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NBA PM: Draft Rumors Not Always What They Seem

Rumors of draft stocks rising and falling are not always what they seem… Are the Lakers and Knicks looking to trade their picks?

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What You Hear Isn’t All There Is: A pretty common response to noise, especially noise in the media, is to mistake the lack of noise for lack of action. When it comes to the NBA Draft and the process NBA teams use to select players, this couldn’t be more accurate.

What you hear about isn’t always what teams are thinking, and what teams are thinking is rarely what you are hearing about.

In the case of UCLA big man Kevon Looney, the narrative about his draft status isn’t necessarily lining up with what’s being said and there are some reasons for it.

Looney entered the draft process after 36 games at UCLA, in which he averaged 11.6 points and 9.2 rebounds. Viewed by many as an interesting NBA draft prospect with tremendous upside, most pundits have Looney projected in the teens of this draft class. Looney has committed to workouts with nine teams, including completed workouts with Oklahoma City, Phoenix, Utah and Detroit – all of whom are drafting in the 8-to-14 range. Looney has requests for several more workouts that his camp is weighing and trying to see if there are dates available for them.

Looney was part of a Pro-Day on May 22. More than 75 NBA executives, scouts and media were there and there’s no question that Looney was not only nervous, but not in the ideal shape for the kind of work the workout was meant to showcase. This resulted in some negativity about Looney that might have been a little misplaced, mainly because Looney wasn’t necessarily in the best of shape when he started the process and the drills they ran were meant to showcase his ability to play up and down with faster guards. Overall, considering all the factors, some scouts thought Looney did rather well and it started the phone ringing with teams trying to get him in for a longer and closer look.

One of the negatives that has been talked about a lot in the media is Looney’s sports asthma. Looney does use an inhaler and while asthma is no joking matter, there is a sense that as Looney gets in better shape and physically matures as a professional that his reliance on it will diminish. A lot of NBA players use inhalers and manage sports asthma without any negative impact on their playing ability.

Looney’s workout with the Jazz in the higher altitude of Utah was expected to be a problem with his asthma, however Looney did well in the workout and drew rave reviews from the Jazz brass, who were expecting asthma and endurance issues.

There is no doubting that conditioning and getting in better shape are an issue for Looney. While at UCLA, he missed early pre-season practice time recovering from a hip injury. Bruins head coach Steve Alford played a very short rotation during the season and did not have many long practices as he tried to keep his guys healthy.

While that was good for UCLA, it wasn’t necessarily good for Looney.

So comes the narrative that Looney isn’t ready for the NBA, his asthma is a problem and that his stock is dropping – the problem is that’s not at all what’s happening. Teams higher on the draft board are trying to re-arrange dates to get Looney in, and as more teams see him in their building, there is a sense that Looney’s floor, which was believed to be No. 20 to the Toronto Raptors, may in fact be substantially higher.

No one in the process is trying to paint Looney as a day-one NBA starter, but what he is being positioned as is a 19-year-old double-double machine, who can be a playmaking four. In time, he could be a very solid NBA player and it seems more teams are seeing that for themselves.

There is a sense that there is some misinformation being floated in part because of the less than stellar Pro-Day, but also as some teams may be trying to drive his stock down so they can select him where they’re picking.

The NBA Draft is such an inexact science, and who lands where rarely lines up with the noise and with teams like Atlanta, Miami and Denver all jockeying for workout dates, it’s becoming clear that Looney may not be headed as far down the draft board as some of the noise would indicate.

Are The Knicks And Lakers Looking At Trades? Any time a team lands a pick outside the top overall selection, there is at least a desire to understand what that pick might return in trade.

L.A. Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak made no secret that his team would like to jump start their rebuild, but it would take something pretty special for them to move off the second overall pick. They have started meeting with serious candidates for the second pick, but have also open the door on trades for that pick. The narrative so far is the Lakers are keeping the pick, but they are considering options, even though it’s doubtful that they move the pick.

The New York Knicks are in much of the same place. They too have started to meet with players that could be there for them with the fourth overall pick. The sense in New York is they are keeping the pick as well.

The wrinkle in both equations are the rumors that both teams are scheduling workouts with Murray State point guard Cameron Payne. Now, Payne is not in consideration for either the second or fourth pick, however there is a sense that he could be a default option should a draft day deal materialize.

Sources close to the situation point to two things that are playing out – the biggest is that the Denver Nuggets have been exploring what guard Ty Lawson and forward Kenneth Faried could return in trade. The Nuggets hold the seventh pick in the 2015 NBA Draft.

Then there is the Sacramento Kings, who have the sixth overall pick and more than a few teams trying to pry away Kings big man DeMarcus Cousins. The Kings continue to turn away interest in Cousins, hoping that a full season with head coach George Karl can turn things around.

The fact that both the Lakers and the Knicks are looking at Payne is interesting on a number of fronts. His agency also represents both Cousins, Lawson and soon-to-be restricted free agent Jimmy Butler.

So take from that what you will, but it does seem that both franchises are at least looking at alternatives other than what’s available to them in the draft, which is not at all uncommon, but it does create an interesting wrinkle.

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Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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