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NBA predictions: Which teams will come out of the East and West?

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NBA predictions: Which teams will come out of the East and West?

Every October, usually 28 teams or so have designs on qualifying for the NBA playoffs and this year is no different. The Minnesota Timberwolves, reeling after the devastating death of coach/president Flip Saunders, were about rebuilding this year behind their youth even before this tragedy.

The Philadelphia 76ers, of course, never have designs on winning, running a scheme on the city and fan base that borders on criminal, but alas.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

As this season starts, there will be some underachieving teams, leaving some franchises to wonder if their current direction is best and with the current windfall of TV money, will position themselves for free agency quite early.

But since only 16 teams qualify, here’s how this scribe sees the Eastern and Western Conference top eight standings play out before the playoffs.

Eastern Conference

1. Cleveland Cavaliers (61-21)

2. Miami Heat (54-28)

3. Chicago Bulls (53-29)

4. Atlanta Hawks (50-32)

5. Washington Wizards (48-34)

6. Milwaukee Bucks (46-36)

7. Toronto Raptors (45-37)

8. Indiana Pacers (42-40)

Western Conference

1. Oklahoma City Thunder (64-18)

2. Golden State Warriors (62-20)

3. San Antonio Spurs (56-26)

4. Los Angeles Clippers (55-27)

5. Houston Rockets (53-29)

6. Memphis Grizzlies (49-33)

7. New Orleans Pelicans (46-36)

8. Utah Jazz (43-39)

NBA Buzz: Expect a lot of movement at the start of Thursday's NBA Draft

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NBC SPORTS CHICAGO

NBA Buzz: Expect a lot of movement at the start of Thursday's NBA Draft

As we get closer to the New Orleans Pelicans going on the clock with the 1st pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, rumors are flying all over the basketball universe. All of a sudden, it seems like a handful of teams are trying to trade up to draft Vanderbilt point guard Darius Garland, even though he only played five games as a freshman before season-ending meniscus injury. Remember, Kyrie Irving only played 11 games at Duke because of injury and still wound up being the No. 1 overall pick by Cleveland back in 2011.

The Knicks are planning to work out Garland on Wednesday, but it’s not believed they would take him over high-scoring Duke swingman R.J. Barrett with the 3rd overall pick. Apparently, the Knicks are just doing their due diligence in case they get an overwhelming offer to trade down. With that said, don’t be surprised if we see at least a couple trades involving the top 10 picks on draft night.

Here’s my final mock draft looking at what could happen in the lottery on Thursday.

  1. PELICANS-Zion Williamson, F, Duke.  No surprises here. New Orleans gets its franchise player to start a new era under Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations David Griffin. Griffin is an extremely bright executive who made an excellent trade with the Lakers over the weekend, getting maximum value for unhappy star Anthony Davis.

  2. GRIZZLIES-Ja Morant, PG, Murray St.  Memphis also in rebuild mode after dealing Marc Gasol to Toronto at the deadline, with Mike Conley also likely to be traded this summer. Morant is the perfect player to build around with his play-making ability and charisma.

  3. KNICKS-R.J. Barrett, SG-SF, Duke.   The Knicks are holding a last-minute workout with Darius Garland, but that could just be to try to drive up better trade offers. Barrett’s scoring ability is a perfect fit for a team that desperately needs more scoring at the wing spots.

  4. HAWKS (trade w/New Orleans) -Jarrett Culver, SG, Texas Tech. Armed with 3 first round picks, the Hawks cash in No. 8 and No. 10 to acquire a perfect backcourt complement for last season’s rookie sensation Trae Young. If New Orleans decides to keep the pick, I still think Culver goes here.

  5. BULLS   (from Cavs)-Darius Garland, PG, Vanderbilt.  Bulls trade the 7th pick and a top 5 protected 2020 1st rounder to Cavs to acquire their point guard of the future. According to multiple reports, the Bulls have traveled to Los Angeles to watch Garland in a private workout, and they’ve been high on his potential since early in the college season. John Paxson is looking to make the team playoff relevant again, and acquiring Garland gives the Bulls a dynamic, young starting line-up with the chance to add a couple of quality veterans to strengthen the bench and the locker room in free agency.

  6. SUNS-Coby White, PG, North Carolina.  Phoenix also in desperate need of a point guard to run their young team. White’s speed and scoring ability should open things up for shooting star Devin Booker, and also set up screen and roll opportunities with last year’s No. 1 overall pick Deandre Ayton.

  7. CAVS-Cam Reddish, F, Duke.   Since the Cavs just drafted point guard Collin Sexton last season, moving down 2 spots to get the player they want anyway is a perfect trade scenario. Some scouts believe Reddish has the most star potential outside of the top 3, and he can step right into the starting small forward spot once held by Northeast Ohio’s favorite son LeBron James.

  8. PELICANS-Jaxson Hayes, C, Texas.  After trading Davis to Lakers, New Orleans has a major need to solidify the post position. Hayes is only 19 with excellent potential as a rim runner and shot blocker, ala Houston’s Clint Capela. The Pelicans will have to be patient with Hayes’ development, but he could eventually be a good fit playing alongside Zion and Brandon Ingram.

  9. WIZARDS-De’Andre Hunter, F, Virginia.  Washington will be thrilled to see Hunter fall this far. The Wizards are likely to lose both Bobby Portis and Jabari Parker in free agency, so they’ll need some reinforcements on the frontline. Hunter shot 52 percent from the field and 44 percent from the college 3-point line in leading Virginia to the national championship this past season. He should start immediately on a Washington team that will likely be without star guard John Wall for most of the 2019-20 season while he rehabs from an Achilles injury.

  10. ROCKETS (from Pelicans) -Rui Hachimura, PF, Gonzaga. Griffin probably doesn’t want to make three top 10 picks in a shallow draft, so he’ll send this selection to Houston for a future first-round selection. Rockets’ GM Daryl Morey is desperate to re-tool his roster after coming up short against the Warriors for the second straight season. Hachimura is a highly skilled power forward who will give Houston some needed scoring punch on the frontline.

  11. TIMBERWOLVES-Sekou Doumbouya, F, France.  Minnesota needs some frontline help with the likelihood of losing former Bull Taj Gibson in free agency. Doumbouya came on strong late in his European season and scouts like his potential as a 6-foot-9  athlete with a smooth stroke from 3-point range.

  12. HORNETS-Kevin Porter, Jr., SG, USC.   With the possibility of high-scoring Kemba Walker and shooting guard Jeremy Lamb leaving in free agency, the Hornets need some help in the backcourt. Porter is a dynamic athlete who could develop into a go-to scorer at the NBA level.

  13. HEAT-Keldon Johnson, SG-SF, Kentucky.  Johnson is moving up draft boards with strong showings in individual team workouts. Miami will be looking to replace the wing scoring they lost with Dwyane Wade’s retirement, and they’re also looking to trade oft-injured shooting guard Dion Waiters.

  14. CELTICS (from Sacramento)-Romeo Langford, SG, Indiana.  With the likely departure of All-Star guard Kyrie Irving in free agency, Boston will need to add some backcourt scoring to go along with young wing players Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Langford shot poorly in his one season at Indiana, but he played most of the year with a torn ligament in his right thumb. He began the college season as a likely top 10 pick.

Purdue Carsen Edwards hoping to crack the first round 

The Bulls also currently hold the No. 38 overall pick, which they acquired from Memphis in the Justin Holiday trade. Don’t be surprised if the Bulls trade the pick or use it on a European prospect who might not come to the league for a couple of years like forwards Luka Samanic or Deividas Sirvydis. They also could take a chance on Missouri big man Jontay Porter (Michael Porter’s brother), who might not play next season after suffering a second ACL tear. Another possibility is a first round talent falling into the second round like Purdue’s high-scoring guard Carsen Edwards.

Edwards led the Boilermakers to the NCAA’s Elite 8, putting up a pair of 42-point games against Villanova and eventual national champion Virginia. "Every game we won I enjoyed it, you know, moving on. I was just happy to be able to play the next game. Kind of enjoying it, staying in the moment, but then also getting ready for the next game. I enjoyed it with my teammates because it wasn't just me who won all those games and got us on the run that we had. I feel that we enjoyed it and for the most part we did it as a collective team."

For the season, the 6-foot-1 guard averaged 24.3 points per game, reminding some scouts of former Bull Ben Gordon with his quick-strike scoring ability. His size would suggest playing point guard in the NBA, but like Gordon, Edwards is really an undersized shooting guard. Still, he’s willing to shift to a facilitator role if needed. "I just want to do whatever a team needs from me. They want me to prove that, which I'm working hard just to be able to be ready for that. But at the same time, Coach (Matt) Painter didn't tell me that's the role I need to play, so it's hard for me to prove that when I need to score the ball for my team to win. At the end of the day, I was trying to do what's best for my team. If they want me to be a point guard and run the offense, then that's what I'm prepared to do."

Until his scoring explosion in the NCAA tournament, Edwards was projected to be a second-round pick in this draft, but given the success of smaller scoring guards in the league like Steph Curry, Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker, and Damian Lillard, he could hear his name called somewhere in the 20s on Thursday. Still, Edwards isn’t wasting any time focusing on mock drafts.

"We'll see. There's a strategy we have for it, but for the most part, I'm trying not to focus on that. Honestly, I truly try not to look at those things. I just try to stay motivated by myself and do what I need to do. My agency has a strategy for me, and I just kind of work and follow after that."

Would the Bulls consider Edwards if he falls to 38? A lot depends on who they select in the first round and which players they plan to target when the free agent market opens at 5 p.m. on June 30. But the NBA has become a perimeter-based league--with 3-point shooting at a premium--so a player like Edwards figures to have a lot of value. Matter of fact, don’t be surprised if the Golden State Warriors pick him at 28 after losing Klay Thompson for most or all of next season due to an ACL injury.

The Big Ten won’t be getting a lot of attention in this year’s draft with only Romeo Langford and possibly Edwards expected to go in Round 1, but the Purdue star isn’t lacking confidence. After leading the Boilermakers within an overtime loss of reaching the Final 4, he plans of earning rotation minutes as a rookie for whichever team drafts him Thursday night.

Report: Bulls looking to trade up for Vanderbilt point guard Darius Garland

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USA TODAY

Report: Bulls looking to trade up for Vanderbilt point guard Darius Garland

NBA Draft week is filled with rumors that never come to fruition, so take this with a grain of salt.

The Bulls are reportedly interested in trading up to draft Vanderbilt point guard Darius Garland.

That report from ESPN's Jonathan Givony comes in the wake of him also reporting that Garland has scheduled a last-minute workout with the New York Knicks, owners of the No. 3 pick.

Other reports mention that the Knicks are bringing Garland in for the private workout just in case they move out of the No. 3 slot on draft night. They're still expected to take Duke's R.J. Barrett after the New Orleans Pelicans select Zion Williamson first overall and the Memphis Grizzlies nab Murray State point guard with the second pick.

For the Bulls, it makes sense. They have an obvious need at point guard - though that shouldn't be their main focus on draft night - and have been enamored with Garland for quite some time. Though Garland played only five games as a freshman before tearing his meniscus, the former 5-star recruit has drawn comparisons to Damian Lillard and Kemba Walker for his outside prowess at the point and his playmaking ability.

Givony also reported that Garland had a private workout with the Bulls - among other teams - and turned heads in it, He's 100 percent recovered after knee surgery in November, too, which is important.

It's unclear what the Bulls would have to give up in a potential deal, but it would be a lot. Of the teams listed as potentially trying to trade up to No. 4, the Hawks (three first-round picks) and the Celtics (three first-round picks) have more assets to offer than the Bulls.

It's difficult to see a scenario where the Bulls part with any of Lauri Markkanen, Zach LaVine or Wendell Carter Jr. in a package for No. 4. In theory, the Bulls could offer up a protected first-round pick in next year's draft, similar to what the Dallas Mavericks did last season in moving up for Luka Doncic. Dallas traded the No. 5 pick and a top-5 protected pick for the No. 3 pick. That pick wound up being No. 10 this season.

For now, it's a rumor and we'll keep an eye on it over the next 48 hours.