NBA Notes: Lakers, Hawks may aim for pre-draft strike

With the NBA Draft Combine in full swing, and teams hoping to find the next big thing (or at least a guy who can contribute off the bench), the hubbub has officially begun.

The combine tipped off Wednesday, and while the talk is usually centered on which teams interviewed which top prospects, and who’s not quite as tall without shoes (always a shocking occurrence), most of the noise among insiders is taking place off the floor.

Coaching changes, free agency and the approaching draft lottery are among the hot topics — especially when it comes to teams outside the lottery trying to wiggle their way in.

The Los Angeles Lakers and Atlanta Hawks are said to be two such teams, with both supposedly exploring the idea of improving their draft position.

Interestingly, both face some major free-agent decisions. None of those can take place until July 1 at the earliest — or about a week after the June 27 draft.

The Lakers, of course, will attempt to come to terms with All-Star center Dwight Howard, who is expected to receive a maximum offer from the club.

Meanwhile, the Hawks embark on the offseason with a whopping seven unrestricted free agents, highlighted by power forward Josh Smith. It’s believed that Hawks general manager Danny Ferry is aiming to reshape the entire roster.

The Hawks own back-to-back picks in the first round (Nos. 17 and 18), and may be willing to package them together for the sake of moving up, insiders said.

As for the Lakers, their lone pick doesn’t come until midway through the second round (No. 48 overall). But, as usual, they’re supposedly willing to trade big man Pau Gasol in attempt to get younger. That may mean obtaining a pick, a younger player and a contract.

Again, all of this is just speculation at the moment, and it may result in nothing at the end. And goodness knows, these are the type of discussions among GMs and execs that will take place all the way through the draft.

Some of it is real, some of it not so much. Either way, there’s no doubting that the time of year to find the next big thing has officially arrived.

In other news from the combine:

• Sources said Lehigh guard C.J. McCollum could be this year’s Dion Waiters and become a surprise pick early in the lottery. McCollim missed most of this past season with a foot injury, but scouts like his grittiness, his ability to get to the basket and distribute, and his perimeter shot.

• McCollum played high school ball at Canton (Ohio) GlenOak, where he was a teammate of current Denver Nuggets center Kosta Koufos. According to several sources, McCollum was highly impressive during individual interviews.

• French center Rudy Gorbert may have amazed enough to work his way into the top 10, although scouts caution much of that will be determined by his individual workouts. Gorbert stands 7-foot-2 and basically blocked every shot within reach. He also set a combine record with a 7-8 ½ wingspan. Teams love wingspans.

• UCLA swingman Shabazz Muhammad did not impress, according to several scouts. Those who watched loved his athleticism, but they seemed to wonder if he has any idea how to use it.

• Georgetown standout Otto Porter interviewed with the Charlotte Bobcats, Orlando Magic and Oklahoma City Thunder, reported the Washington Post. Porter is a 6-8 classic small forward, and most draft experts have him pegged as a top five selection.

• Another potential top five pick, UNLV forward Anthony Bennett, underwent rotator cuff surgery Wednesday and is not at the combine. Scouts like him, but wonder if he’s more a power or small forward. Similar questions were asked about the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Derrick Williams two years ago, and Houston Rockets’ Thomas Robinson last summer. Both have struggled early in their pro careers.

• Potential No. 1 overall pick Nerlens Noel, who underwent knee surgery in February, is not expected to be ready to play until early December. That has not deterred teams from taking a strong interest. That’ll happen when you block 12 shots in a game, as Noel did as a freshman at Kentucky. It should also be noted that Noel scored 0 points in that game.

• For more updates on the combine, and other NBA news, stay locked in to and throughout the weekend.

Twitter: @SamAmicoFSO