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Minnesota Timberwolves 2016-17 Season Preview

Basketball Insiders previews the Minnesota Timberwolves’ 2016-17 season.

Basketball Insiders

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The Minnesota Timberwolves’ young core is widely regarded as the best in the NBA. Not only do they have a superstar in the making in Karl-Anthony Towns and a potential second star in Andrew Wiggins, they have other up-and-coming talents surrounding their cornerstones such as Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and Shabazz Muhammad among others.

As if this core wasn’t scary enough, the Timberwolves managed to land Tom Thibodeau as their president of basketball operations and head coach. Thibodeau was arguably the best head coach on the market and it’ll be very interesting to see what he can do with this squad. It’s worth noting that Thibodeau never missed the playoffs in his five seasons as coach of the Chicago Bulls. In fact, he’s never finished with less than 45 wins in a season (and he has a .647 career winning percentage).

In other words, there’s a lot to be excited about in Minnesota. The team is almost certainly still a year or two away from seriously competing in the Western Conference, but progress is expected this year and the group believes that making the playoffs is a realistic goal.

Basketball Insiders previews the Timberwolves’ 2016-17 season.

FIVE GUYS THINK

The Timberwolves will be a trendy pick for many as a sleeper this season, but history has taught us to never count on consistency from a team that relies heavily on its young core. Sure veteran head coach Tom Thibodeau has the pedigree to get the maximum amount of effort from his players. But that isn’t the point. Sure we can see the future All-Star potential just oozing off of guys like Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. But that isn’t the point. Learning how to win at the NBA level has humbled many kids on the rise and history hasn’t been kind to young and inexperienced units. While the Timberwolves have a core filled with future high performers, the team is still another 20-24 months away from being a legitimate challenger for a playoff berth in the Western Conference.

4th Place – Northwest Division

– Lang Greene

Beware of the Timberwolves! Tom Thibodeau himself could probably squeeze 10 additional wins out of any basketball club, but with Kris Dunn joining up with Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, Thibodeau has some pieces to work with.

The Northwest Division may be one of the most difficult to predict in the NBA season. With Kevin Durant taking his talents to Oakland and the Trail Blazers continuing to grow, the only thing that we know for sure about the Northwest is that there will be some stiff competition there. I think I lean toward the Timberwolves as being the third best team in the division, narrowly edging out the Jazz, but I don’t say so with absolute conviction. One thing I can say, though, is that Thibodeau has made a career out of defying odds and getting the most with the least, so if for no other reason than his presence, you should expect the T-Wolves to take a major step forward this season.

3rd Place – Northwest Division

– Moke Hamilton

There are several teams that have a nucleus of young, exciting talent to build on. But there is no team that has a core quite as exciting at the Minnesota Timberwolves. Minnesota has Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, along with other still relatively young players like Ricky Rubio and Shabazz Muhammad. It can be argued that other teams have more young players, but with Towns and Wiggins, the Timberwolves have two of the best young prospects in the NBA. This is especially true with Towns, who put up monster numbers as a rookie and looks like he could be one of the best overall players in the league sooner rather than later. If Tom Thibodeau can harness this group of young talent into a cohesive unit on both ends of the court, this team could make a big leap forward this upcoming season.

4th Place – Northwest Division

– Jesse Blancarte

It’s tempting to put these guys higher up in the division standings because new head coach Tom Thibodeau certainly has done more with less, but this is one of the tougher divisions in basketball. It’s hard to imagine an upstart Wolves team suddenly upending Portland, Oklahoma City and Utah in the Northwest just because of a flashy new name at the helm. That said, Thibs should make some serious progress with this group, as he tends to milk every drop of success possible out of his rosters and there’s plenty of talent to milk this year. He’s got the last two Rookies of the Year in Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, but it’s not like that’s the only talent on the roster. Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, Tyus Jones and Ricky Rubio should keep the backcourt rotation entertaining, and we’re all hoping to eke one more year out of Kevin Garnett. This should be a fun team to watch this season, and this time next year we could very well be talking about them as a Northwest Division leader, not just a Northwest Division competitor.

4th Place – Northwest Division

– Joel Brigham

My in-depth thoughts on the Timberwolves can be found below throughout the rest of the preview, but I’ll try to sum them up a bit. Karl-Anthony Towns seems poised for superstardom. Andrew Wiggins continues to showcase his impressive two-way game and shouldn’t be slept on. The supporting cast has promising pieces, particularly in the backcourt with Ricky Rubio, Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine. Tom Thibodeau is an excellent fit for this squad. Simply put, Minnesota should be very, very good soon (barring unexpected setbacks).

4th Place – Northwest Division

– Alex Kennedy

TOP OF THE LIST

Top Offensive Player: Karl-Anthony Towns

Andrew Wiggins actually led the Wolves in scoring last season with 20.7 points per game to Towns’ 18.3. However, Towns was far more efficient, shooting better than Wiggins from the field (54.2 percent to 45.9 percent), three-point range (34.1 percent to 30 percent) and the free throw line (81.1 percent to 76.1 percent). Towns also had the higher PER (22.5 to 16.5), offensive rating (112 to 106) and offensive win shares (5.4 to 3.4). The big man can score inside and out, and he should only continue to get better as he continues to gain experience and work with Kevin Garnett (assuming he’s back; more on that in a bit).

Top Defensive Player: Ricky Rubio

You could make the case for Towns here as well and it would be excellent for the Wolves if Wiggins develops into the team’s top defensive player under Thibodeau. Kris Dunn may eventually fight for this distinction too. However, let’s show some love to Ricky Rubio’s defense. He has developed into a shutdown defender, which isn’t easy for a point guard in today’s NBA since he faces a star opponent on more nights than not. Last season, Rubio led the NBA in steals per game (2.1), steals per 48 minutes (3.35) and steal percentage (3.5 percent). And as my colleague Jesse Blancarte pointed out in a recent article about Rubio’s defense, these steals come as a result of his excellent positioning, awareness and length rather than reckless gambling. Another reason why Rubio’s defense is so important is that his great plays on that end typically lead to easy points for Minnesota since he is excellent in transition and has Towns, Wiggins and LaVine among others running alongside him. Which leads us to our next category…

Top Playmaker: Ricky Rubio

In addition to playing very good defense, Rubio ranked fifth in the NBA in assists per game (8.7) and assist percentage (41.4 percent) last season behind only Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Rajon Rondo and John Wall. Rubio is the kind of passer who creates easy buckets for his teammates and he can make some jaw-dropping plays with the ball in his hands. Rubio’s shooting remains an issue (37.4 percent from the field last year) and some have questioned what the future holds for him with younger floor generals like Dunn and LaVine on the Wolves’ roster, but the soon-to-be 26-year-old deserves credit in these two categories.

Top Clutch Player: Karl-Anthony Towns

Because Towns is so efficient and effective all over the court, it’s safe to assume that the ball will be in his hands if Minnesota is in need of a clutch bucket. Last April, Towns hit a game-winning turnaround hook shot to beat the Portland Trail Blazers. After the game, he thanked his teammates and coaches for trusting him in that position and said he knew the shot was good the moment it left his hand. He has the confidence that’s necessary to be a clutch threat, and he’s poised beyond his years. Expect to see more of Towns in the clutch going forward since the Wolves should have more close games and all signs point to Towns continuing to get better and consistently having the rock in late-game situations.

The Unheralded Player: Gorgui Dieng

Last season, Dieng averaged 10.1 points, 7.1 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.2 blocks and 1.1 steals in 27.1 minutes per game. He made the most of his minutes and remains one of the more underrated big men in the league entering his fourth NBA season. Dieng was an important piece for Minnesota last year, ranking second on the Wolves in offensive rating (113), defensive rating (106), win shares (5.9) and value over replacement player (2.5). Also, he finished first on the team in true shooting percentage (60.1 percent). At 26 years old, Dieng is a bit older than other members of Minnesota’s core and doesn’t have the same upside. However, he is a key part of their supporting cast who has done well on both ends of the court when given meaningful playing time.

Top New Addition: Kris Dunn

One could make the argument that Tom Thibodeau is actually the Wolves’ best new addition since he’ll have a huge impact on the franchise moving forward. However, if we’re focusing solely on players, Kris Dunn is clearly the team’s top offseason acquisition. Dunn was the No. 5 pick in this year’s draft and he’s one of the most NBA-ready players in this draft class. The 22-year-old guard is a terrific defender who should thrive under Thibodeau and, as previously mentioned, his arrival has some wondering about Rubio’s future in Minnesota. Last year, Dunn averaged 16.4 points, 6.2 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 2.5 steals while leading Providence to 24 wins. He shot 44.8 percent from the field and 37.2 percent from three-point range. Among all college players, he ranked third in assist percentage (41.8 percent), sixth in steal percentage (4.3 percent) and 16th in Box Plus-Minus (11.3). In other words, Minnesota has added another extremely talented young player to their already scary core.

– Alex Kennedy

WHO WE LIKE

1. Andrew Wiggins

Towns is now viewed as the Timberwolves’ franchise player because his game is a perfect fit for today’s NBA and he was fantastic as a rookie, but Minnesota is also relying heavily on Wiggins going forward. He’s a cornerstone of this team too and he may even be flying under the radar a bit due to Towns overshadowing him. It’s worth noting that Wiggins played very well during his sophomore campaign, averaging 20.7 points, 3.6 rebounds, two assists and one steal per game. He needs to become more efficient and consistent (especially with his shot and defense), but keep in mind that he’s still just 21 years old. He’s younger than incoming rookie Kris Dunn. Also, Thibodeau’s arrival should be great for Wiggins, who could become a two-way star in the same way that Jimmy Butler did under Thibs’ guidance. Towns’ ascent to stardom may have taken some attention off of Wiggins, but he also removes some of the pressure off him and makes the forward’s life easier by giving Minnesota a great player in the paint. Wiggins still has a ridiculously high ceiling and watching him develop should be fun.

2. Zach LaVine

LaVine’s athleticism is obviously off the charts, but his overall game has significantly improved since he entered the league. Last year, he averaged 14 points on 45.2 percent from the field and 38.9 percent from three-point range. As my colleague Tommy Beer pointed out recently, LaVine was the only Minnesota player to hit more than 65 threes last year and he shot a very impressive 43.3 percent from behind the arc (87-202) over the final 50 games of the season. Also, LaVine cut back his turnovers (from 2.5 per game as a rookie to 1.9 last year) even though he was playing more minutes and was more involved offensively. That’s exactly what the Wolves want to see from him, and it’s worth noting that he is still just 21 years old.

3. Kevin Garnett

Garnett hasn’t indicated whether he’ll return to the court next season. Like he has done in recent summers, the veteran big man is contemplating retirement. However, he is under contract for the 2016-17 season with a $8,000,000 salary so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him back. Either way, he has indicated that he’d like to be involved with the organization in some capacity moving forward and that’s great for all of the young players in Minnesota. Karl-Anthony Towns, in particular, has really enjoyed learning from Garnett and is soaking up the future Hall of Famer’s advice like a sponge. At this stage in his career, the 40-year-old doesn’t make much of a difference on the court (he averaged just 3.2 points and 3.9 rebounds in 14.6 minutes per game last year and appeared in just 38 contests). But that’s not really important. Think of him more like a very well paid assistant coach who has the respect of every single person in the organization. Having him around can only help the young squad, especially as they look to take their defense to the next level under Thibodeau (who was an assistant coach in Boston when Garnett won his lone championship in 2008).

4. Tom Thibodeau

As stated earlier, he was a terrific addition for the Wolves this summer. During his time in Chicago, Thibodeau was consistently named one of the top coaches in the NBA by general managers in their annual survey and his teams produced on the court. Defense is obviously his specialty and he has the personnel to make the Wolves very good on that end of the floor (although it may take some time). Even if the Wolves need one more year of development before seriously competing, it’s hard not to like this hire for Minnesota. Thibodeau has been criticized for playing his guys big minutes (which may have contributed to injuries and declined production), but it’s possible that he learned from his experiences in Chicago and could alter his approach.

– Alex Kennedy

SALARY CAP 101

With 15 guaranteed players, the Timberwolves will need to open roster space if they want to keep invites Toure’ Murry and/or John Lucas. Minnesota can get to $13.4 million NBA’s $94.1 million salary cap. Given teams are required to spend at least $84.7 million this season, the Wolves are likely to start the seasons at $3.9 million under that mark. Any shortfall will be paid out to the team’s rostered players at the end of the year.

It’s not entirely clear yet if Kevin Garnett will play through his 22nd season. He’s in the final year of his contract at $8 million. The Wolves also need to decide on rookie-scale options for Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns, Zach LaVine, Adreian Payne and Tyus Jones before November – all likely to be picked up. The team also has until the end of October to give extensions to Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng. Looking ahead to next summer, Minnesota could have roughly $31 million in spending power.

– Eric Pincus

STRENGTHS

Towns’ potential is off the charts, but he’s far from a project. In fact, one could make the case that he’s already one of the better big men in the league. Few teams have a seven-footer who’s quite so well-rounded and efficient; he averaged 18.3 points, 10.5 rebounds, two assists and 1.7 blocks while shooting 54.2 percent from the field last year as a 20-year-old. He certainly gives the Wolves an advantage in the paint and causes match-up problems. The team’s athleticism is also a big strength. But perhaps the best thing that the Wolves have going for them is Thibodeau, who should win the coaching battle most nights.

– Alex Kennedy

WEAKNESSES

With any up-and-coming team, the group’s inexperience will lead to common mistakes. The hope is that Thibodeau can clean up the team’s play, especially defensively, but that may take time. Minnesota ranked near the bottom of the league in most statistical categories in recent years. Shooting and defense are two areas where they need to make big strides if they want to compete at a high level, especially with the direction the league is moving.

– Alex Kennedy

THE BURNING QUESTION

Can the Timberwolves make the playoffs in the 2016-17 season?

Earlier this week, Karl-Anthony Towns made headlines when he said that he expects Minnesota to crack the Western Conference’s top eight this upcoming season.

“We’ve got to make the playoffs,” Towns said in an interview with Jared Zwerling of NBPA.com. “We’ve got to do something special, and it’s up to us to continue to work and to make that happen.”

This would be quite the jump in the standings, considering the team won just 29 games last year. However, with internal development, a terrific new coach in Tom Thibodeau and some new immediate-impact players like Kris Dunn, Brandon Rush and Jordan Hill among others, it’s reasonable to expect the Wolves to be better.

Also, it is true that the conference is coming off of a down year in which the eighth-seeded Houston Rockets won just 41 games (as opposed to the 45 or more wins it typically takes to make the postseason in the West).

Still, Minnesota must fight off last year’s playoff teams plus fellow up-and-coming squads like the Utah Jazz, New Orleans Pelicans (who were depleted by injuries last year), Denver Nuggets and Phoenix Suns among others. It remains to be seen if they can make the leap this season and keep Thibodeau’s postseason streak intact.

Alex Kennedy

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NBA

NBA Draft Watch: Storylines Heading into Thursday’s Draft

With the NBA Draft just one day away, there is plenty of uncertainty on how things will play out, writes Dennis Chambers.

Dennis Chambers

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From now until the conclusion of Thursday night’s NBA draft the landscape is subject to shift and evolve at a moment’s notice.

As of right now, the only thing that we can be most certain about is DeAndre Ayton going first overall to the Phoenix Suns. After that, it’s basically a crapshoot in regards to what might go down.

With media day commencing in New York City on Wednesday, the players that will be present during the draft’s greenroom got the chance to address the droves of media from all over the land about where they might end up, how they might fit in those places, and a few off-the-cuff questions thrown in here and there.

Because of the uncertainty surrounding the league and their selection extravaganza on Thursday night, many people who are usually in the know this time of year seem to be approaching the event erring on the side of caution, more so than in years past.

Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer echoed that feeling Wednesday afternoon.

One of the large looming clouds heading into draft night is the Kawhi Leonard situation. As it stands, Leonard appears to want out of his relationship with the San Antonio Spurs and would prefer to wind up in Los Angeles, with an emphasis on the Lakers being his new employer.

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Leonard met with Spurs’ coach Gregg Popovich on Tuesday night in order to discuss the situation between San Antonio and their franchise player.

While Wojnarowski has also reported that the Spurs are in no rush to move Leonard, draft night could potentially serve as a motivator in the opposite direction should Popovich and general manager R.C. Buford receive a tempting offer that involves some draft capital. With the likes of the Philadelphia 76ers reportedly interested in acquiring Leonard, on the clock with the 10th overall pick, perhaps they can entice the Spurs into sending their star forward packing.

Regardless of if Leonard is traded Thursday night or not, there were certainly be many eyes on his situation over the next 24-plus hours.

Up until about the time a player is selected by their new club, the situation for drafting remains fairly fluid. When the basketball community congregates to New York the day before the event, rumors and confirmation of shifting ideals begin to flourish.

With a lot of the players in this year’s lottery surounded by reasonable question marks, we may see last-minute rising and falling of the prospected hierarchy in prospects. Michael Porter Jr., with questions surrounding his health, and Trae Young having questions about his slight frame and defensive capability, seem to be two subjects of that shuffling just a day before the Thursday night festivities.

Conversely, the final moments leading up to the time to make a selection, teams can shuffle their opinion based off of their need to bring in star power possibilities — especially high up in the lottery.

Real Madrid star Luka Doncic has been the subject for criticism throughout this year’s draft process. While the 19-year-old has posted some of the best numbers for a player his age in the ACB and Euroleague, NBA evaluators are rightfully questioning if his athleticism can hold up in the league.

Originally figured to slip past the Sacramento Kings and Atlanta Hawks, who hold the second and third overall picks, respectively, Doncic appears to be gaining last-minute steam within the ranks of the Georgia-based basketball club.

Even though prospects are surfacing Wednesday in the Big Apple to meet and greet with reporters, and get settled for their big moment on Thursday night, some teams and correlating players are having final sit-downs to profess their admiration for each other.

More specifically, New York native and projected high-end lottery pick, Mo Bamba, reportedly met with his hometown Knicks on Wednesday. Corresponding reports tell the story that the Knicks are exploring the option to trade up in the draft, in hopes to acquire a franchise-caliber center to put alongside Kristaps Porzingis.

DraftExpress’ Jonathan Givony added context to further confirm the Knicks’ hope of scoring their first franchise center since Patrick Ewing roamed Madison Square Garden.

Whatever does wind up happening Thursday night, those watching can be assured that this year’s NBA Draft will contain the necessary amount of chaos to continue the conversation throughout the league while free agency quickly approaches.

Although, if you were anticipating being able to see those draft picks come in a few minutes early on Twitter like in years past, think again.

It looks like those draft night Wojbombs will be reserved for any unforeseen trades, and not who your favorite team will be picking 10 minutes later.

Either way, embrace the insanity. Draft night is upon us.

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NBA Daily: What is Cleveland’s Next Move?

Plenty has been made about where LeBron goes this summer, but not much has been made about what Cleveland will do if he leaves.

Matt John

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Usually, when you make the NBA Finals, it’s a good thing. Especially if it was the fourth consecutive time you’ve made it.

For Cleveland though, this season, which would have been deemed a success in any other case, was overshadowed by what can only be compared to a hostage situation. Many speculated that this season was going to be LeBron James’ last as a Cavalier, as rumor had it since last summer that he already has his eyes on his next team.

So the pressure was on in Cleveland, to say the least. They did everything to accommodate LeBron given how shaky the circumstances were. From shipping disgruntled star Kyrie Irving out of town to trading half the team mid-season, this past season has been a bumpy ride. In spite of all the hardship, Cleveland managed to make it to the Finals anyway.

Still, it wasn’t enough. For Cleveland to have a realistic chance at re-signing LeBron this summer, they had to beat Golden State, which wasn’t in the cards. The Cavs may have gotten to the Finals, but the Warriors predictably took them out all too quickly.

All in all, the Cavaliers were so close, and yet so far.

That brings us to now. LeBron’s going to test the free agency waters again. Cleveland will certainly do what they can to bring the King back for another season, and for all we know, LeBron could return to Cleveland, but the odds aren’t in their favor.

Cleveland has to deal with the very real possibility that LeBron will leave this summer, because if and when he does, that leaves the current roster in a flux. Without LeBron, Captain Obvious says that Cleveland’s not going anywhere near the Finals and could also see themselves on the outside of the playoff picture. All signs point to it being time to rebuild, but how exactly do they approach the re-building stage?

It all starts with the Nets pick.

No matter what you think of how Cleveland did when they shuffled half their roster around at the trade deadline, one thing should be universally agreed upon: They made the right move not trading the Nets pick they acquired from the Celtics for Kyrie Irving.

It’s true that the Nets pick this season didn’t pan out as well for the Cavaliers as it had for the Celtics over the last two seasons, but it still wound up being the eighth overall pick in a loaded draft. A valuable asset like that should only be traded for someone who puts you over the top and going to stay long-term. With all apologies to any star who was rumored to be on the market back in February, the Cavs didn’t have that option.

So now, Cleveland has the eighth overall pick, and it’s clear who they should take: The best player available. No matter who that is, the best player available for a team that is most likely starting from scratch is the best option.

Of course, the simpler way of getting young talent is by getting it through the lottery. Getting that Brooklyn pick in the Kyrie Irving deal was a great failsafe for if and when LeBron skips town.

Next is addressing who should be traded.

Cleveland’s uncertain draft pick situation from now until 2020 should also push them towards a rebuild. The team traded their first-round pick this year to the Lakers at the deadline when they acquired Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. Next year, they will have to forfeit their first-round pick to the Hawks if they finish outside of the bottom ten. Those protections will roll over to the next year if the Cavs finish in the bottom ten.

Given that the roster isn’t all that impressive outside of LeBron, that would be the best way to go. While the Cavaliers aren’t going to get any value out of Tristan Thompson, JR Smith, and Jordan Clarkson, there are two players who definitely could: Kevin Love and George Hill.

Let’s start with Love. Love will not get back the same value that Cleveland gave up to acquire him, but he’s still a proven commodity at 29 years old who should fetch something back if Cleveland decides to trade him. Love has made the All-Star team over his last two seasons and has done all that Cleveland has asked of him since being traded to the team back in 2014, like him or not.

How much he can fetch back is another story. Rumor has it that the Cavs have dangled Love along with the Nets pick for a star, but no one has bitten on it. Love won’t fetch a star, but he could fetch young assets from a team looking to make a win-now move. He won’t bring back a King’s ransom, but he can bring back something.

Then there’s Hill. If Hill has any interested parties this summer, it may stem from his contract rather than his services. Hill will be on the books for $19 million next season, but the following season, his contract is only guaranteed for $1 million. Now, Cleveland could just wait until next year then waive him, and no one would fault them for that. It would heavily reduce the payroll for a team that, even without LeBron James, is playing with fire with the luxury tax this summer.

Or, they could get an asset(s) out of him. Teams that may want to avoid the luxury tax next year or go after a marquee free agent would salivate for a contract like Hill’s. If the Cavs play their cards right, they could sell Hill’s contract to the highest bidder.

Whether or not they keep Hill will all depend on how Cleveland sees its roster’s future. The team still has Rodney Hood’s restricted free agency this summer, and the team reportedly hopes to keep Nance Jr long-term. If avoiding the luxury tax is what they want more than anything during the rebuild, then keeping Hill is the best option.

That transitions to the final aspect of Cleveland’s potential rebuild: Organizing the roster for the foreseeable future. Cleveland is not completely devoid of youth. They have Hood, Nance Jr., Cedi Osman, Ante Zizic, and even Clarkson, all of whom are young and may have their best days ahead of them. Hood and Clarkson did not pan out well in their half-season in Cleveland, but perhaps that could change if they’re put in the right situation.

It all starts with coaching. Tyronn Lue has done what he can since taking over as head coach in 2016. However, Lue was made head coach because that’s who LeBron wanted running the show. With the King out of the picture, perhaps it might be best to replace Lue with a coach better-suited to nurture youth.

One such name that comes to mind is David Blatt, who has worked with Zizic. Blatt was originally hired in 2014 because of his reputation as a developmental coach, but once LeBron came back, he and Blatt’s tense relationship led to Blatt’s firing half-way through his second season. If LeBron doesn’t return to the team, Blatt could use the strategy he planned to implement when he first arrived.

That is just one idea. The Cavs could keep Lue or they could look at other options, but Blatt would be intriguing. Skeptics would question why Cleveland would bring him back after such a bitter break-up not too long ago, but consider this: The Cavs hired Mike Brown back three years after firing him following the end of LeBron’s first run in Cleveland, so anything is possible.

Re-building is a bridge that Cleveland will have to cross when they come to it. Koby Altman must have known that it was a possibility when he took the reins as general manager last year. The situation he’s found himself in isn’t as hopeless as many have pegged it out to be, but the young GM will have plenty of work to do this summer.

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Mock Drafts

2018 NBA Consensus Mock Draft – Final

For the last eight weeks, four of Basketball Insiders’ experts have offered up their views on the 2018 NBA Draft, here is their Final 60-pick Consensus.

Basketball Insiders

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For the last eight weeks, four of Basketball Insiders’ experts have offered up their views on the 2018 NBA Draft, here is their Final Consensus, with notebooks to follow:

Version: 1.0 | 2.0 | 3.0 | 4.0 | 5.0 | 6.0 | 7.0

Benny’s Notebook: It’s finally here — whew.

This is our last set of mocks and mine is mostly the same over the first 30 picks. One week after dropping Luka Dončić down, I’m moving him back up to No. 2 with Sacramento. Obviously, Marvin Bagley III appears to be the popular favorite here, but Dončić has just continued to impress during his never-ending season with Real Madrid. Truthfully, the Kings can’t really go wrong here — but Dončić is the type of do-it-all prospect that the franchise could really use moving forward. For now, the jury is out on Willie Cauley-Stein, Buddy Hield, and Skal Labissiere but pairing Dončić with De’Aaron Fox feels incredibly shrewd.

Elsewhere, Jerome Robinson has been a late riser and will head into the draft night as a hot topic. The Hawks own three first round picks and walking away with Bagley, Robinson, and Grayson Allen would be a no-doubt success. They’ll have plenty of intriguing options in each slot, so watching how they mix-and-match their selections by position and current roster talent may be one of the draft’s most interesting narratives.

Another team with picks to shuffle around are the Brooklyn Nets — current holders of No. 29, No. 40 and No. 45. While reports have indicated that the Nets would like to move up, it’s tough to see them giving up any future picks after finally leaving the Billy King era behind. Some combination of those picks could see them snag a higher selection, but nominally at best. No matter what picks they end up with, look for general manager Sean Marks to swing for the fences as usual.

Ultimately, a full 60-pick mock will come with some second-round guesswork — but I feel confident about those names included here. As I mentioned last weekend, international players will almost certainly get selected, and I’ve included five of them here: Rodions Kurucs, Isaac Bonga, Issuf Sanon, Arnoldas Kulboka and Tryggvi Hlinason. Embrace the overseas journey!

Moke’s Notebook: We’ve finally arrived at the final mock draft, and there are a few poorly-kept secrets that we can relay with some confidence on the day before the 2018 NBA Draft. First, unless there is a late change of heart, the Phoenix Suns will draft DeAndre Ayton. We have a similar amount of certainty in the Sacramento Kings’ love with Marvin Bagley III, but the draft will basically have two completely separate permutations based on what the Atlanta Hawks opt to do with the third pick. The word on the street is that the Hawks like Trae Young, but are reluctant to take the risk on him at third with so many “can’t miss” prospects available in the top five. Aside from the Hawks infatuation with Young, we also have been led to believe that both the Dallas Mavericks and Memphis Grizzlies covet Luka Doncic. Considering the fact that the Grizzlies have been rumored to be open to trading back, though, it suggests that there isn’t really one prospect for whom they’re head over heels, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Grizzlies actually walk away with Mo Bamba. That second permutation of the draft will likely come to fruition if the Mavs do leapfrog the Grizzlies for Doncic after executing a deal with the Hawks…

Aside from that drama right at the top of the draft, we’ve known for several weeks that the Knicks covet Michael Porter, Jr., and I’ve been led to believe that he and Kevin Knox are the two prospects most likely to wind up as Knicks with Collin Sexton sitting at third on the depth chart.

What’s important to understand about the pre-draft process and the mock drafts that we do is that the entire monthlong process between the Combine and the draft is a period of discovery where teams (as well as us) are consistently getting new information that changes our predictions. And at the end of the day, that’s all these are—predictions. So while we do have a high degree of certainty with respect to which prospects are coveted by which team, one player being drafted much higher than initially thought (keep an eye on Kevin Huerter and Wendell Carter, each of whom have lottery-busting potential) or one slipping (I’ve heard that Trae Young or Michael Porter could fall to the backend of the lottery) could literally change everything.

At the end of the day, the Clippers are going to walk away with a player that would have gone top 10 in a lesser-talented class. Aaron Holiday, Keita Bates-Diop and Moritz Wagner are the mid-to-late first rounders that I think will have fruitless careers.

It all ends tomorrow night, and I can’t wait.

Jesse’s Notebook: The 2018 NBA Draft is almost here! We enter the draft with a lot of open questions and some uncertainty. As of yesterday, the Atlanta Hawks are now leaning toward drafting Luka Dončić if he is still on the board at No. 3. Some reports suggest that Michael Porter Jr. has a generally good medical outlook, though that does not seem to be a consensus opinion. Porter Jr. is in play to go No. 2 overall but also could slip a bit as well. I still have the sense that big trades could throw off the projections and create significant chaos. I am keeping an eye on the Los Angeles Clippers, who have the 12th and 13th overall picks. They could try to trade up for a top prospect (they have been linked to Luka Dončić in some reporting), but could ultimately stand pat. The Clippers should be positioned to add two talented players that can bring added youth and talent to positions of need.

The Kawhi Leonard situation continues to be a factor that certain teams have to consider in every move they make. Leonard reportedly met with Gregg Popovich last night and seemingly has not changed his insistence in being dealt out of San Antonio. It’s not clear this will have any impact on how teams go about their business on draft night, but it’s something to keep in mind.

Steve’s Notebook: With draft day upon us, there seem to be some answers at the top of the draft board, and a lot more questions in the middle, so let’s start with the top overall pick to the Phoenix Suns. Sources close to the process said last night that the overwhelming belief is the Suns will draft DeAndre Ayton number one. This isn’t a huge shock, but it seems it would take something earth-shattering for him not to be the top pick.

The Sacramento Kings at number two are still a little bit of wild card; the word is that several members of the Kings front office believe strongly that Michael Porter Jr will be an elite player in the NBA and that while he has questions surrounding his back, its worth the risk. It’s unclear if that will win out in the room, but Porter Jr is still firmly in the mix in Sacramento at number two. The conventional wisdom says the Kings will pass on the risk, which puts their next guy on the board in Marvin Bagley III in a Kings draft hat on Thursday.

The Atlanta Hawks seem to be tipping their hand that Euro sensation Luka Dončić is moving into the top spot on their draft board with the Hawks having done some aggressive background on Luka recently and may be ready to take him number three overall. The Hawks are said to be equally high on Bagley and Michigan State big man Jaren Jackson Jr. The Hawks seem to have moved off Trae Young despite weeks of signals that he was their guy. The Hawks are still considered a team to watch in trade down situations, but it’s looking more likely they will use the third pick, and Dončić could be their guy if Bagley is off the board at number two.

The fourth pick is said to be very much in play with the Grizzlies continuing to explore deals to shed contract money (Chandler Parsons) and picking up rookie scale talent or picks later in the draft. The Grizzlies struggled to get top level players to come in for visits and workouts, and many believe they’d rather trade down than draft a player that may not want to be there. If the Grizzlies keep the pick, the belief is it will be Jackson, although his camp has reportedly refused to provide medical information to the Grizzlies and that’s a huge red flag.

The Dallas Mavericks at five have a few options with both Wendell Carter Jr. and Mo Bamba being the likely targets. There is a scenario in which Dallas grabs not only the Grizzlies pick at four but retains their own pick at five and takes on Parson who they have a history with. The Mavericks have explored deals all over the place to leverage their existing cap room to obtain talent and assets.

The Orlando Magic at six seem to be all over the place; there were reports that the Magic may have Collin Sexton higher on their board than fan favorite Trae Young, which would line up with commentary that started around the team in early April. The Magic have kept their process somewhat quiet, but there is a real chance the Magic grab Sexton at six if the draft plays out as currently scripted.

The Chicago Bulls at seven could catch a lot of interesting options including both Porter and Bamba. The Bulls were the first team to see Porter and their medical staff did the physical that was circulated to teams. While the upside on Porter is very real, there isn’t a sense the Bulls are ready to pull the trigger despite what Bulls fans may want so that it could be an interesting scenario to watch.

The Cleveland Cavaliers at eight could find themselves with a lot to choose from. The Cavaliers had a last-minute clandestine workout with Trae Young this week and have been rumored to be very high on Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. If the draft plays out as scripted the Cavs could have their choice of Young, Porter or Bamba and that would be a massive win for the Cavs.

On the trade front league source have pegged Orlando, Charlotte, Dallas, and Miami as teams to watch on the trade front, all of them seem to be willing to make big moves if deals present themselves.

There were reports last night that the San Antonio Spurs and disgruntled star Kawhi Leonard were able to meet face to face. There still is not a sense that the Spurs will pull the trigger on a trade, expect that to take shape today if they decide to open the phones on Leonard.

The Basketball Insider NBA Draft Diary is up: http://www.basketballinsiders.com/2018-nba-draft-diary/ – it will have all the latest news, rumors and trades as they are happening, so it you want to see everything going on in one place, bookmark the Diary and hit it early and often.

Who are these guys anyway? Steve Kyler is the Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA for the last 19 years. Moke Hamilton is a Deputy Editor and Columnist for Basketball Insiders and has covered basketball for the last eight years. Jesse Blancarte is a Senior NBA Writer and Deputy Editor for Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA for the last four years. Benny Nadeau is an NBA Writer and has finished his first season covering the NBA for Basketball Insiders.

More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @jblancartenba, @Ben_Dowsett, @SpinDavies, @JamesB_NBA, @DennisChambers_, @mike_yaffe, @MattJohnNBA, and @Ben__Nadeau .

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