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NBA Draft: Four Teams That Must Get It Right

The NBA Finals may have just wrapped up, but the focus on next season has already begun. With the NBA Draft one week away, Chad Smith looks at four lottery teams who will be under the most pressure to “get it right” on Thursday.

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The Milwaukee Bucks are NBA Champions once again. Fifty years after winning their first title, the Bucks defeated the Phoenix Suns in six games behind a sensational performance from their superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo. Milwaukee drafted the two-time regular season MVP and now Finals MVP back in 2013 with the 15th overall pick. Every year the biggest opportunity for teams to shape their future comes in the draft, and this year is no exception.

The 2021 NBA Draft is right around the corner but teams have had about a month to hone in on the players that may be available to them. The Draft Lottery set the order for the top 14 picks in the draft with the Detroit Pistons claiming the top overall selection. The last time the Pistons had the first overall pick they selected Hall of Fame center Bob Lanier out of St. Bonaventure in the 1970 draft.

Just as there is pressure in the postseason on championship contenders, there is pressure on these organizations to “get it right” on draft night. The future of these franchises largely depends upon making the right moves. There is more to it than just making a pick. There will be plenty of potential last-minute deals on the table for the front office. Quick decisions must be made with the future of the organization flapping in the breeze. It is not for the faint of heart.

Looking at the teams in this year’s lottery, four teams stand out among the rest as ones that absolutely have to make the right decisions on Thursday. Two teams (the Golden State Warriors and Orlando Magic) have two selections each in the lottery. The Warriors are ready to return as title contenders and the Magic are in a full-on rebuild.

Another team in the middle of a rebuild is the Oklahoma City Thunder, who have three picks in the first 18 selections. They can also afford to take a gamble that might not end up paying off, though they do have a strong history of making good picks. The Houston Rockets also have three first-round picks, including the second overall. There is no wrong choice here, no matter which direction they go.

These four teams will face pressure, scrutiny and judgment in the coming days, weeks, months, and years. No one is ever sure how these prospects will pan out but a lot of that is determined by player development and the stability of the organization. The bright lights have moved from the players in the Finals to the front office executives.

Detroit Pistons

Detroit will be making their first top-five selection since 2003 when they took Darko Milicic second overall. While the Pistons missed on the likes of Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, they appear to have done exceptionally well last year when they took Killian Hayes, Isaiah Stewart and Saddiq Bey in the first round.

Now they have a chance to build upon that young core with a generational talent. How they go about doing that is an interesting storyline as well. The Pistons could simply take the consensus choice in Cade Cunningham, and make the pieces fit around him. The other option would be to trade the pick for a star player and/or multiple draft picks.

Pistons general manager Troy Weaver has plenty of options to consider. “We’ll look at everything,” Weaver said when asked how many options Detroit will look at for the top pick. “We’ll uncover every stone and exhaust it and put ourselves in the best position to make the right choice for the Pistons.”

Although they finished last in the Eastern Conference this past season, the Pistons are by no means a dormant team. The roster is loaded with potential, led by Jerami Grant. Most of their core is already under contract for next season and will be earning less than $6 million. This is a situation that many executives would love to be in, but it is the top overall pick. The franchise cannot afford to mess it up.

Cleveland Cavaliers

Another Central Division team makes an appearance on this list but the situation is different in Cleveland. With Cunningham off the board by the time the Cavs make the third selection, they will have their choice of who is still available among Evan Mobley, Jalen Suggs and Jalen Green. The concern is not about which player they should take, but at what position they will be addressing.

Should the Rockets pass on Mobley, he would be an enticing selection to go along with Collin Sexton, Darius Garland and Isaac Okoro. That may mean that a decision looms with Jarrett Allen playing at the center position. Cleveland acquired him as part of the blockbuster James Harden trade, but his fit alongside Mobley may not be ideal. While he is just 23 years old, Allen will be a free agent after next season and could be in line for a big payday.

The more realistic doomsday scenario for Cleveland is having to make the choice between Suggs or Green, with their backcourt already established with Sexton and Garland. This pick could be on the move but Cleveland would have to get a dynamite package in return to convince them to pass on one of these premier talents. The organization seems to be more willing to trade Sexton than offer him a big contract.

Cavs general manager Koby Altman believes that this draft has more quality at the top than in previous years, saying, “Even beyond the top five, there could be potential All-Stars.” Reports have circulated that Sexton could be the one moving on as teams have already begun inquiring about the electric young point guard. He will be entering the final year of his rookie deal next season. Whatever Cleveland opts to do, there will be a microscope on their decision for many years to come.

Toronto Raptors

Perhaps no team had a worse 2020-21 season than the Raptors. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the team was forced to call Tampa Bay “home” as they spent the season in the Sunshine State. After a disastrous start, the Raptors were finally able to battle their way back to a .500 record only to see the ship sink as players and coaches were out with COVID cases. After seven straight playoff appearances that include their 2019 championship, Toronto missed the postseason.

The big question for Toronto is the fate of longtime point guard Kyle Lowry. The 35-year old will be one of the most sought-after free agents this summer, with several championship contenders interested in adding the veteran. Should Lowry not return, Toronto will have a major decision on its hands. While they could potentially add Suggs or Green alongside Fred VanVleet, they could throw the first curveball of the night.

Passing on one of the top four players on the consensus draft board is risky, but one that could pay huge dividends for this team. Scottie Barnes is a player that fits the Toronto mold to perfection. The talented forward from Florida State is a point guard stuck in a power forward’s body. His vision and ability to find open shooters make him an elite prospect. He also is a menace on defense, able to guard four positions on the floor with his nearly 7-foot 3-inch wingspan.

Despite their struggles this past season, the Raptors are still in a “win now” mode. Surrounding VanVleet with lengthy defenders like Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby is something that Nick Nurse likes to do. Adding Barnes to that mix will only elevate the potential for this team, but it comes at the risk of leaving top-level talent on the board for someone else. Between Lowry and the fourth pick, the Raptors will have some serious decisions to make in the coming days.

New Orleans Pelicans

The Pelicans narrowly missed out on the postseason this year but hope to change that next season. Change is the operative word, as there will be plenty of it down in New Orleans before the start of the 2021-22 campaign. The organization just hired Willie Green as their new head coach, which will be the third one in three years for Zion Williamson. The young phenom has been the face of the franchise since he arrived in New Orleans, and it is critical that they find the right person for the job.

Beyond that, the Pelicans will have the 10th pick in the draft as they look to add more talent to the roster. There is uncertainty about free-agent point guard Lonzo Ball but all indications are that they will not match any significant offer he receives from another team. In addition to the status of Ball, New Orleans will have to address several needs this summer. The forward spots are solidified with Williamson and Brandon Ingram but that is where it ends.

New Orleans will likely have several great options to choose from at this spot. Should they look at versatile defenders, they could have their pick between guys like Moses Moody and Keon Johnson. A better win-now option might be someone like Davion Mitchell if he is still available. Mitchell is nearly two years older than Williamson, so maturity should not be an issue. He is also a proven winner and plays both ends of the floor.

One intriguing name to monitor is James Bouknight. The former UConn guard is an elite offensive weapon that can score from anywhere on the floor. His athleticism and ability to cut off the ball make him an interesting prospect for this Pelicans team. The homerun pick is likely not going to be there for them but filling one of the holes on this roster will go a long way in their return to postseason play, and keeping their young superstar happy.

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Mike D’Antoni to step away as Nets assistant coach

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On Wednesday evening, the Brooklyn Nets organization announced that assistant coach Mike D’Antoni would not be returning to Steve Nash’s coaching staff for the 2021-22 NBA season. Coach D’Antoni is deciding to step down from his position after one season spent with the organization. The reason D’Antoni is deciding to leave the team is unknown. In late June, D’Antoni met with the Portland Trail Blazers for the vacant head-coaching position; he was interviewed twice.

From ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the 70-year-old veteran coach is still seeking to pursue another job as head coach. Coach Nash commented on the story stating, “I will forever be grateful for his guidance and will carry on a lifetime of lessons from the many years we’ve spent together. Our players and staff all benefited from this time in Brooklyn and we wish Mike, Laurel, and their family the very best in what lies ahead.” This news has personally shocked Nash, considering their history together.

In his 16-year NBA head coaching career, D’Antoni’s W-L record is 718-555 (.564). Despite never winning an NBA championship, D’Antoni won the 2005 Coach of the Year award with the Phoenix Suns when Nash was his star point guard, and he won his second award while coaching the Houston Rockets in 2017. The 2004-05 Suns finished 62-20 (.756), ranking first in the Pacific Division and first overall in the Western Conference. However, the Suns went on to lose four games to one against the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals.

The 2017-18 Rockets ended their season 65-17 (.793), ranking first in the Southwest Division and first in the Western Conference Finals. Though, once again, D’Antoni’s team came up short, losing in Game 7 versus the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. Coach D’Antoni was also the NBA All-Star Game head coach in 2007 and 2018. Moreover, the Nets lost another assistant coach this offseason after the Boston Celtics hired Ime Udoka to become their next head coach. On July 9, 2021, the Nets hired former Trail Blazers assistant coach David Vanterpool to their coaching staff.

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NBA Draft: Déjà Vu in Detroit

Tomorrow night the Detroit Pistons will make the first overall selection in the NBA Draft for just the second time in team history. They selected a Hall of Famer with that pick 51 years ago. Chad Smith details why it might happen again, this time with a player that resembles a guy that was once the face of their franchise.

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It has been 18 years since the Detroit Pistons had a top-three pick in the NBA Draft. Unfortunately, it was arguably the worst selection in the history of the event as they took Darko Milicic second overall ahead of Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. It was a night that everyone in Detroit would love to forget, and now they might be able to do just that.

Detroit will kick off the 2021 NBA Draft on Thursday night in what has been labeled as a loaded draft class, especially at the top. The last time the Pistons had the top overall pick, they did well by selecting Hall of Fame center Bob Lanier out of St. Bonaventure in the 1970 draft. The organization is hopeful that history will repeat itself.

Cade Cunningham is the consensus number one pick this year, which speaks volumes when considering the other candidates. While Detroit has not publicly hinted that they will take Cunningham, it would be an absolute shocker if he does not end up in the Motor City. It is a place that Cunningham has already grown fond of.

Should things go according to plan on Thursday night, there could be some déjà vu in Detroit. Aside from the Darko debacle, the last top-three selection by the franchise came in 1994 when they took Grant Hill out of Duke. The physical attributes are quite clear. Both players are listed at 6’ 8” tall and around 220 pounds. Just as their build is the same, so too is their demeanor on and off of the court.

Both Cunningham and Hill have similar playing styles and share many of the same strengths and weaknesses. They have incredible vision and passing ability that allows them to create for teammates. They use their size and strength against smaller defenders near the basket and are incredibly versatile with the ball in their hands. They are able to initiate offense from anywhere on the floor and have a complete all-around game that includes defense.

Hill recorded 29 triple-doubles in his career. That is something that Detroit hopes to get out of the 19-year old playmaker. Unlike many situations where the top overall pick finds himself on a team lacking talent, the Pistons have done a marvelous job of transforming their roster under Troy Weaver. Most of their core is already under contract for next season and will be earning less than $6 million.

Cunningham will join Jerami Grant and Mason Plumlee, as well as two All-Rookies in Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Stewart. With Killian Hayes missing much of his rookie season due to injury, the Pistons have plenty of talent surrounding their new floor general. With some more talent and veteran leadership possibly coming onboard during free agency, Detroit should be able to return to the postseason next year.

As gifted as Cunningham is, he is not the most explosive athlete for his size. He won’t blow by defenders on the perimeter or leap over them for a highlight dunk, but that doesn’t stop him from attacking the basket. Like Hill, he has shown the ability to either create for teammates, create for himself, or simply finish at the rim. He makes the right reads against traps and hard hedges, making him even more difficult to defend.

The versatility is on full display whether it be on offense or defense. Cunningham’s seven-foot wingspan adds another element to his game as a physical defender with active hands. His high basketball IQ allows him to capitalize on filling passing lanes and his timing on shot-blocking. His improved jump shot has also elevated him as a true dynamic threat, scoring from all three levels.

As a Freshman at Oklahoma State, Cunningham averaged 20.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.6 steals per game while shooting 44 percent from the floor. He plays under control and never looks rushed or uncomfortable. It may take him some time to adjust to the NBA game but he has all of the tools and attributes you would want a top prospect to possess.

The fit in Detroit is tailor-made for the versatile guard. Cunningham can do a little bit of everything and elevates the play of his teammates. Whether he is facilitating, scoring, or playing off the ball, his impact on the court is significant. Despite not being an elite athlete, he can initiate the offense and get his own shot when needed.

Detroit clearly lacked guard play last season, with Hayes out of the lineup. They relied upon Grant and Plumlee to fuel their offense, with the rookies filling in at times. With the addition of Cunningham and the return of Hayes, the Pistons will have a sensational young backcourt to go along with their already established frontcourt.

There is also the potential for Detroit to have one of the most improved defenses in the conference. With their length and athleticism, this young core fits right in with the culture of a blue-collar team built around defense. Much of their success will ride on the shoulders of Dwane Casey, as he returns for his fourth season in Detroit.

Both Hill and Cunningham are from Texas and their birth dates are just ten days apart. Hill spent his first six seasons in Detroit, where he enjoyed the prime years of his playing career that included the Rookie of the Year Award. Five of his seven All-Star seasons came as a member of the Pistons and he was often seen as the next great superstar.

While injuries derailed his career, Hill’s journey ended with a trip to the Hall of Fame. While it is too early to put those expectations on a 19-year old, it is safe to say that the Pistons are in good hands for many years to come.

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Draft Kings

Team Argentina vs. Spain – Preview, Prediction, & Betting Picks

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On Thursday, July 29th at 8:00 a.m. (EST), Argentina will take on Spain in this Group C preliminary round matchup. The Spaniards will enter this game as the selected favorites, while the Argentinians embrace their underdog role, as they lost their opening game 118-100 against Mavericks’ guard Luka Doncic and the Slovenian team. The last time Spain won the gold medal for the men’s team was at the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup, where they defeated Argentina 95-75.

Game Details

Date & Time: Thursday, July 29th at 8:00 a.m. (EST)

Location: Saitama Super Arena; Saitama, Japan

Availability: Peacock (live) & NBC Sports Network (delayed)

Spread: Spain -8.5 (+100) (per DraftKings Sportsbook) 

Over/Under: 167

Best Moneyline: Spain -400, Argentina +300

  • Table odds retrieved from DraftKings

Argentina vs. Spain Preview

Team Argentina’s starting lineup in Thursday morning’s game consists of Facundo Campazzo, Luca Vildoza, Patricio Garino, Luis Scola, and Marcos Delia. In the team’s 118-100 defeat versus Slovenia, in 27 minutes played, forward Scola led the team on the stat sheet, accumulating 23 points, four rebounds, one assist, and one block. Guard Campazzo also earned 21 points, six rebounds, four assists, and three steals. According to Bovada’s Olympic futures odds, the Argentinians have the eighth best odds to win the gold medal, with +8000 futures odds. Argentina has the third best odds (+2000) of winning Group C.Argentina vs. Spain Preview

Moreover, the starting lineup for Spain consists of Ricky Rubio, Rudy Fernandez, Juan Hernangomez, Victor Claver, and Marc Gasol. Their bench also includes two-time NBA champion center Pau Gasol. In the Spaniards’ 88-77 victory over Japan, Rubio led the team all across the board, leading the team with 20 points, two rebounds, and nine assists. Forward Claver finished his performance with 13 points, nine rebounds, and one steal. Additionally, with +1000 futures odds, Spain has the fifth best odds of winning the gold. Spain has the second best odds (EVEN) of winning Group C.

Prediction: Spain wins by 8 points

Team Spain are the more trustworthy, superior bet in this matchup. Pau Gasol, the seven-foot-one six-time NBA All-Star, is 41-years-old. Marc, his brother, is also 36. Leading into the Tokyo Olympic Games, basketball experts and bettors were wondering if age would be a significant factor for the Spaniards. However, thus far, it has been quite the contrary. Ricky Rubio has also proven to be an important piece for helping the team to become legitimate title contenders. In the 2020-21 NBA season, Rubio averaged 8.6 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 6.4 assists.

As for Argentina, Scola and Campazzo are carrying the team right now. In their 18-point loss to Slovenia, the Argentinians shot 5-for-31 (16.1 percent) from beyond the arc. To add insult to injury, the team was out-rebounded 59 to 32 overall. This cannot happen against the top contenders, such as versus Slovenia, France, Spain, or the USA. Sooner or later, the wheels on the wagon will eventually fall off. There are bettors giving Spain a -12.5 point spread in this matchup, but it might be best to stick with the -8.5 spread, first provided by DraftKings. In this game, some bettors are anticipating a 20-point blowout repeat of the 2019 FIBA World Cup Final.

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