Caulton Tudor

Trades for vets could mark NBA draft night

Posted June 16

Paul George

With the NBA draft less than a week away, there are at least six players projected as the possible No. 1 pick.

One of those is former NC State playmaker Dennis Smith. Another is ex-Duke forward Jayson Tatum. And of late, Jonathan Isaac (Florida State) has gained a lot of attention after his individual workouts.

The leaders are still considered to be Markelle Fultz (Washington), Josh Jackson (Kansas) and Lonzo Ball (UCLA).

All six of those players have one year of college experience. Ditto for highly-rated De’Aaron Fox (Kentucky), Zach Collins (Gonzaga) and Lauri Markkanen (Arizona).

Most scouts say the current group of young players in the draft is among the most impressive ever. But when the actual selection process begins on June 22 at 7 p.m. in Brooklyn, there’s a growing chance the night’s buzz will be more about trading for veterans than scrambling for the inexperienced youngsters.

Boston has the No. 1 slot, followed by the LA Lakers and Philadelphia.

But for all of the new talent that arrives each season in the draft, the playoffs repeatedly prove that success hinges on established stars, role players and the chemistry they can blend in a relatively short time.

Newcomers rarely make big impacts in the NBA anymore. The 2016-17 league all-rookie team was led by former Virginia star Malcolm Brogdon, a 2nd-round pick by Milwaukee.

Brogdon was joined by Jamal Murray (Denver), Dario Saric and Joel Embiid (Philadelphia) and Willy Hernangomez (NY Knicks) on the 1st team.

Embiid and Saric, both 23, were actually was drafted in 2014 and Hernangomez, 23, in 2015.

Only Brogdon, 24, and Murray, 20, were selected in the 2016 draft and only Embiid at 20.2 ppg averaged more than 13 points among all 2016-17 rookies.

Last year’s No. 1 pick – LSU freshman Ben Simmons by Philadelphia – missed the entire season as the result of a foot injury. The No. 2 pick – Duke frosh Brandon Ingram – averaged 9.4 points but shot only 40.2 percent and 29.4 percent on 3-point attempts for the Lakers.

Meanwhile, reigning powers Golden State, Cleveland and San Antonio relied very little on young talent.

The Warriors emerged as the league’s best team after signing free agent forward Kevin Durant in the off-season and working him into a lineup previously built around veterans Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson. The youngest players on the Golden State roster – center Damian Jones and guard Pat McCaw, both 21 – played very little.

Cleveland followed the same pattern. Nine Cavaliers are 28 or older. Seven are in their 30s, including LeBron James, 32.

Boston probably was the best of the relatively young teams in ’16-17, but was no match for the Cavaliers in the playoffs and still looked to guard Isaiah Thomas (28) and Al Horford (31) for much of its scoring and rebounding.

Celtics general manager Danny Ainge has said repeatedly that the team is likely to keep the No. 1 spot, but he’s amended that stance at least some.

“We’re looking for the best player, but it’s not clear who the best player is,” Ainge told reporters recently.

Philadelphia’s Bryan Colangelo is categorically entertaining offers for the third spot.

Veterans Paul George (Indiana forward), Gordon Hayward (Utah forward) and Chris Paul (LA Clippers guard) reportedly are among a number of established stars and/or near-stars who could be available for trade on draft night.

Then there’s the fact that Durant and Curry are free agents, as are Toronto guard Kyle Lowry, Atlanta forward Paul Millsap, Clippers forward Blake Griffin and Paul among several others.

Odds are the Warriors will find a way to keep Durant and Curry, but everyone else on the free agent list could be in play next week.

NBA draft night always is flush with drama, anticipation and speculation. This year, it’ll be the same, plus a lot of wheeling, dealing and jersey swapping.

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