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NBA AM: Collison Remembers Seattle

Nick Collison is one of a few players that played in Seattle, and the only one still with the franchise.

Joel Brigham

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It’s easy to forget that the Seattle SuperSonics were a real NBA team. This season is the 10th that the Sonics have ceased to exist, and in fact, there only are four players still in the league with “Seattle” on their professional resume: Kevin Durant, Jeff Green, Damien Wilkins and Nick Collison.

The only one still with the franchise is Collison, who remembers his time with the Sonics like it was a lifetime ago.

“I had never been to Seattle. I didn’t know much about it at all, but I was excited about it. It was the first place I lived after college,” Collison told Basketball Insiders. Drafted 12th overall by Seattle in the 2003 NBA Draft, he never had lived outside of the Midwest and was eager to spread his wings a little bit after having spent so much of his life in just one part of the country. The Pacific Northwest was a revelation for him almost immediately.

“The first city I lived in was Iowa Falls, IA, which I love, and then Lawrence, KS, but Seattle offered me things I hadn’t experienced before. It was a bigger city, but I really just kinda came home. I lived there all year round, bought a house on the lake that I still own.

“It’s a cool city, and I made a lot of friends there.”

Some of those friends were his Seattle teammates. Collison came in just a season after Gary Payton, the franchise’s most iconic player, had left, so the revamped team was a rebuilding proposition, of which Collison knew he’d be a part.

Collison missed his entire first season in the league thanks to injuries to both of his shoulders, but he made his impact on the league from the minute he was given a role. His team even won a playoff series in 2005 before bottoming out just in time to draft Kevin Durant in 2007. Things were looking up for the organization with a brand new superstar on the roster, but Seattle basketball fans’ hope and general optimism would be, unfortunately, short-lived.

Trouble Brewing in Seattle

Most of the 2007-2008 season was spent lamenting the inability to get a new arena built, but that didn’t make it any less surprising when word started to leak that Clay Bennett, an Oklahoma City businessman that led the investment group that purchased the Sonics in 2006, was considering moving the franchise to his home state. In July 2008, Bennett and the team were granted approval to relocate.

According to Collison, the players really didn’t see it coming.

“No one really even knew that [the former ownership group led by Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz] were looking to sell the team until they announced it was sold, and I remember that I was shocked,” Collison said. “The team was sold to these guys from Oklahoma, and people didn’t know what it meant. They didn’t know if we’d be leaving right away or what. And then we were there two more years.

“So for two years, we’d get asked about it,” he added. “We didn’t really know anything, and they claimed to be trying to get an arena built in Seattle. It really wasn’t the best situation to play in because so much about our futures was unknown. The city, the fans felt like we were leaving, so they didn’t come out. We weren’t a great team either, which didn’t help.

“I still felt fortunate to be in the NBA, but it was a tough situation to play in those last couple years.”

The Move to OKC

Over the summer of 2008, the Seattle SuperSonics ceased to exist, with the organization then setting up shop in Oklahoma City as the newly-christened Thunder. Following a 20-win season, the team used its draft pick to select Russell Westbrook (who wore a Sonics hat on draft night), and Collison, still hanging around, found very quickly that the new city was pretty great, too.

“When they announced the move in July, I didn’t want to leave,” Collison said. “I liked it right where I was, so I had a tough time get over that. But Oklahoma City felt familiar to me right away. I played college in Kansas. I’m from Iowa. I’m from the Midwest. We had played in Oklahoma City twice back in college and probably four times when the Hornets were there, and I knew they had a great crowd.

“You know, I was looking forward to playing in front of that crowd, and I liked being in the Midwest. I felt comfortable. I knew what to expect. And then when we got there, the fans were great. Even though we started that year 3-29, they still kept coming out, still supported us, and by the end of that year, we started playing better, started getting more positivity. It felt like we had something good there.

“The next year we made a huge jump, went to the playoffs, and it’s been really just a ton of success ever since. I was able to find a role in a really good team, and those first years in Oklahoma City were great for my career. They weren’t my best years statistically, but they were my best years. The best basketball I played in my career, for sure.”

Split Allegiances

In baseball, when a player is set to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, they have to decide which hat they’re going to wear on their plaque, which is an especially challenging discussion for those who may have had huge careers for multiple franchises.

Collison, while not a Hall-of-Famer and certainly no baseball player, has a hard time identifying himself as a Sonic or a member of the Thunder. This kid from the Midwest, who has played in Oklahoma for a decade, spent his formative years in a faraway city where he still lives in the offseason. He struggles to figure out toward which city he feels more allegiance.

“I have more memories with the Thunder for sure, but I don’t forget about that time in Seattle,” Collison said. “That’s where I started my career and established myself as a player. My rookie year, I played a lot of minutes in a playoff series. That was a huge experience for me to let me know that I could be confident and I could play.

“I’ve been with one organization this whole time, but for most guys, it’s two or three cities. Most guys bounce around and play three or four different places. Drew Gooden, a guy I played with in college, played like nine different places in eight years. That’s just the way it goes for different guys.”

Collison actually is just one of a handful of veteran players still playing for his original team. Dirk Nowitzki, Udonis Haslem, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are the only players still in the league with similar years of experience and just the lone organization on the resume.

“You know, it’s rare, franchise moves, but I’ve still had a lot of stability in my career. I’ve been very fortunate.”

Back to Seattle?

As Collison heads toward the end of his career, he soon will find himself a fan of basketball rather than an employee of the NBA. As a fan and as someone owns a home in Seattle, he hopes to see the NBA return to a city that deserves a franchise as much as any city in North America.

“I’d love to see a team back there,” he admitted. “I follow all the stuff, the arena proposals and everything. I’d love to see it happen. The hard part is someone else probably would have to move for that to happen, and I know how hard that is for a home base.

“But I’d like to see it happen. I know that it’s a good fan base, and it’s got a lot of history. It’s a great city, you know? It’s kind of hard to believe there’s not a team there already. Just with all the companies that are there, how good the economy is there. Amazon, Boeing, Starbucks, Costco—there’s a lot of good stuff going on out there.

“So I’d like to see it happen. Maybe expansion then no one’s got to lose their team.”

Expansion never is completely out of the question, and if it ever does happen, it’s easy to imagine Seattle being at the top of the list of potential cities.

When Oklahoma City started the Thunder, the team history—the records, the retired numbers—stayed in Seattle. Someone really could just start the franchise right back up like nothing happened.

In retirement, it’s easy to imagine Collison courtside, rooting them on, right back where he started.

Joel Brigham is a senior writer for Basketball Insiders, covering the Central Division and fantasy basketball.

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2018 NBA Draft Diary

NBA Daily: The Winners Of The NBA Draft

Simon Hannig breaks down the winners from Thursday’s 2018 NBA Draft.

Simon Hannig

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The 2018 NBA Draft has come and gone, and although many teams have improved coming out of this loaded draft, five teams seemed to have walked away as the biggest winners.

The Phoenix Suns Got Their Guy

The Suns made a couple of splashes in the draft, selecting DeAndre Ayton with the first overall pick.

The Suns then drafted Zhaire Smith, but later traded his rights to the Philadelphia 76ers for Mikal Bridges.

In the second round of the draft, Phoenix selected Frenchman Elie Okobo and George King from Colorado, each of whom should be able to contribute right away. Ayton should be the starting center come opening night and Bridges could also start for the team immediately. If not, Bridges will be a valuable weapon coming off the bench for a team who is trying to win games and get back into the playoffs.

Does Mo Bamba Have The (Orlando) Magic?

The Orlando Magic got a stud in Mo Bamba, whom they surprisingly selected with the sixth overall pick in the draft. They later drafted Melvin Frazier in the second round. It was a bit surprising that the Tulane product lasted that long, but the Magic benefitted.

Orlando got a player who can contribute right away and could compete for a starting job. Frazier is a great rebounder and defender and could change the team’s defense all by himself. The club now has two young core pieces they can build around in Jonathan Isaac and Bamba and a young contributor in Frazier.

Although the team’s offense will likely be work in progress, they can be very scary on the defensive end.

Now, we’ll all wait to see if Bamba, the New York product, can carry the Magic back to respectability.

Atlanta Hawks Will Let It Fly

After drafting Luka Doncic with the third overall pick, the Hawks ended up sending him to Dallas in exchange for Trae Young and a future protected first round pick. The pick is top-five protected the next two years, top-three protected in 2021 and 2022 and unprotected in 2023, according to Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson.

With their second first round pick, the Hawks took sharpshooter Kevin Huerter from Maryland and, with the 30th overall pick, selected Omari Spellman from Villanova.

Atlanta appears to building themselves in the way of the Warriors, getting sharpshooters in Young and Huerter. It is no surprise they are doing this as their current general manager, Travis Schlenk, worked with Golden State before taking the job with the Hawks.

The Rich Got Richer In Boston

The Celtics once again got a steal in the draft, as they were the beneficiaries as it relates to Robert Williams from Texas A&M. He is an athletic big man who plays great defense and rebounds the ball very well. Williams has lottery talent but ended up falling to the Celtics, who selected him with the 27th pick of the draft.

Williams averaged 2.5 blocks per game at Texas and should also be able to provide second chance opportunities for the team. Williams, as he averaged three offensive rebounds per game in college.

Luka Doncic Found A Good Home

The Dallas Mavericks walked away from the 2018 NBA Draft with two foundational pieces in tow, Dennis Smith Jr. and Luka Doncic. Their other moves were also tremendous, as they drafted Jalen Brunson from Villanova, acquired Ray Spalding from Louisville in a trade with the Sixers and drafted Kostas Antetokounmpo (Giannis’ younger brother) with the last piece in the draft.

For Mark Cuban, it may take time to develop the pieces, but if things could go well, the Mavs might have some productive years ahead.

Doncic was thought to be one of, if not the best player available in the draft, so getting him at the expense of a protected future first round pick seems like a fair trade. Depending on how ready he is to contribute at the NBA level, the sky could be the limit.

Of course, every year, there are surprises. Some good, and some bad. However, walking away from the 2018 NBA Draft, these five teams all appear to have improved themselves immensely.

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2018 NBA Draft Diary

NBA Draft Night Trades

David Yapkowitz breaks down the trades that took place during the 2018 NBA Draft.

David Yapkowitz

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Another NBA Draft has come and gone. With rumors swirling all week about possible pick/player movement, the night remained relatively uneventful. There were a few trades that occurred, however. Here’s a quick breakdown of the movement that happened on draft night.

1. Atlanta Hawks/Dallas Mavericks

The Hawks and Mavericks completed the first trade of the night early on in the draft. Leading up to the draft, there were questions about how high Luka Doncic was going to be drafted. It was widely assumed that he wouldn’t slip past Dallas at No. 5. The Mavericks weren’t going to take that chance as the Hawks drafted Doncic with the intention of trading him to Dallas for Trae Young.

Both teams ultimately get what they need. It’s been reported that the Hawks might move on from Dennis Schroder this summer and they’ll need a point guard to replace him. Young is an explosive scorer who will fit in nicely with Atlanta’s rebuild. He can score from anywhere on the court and he’s a great playmaker as well.

For the Mavericks, they get a guy to add to their own young core with Dennis Smith Jr. and Harrison Barnes. Doncic has the size to play next to Smith in the backcourt. He’s quite possibly the best playmaker in the draft with a solid offensive game as well.

2. Charlotte Hornets/Los Angeles Clippers

The Hornets and Clippers consummated the second move the night by swapping their own draft picks. The Hornets took Shai Gilgeous-Alexander with the 11th pick and then immediately traded him to the Clippers for Miles Bridges, whom Los Angeles selected at No. 12.

For the Hornets, they get a guy who can play both forward positions. Bridges is more of a small forward but in small ball lineups, he can slide over to the four. Offensively he is at his best when he puts the ball on the floor and attacks the rim. He’s a decent shooter too.

The Clippers get a point guard who was rumored to climbing up many draft boards as the night approached. Gilgeous-Alexander is a solid pick for them provided both Patrick Beverly and Milos Teodosic’ injury history. He can also play off the ball if need be. He’s got the physical tools to be a very good defender at the NBA level. It’s not at all far-fetched to imagine him as the future long-term starting point guard for the Clippers.

The Hornets also got two future second-round picks from the Clippers.

3. Philadelphia 76ers/Phoenix Suns

The Sixers and the Suns had the next move of draft night, also swapping their picks. The Sixers selected hometown hero Mikal Bridges with the No. 10 pick and later traded him to the Suns for the No. 16 pick, Zhaire Smith.

Bridges made a lot of sense for the Sixers. Not only is he a local guy, but his mother works for the team as well. He was a talented player who fit their team. He gave a post-draft press conference raving about being a Sixer all the while he had been traded already. But such is life in the NBA. Instead, Phoenix gets a guy that’s ready to contribute in the NBA right away. He’s the prototypical 3&D type guy.

For the Sixers, Zhaire Smith is another guy who was steadily climbing the boards in the days leading up to the draft. He’s a very athletic prospect with good defensive instincts. He probably won’t play much right away, but he does have the potential to end up being one of the better rotation players in this draft.

The Sixers also get a 2021 first-round pick from the Suns via the Miami Heat. It’s highly likely this ends up being a lottery pick and thus giving the Sixers the chance to add a high-end talent to an already potent group.

4. Second-Round moves

There are a few second-round moves that were made as well.

For one, the Hawks selected Devonte Graham with the 34th pick and traded him to the Hornets for two future second-round picks. Graham is another NBA ready guy who can come in and immediately contend for backup point guard minutes behind Kemba Walker.

The Sixers were involved in another deal sending the No. 38 pick Khyri Thomas to the Detroit Pistons for two future second-round picks. Thomas is a player that many projected to go in the first round. For a team that didn’t have a first-round pick coming into the night, the Pistons essentially picked one up. It’s possible he turns out better than Detroit’s most recent first-rounders Henry Ellenson and Luke Kennard.

The Sacramento Kings drafted Gary Trent Jr. with the 37th pick only to trade him to the Portland Trail Blazers for two future second-round picks. Trent was one of the better shooters in the draft and that’s what he projects to the be in the NBA. He’s probably a few years away from earning a spot in the rotation but he was also a possible first-round pick. He’s more NBA ready than Anfernee Simons who the Blazers took in the first-round.

The Orlando Magic and Denver Nuggets swapped second-round picks with the Magic sending the No. 41 pick Jarred Vanderbilt to the Nuggets for the No. 43 pick Justin Jackson and a future second-round pick. Vanderbilt is a project in every sense of the word. He’s extremely raw and probably needed more time in college. But he’s got long-term potential and could pay off in the future. Jackson, on the other hand, was possibly a first-round talent had he entered the draft last year. He’s going to have to make the roster but could be a 3&D guy.

In the final move of the night, the Hornets traded the No. 45 pick Hamidou Diallo to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Diallo is a guy that had he come out last year, probably would’ve been a first-round guy. In any case, he is also very raw and will need seasoning in the G-League. He’s got all the physical tools and skill to be a good rotation NBA player.

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2018 NBA Draft Diary

#28 – Jacob Evans – Golden State Warriors

Jesse Blancarte

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With the 28th overall pick, the Golden State Warriors selected Cincinnati Junior Jacob Evans.

Evans represents a solid pick for nearly any NBA team. Evans fits in the mold of a potential 3-and-D role player. Evans improved in his time at Cincinnati, culminating in his junior year, where he scored 13 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. Evans spent three seasons at Cincinnati and rounded himself into a versatile two-way player who can bring a lot of value at the NBA level.

Evans is a very cognitive player, especially on the defensive end. He has a better grasp of his limitations than most players at this stage of their respective careers and is able to maximize his individual defensive ability within a team concept. Evans generally makes the right rotations, double-teams at the right times and funnels his opponents to where his teammates are when he cannot contain the ball-handler on his own. With the right coaching, he could become a valuable defensive wing in an NBA rotation sooner than some anticipate.

Additionally, Evans is more than just a shooter. He led his team in assists last season and has some skill as a playmaker. Evans will be more of a shooter and finisher in the NBA, but the ability to make the right pass, swing the ball when he isn’t open and take the ball off the dribble when necessary make him an intriguing prospect. This is especially true when you consider how valuable a player like Khris Middleton has become over the years, adding layers to his 3-and-D skill set each season.

The Warriors aren’t in need of an influx of talent but are happy to add Evans regardless.

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