Pacific laggards hope to load up in draft
The Pacific Division has slouched its way into another three-team registration for a top-14 slot in the NBA Draft.
But the Los Angeles Clippers aren’t part of this lottery roll call. The Clips weren’t in the lottery last season, either, but only because they managed to convert what became the draft’s first overall pick (Kyrie Irving) into a ticket out of town for Baron Davis and his bloated contract.
The Phoenix Suns, however, are one of the division’s three lottery teams for the second year in a row. Just like last year, they check in with the 13th overall pick.
Before we take a one-week-out sniff at what they and their division pals might be pondering, please note that free-agent-in-waiting Steve Nash made another declaration of his intention to answer the phone.
During a public function in New York earlier this week, the Suns’ point guard said that if the Knicks make a sales pitch, he’ll definitely listen.
Right, no revelation there. But just in case the Knicks — who can muster up a mid-level exception paycheck of $5 million per season — were committed to going in another direction, I called a league source with knowledge of their feelings regarding Nash.
OK, so even though Mike D’Antoni no longer coaches in New York and the free-wheeling philosophy has been downshifted, the Knicks — according to the source — are interested.
That’s just in case you were wondering.
With that settled, we’re prepared to advance into speculation regarding what the Pacific rim-rockers might be looking to accomplish when David Stern’s fair and balanced NBA Draft commences next Thursday.
* SUNS: The Suns have cap flexibility, the aforementioned 13th pick and the need for the go-to-20-points-or-more-on-average guy.
It would be difficult to imagine the draft yielding a player capable of providing such clutch-time offense as a rookie, but there are wing-type prospects who possess reasonable bucket-making chops. With most of these hotter shots drawing interest from teams selecting in the top 12, Phoenix could go with whichever of those options remain, nab North Carolina point guard Kendall Marshall (if he’s on the board) as Nash’s eventual successor, or go big.
Although perimeter upgrades seem necessary, the Suns are far from formidable across the baseline.
A few days after the dust settles on that decision, the Nash-a-palooza will begin.
By the way, this week’s phone chats with NBA talent evaluators inspired Suns-related questions from employees representing three Western Conference teams. They’re all wondering if — in the event of a Nash relocation — a complete renovation will occur in Phoenix.
Unless an absolute sea change is in the offing, I doubt it. Oh, the Suns might take a swing at landing another first-round pick next week (a popular observation provoked by recent workouts involving large players projected to go late in the first round), but don’t expect rotation players under the age of 38 to be jettisoned for picks.
Aside from swingman Jared Dudley and center Marcin Gortat, contractual bloat makes almost anyone else under contract seem less than enticing as a trade asset.
By the way, after reading the names of shooting guards and combo guards listed as expected Suns options at 13, it would be interesting to find out if the franchise brain trust at least twitches a bit if talented, bouncy, enigmatic and 6-foot-11 Baylor bundle of potential Perry Jones is still on the board.
* LOS ANGELES LAKERS: A team seemingly desperate for a youth-and-quickness upgrade could have had two choices in the top 24, but faith in their superstar cast resulted in two trade deadline deals.
The first potential first-rounder — acquired from the Dallas Mavericks in the Lamar Odom transaction — was traded to the Houston Rockets and isn’t even available this year because it was top-20 protected, and the Mavs were bad enough in defending their NBA crown to land at 16.
The Lakers earned what became the 24th pick on their own but traded it to Cleveland for Ramon Sessions, who didn’t help them much against the Oklahoma City Thunder and now must be re-signed during the free-agency skirmishes.
According to a recent report, the Lakers are interested in trading back into the lottery with an alleged eye on Jones and Baylor teammate Quincy Miller.
Jones could go somewhere in the mid- to-late lottery or slide close to 20. According to at least one mock draft, Miller — who struggled at times during his freshman season after missing his final year of high school with a knee injury — will make it into the first round at … drum roll … pick No. 24.
With all sorts of intriguing prospects lurking near the end of Round 1, the Lakers — with Jim Buss reminding us that posting up Pau Gasol might be a better option than trading him — could have had a nice prospect down there.
* LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS: The Clippers don’t have a first-round pick at the moment, but conjecture that they could swap backup point guard Eric Bledsoe to get one is misplaced.
According to a division source, the Clips haven’t been shopping Bledsoe, a young, quick and powerful two-year pro who had several outstanding moments during this year’s playoff run.
The Clippers aren’t excited about anyone in drafting range of where they might move Bledsoe. And even though the presence of Chris Paul could make Bledsoe seem like a redundant asset, they did very well playing together.
“Anyone paying attention to the postseason can see that traditional positions mean less and less now,” one Western Conference personnel executive said. “Coaches are more interested in playing their best players, regardless of whether or not they fit some perception of what size you’re supposed to be to play a position. The Lakers had been beating people up with two 7-footers but couldn’t get past the second round two years in a row.
“Teams are playing smaller and using quickness as the match-up dilemma instead of size.”
All of that means the Clippers — unless some team really steps forward with a swell offer — won’t be moving Bledsoe just because they have Paul.
* GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS: With sharpshooting rookie Klay Thompson translating well from college, the Warriors finally moved undersized shooting guard Monta Ellis before the trade deadline.
The Warriors, sitting on the seventh overall pick, would seem interested in adding talent along the baseline. They still have hard-working David Lee and added center Andrew Bogut in the Ellis deal, but Bogut’s health always seems to be at issue.
The draft-available bigs, however, may have more questionable futures than, say, high-scoring Weber State point guard (and Oakland product) Damian Lillard. The Warriors have serial-ankle-roller Steph Curry at point guard, and selecting Syracuse guard Dion Waiters or Lillard could seem a lot like revisiting the Curry-Ellis experiment. But Golden State might have to settle for Thompson and one of the lottery-caliber wing prospects playing together with Curry, because preferred small forwards Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Harrison Barnes should be goners by pick 7.
With the 30th pick also at their disposal, let’s just list Golden State as flexible.
* SACRAMENTO KINGS: They worked a draft-night trade last season that resulted in bringing in BYU ace Jimmer Fredette for a run at point guard.
Well, the Kings put a rookie PG on the league’s second string All-Rookie team, but his name was Isaiah Thomas, who happened to be the last selection of the entire draft.
Thomas didn’t do enough to keep Sacramento from landing the draft’s fifth pick, with which the Kings could end up selecting Kidd-Gilchrist or Barnes. Despite their youth, both players seem like mature basketball souls and would be fine additions. But their inescapable inexperience might be less palpable for hot-seat-sitting general manager Geoff Petrie, who reportedly wouldn’t mind swapping the pick for a player with more seasoning.
If the Kings take UConn freshman big man Andre Drummond at five, it would qualify as evidence that Petrie might not be worried about his own future.