The Sixers spent all last season tanking just to grab a lottery pick -- and they may have tanked the 2014-15 season, too.
Welcome to an NBA draft night that began slowly and expectedly, only to take a few sharp turns and get completely twisted out of shape by the Sixers, who had two picks in the top 10 … and won't have either player in uniform this fall.
It was odd. It was a shock. It was, genius, maybe?
Not only did Philly roll the dice on Joel Embiid, whose scouting report also comes with a handy medical report, but they also drafted Dario Saric, a skillful forward from Croatia that plenty of folks raved about but won't see until 2015-16 or maybe the following season should he decide to keep playing in Europe. And judging by how bad the Sixers could be -- and remember, they lost 26 straight last season -- what's the rush, really?
"If he's healthy," said Kansas coach Bill Self, on Embiid, whom he coached for one year, "Philadelphia got a steal at 3. He is a franchise-type player. He's got it all."
Even had they used their picks to draft others, the Sixers know that rookies rarely make poor teams better overnight. Just consider Michael Carter-Williams; he won Rookie of the Year and didn't take the Sixers anywhere but the lottery. So in that sense, the Sixers could afford to draft two players and stash them. Maybe the wait will be worth it. And maybe the Sixers as a result will be back in this position next summer, on a desperate star search, wisely realizing that the draft is the best place to find such a player.
If the Sixers make the playoffs next year (stop laughing), their first-round pick goes to the Celtics. But if they miss the playoffs, they keep it. See where this is going?
Anyway, we move on. Here's what I liked about the draft:
The Cavs taking Andrew Wiggins over Jabari Parker with the first overall pick. Wiggins just seems to have … it. Not that Parker doesn't. But if a consistent outside shot is the guy's biggest flaw, well, that can be fixed in the NBA.
Wiggins' suit. No sass, just class.
The Magic. Weren't they supposed to crash and burn in the Dwight Howard aftermath? They had the best draft of the night.
The Knicks. Phil Jackson, lacking any picks, crashed the party anyway, loaded up on second-rounders and came away with NCAA tournament hero Cleanthony Early and Thanasis Antetokounmpo, older brother of Giannis, the Greek Freak (if nothing else, Jackson just gave hell to the New York tabloid headline writers). This came just days after Jackson traded Tyson Chandler and got, among others, 21-year-old Shane Larkin in return. This may not be enough to convince free agent Carmelo Anthony to stay, but if he goes, the rebuilding process is officially underway.
UCLA. You mean three Bruins cracked the first round? And how is it that they didn't win the NCAAs last year?
The Bulls. You might think Doug McDermott will turn out to be a dud, someone whose high scoring won't translate to the NBA level. Fine. But for the Bulls to trade up and get a pure scorer, an element they sorely lack, was an example of how to attack the draft.
Here's what I didn't like:
The Raptors. I have no idea who they took and never heard of him. Neither do you. Neither does your neighbor, who claimed to be on top of the draft. Neither did anyone on TV. Neither did half the NBA.
The Suns. They had three first-rounders and common sense says you unload at least one of them, if only to keep from paying three guaranteed contracts. Oh, well.
Michigan State guard Gary Harris falling to 19. Really confused by this, because for the last two years he played well in a competitive conference.
Glenn Robinson III going in the second round. Because, like Michigan teammate Mitch McGary, he was first-round talent had he left school a year ago.
The best draft selection of the night wasn't made by the Cavs, or the Sixers, or the Hornets who snagged a pair, or even the defending champion Spurs who make a habit of finding someone in the latter stages of the first round.
No, nobody had a better night than Baylor center Isaiah Austin, made an honorary draft pick by NBA commissioner Adam Silver. Austin suffers from Marfan syndrome, which was diagnosed just weeks before the draft, and had he continued his NBA career, it could've threatened his life.
Hearing his name called, he said, was "one of the greatest moments of my life." Even better, he should enjoy a long life, at least we can hope.
"God has really blessed me," Austin said. "He could've allowed me to keep playing, but instead he saved my life."
Here's a team-by-team first-round assessment:
Cavaliers: Andrew Wiggins, guard, Kansas (No. 1 overall). They'll be judged on whether Wiggins turns out better than Parker and while that might not be in their favor in the short term, it's all about who has the better career. The Cavs took calls for this pick right up until the morning of the draft but nothing blew them away. Wiggins brings a defensive skill set that most rookies lack, and Kyrie Irving might have the shotgun rider that LeBron James never had in Cleveland. Time will tell, but the possibilities are potentially breathtaking.
Bucks: Jabari Parker, small forward, Duke (2). When's the last time a rookie, or any player, expressed a deep love for Milwaukee? Part of the reason is because Parker was born and raised down the street in Chicago and had no shot of being taken by the Bulls. Still, this is wonderful news for the Bucks, who want to remind Milwaukee that the city does have a team. New ownership is in place and a new arena is coming. Maybe the Greek Freak can bond with Parker and form something special in Milwaukee.
Sixers: Joel Embiid, center, Kansas (3) and Dario Saric, power forward, Croatia (12). Looks like the Sixers just drafted two players who'll make the 2015-16 All-Rookie Team. At least one was the kind of gutsy, go-for-it decision the Sixers had to make. Why play it safe when you're trying to create drastic change? If Embiid has no further foot or injury issues and fulfills his potential -- whew, that's asking a lot -- Philly just hit the jackpot. Saric will play overseas for at least one more season, and he could be trade bait.
Magic: Aaron Gordon, power forward, Arizona (4) and Elfrid Payton, point guard, Louisiana-Lafayette (10). Two years ago this franchise was teetering on the edge and on the verge of turning insignificant. The Magic lost Dwight Howard, Stan Van Gundy and needed a general manager. But, wow. Rob Hennigan has done tremendous work in a short time by coming out a winner in the Howard trade, getting Victor Oladipo in last year's draft and now adding a pair of needed pieces in a creative power forward who's only 18 and a tough, exciting point guard who rose up the draft charts.
Jazz: Dante Exum, guard, Australia (5) and Rodney Hood, forward, Duke (23). Exum wanted to fall to the Lakers and be teammates with his idol Kobe Bryant but there was no chance of that happening. Utah will throw him on the floor with Trey Burke and let them decide who runs the point. Maybe they take turns. Maybe it works. In a best-case scenario, Hood could compete with Gordon Hayward for minutes, assuming Hayward re-signs this summer.
Celtics: Marcus Smart, point guard, Oklahoma State (6) and James Young, guard, Kentucky (17). Don't expect the Celtics to trade Rajon Rondo right away. It's best for the Celtics that Rondo, who's entering the final year of his contract, play up his value first. He won't be on the clock until the trade deadline approaches, which will give Smart more than enough time to learn the position on the NBA level. Young is a shooter and still only 18, but his defense and dribble game need work.
Lakers: Julius Randle, power forward, Kentucky (7). When the college season began, Randle was in the mix for being the No. 1 pick, and after a so-so start, showed flashes of dominance in the tourney. The Lakers tried hard to trade this pick for more immediate help, because as long as Kobe Bryant is in uniform, they're in win-now mode. Unless they can seduce Carmelo Anthony or LeBron James, both long-shots, this is a sure sign the rebuilding has begun in L.A. and Kobe will have no choice but to deal with it.
Kings: Nik Stauskas, guard, Michigan (8). Wasn't it just a year ago when they took Ben McLemore to be their shooter of the future? Well, just months into his rookie season, the Kings traded for Rudy Gay, who took McLemore's minutes, and now comes Stauskas, the best shooter in the draft. The bonus is Stauskas can also score off the dribble. Still, by drafting virtually the same player two years in a row, the Kings aren't showing much faith in McLemore.
Hornets: Noah Vonleh, power forward, Indiana (9) and PJ Hairston, guard, D-League via North Carolina (26). The list of first-round picks by this franchise is a gloomy one, filed with outright disappointments and players who turned out just OK. Perhaps, with the name change, the Hornets' draft fortunes will change as well. Once again, Charlotte reached for a developing big man early in the draft. Vonleh may not be as raw as Bismack Biyombo, but he's still far from a finished product. Hairston is a 40-percent shooter from deep who needed to take maturity pills after being caught with weed and winding up in the D-League as "punishment."
Bulls: Doug McDermott, power forward, Creighton (11). This was a slick move by the Bulls on two levels. One, they sent a pair of first-rounders to move up and therefore only have one rookie salary on next season's payroll, which conceivably keeps them in the hunt for free agent Carmelo Anthony. Two: In the likely event Melo stays in New York, McBuckets just might help in the scoring department, which of course is Chicago's only major weakness. "He's a complete player," said coach Tom Thibodeau. Um, defense?
Timberwolves: Zach LaVine, guard, UCLA (13). Did you see his head-dropping reaction to being taken by Minnesota? Priceless. Evidently, he knows this team's history. Can anyone remember the last time Minnesota drafted a sure thing? Well, yeah, it was Kevin Love, now itching to leave, and his time with the Wolves is on the clock. LaVine is tremendous athletically but light on skills and lacks a true guard position.
Suns: TJ Warren, small forward, NC State (14); Tyler Ennis, point guard, Syracuse (18) and Bogdan Bogdanovic, guard, Serbia (27). Warren was the ACC player of the year who brings a mid-range game; Ennis was a smart point guard but not terrific athletically; and Bogdanovic is your typical sharp-shooting Serb who also brings ideal height at 6-foot-6. But, why did the Suns feel compelled to keep all three of their first-rounders? Their depth was the biggest surprise of the season. This creates a bit of a logjam and yet, at the same time, gives Phoenix a chance to stock up on young talent and potential trade chips.
Hawks: Adreian Payne, power forward, Michigan State (15). He's an older, more mature rookie, who grew steadily in college and made himself into a middle first-round pick. But is he right for the Hawks? They have Al Horford and Paul Millsap who bring essentially the same strengths. Payne is a stretch-four player for a team lacking in low-post talent. If anything, he'll give GM Danny Ferry some options if he's better than expected.
Nuggets: Yusuf Nurkic, center, Bosnia (16) and Gary Harris, guard, Michigan State (19). Nurkic is a wide body who's untested against college competition, while Harris took a tumble after measuring 6-foot-2 at the combine. Maybe the best addition for the Nuggets was an old one: Getting Arron Afflalo back from Orlando in a pre-draft trade.
Raptors: Bruno Caboclo, small forward, Brazil (20). Rumor says his uniform won't have a number, but a question mark instead. As in: Who? Masai Ujiri has earned the benefit of the doubt here, because his track record is somewhat solid. Still, you mean he couldn't get the Brazilian Kevin Durant in the second round, or by trading further down in the first round? That's really the issue. Also, the Raptors bypassed the chance to get a point guard, which indicates they're confident in their chances of re-signing Kyle Lowry in free agency.
Thunder: Mitch McGary, power forward, Michigan (21) and Josh Huestis, forward, Stanford (29). A team as deep as OKC is really drafting for backups in the first round, or hoping they find a steal. Hard to tell with these two picks, but McGary is the more likely candidate. Those two weeks in the NCAA tournament two years ago put McGary on the map and a solid first-rounder had he come out for the draft last year. Well, he didn't, and then needed back surgery a month into his sophomore year. He and Steven Adams are clones.
Grizzlies: Jordan Adams, guard, UCLA (22). It was painful watching the Grindhouse Gang try to beat teams with outside shooting. So desperate were the Grizzlies for shooting, especially after Quincy Pondexter was lost for the year with injuries, that they asked Mike Miller to play major minutes at times. So the question for Adams is: Can he score? Because that's what the Grizzlies need, and they can't afford to go another season asking Mike Conley to be their most reliable outside shooter.
Heat: Shabazz Napier, point guard, Connecticut (24). The last time Miami drafted a point guard who was the hero of the NCAA champion was Mario Chalmers. Well, what a coincidence: Chalmers is on his way out, and LeBron James' favorite collegiate point guard is coming in. "If LeBron and I have the same taste in talent," said Pat Riley, who swung a trade for Napier, "so be it." Napier and the Heat would be lucky if LeBron, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade are screaming at him next season.
Rockets: Clint Capela, power forward, Switzerland (25). He may be a hard-working rim protector but his best value for the Rockets is being Euro-stash for a year so they don't have to add his salary. The last thing the Rockets need is a rookie preventing them from chasing Carmelo Anthony. Smart move by the Rockets to draft a foreign player whom they don't need right away, which came days after shipping out Omer Asik and his $8 million salary.
Clippers: CJ Wilcox, guard, Washington (28). The Clippers signed JJ Redick and traded for Jared Dudley last summer, hoping their shooting issues were solved, and only one of those players came through. Wilcox averaged 18.3 points and will get his chance to take Dudley's spot in the rotation. Otherwise, the Clippers already found what they were looking for in the offseason: A new owner.
Spurs: Kyle Anderson, guard, UCLA (30). So, this means in a few years he's going to win MVP of the Finals at some point, right? Anderson isn't very athletic and his fall to the bottom of the first round was a mild surprise, but somehow the Spurs will come out of this looking like draft geniuses, as usual.