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If you’ve managed to get your heart rate back into a normal resting range and caught your breath after an NBA draft lottery that surely took it away, you’re probably just now wrapping your mind around the new reality.
The New Orleans Pelicans have the No. 1 overall pick, while the Phoenix Suns and Chicago Bulls, both of whom had as good a shot as anyone at the top spot, fell out of the top four entirely. The Memphis Grizzlies vaulted to second, and the Los Angeles Lakers climbed to fourth.
Don’t ask about the New York Knicks, who slipped to No. 3. The flattened lottery odds flattened their hopes of drafting Zion Williamson.
With Williamson almost assuredly headed to New Orleans, Anthony Davis’ future is even hazier. There’ll be no end to the trade chatter surrounding a star of his level, but let’s not forget about the other teams whose fates changed Tuesday. For now, Davis (and Williamson) will be excluded from trade scenarios as we learn more about how the Pelicans intend to approach the draft and their roster at large.
We’ll be as precise as we can with our trade constructions, but it’s too difficult to make every proposed swap work perfectly for salary-matching purposes with so much uncertainty surrounding half-full rosters, player options and rights that may or may not be renounced. That’s particularly true since deals could happen either before or after the draft, which further alters each team’s financial picture.
The focus will be on the key pieces involved. We’ll worry about the details later.
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Memphis Grizzlies Get: No. 6 pick, Tyler Johnson (must pick up player option), TJ Warren
Phoenix Suns Get: Mike Conley
There’s a good case to be made the Grizzlies should keep Mike Conley around until the trade deadline to mentor Ja Morant, assuming they select the Murray State point guard at No. 2 overall.
If a longer stay for Conley means a few more wins and a worse pick conveying to the Boston Celtics in 2020, that’s not so bad, either.
Then again, the Grizzlies lucked into a higher pick than expected, and they might want to lean into a rebuild as hard as possible. Adding the No. 6 pick would give them a third young talent to grow with Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr.
The Suns, long a paragon of dysfunction, could certainly use a steady veteran influence. In Conley, they’d get that and help at a position of dire need. Phoenix may have had its hopes pinned more strongly to Morant than any other team (though the Chicago Bulls might beg to differ), but it can still fill its void at the point this way.
If the Suns are realistic about where they’re likely to finish in next year’s standings, maybe they’d balk at adding a 31-year-old due to make $67 million over the next two seasons. But when have they ever been realistic about where they are in the rebuilding process? They thought they’d be a playoff team in 2018-19, for crying out loud.
Shots at the Suns aside, Conley could expedite the growth process for Deandre Ayton and the rest of the young contributors on hand. There’s value in that, too.
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Chicago Bulls Get: Lonzo Ball
Los Angeles Lakers Get: No. 7 pick, Kris Dunn
The Chicago Sun-Times‘ Joe Cowley reported in mid-April that the Bulls and Lakers had talks about a deal involving Lonzo Ball. That was back when Chicago had a theoretical shot at a much higher pick than it ended up with, but perhaps the interest is still there.
The Lakers will select fourth, and their attention will be devoted almost entirely to formulating a trade for Anthony Davis. If the Pelicans indicate they’d rather have another pick than Ball in any hypothetical deal, the Lakers could make this move to improve their list of assets.
Maybe there’d even be a way for Los Angeles to surrender just one of its lottery picks for Davis while using the other on Vanderbilt point guard Darius Garland, a Klutch Sports client.
If the Bulls think they can get Garland, they’d probably be less inclined to make this move. But if Garland projects to be off the board, this might be the most intriguing way to address their lack of a point guard.
Ball has his flaws, but he’d be a great fit on a team that already has plenty of play-finishers in Zach LaVine, Otto Porter Jr. and Lauri Markkanen. His unselfish play and pass-first approach could take all three of those guys to new levels. And that’s to say nothing of Ball’s criminally underrated defense. With LaVine playing the role of a human pylon on D, Chicago needs someone like Ball to take on the toughest backcourt opponent every night.
Ball still has time to reach his considerable potential. Maybe a fresh start is all it would take.
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Atlanta Hawks Get: No. 5 pick
Cleveland Cavaliers Get: No. 8 pick, Taurean Prince
This all depends on two teams having disparate views of this draft’s depth. If the Cavs are convinced their savior is somewhere in the top five, they’d have no reason to make this trade. Prince isn’t nearly enough of a sweetener to move down three spots.
But if Cleveland has a handful of targets, one of which might slip a bit, this could work.
The Cavs are in no position to turn down multiple assets. They need help everywhere, and effectively getting a free flier on Prince, who could still develop the defensive side of his three-and-D profile, could be worth a small drop in the draft order.
Mostly, though, this is about getting De’Andre Hunter, a 6’7″ combo forward who might have been the best all-around defender in the country last year, to a Hawks team that needs him and probably won’t be able to get him at No. 8.
Atlanta has facsimiles of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson in Trae Young and Kevin Huerter, so now it needs its Draymond Green. That’s not to say Hunter will ever reach Green’s level (and the Young-Huerter duo has light years to go before it approaches Curry and Thompson), but the Virginia product fills a similar niche.
The Hawks were a horrible defensive team at virtually every position last season. So why not target an exceptionally versatile stopper who could shore up weaknesses all over the floor while contributing efficient, low-usage offense and smarts?
If I’m the Cavs, I insist the Hawks offer their Nos. 8 and 10 picks before I accept No. 8 and Prince. If Atlanta is as in on Hunter as it should be, that might not be an unreasonable ask.
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Los Angeles Lakers Get: Bradley Beal, No. 9 pick
Washington Wizards Get: Brandon Ingram, No. 4 pick
If the Lakers don’t think they’re going to get Davis—whether because New Orleans takes him off the block or because it’s clear someone else has the best offer—they should pivot to adding veteran firepower around LeBron James.
For the above deal to work, the Lakers would have to include some salary filler. Let’s focus on the overall structure and worry about those details later.
Bradley Beal proved he could run the show with John Wall sidelined last year, and he’s precisely the kind of perimeter threat who would thrive alongside James. A career 38.4 percent three-point shooter, Beal would offer high-volume, high-efficiency offense, and it doesn’t hurt that he’s spent most of his career as a second option.
Maybe he’d rather continue in an alpha role after he got a taste last year, but you’d have to think he’d be glad to get out of a mostly hopeless situation in Washington.
The Wizards can’t move Wall’s albatross contract, so Beal is the guy to go if they’re aiming for a rebuild. Just 26 next season, he’s hardly past his prime, but cutting the $55.8 million he’s owed over the next two years could create valuable wiggle room.
In Ingram, the Wizards would get a potential star who seemed to take a leap in the second half of the 2018-19 season before deep venous thrombosis (DVT) in his right arm ended the breakout early. The gap between Ingram and Beal is substantial, though, which is why Washington should insist upon getting a bump up the draft order in the bargain.