramento got a light return for an All-NBA type talent, but Vlade Divac and Co. can help display the notion that they got fleeced by the Pelicans if they strike gold with the 10th pick in this draft, a key piece in the Boogie deal. Sacramento also owns the fifth overall selection, though if not for a disastrous salary dump trade made two offseasons ago they’d be picking third. Nevertheless, this draft represents a pivotal moment for the Kings franchise. Due to the aforementioned salary dump trade made in July 2015, Sacramento owes it’s unprotected 2019 1st round selection to Philadelphia and leaves the franchise with limited assets to play with in the near future. At some point the Kings must build a winner, especially as they try to end the league’s second longest playoff drought and look fill seats in their brand new arena.
Fortunately, the Kings are armed with two top 10 selections in a loaded draft and already possess some intriguing young talent. Between the diverse skillsets of former 1st rounders Willie Cauley-Stein, Skal Labissiere and Georgios Papagiannis, Sacramento may already have its frontcourt of the future and can look to bolster it’s depth on the perimeter to go along with Buddy Hield. Jayson Tatum makes the most sense at 5 as he would give Dave Joerger a go to scorer, but if either De’Aaron Fox or Josh Jackson slip past Philly and Phoenix, Vlade Divac should run his pick up to the podium. Packaging both picks to move up for someone like Lonzo Ball is also an option, but finding a trade partner can be tough. Sacramento also holds the fourth pick in the in the second round and can add a draft and stash Euro player that possesses a high ceiling there; Rodios Kurucs would be the ideal target. If Divac can find a young wing player in either Tatum or Jackson at 5 and a point guard like Frank Ntilikina at 10 he could see the Kings being labeled as offseason “winners” for the first time this decade.
Now time for the team with the most hinging on the 2017 draft: the Orlando Magic. Orlando has gone through several retools and roster shakeups since the conclusion of the Dwight Howard era, but have yet to find proper direction. The Magic are looking for a new GM and their front office had its offseasons plans leaked on Twitter late in the season. While big market teams like the Lakers and Knicks get all the media attention, the Magic have become one of the league’s most dysfunctional franchises. This June, Orlando owns the 6th, 25th and 35th selections and should have one thing on their mind when they make their picks: coming away with a star.
There’s some workable pieces on their roster as Elfrid Payton, Nikola Vucevic, Terrence Ross and Evan Fournier are all solid rotation players, but Aaron Gordon is the only member of the Magic that could progress into a star. However, I doubt he can ever be the number 1 option on a championship team. This is why the draft is so important for the Magic. They have a fairly deep roster, but lack high-end talent and owning the 6th and 25th picks in a good draft may be their best chance to add a star player without bottoming out again. If Orlando fails to find a star this June they will likely become annual contestants in the latter half of the lottery with their current roster construction. While Jayson Tatum and Jonathan Isaac are strong and worthy candidates to come off the board at 6, everything should be on the table for the Magic on draft night. They must consider moving up for a guy like Josh Jackson or standing pat at 6 and slightly reaching for Dennis Smith Jr or Lauri Markkanen depending on how the draft falls. If Orlando truly embraces the swing-for-the fences approach Harry Giles is a name to watch at 25, but “specialists” like Malik Monk will be off their board. There’s a lot of ways the Magic can go this June.