The unofficial start of the NBA’s offseason has begun, with the draft being days away and teams gearing up for extreme makeovers, giving way to the best part of fantasy basketball.
The imagination phase, speculation season.
Whether it’s DeMarcus Cousins having his name thrown about in trade rumors because his coach doesn’t want to deal with him or a few teams tired of hoarding draft picks that takes years to develop as opposed to contending, it’s only the beginning.
Over the next 48 hours, teams will try to position themselves by sending out false draft information to willing media participants, hoping to execute the best end-around this side of Devin Hester. Some hot name will emerge in the draft, a top-12 player who’ll somehow earn the love of a top team like his game film changed since March.
By contrast, there’s almost always a player who’ll drop on everybody’s draft boards after spending months atop it, like some magical attribute has suddenly made the prospect of drafting him all the more risky.
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This is why some teams stay drafting at the top and why the more stable organizations keep waiting on the diamonds in the rough to slide down while the less intelligent franchises talk themselves out of contention and back to another lottery appearance some 300 days from now.
But the tenor of this draft—and any draft—is uncertainty.
Draft day trades where prospects are dealt for proven players is a common occurrence, although not as common practice as it used to be, given this NBA is a more cost-control league and teams aren’t as gung-ho about adding proven, pricey veterans to a core as opposed to the possibility of having draft picks develop under the tutelage.
It’s why Cousins’ name is so intriguing for many teams, especially the Boston Celtics who’ve been sniffing around the talented big man for years on end, dangling multiple first-round picks in consecutive years just in case the Kings are foolish enough to give away a player who averages 24 points and 12 rebounds.
Phoenix Suns point guard Eric Bledsoe has heard his name lightly tossed out in the rumor mill, as a potential target for the always-rebuilding but never succeeding (and always comical) New York Knicks, a player who signed a max contract less than 10 months ago.
Let it be said it’s unlikely Bledsoe or to a lesser degree, Cousins, is actually moved on Thursday but it does illustrate the growing impatience for some franchises to get better, to make change for change sake or to abandon a plan that had plenty of holes in it from Day One.
[MORE DRAFT: Four players who the Bulls should consider at No. 22]
With the salary cap rising at a rapid rate over the next two offseasons (not this one), teams will be more likely to take on existing bad contracts to fill needs as opposed to going into free agency and truly overpaying for a player just because the market says so.
Eyes will be wide come July 1, and the uncertainty of the draft is only matched by the uncertainty of free agency. Missing on a draft pick, for some, is a forgivable offense. Missing on a free agency signing with a hefty price tag could be a death knell to some front office executives, and they’d rather take their chances with the trade market.
So ideas will be bandied about in boardrooms and some will even make its way to the twitterverse before NBA commissioner Adam Silver makes his way to the podium to announce draft selections five minutes apart Thursday night.
Some may even come to fruition but most of all, you’ll likely hear a lot of smoke—as the fire plans to be quite unexpected and rarely speculated before it happens.
Welcome to the NBA’s offseason.