Question 1 from Twitter user @DParikh30: What will Boston & Los Angeles do with the first and second overall draft selections?
The Celtics and Lakers landing the first two picks in the upcoming June draft is great news for the NBA. Sure, there are plenty of people—both within and outside of the league—who have an eyebrow to those two historic franchises winding up at the top of the slag heap, but it’s undoubtedly a boost for business that two national fan bases will be so heavily invested in the selection process. What each team will do with its respective pick is a subjective guessing game, but each now has an established asset that it did not have prior.
In Boston’s case, the guarantee of the top overall selection only serves to strengthen Danny Ainge’s leverage at the negotiating table. For the Lakers, walking out of the lottery process with their pick in hand puts the franchise in position to do damage that Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka wouldn’t have otherwise been able to do.
It really doesn’t feel like there’s a true blockbuster deal to be made where Boston trades No. 1, but if the Celtics’ recent history has taught us anything it’s that Ainge’s front office values flexibility and potential more than almost anything else. That means the team is likely to continue flirting with possible offers up until the time it has to make a decision, but ultimately it would be surprising if Markelle Fultz isn’t in the backcourt mix next season. That means something could be cooking with Marcus Smart, a player eligible for an extension and slated to hit restricted free agency following 2017-18.
As for the Los Angeles, any trade package for Paul George very likely starts with the No. 2 pick. But with a weak free agent crop and a roster with overlapping pieces, tapping another youngster to develop with the current core may be the better long-term move, especially if Magic stays true to his desire to play in the 2018 class. Assuming the Lakers make the pick, Lonzo Ball should be considered a heavy favorite with De’Aaron Fox a stronger-than-perceived dark horse candidate.
Three knee surgeries in three consecutive years—no matter the type of operation—is enough to provide pause, but your concern for keeping him is born from the same perspective that potential buyers in the market have when canvassing the available options, so it’s difficult to believe that you’d be able to sell Walker for anything except lower than his in-season value. Considering he’s coming off of a career year, it’s hard to justify that logic. This was also the third straight season in which Walker’s numbers have improved, so it’s not like his offseason procedures have really slowed him down. And at just 27 years old, Walker is in the prime of his basketball career.
At the end of the day, your question is best answered with more context: Given the available alternatives, is Walker a must-have player? And here’s what I’ll say about keeper leagues in general: If you find yourself waffling on a particular player, more often than not it means you should let him go. It’s never good to start your (fantasy) year with frustration caused by indecision.
Doesn’t it feel like both sides missed the window here?
Butler—a two-way superstar making under $20M per season over the next two years—still being linked to the Celtics still makes perfect sense, but at this point, it’s hard to envision either side getting what they truly want out of this particular scenario.
The Celtics could have set up a two-year test run with Butler, Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford had the club been able to acquire him at any point prior to the 2016-17 campaign, but touching Jimmy now (pause for Seinfeld reference) would only give Boston a single go-around before needing to commit to the trio long-term given Thomas’ contract—which could very well quadruple in annual value—is up at the conclusion of 2017-18. That’s a big gamble to take, and perhaps a big investment to make, especially at the cost of the first overall pick.
Chicago’s direction still seems to be undefined, and the team simply won’t command the same value they could have had last summer should the Bulls finally choose to fully embrace restarting the process from scratch. There’s also a convincing argument to be made that any Bulls rebuild should start with Butler and work from the ground up after that, but there’s not exactly a ton of confidence—for good reason—that this front office can build a coherent roster around its current superstar. Very rarely does any team that deals away its superstar in any trade wind up coming out on top, and getting equal value for Butler is unlikely at best given the NBA is a quality, not quantity league.
In a supply and demand NBA where sticker shock is becoming the norm, expect to see more “He got how much money?!” moments when free agency begins.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope: I’d rather have KCP on my team than either Allen Crabbe ($75M) or Evan Turner ($70M), and you can bet Caldwell-Pope’s agent will start the bidding for his client at $80 million.
J.J. Redick: Redick, despite being 33 in June, could easily command $16-18M annually on a three or four-year deal. Just hope your team isn’t the one providing him that guarantee.
Otto Porter: The restricted free agent could have a nickname as soon as July rolls around: The $100M man.
Question 5 from Tommy M. in Portland, OR (e-mail): There’s no doubting the popularity of small-ball lineups, but have you noticed how many big men are in the first-round conversation? What do you think of that?
This is a very good observation. The three-point shot has revolutionized the league, and as a result, contributions in other categories—specifically blocks and field goal percentage—have become directly affected.
Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, Hassan Whiteside, Karl-Anthony Towns and Nikola Jokic could all be argued as viable first-round selections, and in a 10-team league, that leaves five Round 1 spots for James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James, Chris Paul and John Wall to scrap over.
Knowing I’m likely able to find triples from a variety of sources and at almost any point in the draft, I’m the guy that pairs Whiteside and Jokic (or another similar combination) near the end of Round 1 without thinking twice about it. It’s a strategy that when implemented properly can yield very fruitful results, but there’s a fine line between stacking and reaching that any successful fantasy GM must walk carefully.