By Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com
BROOKLYN, N.Y. –- The 76ers want to keep dragging it out, running a Four Corner stall on their fans and whatever portion of the roster actually makes it into uniform. They are now routinely acquiring top prospects on draft night who can’t or won’t play anytime soon, building toward 2017 at the earliest.
Meanwhile, the rest of the league is moving forward. There was a draft Thursday night at Barclays Center, a trade a few hours earlier and, right in the middle of the first round, a great moment for basketball that wasn’t about basketball at all. A lot of immediate impact was made on a day seemingly about patience.
Stall ball was out. Effects that will be felt in 2014-15 were in.
Even for the sev … en … ty … six … ers.
The Nuggets make a playoff push
Acquiring Arron Afflalo from Orlando at a very low price — Evan Fournier and No. 56, probably makes Thursday a good day no matter what. But Denver followed up by trading down, turning No. 11 into 16 and 19, and still coming away with Jusuf Nurkic, a lottery candidate and the second-best center prospect in the draft.
Giving up Doug McDermott, the 11th pick, was big when the shooting boost would have helped, but the Nuggets got a lot deeper, more physical and possibly added two starters, Afflalo and Nurkic, a strong inside presence who projects as a dependable big man. The question is whether he will fit with the preferred Ty Lawson/Kenneth Faried up-tempo pace.
Denver missed the playoffs last season by 13 games, a sizable gap to close in the ultra-competitive West. But if Danilo Gallinari is healthy for the start of the season and soon able to play without time restrictions, that’s basically two veteran additions along with first-round picks Nurkic and Harris.
The 76ers’ slow-speed chase
Each addition would have been understandable by itself: Nerlens Noel via the lottery last June despite a knee injury; Dario Saric at 12 this year in a trade with Orlando despite expecting to be in Europe two more years; and Joel Embiid at No. 3 despite recovering from a fractured back and suffering a foot injury that could easily keep him out all 2014-15. They’re all talented players.
But Philly went from the Noel patience play directly into another with Embiid and Saric. The Sixers essentially spent three top-12 picks in two years on players they knew had a chance to miss at least one entire season. Going for the Embiid-Saric double had emerged as a possibility before the draft, except that the Sixers couldn’t really do that before Noel spent a day in uniform. Could they?
It’s difficult to say a team that went 19-63 may not improve. A franchise that goes backward from that has to be trying to be worse.
But welcome to it. Maybe it pays off in the long (long, long, long) run. The immediate impact, though, is Philadelphia will be very bad again and expect a lot of people to sit through it.
The Lakers get help now
The Lakers didn’t find a trade to add a veteran to avoid a rebuilding job and Kobe Bryant‘s glare. But Julius Randle was the best possible outcome if they found themselves stuck with the seventh pick. He can be good now, equipped to stand up physically to most NBA power forwards despite being 19 years old, able to score inside though he played only one season in college.
Randle won’t get outworked, won’t get pushed around and you can throw him the ball in the post. That’s not a bad starting point. The prospect with a high motor just has to add a mid-range game to become a problem of All-Star proportions for defenses.
Randle isn’t just part of the hoped-for bridge to the Lakers’ future. He is someone who can help now. He is one of the leading candidates for Rookie of the Year.
Another step forward for Orlando
Needing a point guard after playing Victor Oladipo out of position last season, the Magic got out of the way of the Dante Exum–Marcus Smart decision, instead using No. 4 on power forward Aaron Gordon. Then they circled back for the point guard.
Elfrid Payton, the 10th pick acquired from Philadelphia as part of the Saric deal, was the best true distributor in the draft, impressing teams with size, defense and bursts of speed to be rated behind only top-six choices Exum and Smart at the position. Oladipo will move to shooting guard for his second season, where he will need to relocate the dependable jumper from his college days at Indiana. Gordon steps in at power forward. Nikola Vucevic returns at center. That’s a good foundation for a playoff team.
By late Thursday night, the inexperienced Magic had the chance to immediately become a challenger. Oladipo will defend. Gordon will defend. Payton will defend. Vucevic, Tobias Harris, Kyle O’Quinn and Payton will rebound. This is a building team, and a team building a personality.
The commissioner’s credibility boost
Adam Silver, the emcee of the Draft for the first time, didn’t need the votes. He already universally won high marks for the handling of the Donald Sterling ouster, heard plenty of cheers when he appeared on stage to begin the proceedings Thursday (in an obvious jab at predecessor David Stern) and has said and done all the right things since taking over as commissioner in February.
But then came Thursday. Silver, at the podium, announced that the league had drafted Isaiah Austin from Baylor. Austin stood up from his table in the Green Room (actually an area on the floor in front of the stage), accepted a blue cap with the NBA logo on it and everybody stood and cheered.
Less than a week after learning he had Marfan syndrome and that his career was over, the Baylor power forward — projected as a second-round pick — was wiping tears from his eyes as he walked on stage for the traditional handshake and pictures with the commissioner. The audience kept applauding. And when Austin followed that with stops for TV interviews, just like all the other top picks, the draft was halted so people in attendance could hear and allow Austin to promote awareness of the disease.
The league struck exactly the right tone. Everyone came off looking good. It was an immediate impact.