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Donald Sterling’s Legal Strategy Makes Little Sense

Nate Duncan explains why Donald Sterling should have paid his fine, and lays out the enormous hurdles he must overcome to succeed in litigation against the NBA

Nate Duncan

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The Donald Sterling saga took its latest turn with reports Thursday that Sterling was refusing to pay the $2.5 million fine levied by Adam Silver. The initial reaction by many was, essentially, of course he didn’t. If he is going to fight the termination of the franchise, why not fight the fine too? The reason is that Sterling has almost no legal argument to contest the fine, and that failing to pay the fine makes his contention that he did not violate the NBA Constitution far more difficult.

Sterling previously had an uphill climb to retain control of the team, but he at least had an argument that his racist comments did not violate the express provisions of Article 13 of the league’s constitution, which sets out the criteria under which ownership may be terminated. From all reports, it appears that the league will argue that Sterling failed to adhere to contracts* in a way that hurt the league under Article 13(d).

*Reports have indicated that, among other things, Sterling signed a number of agreements with the league that contained morals clauses that the comments violated. The enforceability of such clauses is a whole separate issue that I have not yet researched.

But by failing to pay the fine, Sterling makes the league’s case much easier. Under Article 13 Section C, failure to pay a fine is grounds for franchise termination in and of itself. Specifically, a franchise may be terminated if it:

Fail[s] to pay any dues or other indebtedness owing to the Association within thirty (30) days after Written Notice from the Commissioner of default in such payment.

If Sterling does not pay the fine, there is no ambiguity about whether he is violating this section.

What about arguing, as it seems Sterling will, that Adam Silver did not have the authority to impose this fine? Under the NBA Constitution, that argument is very difficult because Article 24(l) gives Silver “the authority to fix such penalty as in the Commissioner’s judgment shall be in the best interests of the Association.” Such a penalty may include “a fine, suspension, and/or the forfeiture or assignment of draft choices. No monetary penalty fixed under this provision shall exceed $2,500,000.”
The penalty imposed by Silver is of course within these guidelines, so Sterling really has no argument that Silver could not determine or levy this fine because his agreement to the NBA Constitution empowered Silver to do so.

By failing to pay the fine, Sterling has essentially changed his argument from the somewhat reasonable (in a legal sense) contention that making racist comments is not “failing or refusing to fulfill contractual obligations…in such a way as to affect the Association or its Members adversely” to the far worse argument that Silver was not empowered to levy the fine.

The League is Getting Its $2.5 Million

But at least Sterling gets to keep his $2.5 million, right? Not really:

(j) The Commissioner shall be empowered to withhold all revenues due to any Member in the event that said Member has, in the Commissioner’s determination, failed to discharge its financial obligations to the Association or any Member thereof.

So Silver can simply take the fine out of the Clippers’ revenue, such as the national TV contract (payments on which the league disburses) or any other revenues since the league has taken effective control of the franchise.

Paying the Fine is Not an “Admission of Guilt”

Some have argued that paying the $2.5 million would have constituted an “admission of guilt.” This argument is a bit of a canard, as “guilt” is not really the standard we are dealing with here. Sterling is not claiming that he did not make these racist comments, and he certainly cannot claim that it was not him in that disastrous appearance on Anderson Cooper 360.* Paying the $2.5 million does provide some legitimacy for Silver’s decision to fine him, but as we have discussed the standard governing the fine is much different than what would be required to take away the team. Having paid the fine would not have hurt Sterling’s legal argument to keep the team in the slightest.

*Marv Albert described his comments as “deLUsional” during Tuesday’s Game 5, as only he can.

Sterling Already Missed His Best Chance to Keep the Team

Once the comments were made, the strategy should have been to express immediate contrition publicly and privately (to the other owners and the commissioner) in the broadest and most unequivocal terms. In addition to potentially reducing Sterling’s penalty, this would have helped with the reality that sponsors, players and fans would at some point need to be mollified for Sterling to keep the team even if he were to win a lawsuit against the league and retain control. Without an effective apology, the practical implication of Sterling continuing to own the team would likely be sponsor, player and fan boycotts.

In fact, had the Clippers’ players boycotted games (or if they do so in the future), that would constitute an even more express violation of Sterling’s basic contractual obligations, namely actually having his team show up to play. This failure could provide grounds for franchise termination under Article 13(d), as well as subjecting Sterling to up to a $2.5 million payment to the opposing team AND up to a $5 million payment to the league per missed game under Article 36 of the NBA Constitution.

Apologizing and paying the fine would have been the rational approach to maximize Sterling’s chances of keeping the team, however minimal they might have been once the comments were made. Of course, the issue is that rational people don’t make the comments Sterling made to begin with.

Sterling’s Due Process Argument Makes No Sense When the Process Has Not Yet Concluded

The letter referenced by Sports Illustrated reportedly argues that Sterling’s “due process” rights have been violated. As SI’s Michael McCann points out, Sterling’s right to due process is much more limited by the NBA’s “justice system” than it would be with a public agency or in a courtroom because Sterling agreed to be bound by the procedures of the private association. Without the full text of the letter, it is difficult to know whether Sterling is challenging just the fine and suspension at this juncture or also the upcoming forced sale of the team. If it is the latter, it is difficult to see how a due process argument applies when the NBA’s process to force the sale is not even complete yet.

Sterling Already Faced Three Enormous Hurdles Before Refusing to Pay the Fine

The next part of the procedure is that three-fourths of the NBA Board of Governors will presumably vote to terminate Sterling’s franchise, putting the franchise under league control via Article 14A. Had Sterling paid the fine, he may have had somewhat of an argument in a purely factual sense that his comments did not violate any contract. Unfortunately for Sterling, he doesn’t have much recourse if he disagrees with the Board of Governors’ decision. Any legal challenge to that decision would face three key issues.

Covenant Not to Sue

The NBA Constitution, which Sterling agreed to, contains what is known as a covenant not to sue. That is part of Article 14(j), which reads as follows:

(j) The decisions of the Association made in accordance with the foregoing procedure shall be final, binding, and conclusive, and each Member and Owner waives any and all recourse to any court of law to review any such decision.

That means that Sterling has waived any right sue to the league on this issue. But that does not completely end the inquiry, as case law has articulated two narrow exceptions even where an owner has made such an agreement. However, those are unlikely to apply. They are if “(1) the rules, regulations, or judgments of the league are in contravention to the laws of the land or in disregard of the charter or bylaws of the league, and (2) the association has failed to follow the basic rudiments of due process of law.”* It is hard to see how the NBA’s actions will fall into either of those exceptions, so long as it follows its own procedures outlined in Article 14, which it surely will.

*That language is from a 1970s case, Charles O. Finley & Co. Inc. v. Bowie K. Kuhn, when the former A’s owner sued Major League Baseball.

The Board’s Decision is Treated Like an Arbitration Award

Nevertheless, let’s assume that Sterling gets over the covenant not to sue. The next issue is that the league’s decision is only reviewable by the court the way an arbitrator’s decision would be. Under Article 18(e):

(e) All actions duly taken by the Board of Governors shall be final, binding and conclusive, as an award in arbitration, and enforceable in a court of competent jurisdiction in accordance with the laws of the State of New York.

In layman’s terms, the league’s decision gets treated by the courts as if the two parties already went to arbitration and the arbitrator ruled. When that happens, there is very limited recourse for the losing party. Sterling would have to argue one of four things: 1) there was corruption, fraud or misconduct in procuring the award, (2) partiality (i.e. bias) of the arbitrator, (3) the arbitrator exceeded his power, perhaps by showing a “manifest disregard for the law,” or (4) the award violates public policy. It is hard to see how Sterling might argue the decision falls into any of these exceptions, and even if he could the practical reality is that arbitration awards are almost never overturned. The law has a policy for preferring private arbitration when parties so agree, as Sterling and the league have, with the goal of keeping disputes out of the courts when possible.

How might this play out if Sterling sues anyway? Shortly after Sterling filed his complaint, the league would likely file a motion to dismiss the case based on the covenant not to sue and the arbitration clause. If a motion to dismiss is granted, it generally means the case is over before anything like written discovery, depositions or much else in the case even start. It exists for precisely situations like this, where one party (the NBA here) has a legal argument that it can prevail on right away, and thus going through the expense of discovery and trial is unnecessary. The league could very well win that motion, and the case would be over pending an appeal that would have no better odds of success.

Sterling’s Court Case Would Be Very Difficult As Well

Now say Sterling gets over those two hurdles and the case is heard on the merits. How would that play out? Sterling would probably ask for what is known as a preliminary injunction, by which he would ask the court to stop the league from selling the team. An injunction is where a party asks the court to order someone to do something (in this case not sell the team), rather than just award monetary damages as in most cases. A preliminary injunction is one that a court institutes at the outset of the lawsuit, pending the actual outcome of the case at trial. To get a preliminary injunction, i.e. to put the sale on pause before he actually won the case, Sterling would have to convince the judge that he had a) a probability of prevailing on the merits and b) that he would suffer irreparable harm for which money damages could not compensate him if the team were sold.

Neither of these appears likely in this case, so Sterling would face difficulties stopping the sale of the team at the outset of the case via preliminary injunction. Sterling would then be suing for monetary damages only. To get these, Sterling would have to prove the league was wrong to strip him of the franchise–i.e. he didn’t actually violate the Constitution in a way that justified the Board forcing him to sell the team. If he proves that, he would also have to prove damages, that he lost money because of the forced sale. This latter point would prove especially difficult for Sterling, as a) he is going to be amply compensated when the team sells for what will likely be a record price and b) in the alternative scenario in which he retained control of the team it would have been worth much less than after a sale because of the potential for team boycotts and general toxic attitude toward his ownership.* On the contrary, selling the team will likely make Sterling much more money than if he had retained it in the current environment.

*Perhaps the one reasonable argument he might make in this scenario is that he and his eventual estate suffered adverse tax consequences from having to sell the team now instead of after his death.

And finally, did we mention that Sterling would have to convince a jury of 12 people that he deserves to keep the team? Given his history and his handling of the situation to date, that could prove the biggest hurdle of all.

Disclaimer: We do not know all the facts right now, and this analysis is based entirely on publicly available information to date. It is possible that new facts or legal documents could emerge as we go on, but this is my best attempt with the information available.

Nate Duncan is an NBA analyst and attorney. He writes regular features for Basketball Insiders and chats weekly at 11 Eastern on Tuesdays.

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NBA Daily: Why Teams Should Think Twice Before Tanking

Making up for the loss of a superstar is not a cut and dry, writes Spencer Davies.

Spencer Davies

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Making up for the loss of a superstar is not a cut and dry affair.

If it happens, ownership and management have to choose between two options.

1) Attempt to stay competitive
2) Blow everything up and go for a high draft pick

The second choice seems to be the favorite path for executives to take as of late. After all, just look at the job the Philadelphia 76ers have done with perfecting the art of the aptly named process, “tanking.”

Former Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie’s three ultra-quotable words have turned NBA fans on to see the bigger picture. Who cares if a team has to suffer through multiple seasons of losing? If it takes a couple of years, so be it. In the end, we’ll reset with younger talent to build around. Trust The Process.

Philadelphia lost a lot of games between the 2013 and 2017 seasons. It was flat out brutal to watch. With that said, it did give the organization the opportunity to draft the likes of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons and acquire a young international talent like Dario Saric.

They were extremely patient throughout this whole operation. Brett Brown remained the head coach through thick and thin. Players swore on buying into what was being preached.

Last season was a breakthrough for the Sixers. They won 52 games and made the playoffs for the first time since the 2011-12 campaign. Two of the guys they drafted turned into recognizable names with their play and have sky-high potential to break through in this upcoming season.

But is this really what it takes to achieve relevancy and perpetual competition in the NBA now? Do you really have to wipe the slate clean entirely and put out an unacceptable product year-in and year-out for half a decade so that there’s a possibility of one day becoming a winning franchise?

It’s obvious that Philadelphia did its homework, but who’s to say that other front offices can function like that? The Sacramento Kings have been in the doldrums for 12 years. The Orlando Magic have missed the playoffs for six straight seasons and the New York Knicks haven’t made an appearance in five.

What it comes down to is hitting on draft picks, plain and simple. You don’t hear often about the missteps of the process. Nerlens Noel was supposed to be a key piece of the Sixers core, as was Jahlil Okafor. Both of those players were top six selections in their respective drafts.

In order to acquire Noel (along with New Orleans’ 2014 first-round pick), Philadelphia sent Jrue Holiday, Pierre Jackson and the 42nd overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft to the newly branded New Orleans Pelicans.

In hindsight, this was an awful move—no bones about it. Holiday had been coming off an All-Star season. He stood a head above the rest on a roster mixed with veterans and middle-of-their-career players. Most impressive of all, it was only his third year in the league.

The Sixers picked a gamble that did not return the results they were hoping for. Michael Carter-Williams won Rookie of the Year and Noel had his moments, but there’s no way it was worth losing a player the caliber of Holiday. But they had to abide by the process by any means necessary, right?

Philadelphia hasn’t won a championship, yet they’re heading in the right direction. They were able to overcome those bumps in the road. The three teams in Sacramento, Orlando and New York to this point have not.

Tanking may not be the wrong answer. It’s not always the right one, though. It all depends on timing. Take a different approach of re-tooling in lieu of rebuilding.

A prime example of this viewpoint is the Utah Jazz last season. After Gordon Hayward signed with the Boston Celtics, many pundits stuck a dead duck label on the Utah Jazz. Those people said that in spite of the fact that the organization was on the rise with a brilliant head coach and an up-and-coming center bordering on best defensive player in the league status.

General manager Dennis Lindsey made a few moves here or there, but did not even think about giving up on the overall progress the Jazz had attained. He kept Quin Snyder and Rudy Gobert, drafted Donovan Mitchell and began a new chapter in the same book instead of writing a different novel.

Utah opened a ton of eyes last season, not only making the playoffs—competing until the very end. And even that was fluky when injuries came into the picture.

They never had to go into the gutter. In the four straight years the Jazz missed the playoffs, it wasn’t because of a set strategy to take a nosedive. They had the wrong coach the first two and were learning how to play winning basketball under the right leader the next two.

It seems as if the Cleveland Cavaliers are taking that route instead of the usual cry to “blow it up.” This isn’t comparing the impact of losing Hayward to LeBron James. That would be irresponsible. But they’ve clearly formed a strategy for all of this and were much more prepared the second time around.

Their true plans were revealed on July 24 when Kevin Love signed a four-year, $120 million extension to stick around with the wine and gold. Confusion surfaced all around. Nearly everybody in the NBA world expected general manager Koby Altman to trade him and stock up on future assets. After all, the Cavaliers’ first-round draft pick next season only conveys if they finish as a bottom 10 team in the league. If they do not, the selection goes to the Atlanta Hawks.

While that’s a true statement, nothing is guaranteed. Anything that happens in a season can be unpredictable. Anything that goes on in a draft is unpredictable.

In one timeline, Cleveland could be as bad of a team as some are predicting with Love. In another, they could make the playoffs and shock their doubters.

We don’t know what Collin Sexton will be in this league yet. We do know that experience is irreplaceable. Why not surround the young man with talent for him to breed confidence in himself and others? It’s better than losing a ton of games because the front office is waiting for the next guy to pair him with, right?

The Cavaliers are keeping their head coach. They’re acquiring players aching for an opportunity. They’re altering their direction, but keeping the same focus.

With LeBron James, Cleveland made four straight NBA Finals. In doing so, they’ve set a standard for the organization. Even with The King going west, why would it make any sense to change that message?

Considering the talent this league already has and the “super teams” that are being built among them, there is a difference between a ball club that wins 20 games and one that wins 35. They both miss out on the postseason and have a lottery pick, however, Team A silently creates losing habits while Team B tries to instill a culture of winning.

There is no perfect method for filling a void left by losing a superstar player. Nobody is a psychic.

Maybe it’s naïve to criticize “The Process” for not wanting to be in NBA purgatory—usually somewhere stuck between a seven seed in the playoffs and the 10th team in the conference standings—but tanking is a tricky game. Precision is necessary to pull it off. If it isn’t there, you’ll be in a world of hurt.

At least when you’re in NBA purgatory, you can add to what you have or try a different coach. Championship or bust is a dangerous mentality in the current landscape of sports.

Of course, that’s always the goal, but very few understand what it takes to get to that point. It all starts with a winning attitude, a quality of most teams that have tanked do not possess.

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NBA Daily: The Summer’s Most Impactful Coaching Hires

There have been a lot of coaching swaps this offseason, but there are only a select few that should impact what happens next year.

Matt John

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Building a successful team is like cooking a meal. The players serve as the ingredients, while the coach serves as the cook who stirs the ingredients. A championship team requires the right ingredients just as much as it requires an adept cook.

Take the Warriors for example. Mark Jackson played an important role in putting Golden State back on the map in 2013. However, after it was clear that he wasn’t capable of pushing them much further the following year, they replaced him with Steve Kerr.

That made all the difference. The Dubs went from pseudo-contender to legitimate contender, thanks to their new coach revolutionizing the team’s offense. The team went from the league’s 12th-ranked offense in the league the previous season (107.5 points per 100 possessions) to its second (111.6). Stephen Curry’s evolution into a basketball supernova led the way of course, but it was Kerr’s revisions to the team that pushed them to another level.

It all started with how he handled his rotation. Making Draymond Green a full-time starter while also transitioning Andre Iguodala into the sixth man made the Dubs all the more lethal as a team. The final touch was forming the “Death Lineup”, which consisted of Curry, Green, Iguodala, Klay Thompson, and Harrison Barnes, that made Golden State nearly impossible to stop.

Golden State had a roster built for a title. All they needed was a coach who could get them the best results. Kerr was the man for the job.

That goes to show how vital a coach is to a franchise that has high aspirations.

Because of success stories like Golden State, we saw quite a few coaching changes this summer from teams hoping to have a Hollywood ending much like the Warriors.

Milwaukee Bucks – Mike Budenholzer

Poor Coach Bud. It’s not his fault that the Hawks team that he guided to 60 wins in 2015 slowly disintegrated over the last three years. Luckily he got out of there to avoid having to take on a rebuild. So now, he gets a fresh start in Wisconsin.

Budenholzer’s stock has gone down considerably since winning the Coach of the Year three years ago. That being said, he’s shown that when he has lemons, he can make lemonade. Now that he is running the show in Milwaukee, he is coaching one of the more unique situations in the league. Coach Bud now has a superstar at his arsenal in Giannis Antetokounmpo, which is something he never had in Atlanta.

It’s true that Milwaukee has been one of the league’s frequent underachievers since they kicked the tires of the Greek Freek era, but their talent cannot be understated. Remember that Coach Bud once made the likes of Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver All-Stars, statuses that they’ve never come close to regaining since. If he can do that with guys like Teague and Korver, imagine what he can do with Giannis and Co.

Milwaukee has also done a solid job building a team that fits Budenholzer’s emphasis on floor stretching. Adding Brook Lopez and bringing back Ersan Ilyasova should give a team that ranked 21st in three-point percentage more spacing. That’s quite impressive since Milwaukee had the ninth-best offensive rating in the league (109.8).

Milwaukee’s been trying to find their big break for a while now. They may have found theirs in Coach Bud.

Detroit Pistons – Dwane Casey

Nobody had a harder spring than Casey. Usually, winning Coach of the Year would be a moment worth treasuring, but in Casey’s case, it was far from it. Leading up to getting the award, Casey and the Raptors were swept by the Cavs for the second consecutive time, then he got fired shortly afterward. Casey getting Coach of the Year this season was pretty much like Dirk Nowitzki getting the MVP in 2007 after getting upset by the Warriors in the first round.

Thankfully, Casey’s illustrious resume was good enough for him to land on his feet just about anywhere. That anywhere happens to be Motown, where he’s replacing Stan Van Gundy as head coach. Detroit also has not had the most success since they’ve turned to Andre Drummond. That could be attributed to the unfortunate injuries that they’ve had to deal with in the last two years.

Despite having the persistent monkey on his back come playoff time, Casey has improved his craft in response to his failures. The Raptors saw improvement every year when Casey ran the show, and now Casey has the chance to show he can do the same in Detroit.

It will be an interesting transition going from the Raptors to the Pistons. Though not as talented as Toronto’s, Detroit’s strength should primarily come from their frontcourt. Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond should be one of the league’s best frontcourt pairings on paper. Casey has a reputation for making things work, so now that they will have a full season together, they may shine more than they did last season.

One particular question that should be answered is if Toronto’s problem was Casey or his roster. That may be answered by how Detroit does this season. Oh hey, speaking of Toronto…

Toronto Raptors – Nick Nurse

There seems to be a fair amount of optimism surrounding Nurse. Supposedly, he was the reason why the Raptors’ offense improved so much last season. Casey executed it to perfection, but Nurse was the one who designed it. Now, he’s at the forefront on a team that is desperate for success now more than ever.

This is Nurse’s first gig as a head coach, and the pressure is going to be on. It’s not just that Toronto’s been trying to get past its playoff demons. Now that they have Kawhi Leonard, they have to do everything in their power to keep him around — tall order given he seems hellbent on going to L.A.

Still, Leonard is an upgrade over DeMar DeRozan. Acquiring him, along with promoting Nurse, shows that the Raptors aren’t playing around. Being the head coach for one of the league’s powerhouses is a big break for Nurse. This may be his only to chance to prove he deserves a spot in this league.

James Borrego – Charlotte Hornets

Another Popovich protegee moving up through the ranks! Borrego has had some head coaching experience, though it was with the Orlando Magic, who were not going anywhere, three years ago. Now he’s going to Charlotte, a team that’s in a pretty tough situation right now.

Right now, Charlotte is hard-capped on a roster that does not have much room for improvement. The team has not made the playoffs in two years, and it’s hard to imagine how they improve from where they currently are. However, that might be why they hired Borrego.

Instead of going for a known name like Stan Van Gundy or Jeff Hornacek, they went with a guy who has learned under the NBA’s best coach for several years. Coach Bud became a great coach after learning from Pop, so perhaps Borrego may follow in his footsteps. This is a pivotal year for Charlotte since Kemba Walker’s bargain contract is expiring. If Borrego can help Charlotte return to the playoffs, then that could do wonders for them.

Note that David Fizdale, Lloyd Pierce, and Igor Kokoskov weren’t named. It isn’t fair to include them because the teams they are running are currently in the rebuilding phase with little expectation. They could be very impactful hires down the line. Just don’t expect a lot from them right away.

Same goes for J.B. Bickerstaff, but that’s because he already was the Grizzlies’ head coach. Now he’s full-time instead of interim. Call it cheating if you want to.

As for those who have been named, these hires should have a significant impact on what happens in the Eastern Conference playoff race this season. One of these hires could very well put their team in the finals, while another could put them in the NBA lottery.

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NBA Daily: Five Second-Rounders Looking For Rookie Season Role

Although far from guaranteed, there are five recent second-rounders who could work themselves into important roles in 2018-19.

Ben Nadeau

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After months of speculation, rumors and workouts, the NBA Draft and their respective summer leagues are finally well in the rearview mirror. With training camps up next, franchises can begin to flesh out their rotations and decide the early season fates of their newly-arrived rookies — even if their selection didn’t come with as much fanfare or hype.

And although draft day studs like Deandre Ayton and Marvin Bagley III are nearly guaranteed to contribute immediately, much of the class’ future is still up for grabs — a statement particularly true for those that followed the first round. Whether it was a strong summer league showing or a picture-perfect landing spot, here are the five second round draftees poised to leave a mark in 2018-19.

Kostas Antetokounmpo, Dallas Mavericks
2017-18: 5.2 points, 2.9 rebounds on 57.4 percent shooting

Much as been made of the youngest Antetokounmpo’s controversial decision to come out this spring, but his faith was rewarded by Dallas with the draft’s final selection. Back in June, our Spencer Davies dove into Antetokounmpo’s time at Dayton and it’s not difficult to see why the Mavericks took a swing on the raw 6-foot-11 prospect. Over four games in Las Vegas, Antetokounmpo averaged five points, 2.5 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 1.3 blocks per game on 58 percent from the floor — which, of course, is not eye-popping but could foreshadow a role moving forward.

Between Dirk Nowitzki, Dennis Smith Jr., Harrison Barnes, DeAndre Jordan and the ever-talented Luka Dončić, Antetokounmpo will not be called upon to carry the scoring load at any point. On a two-way deal, the Mavericks have the luxury to develop the Greek-born stopper in the G-League until he’s ready to make a difference — but for a defensive-minded Rick Carlisle, that day could come sooner rather than later. With Dwight Powell and Ray Spalding fighting for minutes at power forward, Antetokounmpo could be an option at the three, where Barnes has just Dorian Finney-Smith behind him.

For a franchise that ranked 18th in DEF RTG (107.4) last season and will strive for their first postseason berth since 2016, giving spot defensive specialist minutes to Antetokounmpo seems like a win-win partnership.

De’Anthony Melton, Houston Rockets
2016-17: 8.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, 1.9 steals on 43.7 percent shooting

After missing an entire season due to an improper benefits scandal at USC, Melton serendipitously fell to the Rockets way down at No. 46 overall. At 6-foot-3, Melton has a shot to contribute on both ends immediately as an above-average defender and a microwavable scorer. During his Las Vegas debut, Melton tallied 16.4 points, 7.2 rebounds, four assists and a summer league-leading three steals across five contests — albeit at an improvable 38 percent from the floor. As a tenacious playmaker, Melton should get ample opportunity to impress with a franchise looking to avenge their brutal Western Conference Finals defeat last spring.

On top of learning from one of the best point guards in league history, there also happens to be little competition for Melton in the rotation. In July, the Rockets signed Michael Carter-Williams, a former Rookie of the Year winner that averaged just 4.6 points, 2.7 rebounds, 2.2 assists in 52 games for Charlotte in 2017-18 — and, well, that’s it. For a three-point bombing franchise like Houston, neither guard fits particularly well in that regard, but Melton’s 28.4 percent clip in one season as an 18-year-old still projects better than Carter-Williams’ 25 percent mark over five years.

Chris Paul missed 24 regular season games last year, but the Rockets are still willing to head into training camp with a second-round rookie and Carter-Williams holding down the backup point guard slot — that alone says far more about Houston’s faith in Melton than anything else.

Élie Okobo, Phoenix Suns
2017-18: 12.9 points, 4.8 assists on 39.4 percent from three

Outside of Džanan Musa and the aforementioned Dončić, the Phoenix Suns’ Élie Okobo entered draft night as the most promising overseas prospect in the bunch. Okobo, a 6-foot-2 Frenchman, could feasibly become the Suns’ franchise point guard by season’s end. The playmaking 20-year-old has just Brandon Knight ahead of him on the depth chart, a formidable NBA point guard, but one that does not fit Phoenix’s current rebuilding plan. Admittedly, his statistics won’t jump off the page just yet — 2.3 points, 3.5 assists in four summer league contests — but the potential for Okobo is certainly here.

While it’s worth noting that Okobo didn’t score in three straight contests after his impressive debut, he appears to be a suitable backcourt partner with franchise cornerstone Devin Booker. Whether he’s connecting with a backdoor cut in stride or hitting difficult running floaters, there are plenty of positives to take thus far. With a postseason appearance looking unlikely for the Suns, it’ll make sense to give Okobo the reins before long — even if they can’t move Knight’s contract worth $15.6 million in 2019-20.

Mitchell Robinson, New York Knicks
2017-18: N/A

Needless to say, Mitchell Robinson could be an absolute treat for the New York Knicks.

For much of the pre-draft process, it looked like Robinson was a shoo-in first rounder, with many speculating that he even received a promise from the Los Angeles Lakers at No. 25 overall. Once the first 30 picks came and went without Robinson — who elected to pull out of the draft combine in May — the Knicks were more than happy to scoop him up. Across five summer league contests, Robinson averaged 13 points, 10.2 rebounds and a competition-leading four blocks per game on 67 percent from the field.

On a team-friendly four-year deal worth just $1.8 million in 2021-22, Robinson already looks like a bargain. But beyond his first-round talent at a second-round price, there’s a real chance that Robinson can contribute for New York right away. Following the recent news that Joakim Noah will be stretched if the Knicks can’t find a suitable partner by training camp, that leaves exactly two centers left on the roster: Enes Kanter and Robinson. The 7-foot-1 prospect is a natural replacement for the departed Kyle O’Quinn, while the newly-minted David Fizdale should love Robinson’s shot-changing impact defensively.

Even if Robinson shuttles back-and-forth to and from Westchester throughout the season, he could still seamlessly slide into the Knicks’ rotation from day one.

Jevon Carter, Memphis Grizzlies
2017-18: 17.3 points, 6.6 assists, 3 steals on 39.3 percent from three

Earlier this week, Matt John put forth an excellent case for what should be a comeback season for the Grit-And-Grind Grizzlies — but there’s one second-rounder still currently flying under the radar. Despite a stellar final season at West Virginia, Carter dropped into Memphis’ lap and there are few that so elegantly fit the franchise’s identity without effort. As the reigning back-to-back NABC Defensive Player of the Year, Carter should split the backup point guard minutes with newcomer Shelvin Mack, if not more by season’s end.

The additions of Jaren Jackson Jr., Kyle Anderson and Omri Casspi, along with renewed health from Mike Conley Jr. and Marc Gasol, will have Memphis eying the postseason once again — but Carter will likely be a fan favorite long before then as well. During his lengthy summer league initiation, Carter pulled in 11.4 points, 4.3 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 1.1 steals over seven games. Although his 35 percent clip from the floor could use some restraint, he won’t need to shoulder offensive responsibilities with the Grizzlies.

Carter’s hard-nosed style of play will enhance an uncharacteristically poor Memphis defense from last season, with his years of extra experience allowing the bullish ball-stopper to drop into the rotation from the get-go.

With franchises focused on their high-ranking lottery picks, many second round draftees (and their often non-guaranteed contracts) will never carve out a consistent NBA role. But from backing up future Hall of Famers to filling a hole in the rotation, it should surprise no one if Antetokounmpo, Melton, Okobo, Robinson and Carter earn some big-time opportunities in 2018-19. Last year alone, Semi Ojeleye, Dillon Brooks and Jordan Bell all quickly found their niche at the professional level — so who will it be this year?

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