Pressing questions, hot topics, and collaboration amongst your favorite basketball minds—welcome to Around the Rim.
Think of Around the Rim as your local politicians would like for you to think of town hall, a safe forum for all voices in the basketball universe to be heard. A stable roundtable, fluctuating in both voices heard and trendy issues. This week I’m stoked to give you an entirely draft focused collaboration.
You can find the previous edition here. As promised, the roundtable will run every Tuesday, 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 on for the current edition.
This week we are fortunate to have four dedicated and knowledgeable contributors pitching in. Make sure to give them a follow and check out their great contributions to the basketball community:
Christopher Gabriel: Radio host
Vince Miracle: Sac Kings Nation, contributor
Travis McEwan: CBC Edmonton, video journalist
Chris Stone: The Step Back, contributor
What’s the most memorable moment of the 2016-17 season that will stick out 10 years from now?
McEwan: I love storylines in the NBA, and I don’t feel I’m alone on this. For that reason, I’m going with the petty and awkward matchups between Westbrook and Durant. The two former teammates tried to play it cool but we all tuned in hopes of pettiness and revenge. In the end it wasn’t to wild but we all read into it. Westbrook telling a teammate “don’t say what’s up to that ********” on the court after one of the games.” I overlooked the Warriors dominance, and the amazing Westbrook/ Harden MVP race, but I feel the pettiness of Durant and Westbrook could get better. We even had Zaza getting physical with an awkward foul on Westbrook at one point. A future playoff series would be solid even if it’s done in four games at the hands of the Warriors. This is like the weird feud between your father and your uncle that started in 1989 and seems to always come up at some point and make things awkward.
Miracle: The most memorable moment of the season has to be the game Russell Westbrook locked up his triple-double average on the year. No one ever thought we would see someone put up the numbers Westbrook did since Oscar Robertson, but yet we did. That’s what we will be talking about in 10 years.
Stone: It has to be Russell Westbrook averaging a triple-double. There’s some understandable handwringing going on regarding how Westbrook got those numbers and whether or not his play was actually helpful to his team, but when a player does something over the course of a full season that has only been done one other time in NBA history, it’s going to be remembered for a long time.
Gabriel: I may be straying outside of the question just a bit here. You might even argue my take will fall into flagrant one territory but I’m going to say the most memorable moment wasn’t on the court—and there were a lot of nominees in that regard to be sure. The big moment for me happened after the season: The Celtics-Sixers trade. What went down here has both historical context as well as long-range consequences we won’t fully grasp for a few years and then potentially years to come. Look, I went to high school in Philly. My family’s been there since 1972. There was a time those two franchises wouldn’t even acknowledge the other’s existence much less consider making a trade. So the Sixers wanted Markelle Fultz and knew he wouldn’t be available at three. I get it, but did they give up too much? Living here on the west coast I saw Fultz quite a bit; he’s absolutely the real deal and if he develops into an All-Star could well be the cornerstone of the long-awaited return of the Sixers. BUT: Did the Sixers give up too much? Will this end up being a much smaller version of Herschel Walker to the Vikings for what turned into the greatest decade ever for the Cowboys? In the short term, no. He will be a near-seamless addition and critics at Pat’s Steaks in South Philly will love this kid. But long-term the Celtics may well be the big winners. When it’s anything Celtics and Sixers, the Celtics nearly always come out on top. Don’t they?
What are you hoping for from the 2017 NBA Draft?
Stone: I’m hoping we get to see Jonathan Isaac in a Minnesota Timberwolves uniform. Isaac is basically the perfect player to stick in between Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns. He’s a low-usage offensive piece who is comfortable shooting 3s and attacking close outs and he’s arguably the best defensive prospect in the class, which is something Minnesota could use next to Towns. The obvious problem with this dream is that it wouldn’t be a surprise to see a team above the Timberwolves take a shot on Isaac, but if he falls, the franchise will have another piece to add to one of the top young cores in the League.
Miracle: Excitement. Over the last five years the NBA draft has been fun to watch for fans, but it hasn’t brought too much excitement in terms of trades or unexpected picks. The talent pool in this year’s draft have teams clamoring to get a hold of one these young prospects. We always hear about potential moves, but nothing normally comes to fruition. This year I’m hoping for that to change.
McEwan: Speaking of pettiness, I’d lose my mind if the Lakers passed on Lonzo Ball. He’s been way to clear about wanting to go to the Lakers and no one else. Commitment is cool, but this is the NBA draft. It’s meant to give teams at the bottom of the standings a chance at a player who fits their team. This isn’t committing to a college team. It makes me cranky to remember when Steve Francis refused to play for the Vancouver Grizzlies after they drafted him.
Gabriel: Three things jump out at me for this draft. Number one, if the unthinkable happens and Lonzo Ball isn’t taken by the Lakers, I hope we can watch the rest of the selections without focusing on Lonzo, LaVar, extended family members and well-wishing neighbors outraged over the audacity of the Lakers to pass on him. Lonzo is a terrific player but I’ve grown weary of LaVar. We enable this kind of nonsense; we focus on the wrong things and by giving Dad an extended platform, the whole show begins to eclipse the attention too many other supremely talented guys—and their quieter families—deserve. Secondly, the Bulls. This franchise can’t seem to get out of their own way through questionable drafts, an all too often players-coaches chemistry kerfuffle and their own curious personnel moves, ones they make and ones they refuse to make. Fortunately they aren’t alone in Chicago, as they share that dark cloud with the White Sox. Now what’s the common denominator here? Jerry Reinsdorf. Hey, I was never a fan of the idea packaging Jimmy Butler in a trade, even with the Celtics, would help the Bulls move off the Mendoza Line. Understanding he can opt out of the Bulls in several years makes his situation more pressing. But I’d like to see them go after a guy like Donovan Mitchell, whose wingspan and athleticism reminds me of a 6-3 Scottie Pippen. I’d even consider trying to do something to move up because he may not be available at 16. Finally, back to the Lakers. Will they make a move or two, perhaps a trade-down, to set themselves up for a run at LeBron next summer? I want to believe LeBron would finish in Cleveland. But he came back; he won the city a title. His work is done, at least in his mind.
Speaking on the draft, what’s your favorite draft blunder of all time?
Stone: How about that time the Minnesota Timberwolves drafted a 26-year old over Isaiah Thomas? In the 2011 NBA Draft, the Timberwolves selected Tanguy Ngombo with the No. 57 pick. Ngombo was a total unknown to just about everybody, but it quickly came out that he was almost certainly older than the team believed. Sam Vecenie chronicled the decision-making that went into Minnesota’s process for Vice earlier this year and it’s one of the most ridiculous stories I can remember. It’s also a nice reminder that everyone can make mistakes.
McEwan: I got to go back to the 2013 draft. I know sometimes it’s not fair to look back and judge picks based on who they were four years ago and who they are now, but Anthony Bennett was picked first by the Cavaliers, and Giannis Antetokounmpo was picked fifteenth! As a Canadian I’ve always wanted Bennett to make a comeback but that looks unlikely. I think Antetokounmpo will win at least two MVPs throughout his career.
Miracle: I don’t know if I can name a favorite, but the most recent pick I can think of is Anthony Bennett going No. 1 overall in the 2013 draft. Leading up to the draft, Bennett wasn’t expected to even be in the top-five, but every year you see a player who rises and in 2013 it was Anthony Bennett being selected by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Just think if the team instead chose Victor Oladipo, who went No. 2 overall to the Orlando Magic, and we saw a backcourt of Kyrie Irving and Oladipo.
Gabriel: There are so many ways to go with this—Sam Bowie to Portland before MJ immediately comes to mind—but that’s too easy. My favorite has to be 2009. If there’s a more cursed franchise than the Minnesota Timberwolves, I haven’t seen it. They had four first round picks, two in the second round. But in the first round, they had No. 5 and No. 6 and being this was The (David) Kahn Era, it all makes sense looking back. At No. 5 they take Ricky Rubio. At No. 6, they go with Jonny Flynn. Rubio has been solid, Flynn was a disaster. And who was on the board at No. 7?—a young fella by the name of Steph Curry. When you walk around the Minneapolis Skyway at night, you can still hear the echoes of Wolves fans yelling “KAHN!!!” How does the braintrust in that draft pass on Curry? How? It’s easy to look at him and say in essence “Sure, we see a star now but…” NO! It was apparent then! In his three years at Davidson, points, assists and steals went up every season. After his junior year he’s a consensus first team All-American. The Wolves needed backcourt help in the worst way and if there was anyone who was all but a sure thing, it was Mr. Curry.
Assuming the Golden State Warriors retain Kevin Durant and Steph Curry, how many championships do you see this team winning?
Miracle: A lot. That’s two MVPs on one team and with the modern NBA moving to small ball basketball, the duo is almost unstoppable. Of course the supporting cast will play a factor, but we have seen players willing to take a pay cut to better their chances at a championship run. With Curry and Durant on your roster, you’re definitely going to have a good chance of winning a ring every year.
McEwan: I’m giving them three more, for a total of five (four for Durant). This team is so good. The trend of veteran players taking cheap deals to play within the Warriors system and winning a championship should continue. I really don’t see the Cavs messing with this prediction. They don’t have the picks to get as good as the Warriors did for cheap.
Gabriel: Is this a trick question? The days of stars staying loyal to a community, to a franchise, to teammates has become secondary to going somewhere that offers the best odds of winning a championship… along with a decent paycheck. Given that, there are also situations that seem hard to turn your back on. Curry doesn’t strike me as a guy who has any interest in leaving the Bay Area. Couple of titles, loves Steve Kerr and his teammates, new arena on the way, he’s the toast of the town. Durant did his NBA probation period, with apologies to the genuinely great folks in Oklahoma City, and came to Golden State to do what he did a few weeks ago. Any move for either of them is likely a step down. This team, this coaching staff, reminds me a lot of the Showtime Lakers. I think the Warriors can win another three titles.
Stone: The number I’m most comfortable with here is two, but it could go higher. While both Durant and Curry are obviously special players, we know that it often takes more than two to tango in the Finals. The Warriors have to be as concerned about who they have surrounding their two superstars as they are with making sure Durant and Curry stay in a Golden State jersey. With Andre Iguodala seemingly set to return, the Warriors should be able to keep their current group together until the 2019 offseason when Klay Thompson becomes a free agent. His skill set might be the most replaceable of the big four, but with Draymond Green set to enter free agency in 2020, things could get dicey. That’s why I’ll say two, but it could be more if they sort out their cap situation.
Which team could stop another Warriors-Cavaliers Finals next June?
Gabriel: I don’t see anyone that is most, or even a little, likely to upset Golden State. The addition of Durant, and if they stay healthy… the haters need to unionize because no one is touching the Warriors. That leaves the Cavs and the only other choice I can go with is Boston. Great guard play, strong bench, they’re young, they’ll pick up a great piece in the draft along with having flexibility with the amount of selections they have… flip a coin between Josh Jackson and Jayson Tatum, both are versatile and either would be an immediate contributor to the Celtics. One thing I wonder about: With the Lakers potentially lurking for LeBron next summer and therefore this potentially being LeBron’s swan song in Cleveland before James Jersey-Burning Parties commence again, will LeBron be motivated to leave with a bang? That’s certainly who he is, always wanting to emphatically leave his mark.
McEwan: The Celtics. Is this the year they finally use their picks and assets to trade for a few better players? Their bench could get very deep if Ainge doesn’t want to mess with their starting five. Jimmy Butler or Paul George would be so much fun. If not, what’s the point? To be very competitive for a decade? If they get better they would have a shot. I wish I had the patience of Ainge, but I can’t cook on low heat for more than five minutes before cranking the heat up and risking my food burning.
Miracle: It’s still too early to make that call, as a lot can happen during free agency. However, the Houston Rockets showed that they have the offensive power to keep up with any team in the NBA. The San Antonio Spurs could argue they were robbed of a chance to take down the Warriors. Again, it’s too early to call, but if I had to choose one team I’m placing my bet on the Spurs.
Stone: It’s tough for me to see any team in the Eastern Conference upsetting the Cavaliers while LeBron James is still in town, so this is likely to be the San Antonio Spurs. Kawhi Leonard and company were up big on the Warriors in game one of the Western Conference Finals before Leonard famously came down on the foot of Zaza Pachulia, so we know there’s something there. Add in the possibility that Leonard takes another leap forward next season and the best coach in the sport and the Spurs certainly have a puncher’s chance of catching the Warriors in a series.