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NBA Buzz: It's never too early for a mock draft


NBA Buzz: It's never too early for a mock draft

The majority of the NBA universe is speculating about which players will be traded before the Feb. 8 deadline — but we already did that a couple days ago.

So, with the college basketball season past its halfway point, how about an early projection of what the 14 lottery teams might do with their first-round selections?

It's never too early for a mock draft.

1. Sacramento Kings: Marvin Bagley, PF, Duke. The Kings have been whiffing on lottery picks for most of the last decade, but taking Bagley would be a no-brainer. Sacramento is pretty thin up front after the DeMarcus Cousins trade last season, and Bagley looks like a multiple-time All Star with a variety of post moves and shooting range out to the 3-point line.

2. Atlanta Hawks: Deandre Ayton, C, Arizona. The Hawks have completely torn down the roster just a few short years after finishing with the best record in the East. They could use help at every position, but as we saw when the Bulls visited on Jan. 20, the Hawks have absolutely zero rim protection. Enter Ayton, an athletic seven-footer with an NBA-ready frame who should be able to anchor the Atlanta defense for years to come.

3. Orlando Magic: Trae Young, PG, Oklahoma. The Magic are another team in major need of a roster makeover, and after watching Elfrid Payton struggle for four seasons at the most important position in the modern game, isn't it time for an upgrade at the point guard position? Young leads the nation in both scoring and assists with Steph Curry-like shooting range. He would definitely be a big-gate attraction in the Magic Kingdom.

4. Dallas Mavericks: Luka Doncic, SG/SF, Slovenia. After riding international star Dirk Nowitzki to their only NBA title in 2011, how about bringing in the best player currently competing in Europe? Mark Cuban has never been afraid to take chances with personnel moves, and the highly skilled Doncic could turn out to be the best perimeter player in the draft. At the age of 18, his shooting and passing ability have drawn rave reviews from NBA scouts.

5. Memphis Grizzlies: Michael Porter, SF/PF, Missouri. Porter only played two minutes for the Tigers before leaving his first college game with what turned out to be a season-ending back injury. Still, scouts love his potential to play both forward spots at 6-foot-10, and if Porter decides to apply for the draft, it's hard to see him falling beyond this point.

6. Phoenix Suns: Collin Sexton, PG, Alabama. The Suns used to be drowning in point guards, but after trading Goran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas and Eric Bledsoe in recent years, their starter is now 5-foot-9 Chicago native Tyler Ulis. Sexton has tremendous scoring and ball-handling skills, showing up on the national radar after almost single-handedly beating Minnesota in a Thanksgiving tournament game when Alabama was forced to play with only three players for a good portion of the second half because of injuries and ejections.

7. Boston Celtics: Mohamed Bamba, C, Texas. The Celtics continue to stock up on young talent by virtue of all the great trades made by general manager Danny Ainge in recent years. Boston has just about every position but center covered, and now they get a chance to add a defensive anchor with a 7-foot-9 wingspan. The Celtics are poised for a long run as the beasts of the East.

8. Cleveland Cavaliers: Jaren Jackson Jr., PF, Michigan State. Power forward really isn't the Cavs' biggest position of need, but if LeBron James leaves in free agency, Cleveland could be heading into rebuild mode. Jackson has a soft shooting touch from 3-point range and is quick off his feet as a shot blocker. He could team up with Kevin Love on a new-look Cavs team post-LeBron.

9. Bulls: Mikal Bridges, SG/SF, Villanova. With four starting positions already covered (assuming Robin Lopez remains on the roster), the Bulls would have the luxury to add another shot creator on the wing. Bridges is tall enough to play the small forward spot and has a lightning-quick first step to get to the rim. He also is shooting 44 percent from the 3-point line and 50 percent overall. Adding Bridges to a lineup that features Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn would give the Bulls a young and versatile unit capable of playing with tremendous pace.

10. Charlotte Hornets: Kevin Knox, SF/PF, Kentucky. The Hornets could be ready to push the reset button after watching their veteran-laden team underachieve this season. Charlotte will be looking to trade the big contracts of Nic Batum, Marvin Williams and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, which means they could be in need of a versatile frontcourt player with high-end scoring potential.

11. Utah Jazz: Wendell Carter, PF, Duke. With Derrick Favors likely to leave in free agency, the Jazz could definitely use a young power forward with Carter's ability to score inside. Carter has played in Bagley's massive shadow at Duke, but he figures to get more touches and shot attempts in an NBA offense. The Jazz have had pretty good luck drafting power forwards in the past with Karl Malone and Paul Millsap.

12. New York Knicks: Miles Bridges, SF, Michigan State. Bridges surprised a lot of NBA executives with his decision to return to Michigan State for his sophomore season considering he was a likely lottery pick last year. Bridges has become much more than just a spectacular dunker, adding a more consistent 3-point shot to his offensive arsenal. He could be an excellent fit in New York alongside Kristaps Porzingis and Enes Kanter.

13. Detroit Pistons: Hamidou Diallo, SG, Kentucky. Diallo hasn't really stood out on a young Kentucky team, but his physical tools are off the charts. He's a great finisher at the rim but needs more consistency with his outside shot. The Pistons could be in need of a shooting guard with Avery Bradley heading to free agency.

14. Denver Nuggets: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, PG, Kentucky. Another talented young athlete who gets kind of lost in a somewhat dysfunctional Kentucky offense. The Nuggets are ready to move on from the Emmanuel Mudiay experiment, though Gilgeous-Alexander offers similar concerns as a raw, underdeveloped prospect.

Around the Association

The big news this week involves the Milwaukee Bucks' decision to fire head coach Jason Kidd, who originally came to Milwaukee because of his longstanding friendship with Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry. Kidd signed a contract extension in 2016 and has a good relationship with All-Star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo.

So why the change? Clearly, Kidd and his staff have not done the best job of developing the talent on the roster. The Bucks made an early season trade with the Suns to acquire point guard Eric Bledsoe, giving them another shot creator to go along with the Greek Freak. They've also loaded up on long athletes over the years, drafting frontcourt players John Henson, Thon Maker and D.J. Wilson, while also adding point guard Malcolm Brogdon, who was the 2016-17 Rookie of the Year. And the Bucks starting lineup features a third proven scorer in swingman Khris Middleton, with Chicago native Jabari Parker expected back next month after completing his second ACL rehab.

With the Bucks scheduled to move into their new downtown arena next season, ownership is clearly not satisfied with a team hovering around .500 and in danger of missing the playoffs. Assistant coach Joe Prunty will take over for now, but the names of David Fizdale and Monty Williams have already surfaced as leading candidates to replace Kidd.

The San Antonio Spurs have long been held in high regard as the NBA's model organization. But now ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski and Michael C. Wright are reporting there's a growing disconnect with star forward Kawhi Leonard over the handling of his rehab from a quad injury. Leonard missed the first 27 games of the season because of the injury, and according to the report, he wasn't always on the same page with how the rehab process was done. Leonard is currently sidelined again because of the same injury, and the Spurs aren't sure when he'll be ready to play again.

Spurs general manager R.C. Buford denies there is any problem between the organization and its star player, but it's definitely a situation to watch considering Leonard can opt out of his current contract following the 2018-19 season. If the Bulls decided not be active in this summer's free-agent market, is there a chance they could make a run at one the NBA's top 10 players with a max offer in 2019?

While the Bucks have been one of the league's most disappointing teams this season, the Washington Wizards aren't far behind. Washington currently holds the fifth seed in the East, but that has more to do with the quality of the conference rather than the Wizards' outstanding play. Washington players recently decided to hold a clear-the-air meeting, but things didn't go exactly as planned.

According to the Washington Post, the meeting actually had a negative impact on team morale. John Wall said, "We had our team meeting. A couple guys took it the negative way, and it hurt our team. Instead of taking it a positive way like we did in the past and using it to build our team up, it kind of set us back a little bit."

Wizards leading scorer Bradley Beal added, "Honestly, it was probably — I won't say pointless, but we didn't accomplish what we needed to accomplish in that meeting. We just need to win ballgames. Like I told the guys, it doesn't matter how many meetings we have. We can have a meeting after every game, but if we're not mentally prepared for each game, we're going to lose again."

And that's exactly what happened. In the next game after the meeting, the Wizards got pounded by the Hornets, 133-109. Clearly, there's a lot of work to do before Washington can be considered a legitimate threat in the East.

Speaking of bad team meetings, how about Wojnarowski reporting the embattled Cavs got together before practice on Monday and actually questioned the legitimacy of Kevin Love's illness after he only played three minutes in a blowout loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder? According to the report, Love had to explain to his teammates why he left the arena before the game was over and then missed practice the following day. The Cavs might eventually get their act together before the playoffs, but it sure doesn't look good now.

Quote of the Week

Former Cavs coach David Blatt felt blindsided when he was fired and replaced by Ty Lue midway through the team's 2015-16 championship season. Blatt eventually went back to Europe to resume his coaching career, and he directed one of the teams in a Turkish BSL All-Star Game on Sunday.

When asked about his goals for the game, Blatt offered this classic that resonated on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean: "I hope we don't give up as many points as the Cavaliers gave up last night."

Very funny line after the Cavs were torched for 148 points in that loss to the Thunder, which matched a franchise record. Problem is, Blatt's All-Star squad gave up 151 in losing their game. You know what they say about karma.

Three teams mentioned as possible trade destinations for Nikola Mirotic


Three teams mentioned as possible trade destinations for Nikola Mirotic

If the Bulls have made up their minds to trade Nikola Mirotic this winter, there appears to be no shortage of interested parties.

Three teams have been mentioned as potential destinations in the last couple days: the Utah Jazz, Detroit Pistons and Portland Trail Blazers.

First came ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowksi, who wrote in a lengthy piece on the NBA as a whole that Mirotic "has been intrigued with" the Jazz. Wojnarowski went as far to say that the Bulls are planning to deal Mirotic away from Chicago.

The New York Times' Marc Stein was next up with a piece of Mirotic news, adding the Pistons to the mix.

And the Tribune's K.C. Johnson added from there, confirming the Pistons' interest and throwing in the Trail Blazers', as well, adding the Bulls are looking for a first-round pick in return.

Much has changed for Mirotic and the Bulls since the offseason. Mirotic's contract situation remains the same: The Bulls can't trade him before Jan. 15, nor can they trade him without him approving the deal. Stein threw in a caveat, though, that the Bulls can pick up Mirotic's option, extending his contract and taking away his veto authority,

But, Mirotic's value seems to have grown since he returned from the facial injuries sustained when Bobby Portis punched him right before the start of the season. Mirotic has been extremely productive, boasting a 17.4 scoring average and contributing seven rebounds a game. He's shooting 48.6 percent from the field and 46.5 percent from 3-point range, averaging 2.5 makes from beyond the arc per contest.

The Bulls have also been vastly more successful with him on the floor, going on a seven-game winning streak as soon as he returned and owning an 11-6 record with him in uniform.

While Mirotic has done a lot in the last month-plus to show that he does have long-term value, capitalizing on this hot streak would be wise for the rebuilding Bulls. And if they could get a first-round pick in return, it sets up the ability to add two players in the first 30 picks of this summer's loaded draft.

Cavaliers: LeBron James had never been swept by a division opponent, until this year's Bulls

Cavaliers: LeBron James had never been swept by a division opponent, until this year's Bulls

LeBron James wins a lot. This should come as no surprise, as the three-time NBA champion and four-time MVP has put together a Hall of Fame career by age 32 and doesn't seem to be slowing down.

His dominance over the Eastern Conference also speaks for itself, as James has been to an NBA-record-tying six straight NBA Finals. Widdling his success down even further, James has commanded the Central Division in his 10 seasons with the Cavaliers, and the Southeast Division in his four seasons with the Heat.

Since the NBA created in 2004 the current divisions, James has won division titles in nine of those 13 seasons; James' Cavaliers won the Central five times and his Heat won the Southeast each of the four seasons he played there. James hasn't not won a division title since 2008, a span of nine years

His divisions have featured some pretty awful teams, such as the 2012 Bobcats that went 7-59 in a lockout-shortened season. His divisions also featured the likes of the Pistons' East dominance in the mid-2000s.

In the current division format, James has played 52 regular-season series against the Central and Southeast, respectively.

In 51 of those series James earned at least one victory in the four-game* season series.

Meet the 2016-17 Bulls.

With Thursday night's 99-93 victory over the Cavaliers, LeBron James was swept by a division opponent for the first time in his 14-year Hall of Fame career.

Dec. 2: Bulls 111, Cavaliers 105
Jan. 4: Bulls 106, Cavaliers 94
Feb. 25: Bulls 117, Cavaliers 99
Mar. 30: Bulls 99, Cavaliers 93

In 10 seasons with the Cavaliers and four with the Heat, James' teams hold a 135-70 division record. That includes games against the Central's Bulls, Bucks, Pistons and Pacers, and the the Southeast's Hornets/Bobcats, Wizards, Magic and Hawks.

Of those 51 series (the Cavs still play the Pacers once more this season), here's how James has fared.

4-0: 12 times
3-1: 17 times
2-2: 11 times
1-3: 8 times
0-4: 1 time

3-0: 1 time (lockout-shortened season)
1-2: 1 time (lockout-shortened season)

And against each opponent:

Charlotte: 15-0
Orlando: 12-4
Atlanta: 12-4
Milwaukee: 26-10
Indiana: 24-11
Washington: 10-5
Chicago: 18-18
Detroit: 18-18

In what has been an incredibly odd year for the Bulls, full of unthinkable losses and improbable victories, the fact that they were the ones to sweep James for the first time is perhaps the most remarkable stat of all.

Go figure.