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NBA PM: Finding a Draft Steal

Draymond Green is clearly the steal of the 2012 Draft, but how can teams find more gems like him in this year’s Draft?

Joel Brigham

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Every year, immediately following the draft, there are about a million articles on the internet discussing who the “steals” of that draft were. But that of course is ridiculous because until we see these kids play for a year or three, there’s very little way of knowing which of those bargain-buy draft picks will ultimately pan out. Plenty of them drop in the ranks for good reasons.

The following examines the players in the last three drafts who did ultimately prove to be steals in an attempt to discover if there are any overlying themes as to why they dropped on draft night or why they ultimately ended up outperforming their draft position.

It’s not easy to find a diamond in the rough, but executives try every year. Here’s a look at a few who proved plenty valuable, and why they weren’t picked as high on draft night as they apparently should have been:

2014 NBA Draft

Elfrid Payton, Philadelphia 76ers, traded to Orlando Magic (1st Round, 10th overall selection) – Coming out of Louisiana-Lafayette, Payton was the kind of small school kid that represented too much of a gamble to be selected much higher than he was. Also, his shooting woes in college aren’t typically the kind of thing that translates all that well to the NBA, so there weren’t a lot of teams interested in spending a high pick on a point guard who can’t knock down three-pointers. Despite that, Payton looked great as a rookie, leading all first-year kids in assists with 6.5 per game (8.5 per game after the All-Star break) and he’s a good rebounder for his position, as well.

Jusuf Nurkic, Chicago Bulls, traded to Denver Nuggets (1st Round, 16th overall selection) – It was a weird season for the Nuggets all around. But from what we were able to see from Nurkic, especially after Timofey Mozgov and JaVale McGee were traded, he looks like he’ll be a solid pro. Nurkic finished with the second-highest PER among rookies this season (15.00) and averaged 6.8 PPG and 6.1 RPG in under 18 minutes per contest. Per-36 minutes, that puts him right about at 13 points and 12 boards a night, and considering he’s only 20 years old, those are intriguing numbers. How does so young and talented a seven-footer come off the board this late in the first round? Because international prospects are hard to peg, and the Nuggets were the first team willing to take the risk on the Bosnian big man.

Jordan Clarkson, Washington Wizards, traded to L.A. Lakers (2nd Round, 46th overall selection) – After a slow start in Los Angeles, in which Clarkson hardly played at all, he rounded out the year with some massive scoring games, averaging 16 PPG, 5.3 APG and 4.7 RPG after the break. He slipped in the draft a little because at 6’5” a lot of teams weren’t really sure if he was going to be a big point guard with sloppy handles or a slightly undersized shooting guard. Either way he must have felt like too much of a tweener to burn a first-round pick on. He also came into the league a little light at only 190 lbs, but apparently his aggressive style translated well enough to the NBA game for him to thrive with an excellent opportunity in L.A. We’ll see if he continues playing that well or if his success was more a result of his circumstances last season.

2013 NBA Draft

Nerlens Noel, New Orleans Pelicans, traded to Philadelphia 76ers (1st Round, 6th overall selection) – While it looks now like Noel was worth the one-year wait, it was his torn ACL that dropped what some thought would have been the #1 pick in a weak 2013 draft all the way to the 6th overall selection. That’s why Philadelphia snatched him where they did (they also got an extra first-round pick in the deal that shipped Jrue Holiday to New Orleans), and so far that’s looked like quite a bargain, as Noel averaged 9.9 PPG and 8.1 RPG his rookie season to go along with 1.8 steals and 1.9 blocks per game. The pick looks even better considering there were teams who felt like Anthony Bennett, Otto Porter and Cody Zeller were better selections ahead of Noel.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks (1st Round, 15th overall selection) – At the time it was something of a surprising pick for Milwaukee to make, but there wasn’t a lot left on the board by pick #15 so they went with the high-ceiling international kid with plenty of youth and freakish measureables. He came into the league about as raw as raw comes, but in just two years he has been given plenty of opportunity to blossom for a Bucks team that had no reason not to give him minutes early. His 12.7 PPG and 6.7 rebounds as a sophomore are clearly just the beginning of something special, though at the time no one had any idea if the gamble would work out.

Gorgui Dieng, Utah Jazz, traded to Minnesota Timberwolves (1st Round, 21st overall selection) – Coming off a championship season at Louisville, it was no mystery why Dieng was a first-round draft selection. But considering his success in the NBA (9.7 PPG, 8.3 RPG and 1.7 BPG as a sophomore) it’s kind of surprising he fell as late in the first round as he did. He wasn’t the shiniest name back in 2013 in large part because he was viewed as a one-dimensional player. Just two years later we now know how valuable rim protectors are in today’s NBA, and Dieng has proven to be more versatile than many scouts apparently thought possible.

Mason Plumlee, Brooklyn Nets (1st Round, 22nd overall selection) – There really is no good reason why Plumlee dropped as far as he did in the 2013 Draft, especially considering his athleticism paired with his 7’0” frame (Meyers Leonard was essentially a lottery pick the year before in a more stacked draft), but sometimes there are just players that end up being a consequence of the way the cookies crumble in a given year. Plumlee could have gone five-to-seven picks higher and no one would have batted an eyelash, but he fell to Brooklyn, where he’s had a productive couple of seasons. Originally thought of as a backup big, Plumlee has proved himself more than capable of starting for a number of NBA teams.

2012 NBA Draft

Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons (1st Round, 9th overall selection) – The knock on Drummond back in 2012 was his lack of drive. The entire narrative on the kid leading into that draft was that he didn’t really care about basketball, that he was more concerned with the party lifestyle that the NBA would provide him, and since he went to UConn that made it really easy to compare him to massive bust Hasheem Thabeet. Drummond, however, has been nothing like Thabeet in his first three seasons, mostly because he’s been really, really good. He’s the worst free throw shooter of his generation, but he also averaged 13.8 PPG, 13.5 RPG and 1.9 BPG last season. He’s a big man on the rise, and in 2012 the top eight teams couldn’t wait to pass on him.

Jared Sullinger, Boston Celtics (1st Round, 21st overall selection) – For two straight seasons, Sullinger has averaged at least 13.3 PPG and 7.6 RPG, and while injuries have been an issue for him, there weren’t a whole lot of players Boston could have picked that late in the first round who would have proven to be better values. Sullinger’s knock in 2012 was a last-minute injury issue that got him red-flagged, and that caused him to absolutely tumble down the first round after originally being projected as a lottery pick. It turns out that the injury concerns were somewhat valid, but 50-60 games of Sullinger is certainly more valuable than what we’ve seen out of Royce White, Tyler Zeller and Andrew Nicholson, all picked in the five selections before Sullinger.

Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors (2nd Round, 35th overall selection) – There clearly is no way Green should have been a second-round pick, but despite his talent at Michigan State there were a lot of teams that weren’t sure where they’d play him in the NBA. They saw him as an undersized power forward without the requisite skills to play the three in the NBA. Positions, pro teams should have learned years ago, don’t matter when the talent is there, and Steve Kerr has figured out how to harness Green’s strengths to the point that he was both a Defensive Player of the Year and Most Improved Player candidate this past year. He’s also now a key cog to an NBA championship team.

So what consistencies or patterns are there among these draft selections? The first is that there are quite a few players who were involved in draft-day trades, which likely means they fell far enough down the board where some desirous team felt it was prudent to go after the player, making an offer strong enough to pluck them off the low branches when they dipped. Elfrid Payton and Nerlens Noel are the best recent examples of this, though Jusuf Nurkic and Gorgui Dieng were involved in such trades, too, though not as the centerpieces of their deals (Doug McDermott and Trey Burke, respectively).

Beyond that, the news isn’t great for front offices, because a lot of what makes these players such bargain bin buys is that they came into the draft with various red flags. Philly might have scored with Noel, letting him take a year off to nurse his torn ACL in exchange for him falling to them (okay, so New Orleans) at #6 in 2013, but then last year they tried the same formula with Joel Embiid and he already is starting to look like he’ll be injured his entire career. In 2012 Sullinger dropped because of knee issues, and while that’s worked out to a certain degree for Boston, Baylor’s Quincy Miller, once thought a top-five prospect, dropped for the same reason and hasn’t had the same NBA success.

Draymond Green slipped because he was too small to play his position, and the same was said about the tiny Isaiah Thomas a few years earlier, which is why he was lucky even to be the last player selected in 2011. Despite the successes of Green and Thomas, there have been a ton of 6’7” power forward and 5’11” point guards that have failed over the years. Sometimes, those undersized guys can work out. Often, they do not.

Nurkic and Antetokounmpo, though inexperienced and relatively unknown as ultra-young foreign prospects, look like they both will be awesome pros, but it might be a while before we know if Bruno Caboclo was as savvy a pick for Toronto general manager Masai Ujiri.

In other words, to find steals in the draft it looks like teams need to be willing to accept a certain measure of risk in making a value selection. A lot of times, these are the picks that fail. By that same measure, going “safe” can backfire, too, as low-ceiling/high-floor picks don’t always pan out, either.

The quick answer is that the draft isn’t easy, but the good news is that there are bargains to be had. It looks like the trick is knowing when to take the risk on one and trading up to assume that risk whenever possible. We’ll see who ends up taking those risks this year in just under a week.

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Mock Drafts

NBA Daily: 60-Pick Mock Draft – 6/18/2019

The 2019 NBA Draft is Thursday and things seem to be taking shape at the top of the draft board. However, the middle of the draft could be wildly unpredictable. Steve Kyler offers up another 60-pick Mock Draft.

Steve Kyler

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The NBA Draft is upon us, and while there still seems to be a lot of things in play in the middle of the draft, the top of the board seems to be settling in on a defined order.

Assuming the top 10 picks stay where they are, the draft could go pretty much as scripted. After the top 10, it seems this could be a wildly unpredictable draft, with what’s shaping up to be a lot of pick movement, especially as certain guys rise or fall.

Here are some of the situation to watch:

The New Orleans Pelicans, fresh off their agreed Anthony Davis trade with the LA Lakers, are still exploring moves that could involve the fourth overall pick. The prevailing thought is if New Orleans can flip the pick for a solid veteran they would, but there has also been recent talk that they would like to try and trade up to grab Duke forward RJ Barrett in front of the Knicks. It doesn’t seem likely that Memphis would do such a deal unless they were assured they would get Murray State’s Ja Morant at four. The Knicks have been pretty locked in on keeping the third pick and have made it clear to local media that they would be happy with either Barrett or Morant, likely killing any traction on a Memphis-Pelicans swap.

The Cleveland Cavaliers had been linked to the Atlanta Hawks in a deal for the fifth overall pick, but traction on that seems to have died off once the Pelicans got control of the fourth pick and seem to have zeroed in on Texas Tech guard Jarrett Culver if they keep the pick. The Hawks have been exploring options on moving one of their middle first round picks, either the 10 or the 17, which they will receive from Brooklyn as part of the pending Allen Crabbe salary dump. League sources doubt the Hawks keep all of their picks, but it’s unclear where those moved picks would land as of today.

Speaking of moved picks, the Boston Celtics have been exploring options on their three first-round picks; it is believed the Celtics will ultimately deal the player they select with the 20th overall pick, although league sources say Boston is open to moving all of them if the return is right.

There could be some teams to watch in terms of trading into the draft; The Houston Rockets have explored deals that would get them into the late lottery, it does not seem like there is traction on anything as of today, but it’s a situation to watch.

The Denver Nuggets have also explored deals to get into the first round, mainly to obtain inexpensive bench players. The Nuggets could be one of the teams to watch for with one of the Celtics or Hawks picks.

With all of that in mind, here is the latest NBA Mock Draft. You can look for the Final Consensus Mock Draft tomorrow.

UPDATED: 6/18 - 4:00pm

Stay tuned to Basketball Insiders for the latest news and rumors surrounding the 2019 NBA Draft and instant reaction pieces on all the picks in the first round.

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NBA

NBA Daily: Admiral Schofield Set On Building His Own Reputation

Admiral Schofield’s mindset carried him throughout his four-year career with the Tennessee Volunteers, and it will continue to take him to new heights in the NBA. Spencer Davies writes.

Spencer Davies

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Admiral Schofield lives for the late-game heroics.

“A lot of people talk about the clutch gene,” the former Tennessee forward told reporters at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago with a grin. “ I don’t think it’s a gene. I just think it comes from a mindset, comes from your preparation and how you approach the game.”

On March 9, 2017, Schofield had an opportunity. With the ninth-seeded Volunteers down by two to the third-seeded Georgia Bulldogs in the SEC Tournament, he hoisted a shot for the victory from the left elbow.

To everyone’s dismay, Schofield’s attempt fell short. Tennessee was eliminated and their season was over. Then a sophomore, he and his teammates were scrambling to find somebody to take it. He admittedly was not ready to be in that spot.

That’s when something clicked in his head.

“I think my mindset changed to ‘I will never be in a position where the last shot is decided for me and I won’t make it,’” Schofield said in a farewell video post on Twitter back in March.

“I just want to contribute to winning,” Schofield said at the Combine. “Whether it’s defending for the last shot being on the defensive end, whether it’s taking that corner three or taking that kick-out three or making a play, I’m that guy. I want to be that guy…”

Ever since then, that mentality has stuck with him.

Do a quick Google search on Schofield. Amidst the highlight-reel flashes of athleticism, it’s guaranteed that you’ll find more than a handful of different moments where the fearless 22-year-old stepped up during crunch time.

On December 8 this past year, Schofield led then-seventh-ranked Tennessee to a win over the top-ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs. En route to a career-high 30 points, he caught fire in the second half and knocked down the go-ahead three from the top of the perimeter with 22 seconds left in the game.

The story didn’t change in conference play. A month later with his team up by two on Florida, Schofield went to the right corner and hit a dagger with 41 seconds to play. In a one-point affair vs. Ole Miss later in the season, he took a game-clinching charge.

When the NCAA Tournament came around, Schofield stepped up once again. Tussling in the first round with an upset-minded Colgate squad, he nailed two triples from the same right corner spot with less than two minutes to go. Before getting eliminated in overtime by Purdue in the Sweet 16, he drained a deep three above the break to give the Vols the lead with five minutes left in regulation.

“I mean if you ask guys like Kobe [Bryant], they won’t tell you it’s a clutch gene. It’s just the thousands of shots. It’s another shot that he shot a thousand times,” Schofield said at the Combine.

“It’s the same thing for me. I stay in the gym. I work on my mindset. I work on situational things in the gym and [I’m] always staying ready, staying prepared for the next shot and being prepared for that big shot. And I just feel like in that moment in time, I think I’m the best option.

If you can’t tell by the infectious smile, Schofield is beaming with confidence—and why wouldn’t he be?

When he arrived in Knoxville in 2015, things weren’t great. The coach that recruited him to come to Tennessee, Donnie Tyndall, was fired after his lone underwhelming season for the program. Rick Barnes came in as a replacement and the results were poor in his first couple of seasons, too.

But over the last two years, the Volunteers are 57-15. They’ve appeared in back-to-back March Madness tournaments and won the regular season SEC Championship in 2018. For the first time in school history, they were ranked No. 1 in the country during the month of January. It was the first time they had been the nation’s top team in over a decade.

The turnaround was monumental, and Schofield realizes how big of a piece he was to that puzzle.

“It felt great because, to be honest, I was part of that foundation building that culture,” Schofield said. “And to be on top in the end really is just a testament to the hard work. And everything that we built in those first two years, it really started to pay off in those last few years.

“But to say that I was one of the guys that helped start that is a blessing. We had a great year. We had a great run.”

Transitioning to the next level, Schofield feels as ready as anybody. Under Barnes, he says everything was “pro-structured.” The Vols were constantly pushed. They were always prepared. Perhaps most importantly, everybody was held accountable, which is essential when players are going to be on their own in the pros.

Because of his experiences, Schofield believes in himself. It’s not about him simply sticking around the league. He desires much more than that.

“I think I can contribute to any team or any organization that brings me in, not just with my play,” Schofield said. “But just being a great teammate, being an ambassador for that organization and for that community, really coming in and being a positive influence, having some type of leadership. Not saying I’ll come in and be ‘the guy’ or ‘the leader.’ There’s many ways you can lead.”

In discussing his character, it’s hard not to bring up one of the most selfless moments in his college career. With Tennessee and Iowa knotted up prior to heading into overtime, Schofield—who was one hack away from fouling out—told Barnes to take him out in favor of teammate Kyle Alexander.

Cold from the field and in danger of being disqualified, Schofield made the request knowing Alexander would be a game-changer. It paid off in a victory.

“I’m a winner,” Schofield said after the 83-77 win in extra time. “At the end of the day, if I don’t have to be on the floor to win, that’s fine.”

While there’s plenty of other times he’s put his leadership on display, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more perfect example of Schofield’s team-first outlook. Combine those intangibles with the skill set and you have yourself one hell of a basketball player.

Schofield views himself as a positionless player with the ability to guard two through four or five, switching and slowing down scorers and doing the little things on the defensive end. Within offensive sets, converting on shots from the corner, coming off pin-downs and utilizing dribble hand-offs are his forte. He also has incredible athleticism, whether it’s skying for a huge dunk or swatting an opponent.

NBA teams can clearly see the 40 percent rate from three over the last three years. Still, there’s more than meets the eye to that, according to Schofield.

“[I want to] show ’em that not only can I shoot the ball, I can defend and do multiple things – create a little bit for others and pass the ball well,” Schofield said. “I don’t credit for how well I pass the ball either because I haven’t been in many situations at Tennessee to pass the ball. But I do pass it pretty well.”

Schofield maintains he deserves to be picked in the first round. As one of three draft hopefuls from Tennessee—Grant Williams and Jordan Bone being the others—who hopes to hear his name called Thursday night, that’s what he’s aiming for.

If he gets his wish, Admiral will become the second professional athlete in the Schofield family. His older brother, O’Brien, is an NFL linebacker who was a part of the 2014 Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks.

“He’s helped me a lot,” Admiral said of his O’Brien. “But more than anything, I’ve just been very observant seeing how he did things, even though it was football. Just got a little taste of that type of spotlight, him being an NFL Champion, playing on the Seahawks.

“Just seeing the process of that, seeing what it takes to win on that level, seeing some of the things that they did—I was able to implement that at the University of Tennessee, but I also I’ll be able to take that with me going forward when I get to the league.”

Individually, there’s always room to get better. You can develop better dribbling, improve your passing or tweak your jumper. But can you make an impact on winning?

Schofield does.

And that’s what will separate him from the rest.

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NBA

NBA Daily: What’s Next For The Lakers?

With Anthony Davis onboard to make them a contender, the Lakers must decide how they will spend their money this summer, write Matt John.

Matt John

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The NBA season ended literally just days ago, and we already may have seen the most significant move made this offseason.

The Los Angeles Lakers went all-in when they traded 95 percent of the farm on Friday for Anthony Davis, pairing him up with LeBron to make up one of the most fearsome duos in the league.

There’s a lot of risk going into this. LeBron will be 35 in December, and Davis doesn’t have a whole lot of playoff success to his name. Many think the Lakers may have overshot their hand when they made this deal. They traded almost all the young talent they had – plus, three picks and two pick swaps is a king’s ransom for a guy on an expiring contract.

Let’s not mince words. LA definitely paid more than they could afford in the long run with this trade, but Anthony Davis is the type of guy you overshoot your hand for. When you have one of the league’s top players in the game, and you have the chance to add another one, you pay the piper.

Now all that remains is what to do with the rest of the roster. All props need to go to Rob Pelinka for creating a title window for the Lakers when the clock was ticking, but let’s not overlook that the roster he constructed last summer turned out to be a complete disaster. It was an intriguing idea to put a bunch of playmakers around LeBron, but the lack of spacing manifested a clogged toilet offense.

Even after adding Anthony Davis and his $25+ million contract, the Lakers will still have plenty of cap room at their arsenal this summer. If getting the Lakers their 17th title is truly his concern, he needs to build the best roster he can around LeBron and AD. In order to do that, the Lakers have two options to go to

Get The Third Star

Now it’s clear as day that this is what the Lakers are hoping for. Shortly after the Davis trade was announced, Marc Stein reported that the team will make Kemba Walker its primary target in free agency.

Having a third star has been LeBron’s MO for every destination he’s gone to since “The Decision.” First, it was Chris Bosh in Miami, and then it was Kevin Love in Cleveland. Neither matched the production that they had with their previous teams before they joined LeBron, but they did give the team an undeniable edge that helped them win a championship.

Getting that third banana takes the pressure off of James and Davis to produce on a nightly basis, and it can help stagger minutes for James who, all things considered, isn’t getting any younger.

Now, Davis can handle a fair amount of the load as James continues to age, but a third star would only make his life easier. As we all know, Davis wasn’t exactly happy that he had to carry much of the scoring burden in the Big Easy, so having someone else pick up the slack would not make it feel like a repeat of what happened with the Pelicans.

Luckily for the Lakers, this summer has one of the best free agent classes of all time. Kevin Durant, who’s still getting the max with or without a healthy Achilles, Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler, Klay Thompson, Khris Middleton and Walker. Adding one of those names would solidify the Lakers’ odds as the title favorite (if they aren’t already).

The only problem with getting this third star on presumably a maximum contract is that, with all that money invested in James, Davis and Player X, there is little money to spend elsewhere. The only other contracts that can be handed out are the Mid-Level Exception and veteran minimum contracts. This summer, a lot of teams are going to have cap space, and not everyone is going to have that happy ending this offseason.

Because of that, expect lesser players to get paid far more than what they are worth. That’s going to make it difficult for the Lakers to get valued rotation players on veteran’s minimum level contracts.

That’s why it could be better for LA to consider the other option.

Get Reliable Role Players

The Lakers have two of the league’s best players. As long as they stay on the court, LA should be one of the best teams in the league. With the Warriors appearing to disband this summer, the NBA will have some parity for the first time since 2016. Now that the next title may be up for grabs, LeBron and Davis could be enough star power alone to power the Lakers to a title.

Emphasis on star power. Of course, they can’t win a title without any productive players in their rotation. They could get them, but that would probably mean they wouldn’t be able to add a third banana. Then again, maybe that’s not the worst thing in the world.

If we learned anything from the Warriors from the last few weeks, it’s that a lack of depth can really kill you in the Finals. One of the reasons why Toronto won so handily – besides the unfortunate injuries – was because of its full-balanced attack against Golden State. The Warriors may have had the edge in star power, but Marc Gasol, Fred VanVleet, Serge Ibaka and Norm Powell took advantage of the Warriors’ lack of versatility as a team.

You need those types of players to win the championship. No one knows that better than LeBron. Things didn’t start out great in Miami, but after the team added the likes of Shane Battier, Ray Allen and Chris Andersen, the HEAT got that extra push to win a championship.

Ditto for Cleveland. The Cavaliers didn’t have the greatest start when he came back. Then they added JR Smith, Iman Shumpert, Timofey Mozgov and Channing Frye- and that made a huge difference.

Something that we all know by now is that LeBron thrives when he has players who can shoot. The Lakers could bring back some of their designated “shooters” from last season, including Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Mike Muscala and Reggie Bullock, but there are better options this summer

Danny Green, Nikola Mirotic, JJ Redick, Trevor Ariza and Darren Collison to name a few are all guys who can shoot the rock that on paper would be an excellent fit next to LeBron. At the very least, they would help LeBron play the type of basketball that he loves to play in.

The problem is, those guys can’t be asked to do more than what their specialty is. If and when LeBron and Davis are having an off-night, you can’t rely on a sharpshooter to carry the team when it’s down.

There’s always the possibility that the Lakers, even if they don’t sign a star player, believe they have their third banana in Kyle Kuzma. That’s a lot of pressure for a third-year player, but Kuzma has been exceeding expectations since he came into the league. Maybe he’s only scratching the surface of his potential.

There is no wrong answer for the Lakers here. It’s exciting enough that with Davis on board, they now have options this summer. They no longer have to bank on the cavalry coming in the near future because the cavalry has arrived. They’re not a finished product, but they finally have a product on their hands.

All that said, which door do you think the Lakers should choose?

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