With the NBA draft eight days away and some preposterous trade rumors floating around, we need to sift through the nonsense and determine what every lottery team should do next week. To solve this question, I turned to the one person who hasn’t been biased by private workouts in which players face off against janitors and chairs, the one who refuses to be impressed by Spencer Hawes’ length and Al Thornton’s spurtability, the one who asks questions like, “Why isn’t anyone worried about Yi Jianlian’s adjustment to American culture?” and “If Brandan Wright couldn’t play hard all the time in college, what makes you think he’ll play hard in the pros?”
That’s right, I turned to the self-proclaimed VP of Common Sense. In other words, I turned to myself. Let’s rip through the lottery from top to bottom:
1. Portland Trail Blazers
We know who they’re taking because it’s the No Balls Association and nobody would ever dare pass up a franchise center with a ceiling (Greg Oden) for a franchise forward with no ceiling (Kevin Durant). That lack of originality explains why the league is so screwed up and a limited team like the Cavs could become the worst Finals team since the ’59 Lakers.
Here’s what I don’t get: The Blazers already have two quality inside players (Zach Randolph and LaMarcus Aldridge), which means they’ll eventually trade Randolph for 60 cents on an already diluted dollar. Yeah, he’s a loon, but he’s a superb low-post scorer who would thrive with Durant spacing the floor for him. So why not explore trading down if Seattle is enamored with Oden? They could just trade the No. 1 and Darius Miles’ craptastic contract (expires in 2011) for Rashard Lewis (sign and trade) and the No. 2, then play Brandon Roy, Lewis, Durant and Randolph at the same time (with Aldridge coming off the bench). Tell me, who’s double-teaming Randolph with Lewis, Durant and Roy out there? Don’t they have to explore that one? Do we need to dial the phone for Kevin Pritchard?
The VP’s verdict: If the Blazers can’t move Randolph for Antawn Jamison (expiring in 2008) or Rasheed Wallace (expiring 2009), either swap picks with Seattle (and dump Miles on the Sonics for Lewis) or keep the pick and take Durant.
(Note: They won’t do this, of course. It’s the No Balls Association. Oh, well.)
2. Seattle Sonics
The Sonics just hired highly regarded Spurs exec Sam Presti, one of the few NBA execs who allegedly doesn’t need a VP of Common Sense. If this is true, then he’s smart enough to stay at No. 2 and take whomever Portland doesn’t take. Here’s what the VP of CS would do in Presti’s shoes:
A. Stand pat and take Durant.
B. Re-sign Lewis as long as it’s not more than $60 million for six years. Remember, everyone in the league is overpaid by 20-percent — he’s a $50 million player so you can’t give him one cent more than 60
C. Offer Ray Allen to the Clippers for Corey Maggette, Sam Cassell (expiring in 2008) and the No. 14.
D. Force Robert Swift to report to camp with a bowl haircut.
So here’s what the Sonics would have: A future superstar in Durant; two quality scorers (Maggette and Lewis) for the combined price of one max player; the No. 14 pick; Chris Wilcox, Cassell and Luke Ridnour; some young big guys with upside (Johan Petro and Mouhamed Sene); no eight-figure contracts; and a 7-foot redheaded center with a bowl haircut. For a team that’s moving God knows where in 2008, that’s a marketable nucleus wherever it goes. And just for the record, I’m rooting for them to go to Vegas. I’d like to make the drive in a few months and see Durant with his own billboard on the I-15, right between David Cassidy and Carrot Top.
The VP’s verdict: Take Durant, keep Lewis, trade Allen to the Clippers.
3. Atlanta Hawks
Al Horford is the third-best prospect, the most NBA-ready rookie outside of Oden and Durant, a potential All-Star and someone who will demand double-teams by the All-Star break of his second season. Since the Hawks don’t have a similar player on their roster, you’d think they would make room for him. You would think. Of course, from a comedy standpoint, nothing would be funnier than the Hawks finally picking a point guard (in this case, Mike Conley) during the one draft when they clearly should have taken the best player on the board (Horford). If this happens, we need to schedule a three-on-three game every All-Star Weekend — Conley, Marvin Williams and Shelden Williams against Chris Paul, Brandon Roy and Horford — with drunken, bitter Hawks fans announcing the contest with Billy Knight. That could even surpass the Bavetta-Barkley footrace.
The VP’s verdict: Take Horford. Please. Just do it.
4. Memphis Grizzlies
They just hired Chris Wallace away from the Celtics, which was like former FEMA director Mike Brown getting hired by France’s federal relief agency. I can’t even summon an adequate reaction for this move. This was the guy who spent a lottery pick on Kedrick Brown, drafted Joe Forte over Tony Parker, raved about Jerome Moiso’s upside potential and said publicly that Shammond Williams was the key to a trade that included the Celtics’ picking up an alcoholic forward with a max contract (Vin Baker). It’s almost like the NBA is daring me to reconvene the Atrocious GM Summit.
(Note: Baker was arrested for a DUI on Tuesday, just 24 hours after Wallace was introduced as the Grizzlies’ new GM and 96 hours after Parker was named the 2007 Finals MVP. I found this interesting. No word yet if Shammond Williams was the key to the DUI.)
Anyway, here’s the worst thing about the 2007 draft: The Nos. 3 and 4 teams determine picks 3-10 (either by picks or trades), but the No. 3 team is a mess, and the No. 4 team has no money, no fans and a GM who bombed so memorably in Boston that my father called me on Monday night just to say, “I don’t think I’ve ever been this incredulous about anything.” So you’d probably have a better chance predicting the next California earthquake than predicting this particular draft for the Grizzlies.
With that said, here’s the most logical game plan:
A. Since they’re stuck in a conference with Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Steve Nash, Tony Parker, Devin Harris, Baron Davis … I mean, how is Conley NOT the pick here? They’re already loaded with talented young guys at every other position (Pau Gasol, Mike Miller, Hakim Warrick, Rudy Gay) and there’s no real difference between Conley and the next six guys on the board. So what am I missing? Why are we even discussing this?
(Whoops, we’re discussing it because the guy who made this pick did all the things mentioned four paragraphs ago. My bad.)
B. Offer Pau Gasol to Milwaukee (for Andrew Bogut and a 2008 No. 1) and Charlotte (for the No. 8, the No. 22 and Sean May). I like Gasol (he’s like a more athletic Dino Radja, sans the chain smoking) and he would have propelled Chicago into the Finals last spring, but why pay a big man $13 million a season (and climbing) when you’re not going anywhere any time soon? As good as Conley could be some day, under-20 point guards always take time to develop … so why not flip Gasol for younger assets and draft picks? Just for the record, Wallace should feel obligated to move Gasol to the Celtics for 50 cents on the dollar (Ratliff and the No. 5) as an apology for everything that happened from 2001 to 2003. No, seriously.
The VP’s verdict: Take Conley and deal Gasol before he sulks through another lost season and they’re looking at four pesetas on the Spanish dollar for him.
5. Boston Celtics
If you’re the Suns and you can win the 2008 title, you make a run at Kevin Garnett. If you’re the Celtics and have Paul Pierce, a painfully young supporting cast and a coach with a career winning percentage of .467, you don’t. Of course, this is the NBA, so the Suns are backing off and the Celtics are pursuing KG with a package that includes Al Jefferson, the No. 5 pick, Gerald Green, Wally Szczerbiak’s contract and/or Theo Ratliff’s expiring deal (for KG and possibly one more contract). It’s hard to blame them for considering the deal because, for the first time in five years, the Celtics would be relevant again. You can sell tickets with a Pierce-Garnett combo, make a few more TNT appearances, maybe even get Barkley and the “PTI” guys talking about you. After what happened in the 2007 playoffs, it’s not unrealistic to think that Pierce, KG and 10 drunks from Sullivan’s Tap could win the East next spring.
Then the common sense starts kicking in.
They’d be sacrificing every non-Pierce trading asset for superior defense at the 4-spot and a slight points/rebounding upgrade. They’d also be losing the league’s best young low-post scorer (Jefferson) for a mercurial clubhouse guy who peaked three years ago and hasn’t made the playoffs since. Seriously, would you rather pay Jefferson $4 million combined for the next two seasons, take Corey Brewer fifth (someone who could guard LeBron, Wade, Arenas and Kobe for the next 10 years), use Ratliff’s contract to pursue one more veteran (someone like Andrei Kirilenko, for instance) and build a real basketball team? Or would you rather pay Kevin Garnett $46 million over the next two seasons, flank him with Pierce and nobody else, then hope both guys somehow stay healthy for the next three years? When Kobe and Shaq won three straight titles as a two-man team, they had the likes of Robert Horry, Derek Fisher, Glen Rice, Brian Shaw, Ron Harper and Phil Jackson to help them. Do you see anyone like that on Boston’s roster from the coach on down?
Overpaying for KG looks like a classic Sonny Corleone move, a panic trade specifically pushed by people worried about their jobs, a short-term fix that gets OK’d once the owner becomes sufficiently excited about owning an NBA team that has Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce on it. So what if it’s 2007 and not 2003? We have KG and Pierce! Anytime the reason for a sports trade is, “We need to roll the dice, I’m tired of treading water, I want to be relevant again,” it’s almost like watching somebody lose for a few hours at a $25 blackjack table, then become frustrated and start betting $100 a hand. Well, you know what happens to those people? They lose. They run out of money. They slink away. And after a few seconds, somebody else sits in their seat. Which is exactly what’s going to happen here.
Anyway, I’m against the KG trade, if only for this reason: If I were running Minnesota, I’d grab Jefferson, Green and the No. 5 for KG in a cocaine heartbeat. It’s a no-brainer for them, especially when the sucky contract they’d take back (Szczerbiak) happens to be one of the most popular athletes in the history of the franchise. I want the Celtics to be on the other side of a no-brainer for once. Call me idealistic. Fortunately, as a basketball buddy pointed out last night, “You’re forgetting one thing: Why the hell would KG want to play in Boston?” Excellent point. He’ll squash this deal in two seconds.
The VP’s verdict: Take Brewer, keep Jefferson and actively pursue Kirilenko. I’d also consider trading down three spots (for the No. 8 and No. 22) if Charlotte wants Yi and Brewer would definitely be there at No. 8.
6. Milwaukee Bucks
Here’s the Eastern team that could make a quantum leap next season: The Bucks only have to re-sign Mo Williams, get Bobby Simmons healthy and use this sixth pick on Brandan Wright and they’re good to go. Stick those three with Charlie Villanueva, Andrew Bogut and Michael Redd and that’s a pretty sweet nucleus on paper, although they definitely need to sign a crazy Australian 12th man who calls everyone “Mate” and gives Bogut someone to drink with. I’m not a huge Wright fan, but he’s a shifty inside scorer with deceivingly long arms (well, when he’s trying) and the Bucks desperately need inside scoring, as well as someone who won’t make Villanueva feel so bad for mailing in every fourth game. Also, Wright is so damned long that Jay Bilas might start flogging himself in delight during the draft. Man, is Brandan Wright long. That is one long dude.
The VP’s verdict: Take Wright, re-sign Williams and pursue Gasol for Bogut and a 2008 No. 1.
7. Minnesota Timberwolves
Here’s what I think Kevin McHale will do: Wear an ugly sweater, back out of a KG deal at the last second and take Spencer Hawes at No. 7, followed by KG snapping in mid-December after a 30-point loss to the Spurs and killing everyone in Minnesota’s locker room except Ricky Davis, who will calmly sit in front of his locker watching it happen while drinking a malt 40.
Here’s what McHale should do:
A. If he can’t get Amare for KG or the Ratliff/Jefferson/Green/No. 5 life preserver from Boston, why not use KG to dump every bad contract on the roster and start over? In other words, trade him to the Knicks along with Marko Jaric, Trenton Hassell, Troy Hudson and Mark Blount for Stephon Marbury (expires in 2009), Steve Francis (ditto), David Lee, Channing Frye and New York’s 2007 pick. The Knicks are the only team who’d consider a deal like this; they might even do some damage in the East with a nucleus of KG, Curry and Crawford. And it would be euphorically entertaining to watch the Knicks fans talk themselves into the KG era, right down to Spike splurging for a No. 21 home jersey and KG coming up juuuuuuuuust short like Ewing always did back in the day. I’m giddy just thinking about it. Anyway, if the Wolves move KG, then they should follow that up with Yi at No. 7, if only because Ricky Davis might take Yi under his wing and nickname him “Yi Gin and Juice.”
B. If they keep KG, take Jeff Green or Al Thornton because they’d help right away. At gunpoint, I’d go with Green — he was a big-game guy in college (well, except for the last one) and won’t be afraid of playing with KG as he’s breaking down mentally and asking Green things like, “Just between you and me, if I killed Marko Jaric tonight, would he immediately come off our cap?”
The VP’s verdict: Try like hell to trade KG, then take Yi. If they keep KG, swap picks with the Bulls (who apparently love Yi), take Green or Thornton ninth and pick up something for their troubles (Thabo Sefolosha?). Then, force McHale to retire before his ongoing incompetency changes the way I watch old Celtics games. On Monday night, when NBA TV was showing Game 7 of the 1981 Sixers-Celtics series, I keep waiting for young McHale to stop the game so he could sign Steve Mix to a $40 million contract with a 15 percent trade kicker.
8. Charlotte Bobcats
I’d love to see them pursue Gasol (with the No. 8, the No. 22 and May), re-sign Gerald Wallace and compete with a nucleus of Gasol, Wallace, Ray Felton, Emeka Okafor, Walter Hermann, Adam Morrison and one more free agent swingman like Mo Peterson or Desmond Mason. If they keep the pick, don’t they have to take Joakim Noah here? He fits in the “guys who had success in college” theme and gives them a ton of flexibility at the 4/5 spots, right? Whatever they do, I feel like the Bobcats are closer to being good than people realize … plus, they’re the ultimate fantasy team sprung to life, just an ultra-eclectic, improbable mix of recognizable players. If there was ever a franchise that could accommodate a Paul Shirley comeback, this is it.
The VP’s verdict: Make a serious run at Gasol, with Noah as the backup plan.
9. Chicago Bulls
If they keep the pick, they’ll go big with Noah, Yi or Hawes (whoever is left). Tragically, they missed their window to trade P.J. Brown’s expiring deal for a Garnett/Gasol/Allen/Pierce type and need a third team to help them for a Kobe trade (unless they can pull off a complicated sign and trade with Andres Nocioni or PJ Brown, which seems simple on paper but never, ever actually happens). I don’t see the Wizards moving Arenas because their fans would riot if they gave him away for Ben Gordon, Chris Duhon and Ty Thomas. We need to stop pretending this could happen. But what if the Celtics became involved? Check out this three-teamer and include the Lakers getting the No. 9 pick from Chicago. Now tell me … who doesn’t make that deal?
(The answer: The Celtics. They’d much rather make a reckless run in 2008 over finally carving out a logical long-term plan that makes sense. This is why we’ve changed course four times in four seasons with Danny Ainge. And we’re headed for No. 5 within the next eight days. I will now light my ’86 championship video on fire.)
The VP’s verdict: Try to get a third team to facilitate a Kobe trade. … If that doesn’t work, take Wright, Noah or Hawes (whoever is left), re-sign Nocioni and Brown and hope L.A. waits until February to trade Kobe. Although he’ll probably pull a Ned Braden and start stripping during home games within the first few weeks.
10. Sacramento Kings
Dead man walking!!!!!!!!!! There isn’t a more depressing NBA roster than this one — washed-up All-Stars, multiple bad contracts, one lunatic (Artest), a new head coach in Reggie Theus (the third one in 14 months), the possibility of relocation within the next two to three years, and if that’s not enough, my entire outdoor blackjack table at the Wynn decided at 5:30 Saturday afternoon that the Maloofs weren’t cool anymore, that they were even a little creepy. So whatever they do at No. 10, it’s not helping that litany of problems. The good news: Green is the best player on the board and never should have slipped this far — shades of Caron Butler a few years ago, actually.
The VP’s verdict: Take Green; try to get contenders to bite on Ron Artest and the just-about-washed-up Mike Bibby (expiring in 2009) for expiring contracts; test Brad Miller’s DNA to make sure scientists didn’t secretly do a Cage/Travolta “Face Off” switch with Miller and Greg Ostertag, since that’s the only possible explanation for how much Miller stunk last season.
11. Atlanta Hawks
Nothing would be funnier than seeing them take Jeff Green or Julian Wright here. Repeat: Nothing. But they need a point guard, whether it’s Acie Law IV (my personal favorite since he’s ready right away) or Javaris Crittenton (the illogical choice because he’s another project on a team filled with projects). Naturally, they reportedly love Crittenton. The Hawks never disappoint. We might need to just blow up their team name and reinvent them, kinda like how TNN turned into Spike TV.
The VP’s verdict: Swap picks with the Clippers (picking 14th and desperately needing a small forward with size, unless they can splurge for a heart transplant for Tim Thomas between now and next week) and pick up the 45th pick and a 2010 No. 2 for their troubles, then take Law IV at No. 14. Of course, this makes far too much sense and could never happen.
12. Philadelphia 76ers
They’re getting someone from the Thornton/Green/Wright group. And you know what? That’s a win-win all the way around for the Sixers — I like all three of those guys. Thornton works the best because he’ll produce right away, he’s fun to watch and fits in perfectly with the Miller-Iguodala-Dalembert feel. Maybe he’s not a rocket scientist (it’s always a red flag when someone’s graduating from FSU at age 23, no?), but I’m not sure you need a high score on the Wonderlic Test to take turns throwing down Andre Miller alley-oops with Andre Iguodala. And by the way, as a Celtics fan, I am hoping and praying that Thornton goes before this spot. I don’t want this guy in my division.
The VP’s verdict: Thornton. Now we have to talk Billy King out of giving Shavlik Randolph a $45 million contract extension.
13. New Orleans
The easiest call of the lottery: They desperately need a shooting guard and there’s an exciting one sitting right here (USC’s Nick Young). If the entire draft was that easy, this column would have been 400 words.
The VP’s verdict: Young.
14. L.A. Clippers
Could they really land someone as good as Julian Wright with the 14th pick??? Is that really possible? Whoops, I don’t care, I gave up my tickets.
The VP’s verdict: Don’t raise season ticket prices 25 percent after a 40-42 season.
Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. His book “Now I Can Die In Peace” is available in paperback.