Top eight storylines for the 2017 NBA Draft

Less than two weeks after the Golden State Warriors won the NBA Finals, the league’s 30 teams will meet on Thursday in Brooklyn. It promises to be an eventful evening, especially after Boston traded away the first pick to Philadelphia.

What will Boston do at No. 3 overall? Is GM Danny Ainge and Co. looking to add an established All-Star with that pick? Out west, the Magic Johnson era pretty much gets going on Thursday. It will surely be interesting to see what the team does with the second pick.

Meanwhile, there are a whole host of rumors out there suggesting that Paul George and Jimmy Butler could be traded. Will either of these All-Stars be on the move come Thursday evening? These are among the top-eight storylines heading into the 2017 NBA Draft.

Blazers trail of picks

Courtesy of Adam Hunger, USA Today Sports

Portland won’t be picking until midway through the first on Thursday night. Though, the team does have three picks in the first round (15th, 20th and 26th).

There’s been some talk of the team trading one of these selections to the New York Knicks. Portland is also going to work on building up a strong supporting cast behind the dynamic backcourt duo of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. Using these picks to trade off some bad contracts would make a ton of sense for this team. That’s likely where the Knicks themselves come into play.

After losing to the defending champion Warriors in the playoffs each of the past two seasons, it’s now all about building up a better all-around roster. That starts Thursday with the draft and will continue into free agency next month. It will surely be interesting to see what Portland does here.

Will the Warriors buy another pick?

Without a pick in this year’s draft, Golden State is still expected to be proactive on Thursday. It could very well be a repeat of last year when the defending champs bought a second-round pick from the Milwaukee Bucks. Golden State selected Patrick McCaw, who projects to being a starting guard and performed well in the playoffs.

With as many as eight players slated to become free agents, it would not be a shock to see the Warriors add a second-round pick on Thursday. The defending champ’s depth will certainly come into question. This, despite the fact that Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala are all expected to re-sign with the team.

Sure McCaw can take the place of say, Ian Clark, but it would be nice to have another youngster to team up with him. That should be the expectation in Oakland on Thursday.

The Boston Celtics’ dynamic

NBA draft, Paul George

Despite advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals, Boston was able to land the first overall pick in this year’s draft. That came via the now infamous Paul Pierce-Kevin Garnett trade.

Though, GM Danny Ainge and Co. made quick work of that selection by moving it to Philadelphia for the third pick and a future first-round pick. It’s yet another example of the Celtics building assets back east. Here’s a team that could conceivably have two top-five picks when the 2018 NBA Draft comes calling. This is in addition to the No. 3 overall pick and three second rounders on Thursday.

For fans in Boston, it’s now all about putting these assets to work in order to get proven All-Stars to team up with Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford. Whether that’s Paul George as a potential one-year rental or Jimmy Butler remains to be seen.

Things are complicated a tad here by reports that George plans to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers as a free agent next summer. Would Boston risk losing him for free as a free agent after potentially sending the No. 3 pick and other assets to Indiana for the All-Star? We’re not too sure where Ainge stands on that possibility.

What we do know is that Boston is highly unlikely to draft a player No. 3 overall without a corresponding move to bring in some reinforcements. The time is now to contend with Cleveland back east. Adding someone like Kansas forward Josh Jackson or former UCLA star Lonzo Ball likely wouldn’t close the gap enough.

We’re not saying that a blockbuster trade involving Boston will be worked out on Thursday. It could stretch into free agency. But what the Celtics do with the third pick will lay the groundwork for the remainder of the summer. Trading the first pick pretty much magnified this even further.

Veterans on the move?

We know the rumors surrounding Jimmy Butler and Paul George. One of those All-Stars will likely be moved here in short order. In fact, it would not be a shock to see the Bulls send Butler to Minnesota during the draft. That in and of itself would be big for the Wolves, who would then have another running partner for Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins.

But there are other veterans that could be on the move during the draft. The Los Angeles Lakers have reportedly made Julius Randle, D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson available in trades. One team potentially interested in adding someone from Los Angeles is the Detroit Pistons, who appear willing to offer up the 12th pick.

Even if it’s not with the Lakers, we fully expect Detroit to move its first-round pick for a veteran. The team is apparently in win-now mode. Whether that makes sense after last season’s struggles remains to be seen.

Though, one thing is readily apparent here. No matter what the Lakers do at No. 2 overall, look for Magic Johnson and Co. to move one of those established players for more assets. Brandon Ingram appears to be off limits, but everyone else on the Lakers’ roster is available. Already set to pick twice in the first round, this could make the Lakers among the most active teams on draft day.

On the Jimmy Butler front, it looks like the three-time defending Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers are looking to get into the mix. Reports indicate that the Cavs are working on three-team trade scenarios to bring in the All-Star to team up with Kyrie Irving and LeBron James. The issue here is that Cleveland doesn’t have many assets to make a move of this ilk outside of Kevin Love. That’s what might be holding the team back from acquiring Paul George.

Always bandied about on the trade block, it looks like Ricky Rubio could be calling another city home here soon. The Dallas Mavericks are the latest team to kick the tires on the point guard. Picking ninth overall, that seems to too high of a price to pay. But something could potentially be worked out on Thursday. If not, Dallas is expected to target France’s Frank Ntilikina to be its point guard of the future at nine.

The Sacramento Kings and the DeMarcus Cousins trade

Josh Jackson

With two picks in the top 10, it’s vital that Sacramento finds a way to add two starter-caliber players in Thursday’s draft. Though, the team seems to be interested in moving up for former Kansas standout Josh Jackson. According to The Ringer, the Kings would likely have to move up past the Phoenix Suns at No. 4 to acquire Jackson. If that’s the case, Boston could be a potential trade partner. Under this scenario, Sacramento would give up the fifth and 10th picks while picking up No. 3 overall (Jackson) and a veteran from Boston.

But would that really be a move worth making for Sacramento? It’s not one lottery pick and a rotational veteran like Jae Crowder away from contending for a playoff spot next season. Why not use these two high picks in a loaded draft to help fill the talent vacuum?

Buddy Hield seems to be the Kings’ franchise player right now. Acquired in the Cousins trade back in February, the former top-10 pick averaged 15.1 points while shooting at a solid 42 percent clip from three-point range. He can be a 20-plus point per game guy. With Willie Cauley-Stein taking on a larger role following the Cousins’ trade, it looks like the Kings have two solid pieces in place. If they are able to add a combination of  De’Aaron Fox,  Justin Jackson and/or Frank Ntilikina with their two first-round picks, it will go a long way in building up a roster that lacks talent.

How the point guard dynamic will play out

Now that Markelle Fultz is headed to Philadelphia (more on that later), the remaining question at point guard is where both Lonzo Ball and De’Aaron Fox might land. Ball continues to be linked to the Lakers at No. 2 overall with Fox himself potentially heading for a minor fall outside of the top five. Though, a lot of this has to do with what Magic Johnson’s plans are in Los Angeles. The Lakers already have a point guard in D’Angelo Russell. Would Ball at the off-guard position make sense next to Russell? If not, is Los Angeles really intent on trading Russell and rebuilding around the likes of Ball and Brandon Ingram?

Fox is more of a wild card. At 6-foot-3 and under 180 pounds, he seems best equipped to solely man the point. That could limit his draft stock heading into Thursday. As we mentioned above, a team like the Sacramento Kings could use Fox in the top five. After that, we have former North Carolina State star Dennis Smith and the aforementioned Frank Ntilikina as likely top-10 picks at the point guard position. How this dynamic plays out will determine who gets value with wing players such as Jayson Tatum and Justin Jackson later in the top 10.

Philadelphia, moving on up

Markelle Fultz

With Fultz headed to Philadelphia, the Sixers have one of the best young rosters in the entire NBA. Fultz will man the point guard position for a team that already boasts Joel Embiid, Dario Saric and 2016 No. 1 overall pick Ben Simmons. That’s four-fifths of the process itself playing out right in front of our eyes. Philly also has four second-round picks in Thursday’s draft. Add in a trade chip like Jahlil Okafor, and there’s no reason to believe the Sixers can’t add a veteran presence to go with this young core.

Assuming Fultz is definitely the guy at one, we’re going to want to see who the Sixers add at the two-guard position. That could come via some sort of a trade back into the first. But our money is on the team exhausting its tremendous capital to bring in a veteran shooting guard to team up with these four youngsters. As it is, we’re definitely entering some exciting times for fans in Philadelphia.

The Magic show in Los Angeles

There’s so much going on in Southern California right now. Will LeBron James pull the unthinkable and bolt Cleveland for the Lakers? That seems highly unlikely, but we wouldn’t throw the idea completely out the window. That’s only magnified with Cleveland letting general manager David Griffin walk on Monday. There’s absolutely no telling what’s going on with the Cavaliers here. Though, the LeBron angle won’t impact the 2017 NBA Draft. It also likely won’t unfold until next summer.

Outside of that unlikely scenario, reports suggest that Los Angeles is looking to nab another lottery pick to go with the team’s No. 2 selection. As we mentioned before, that could potentially come in the form of a trade with Detroit.

Then, we have the entire Paul George drama. Sure the Lakers would prefer to sign him as a free agent next summer. But will Indiana even consider holding on to the All-Star knowing he’s going to bolt in free agency in the first place? This could limit Indiana’s asking price in a trade, meaning the Lakers wouldn’t deal No. 2 overall. Instead, an offer for George could include a combination of Russell, Randle, Clarkson and/or the 28th pick. This would set Magic and Co. up pretty darn well.

Johnson knows very well that he’s taking over a fledgling ship. It’s also in a market where expectations are always raised for the Lakers. Could this force him to expedite the rebuild process? That will become obvious on Thursday. It starts with the second pick and the potential acquisition of Lonzo Ball. But the process itself won’t end during the draft. Expect Magic’s Lakers to be proactive throughout the summer.