Pressing questions, hot topics, and collaboration amongst your favorite basketball minds—welcome back to Around the Rim.
Think of Around the Rim as your local politicians would like for you to think of a town hall, a safe forum for all voices in the basketball universe to be heard. A stable roundtable, fluctuating in both voices and trendy issues. We’ve had over 500 unique contributors working at any and every outlet you can think of living all across the globe.
The roundtable runs every Wednesday, with new questions and new voices each week. If you have a question you’d like answered by the panel, tweet @JoshEberley or @HOOPmag and check back each week to see who hopped in for the current edition. Last week’s edition can be found here.
This week, we are fortunate to have five dedicated and knowledgeable contributors pitching in. Make sure to give them a follow and check out their great contributions to the basketball community:
Ross Homan: The Stepien, writer
Jordan Jackson: FanSided, writer
Ricky Scricca: The Stepien, writer
Adam Stanco: Catch and Shoot Podcast, host
Jordan Tomiyama: Sportsnet 960, web editor
The Toronto Raptors are NBA champions! What will you remember most about their title run 10 years from now?
Homan: Probably just the job that Masai Ujiri did and who he was able to put on the floor for Toronto. Taking nothing away from the players getting the job done, but the way he was able to add three new starters while keeping Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby is wildly impressive. Also, I think whatever Kawhi Leonard decides within the next month will always be ingrained into my memory when I think about this championship, whether or not he came back to repeat or if he just won Toronto a ring and then left.
Jackson: For me there were two things that were most memorable about the NBA Finals. One is the way a stoic Kawhi Leonard elevated his game to another level in the NBA playoffs. He was a coldblooded assassin, while showing virtually no emotion. The other thing I will remember is the fan support that Toronto had. The way the fans piled up in Jurassic Park, even during road games. The scenes when they won the East, won the title and during the championship parade were surreal. The two most memorable entities were perfectly captured together in a photo I saw by Frank Gunn of The Canadian Press. It showed the crowd’s reflection, in Leonard’s mirror tint glasses at the parade.
Scricca: That Masai Ujiri took a calculated risk trading for a franchise icon for a superstar who didn’t want to play in Toronto. Whether Kawhi stays or goes, it was the right choice.
Stanco: The most memorable part of this run will be the guts Masai Ujiri displayed in getting them over the hump. One of the most difficult things for any sports executive to do is make changes when an organization is experiencing success. Often times, the leaders in a winning organization is terrified of making a wrong move. Ujiri replaced Dwane Casey (after a season in which he won Coach of the Year honors) for a first-year NBA head coach in Nick Nurse, traded away DeMar DeRozan—the franchise’s most popular star and best friend of their second-most important player, Kyle Lowry—for a one-year rental with Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, and then went all-in on a deadline deal for Marc Gasol (who had a $25.6 million player option looming). Whatever playing not to lose looks like, Ujiri did the opposite.
Tomiyama: The obvious answer will be the Kawhi Leonard game winner against the Sixers but I think I’ll remember when Leonard posterized The Greek Freak. The play displayed the best in Kyle Lowry and what this team was. They were awesome on the defensive side of the ball and had a star player who can win you ball games. The overall resiliency and intensity of this team was amazing.
The Golden State Warriors are battered and in real trouble following this Finals. With both Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson possibly gone for all or most of next season, is their time as the class of the NBA at an end?
Tomiyama: I think the Warriors will take a one year sabbatical from being the “class” of the NBA. Every dynasty has to end at some point and this was their time. I think the Warriors will get Klay Thompson back and Steph will have a healthy roster in two years. It will be interesting to see how they’ll handle the next year and their salary cap.
Homan: If Klay is able to come back healthy I think they’ll still have a window open. Next year will be tough, but it could be a year they’re able to use as “rest” to a certain extent. They’ll have to draft well and use their money wisely, but I do believe that a core of Steph, Klay and Draymond will give you opportunity to contend, at least mildly. It’s unlikely they’ll be as dominant as they’ve been, of course, but I do trust that front office to put a top 5 contending team on the floor over the next couple of years.
Jackson: I think if far too premature to write the Golden State Warriors off. Certainly they won’t win anything next season. However the injuries and losing the Finals seems to have made them closer as a group. We will see what happens in free agency, but I certainly believe that Klay will resign on a max contract. If KD resigns, he should still be a very effective player even if the injury cost him a step or two. Even if he doesn’t, that organization is smart and will retool the role players around Curry, Thompson and Green. In fact I hard heard that the Warriors are considering load management on Steph Curry next season. That scares me, because if they miss the playoffs and somehow get a top draft pick and get another young star, like the Spurs landing Tim Duncan when David Robinson was injured, they could be set up to win titles for years to come. What makes it even scarier is, if they do miss the playoffs, it is certainly possible that they land a high pick with this new lottery format.
Scricca: I still think the Warriors’s engines are Steph Curry and Draymond Green. Their days as a 60+ win regular season team are likely over, but depending on who they snag in the draft and free agency I think they can at least make the Finals again. But it won’t be the same type of dominant run as past years.
Stanco: We won’t know what the future for the Warriors holds until Durant and Thompson make their free agency plans official. The Warriors will offer each of them the max and it is probably safe to assume Thompson accepts and Durant signs elsewhere. If Durant stays with Golden State, they’ll still be the best team in basketball. But if he doesn’t, that’s when things get interesting. Next year will obviously be a challenge because they’ll be without Thompson until at least the all-star break. That said, I can’t fathom any situation in which they tank next season with a healthy Steph Curry and Draymond Green and christening a new arena. The more likely scenario is that Curry and Green keep them afloat and, if Thompson returns to form, they become extremely dangerous in the playoffs. Beyond that, Green will be expecting max money when his deal is up in 2020 which they’ll probably have to pay. And the Warriors will still be a preferred destination for free agents because: their style of play; the core of Steph, Klay, and Draymond; and so many guys around the league would love to play for Steve Kerr. But ultimately the bottom line is that so much depends on Durant and Thompson and, beyond that, Bob Myers has his work cut out for him.
The Los Angeles Lakers and New Orleans Pelicans made the blockbuster deal and Anthony Davis is headed to join King James. What does LA need to do next to ensure they are a contender?
Stanco: The funny thing about this Lakers situation is that, in spite of all the drama, this is what the plan was all along. They had a roster in LeBron’s first year that was loaded with young guys on rookie deals (Ingram, Hart, Ball, Kuzma, and Wagner) and mercurial former standouts who were on one-year deals. The plan was simple: Withstand year one with a cap-friendly roster, have great flexibility in the summer of 2019 in order to sign a star or two in this talented free agency class, and decide which young guys or veterans LeBron likes playing with. Well, look where they are now. Having LeBron, Anthony Davis, and Kuzma on the roster means they’ll be close to contending regardless of who else joins them because they’ll have length, versatility, playmaking, and guys who command double-teams, but adding shooting (looking at you Jimmy Butler or Khris Middleton) will be critical.
Tomiyama: The Lakers will have to fill out their roster properly this offseason, They can’t afford to waste another year of LeBron’s prime. The Lakeshow will need to add shooters around LeBron and AD. Danny Green and JJ Redick should be at the top of their wish list. It could be big trouble for the rest of the League if they add a Kemba Walker or Kyrie Irving to their lineup as well.
Homan: A third star would be ideal, but it seems that might not be attainable with their cap situation, so they’ll have to find good players for good money. That’s really not an easy thing to do, but there is some possibility that they can find players willing to take pay cuts for the opportunity to play with LeBron and AD in LA. Shooting and defense should be there two main priorities when looking for free agents. Some names they should try to get are Pat Beverly, Kevon Looney, Seth Curry, Rudy Gay, Jeremy Lamb, Darren Collison, Corey Joseph, Ed Davis, Al-Farouq Aminu, Nikola Mirotic, and Dewayne Dedmon. Al Horford is another player they should talk to, depending on whether or not he wants to go to a better team than what Boston might look like. Like I said, it’s not easy to build a roster but the Lakers definitely have a few avenues to go with free agents and some good choices out there that fit their team well.
Jackson: The Lakers have two paths to a contender. They can split up their remaining cap space on three players from a pool of guys like Dewayne Dedmon, J.J. Reddick, Danny Green, Rickey Rubio, Patrick Beverly, Nikola Miratic, Brook Lopez, Rudy Gay and Trevor Ariza. Or they can chase third star to form a big three. Kemba Walker would be the best fit because he can function as a playmaker and a spot up shooter. Jimmy Butler is the other good realistic option. They would then have to fill out their roster with inexpensive ring chasing veterans such as DeMarre Carroll, Seth Curry, Marcus and Markieth Morris, DeMarcus Cousins, Wayne Ellington, Iman Shumpert, Darren Collison, Pau Gasol, Taj Gibson and Mike Scott. At the same time they could just sign Patrick McCaw since the team he is on wins the championship every season anyway.
Scricca: Do the opposite of what they did last season: get shooters, defenders, and smart players. Some non-star names that jump out in no particular order: Brook Lopez, Tomas Satoransky, Danny Green, Kyle Korver, Al-Farouq Aminu, Jared Dudley, Tyus Jones, Seth Curry and Kenrich Williams.
Reportedly, both the Boston Celtics and Denver Nuggets chose to hold onto their promising young player (Jayson Tatum and Jamal Murray) rather than taking a gamble on bringing in Anthony Davis. Will either team regret not making the wager?
Scricca: Both teams should have done it, but the Nuggets especially so. The whole point of having “assets” and young players is the hope that a superstar comes out of them somehow. The Nuggets especially have a rich asset base. An Anthony Davis and Nikola Jokic frontcourt would have been an immediate Finals contender, and even if you know Davis is leaving, you still end up with a top 5-10 player in Jokic and likely some flexibility and good role players around him.
Stanco: Both teams were smart to stand pat. The Celtics were in a tough spot. Mortgaging the future in order to bring in a superstar on a one-year deal can be fruitful (for proof, see Toronto Raptors’ parade footage), but it’s another thing entirely to bring in a superstar on a one-year deal who is doing everything he can not to play for your franchise. With Kyrie Irving seemingly out the door, I don’t think the Celtics were in position to pull the trigger on this deal. They would’ve had to give up the one thing that makes their future so appealing: assets. Also, I was higher on Tatum than most prior to the 2017 NBA Draft and am probably higher on him now than most as well. And if I’m running the Nuggets, Jamal Murray is nearly untouchable. He’s 22 and making $4.4 million this upcoming season. Plus, his chemistry with the 24-year old Nikola Jokic is special. I’m not breaking up that twosome, especially for a guy who could walk next summer.
Tomiyama: I don’t think they’ll regret not giving up their star players. Anthony Davis would’ve been a rental and it was already known that he was going to test free agency. Both of those teams have potential and should be able to build around their young core.
Homan: I might be in the minority here, but I agree with Denver and Boston not throwing their assets at New Orleans for Davis. I think the LeBron and Rich Paul connection makes it a hard situation to compare to Kawhi and Paul George. It at the very least makes you more weary that Davis’ chances of going to LA next summer were higher than Kawhi and PG. Of course there was a possibility the Lakers wouldn’t even be able to afford him next summer, but I still am fine with Denver and Boston’s decisions. Denver was a top 6 or 7 team in the NBA with the fourth youngest roster, so their future is promising and you’d have to rebuild on the fly if Davis bolts next summer. As for Boston, it really seemed like they had no chance to re-sign him, so Tatum isn’t worth the price.
Jackson: I think Boston certainly regrets not making such a move last season before Rich Paul made it clear that Anthony Davis would not re-sign there. He and Kyrie together had to chance to be something special in the Eastern Conference. AD is at his best when teaming with a guard that can break down the defense and dish the ball to him. If they could have found a way to acquire him and keep Al Horford, they would have been dangerous as Horford can pass and stretch the floor while Davis makes up for Horford’s deficiency in rebounding. Davis also played his best basketball when he had a good passing big man on his squad with DeMarcus Cousins was a member of the Pelicans. Also a factor was Tatum’s to regression when he was forced to share shots with Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward.
As for Denver, Davis and Jokic would be a phenomenal paring, but I don’t think they could have replaced the shotmaking of Jamal Murray. Even with the best big men in the game, a championship team needs a perimeter guy that can break down the defense and make tough shots. Murray was also super clutch for them in the playoffs as well. Denver did right to stay the course. Davis was unlikely to resign there and losing Murray plus draft assets for a rental, would have been a major setback to what they have built. If Michael Porter Jr. is healthy and can be a difference maker, they will be in contention for many years. Other than that, it’s about them finding the right pieces to add depth.
The player in the upcoming draft that is going to surprise fans most is ___________.
Jackson: The draft pick that I think will surprise people the most is Bol Bol if he is healthy. Like all of the prospects, he has his weaknesses but he is a very skilled basketball player that shoots and handles the ball unlike few ever have at his height. He’s also going to block a lot of shots. His game is tailor-made for today’s NBA. I also think Nicolas Claxton from UGA will surprise many people long term, with how skilled he truly is. He can handle the ball, pass, rebound and block shots. His jumpshot is also improving. Once he fills out his frame, he has the potential to be a starting center. And finally, many people are down on Jarrett Culver after his poor shooting in the NCAA Championship game. He is crafty and has all of the tools to be a great player. I predict he will be a multiple time All Star one day.
Scricca: Grant Williams and Chuma Okeke both might go in the second round, but will almost certainly have good, long careers as winning role players with upside to be more than that. Alen Smailagic might be one of the last players drafted and might take a bit of time to develop, but I could easily see him someday emerging as a top 10-12 player in this class as a versatile two-way combo big. Some guys I like as potential high-level future rotation players that will go in the second round or undrafted and thus might not get the opportunity to develop are Juwan Morgan, Cody Martin, Dean Wade, Ethan Happ, Daquan Jeffries, Yovel Zoosman, and Deividas Sirvydis. If I have to pick one though I would go with Williams.
Stanco: North Carolina’s Coby White. Noah Coslov, my co-host with the Catch and Shoot podcast, always jokes that I’m a Coby White super fan, but it’s unavoidable. I was a big fan of his game from afar, but after spending some time with him and watching him work out for the best predraft workout guy in the country, Don MacLean, a few days last month, I saw even more reasons to like the guy. He checks all the boxes for being a superstar lead guard at the next level. He’s got good size, he’s explosive, has a great handle, makes others better, and might be the best shooter in this draft. But, for me, it’s for the intangibles that separate him as a prospect. He’s charismatic, a leader, and insanely competitive.
Tomiyama: Jarret Culver will be the player to surprise fans the most. He’s a great slasher and can hit the three ball. Culver is perfect for today’s NBA and he can be a part of a positionless basketball system. He would be a dynamic piece for the new look New Orleans’ Pelicans.
Homan: This is a really tough question since a lot of the “underrated” guys have been talked about a fair amount, so I’ll go with Alen Smailagić. He spent a year in the G League playing for Santa Cruz and didn’t have any prior noise overseas, so he’s still a bit of an unknown to a lot of basketball fans. There’s a decent chance he’s probably drafted by Golden State at No. 58 and spends another year playing in the G League or at least part-time, so he could be one of those “where did he come from” guys during his second or third year. I’m a good bit higher on him than consensus and a lot of that is because I’m trusting the upside. He doesn’t turn 19 until August 18 and he spent stretches of games dominating bigs in the G League. That’s wildly impressive for his age. In his upside outcome he’s a big who can dribble/pass/shoot that provides most of his value on the defensive end. He’s very advanced off ball defensively for his age and showed flashes of capable switch talent defending the perimeter. It really all comes down to if he is able to shoot and how much stronger and quicker he’ll get as he grows into his body and gets older.