The true meaning of this life will become clear while waiting out Thursday’s NBA draft in an undisclosed Ringer bunker with Wi-Fi and three televisions. Until then, we’ll be gathering the rumors from across the league in anticipation. We’ll be rolling with them throughout the day here, with this nugget of crucial information as a preview — Kawhi Leonard did not change his hair.
Cleveland Waits on Billups
Haley O’Shaughnessy (updated): After a second meeting with the Cavaliers on Wednesday, Chauncey Billups has been offered the Cleveland president of basketball operations position on a five-year deal, per The Athletic’s Jason Lloyd. He has yet to accept.
The news comes only two days after David Griffin and the team parted ways. It’s a quick turnaround for the franchise, but the draft is now less than 24 hours away, and even though the Cavs have no picks, they need someone at the wheel.
Other teams are moving quickly in trade talks, and Cleveland has been linked to Jimmy Butler and Paul George in the last week alone. The new front-office regime will have a say in those prospective trades. But the no. 1 job will be keeping LeBron James in Ohio, after multiple reports have suggested he’s thinking otherwise, and after his camp advocated for a Griffin extension — one owner Dan Gilbert denied Griffin after winning last year’s Finals.
Front-office changes take time, and five years is a solid commitment to a new chief — it’s what Jeff Weltman received in Orlando, and what GM Rob Pelinka’s deal in Los Angeles is rumored to be. Still, Billups has to wonder: If a Finals win couldn’t guarantee an extension for Griffin as a general manager, what will he have to do to keep his job secure?
That may depend on his ability to keep LeBron around. Picking from Billups’s past as an in-studio ESPN analyst reveals some criticisms toward James, like calling him "unprofessional" and "a little bit immature" a year ago, but nothing out of the ordinary — just routine stuff for a network analyst over an 82-game season. And a former player in charge sounds like something James, who is planning on owning a team post retirement, would favor.
(Correction: An earlier version of this post said that Billups had been offered a general manager position.)
In Search of Young Money
O’Shaughnessy: If declining a player option is shooting your shot in free agency, then winding up with a lesser offer is turning around to celebrate and having the ball rim out. You know, like this:
Nick Young is reportedly opting out of his last year with the Lakers, leaving $5.7 million on the forum blue table. But his free-agency destiny will likely end more pleasantly than his most famous 3-point attempt. At a time when the league values outside shooting more than ever, Young took the 12th-most 3-pointers in the NBA this year (seven per game) and made them at a 40.4 percent rate.
Swaggy P’s four seasons playing for his hometown team saw highs and lows through the coaching changes, swinging so low before last season that he was considered little more than waive potential. But after new head coach Luke Walton beefed up his minutes, Young started all 60 games he saw the court, averaged 13.2 points, and shot above an effective field goal percentage above 56. He’s an incomplete package, and his presence on the court makes the Lakers already bad defense even worse. But it’s his shot, famed for the wrong reasons, that will get him paid. Did Brook Lopez just become one of Los Angeles’s best deep threats?
Danny Ainge Is at It Again
Paolo Uggetti: If the NBA draft was a movie, Danny Ainge would be its most frustrating character.
Since swindling Brooklyn in 2013, Ainge has lorded over the last few drafts with his vault full of of assets. His picks have been questionable. Some have been solid (Marcus Smart), some not so much (James Young), but his desire to collect more and more picks has been incessant and extremely frustrating. The problem is he always seems to be building toward a big thing that never arrives.
Ainge made a move in this draft by trading down with the Sixers and landing the Celtics at no. 3. But the latest reports out of Boston are that he’s looking to pull a Belichickesque move yet again and fall even lower. The Boston Herald reported that Ainge "would love" to trade down again and draft Dennis Smith Jr., the athletic point guard (another one!) out of North Carolina State.
But man, who really knows? Ainge is the king of smoke screens, the godfather of leaks, and an expert at saving face after a deal doesn’t go through. In that same Herald report, a source said that if you asked 10 different clubs what Ainge is doing, they’d all give you a different answer.
Just this week, Ainge said Boston was confident that the player they wanted to take at no. 1 would be there at no. 3. If the Celtics do move down again and get Smith (or someone else like Jonathan Isaac and probably MORE picks), just prepare for Ainge flipping the narrative and saying that that player was the one they wanted all along.
A Break From the Onslaught of Rumors for Some Unintentionally Good Prospect Quotes
Uggetti: What is Lonzo Ball’s worst nightmare? Is it being a bust? No. Is it not fulfilling his father’s wishes. NO. Is it never winning an NBA title? N-O. Lonzo Ball was engineered for this. He doesn’t have nightmares. He lives only for the nights when he gets his perfectly prescribed 7–8 hours of sleep on a custom-made Tempur-Pedic. Lonzo Ball is perfect; don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise.
Uggetti: This was Jayson Tatum’s response this when asked what his no. 1 pick in the food draft would be. First off, what is St. Louis–style pizza? Former St. Louis resident Zach Kram and noted food expert Danny Chau say it’s a cracker-crust pizza made with Provel cheese. Provel cheese is "a combination of cheddar, Swiss, and provolone cheeses, and tastes nothing like any of them" according to Wikipedia. This doesn’t sound like a real pizza, and people on the internet were rightfully appalled by Tatum’s hot take.
Look, I respect Tatum for not being beholden to the parameters of the useless and unending New York–vs.-Chicago pizza debate. Originality counts for something, even if your food opinion is trash. Also, I’m filing a motion to make Tatum’s nickname "The Pizza Man," so that we may always remember this moment.
O’Shaughnessy: Not only did Markelle Fultz just "well actually" the city of Philadelphia on the origin of its most beloved mantra since "jawn," he titled himself its originator. Fultz trusts the Process so much that he grew the philosophy in his own 14-year-old mind after getting cut from JV years before Sam Hinkie popularized it; the Sixers should be sure he’s the guy now.
O’Shaughnessy: This is the dish Phil Jackson made Dennis Smith try when the two had dinner. Smith hated it, but hey, Jackson insisted. Welcome to the Knicks.
Uggetti: Look at Zach Collins making history by being the first known human to ever utter these words.
DeAndre Jordan May Be on the Move
Uggetti: The Jerry West era has begun in Clipper Land, and the first order of business seems to be taking a closer look at DeAndre Jordan. Just a day after West was introduced as the newest member of the Clippers brass, ESPN’s Chris Haynes reported that the team is exploring the trade market for its prized center ahead of Thursday’s draft, in which the Clippers don’t have a pick.
Per the report, the Clippers approached the Suns about a trade that would involve getting Tyson Chandler (who, with two years and $26 million left on his contract, is much more affordable than DJ) and the no. 4 pick in return for DJ. But the Suns laughed them — and really, Jordan’s value — off.
Perhaps this is more an indictment of the Clippers’ situation than of Jordan himself, whose defense and offensive efficiency has improved each year. It’s no secret that flexibility has been a foreign concept to the franchise under Doc Rivers as president of basketball operations, so it’s unsurprising that with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin entering free agency, the only plausible moves the Clippers can make to be good again this season are to re-sign Paul and Griffin, as expected, or to find a trade involving Jordan, who is talented, but is slowly approaching basketball obsolescence.
West and Co. may be shopping Jordan now because they don’t want to consider re-signing him to a big contract in a few years. But the explanation behind this move may be that they simply want to get younger via the draft, that they’re looking at the mirror and seeing what everyone else sees: It will be impossible to beat the Warriors in the present, so why not start preparing for the future?
Damian Is a-Tweetin
O’Shaughnessy: Damian Lillard is not a free agent. The Portland centerpiece is in the second year of a fat, $140 million contract that guarantees him such bread until 2021, by which time North West will be 8 and Disney will be workshopping its 30th Star Wars movie. But Lillard isn’t sitting back this offseason. He’s tweeting his way through it like Dwight Howard unknowingly did during his trade to the Hornets.
Late at night, Dame quote-tweeted CSN reporter Dwight Jaynes after the latter suggested that no "crazy, win-now" changes should be made to the Blazers roster simply because, in the big picture, they won’t matter; there will be no beating the Warriors in the near future, so Portland may as well play the long game.
Dame’s first response:
Dwight clapping back:
Dame clapping back (possibly with Drake’s "Back to Back" playing in the back):
And so it continued, for eight long, "never tweet"–invoking tweets, with Jaynes replying that he is paid to express this opinion, and Lillard, strapped with the competitive edge of an athlete, refusing to "lay it down" in anticipation of a post-Warriors-era world. Both were defensive, a normal byproduct of social media use, both with an attitude tying into the relevance of their jobs. Even though Lillard is 26 years old and owns a contract expiring in the far-away 2021, it is entirely possible that Golden State’s dominance outlasts his deal.
Remarkably, this wasn’t even the best Blazer Twitter presence of the night. That belonged to Evan Turner, who we are forever indebted to for this hypothetical:
This Is Daryl Morey Season
Uggetti: If Daryl Morey were to take a Myers-Briggs test, my bet is he could come out as an ENTJ. A long-term planner and goal-setter. There’s no doubt Morey loved what James Harden and the Rockets did this season as a team, but the offseason is where he thrives — where he can sign four-year extensions — and where he can dangle his own players in a search for more.
Following the Finals, Zach Lowe published a column detailing the Warriors’ place atop the league. In it Morey was candid, saying the Rockets would "up [their] risk profile" and "have something up [their] sleeve" in order to dethrone the Dubs. Enter the free agents.
Kyle Lowry’s return to Houston would be a cool story, but with Lowry shooting down reports that he doesn’t want to re-sign in Toronto, the mutual interest doesn’t appear to be flourishing.
On the Chris Paul front, Clairvoyant Chris Ryan called this last week. Tax-free Texas wouldn’t be a bad option, but how would Mike D’Antoni handle two ball handlers? Then again, Paul has more than 200 million reasons to stay in Hollywood, so who knows how realistic this is.
Earlier Wednesday, Brian Windhorst reported that the Hawks are exploring sign-and-trade deals for Paul Millsap, who appears to be all but gone from Atlanta. With the Hawks dealing Dwight Howard away Tuesday, it appears they may finally be ready to blow it up. Harden and Millsap could be a dynamic combo, and Stein’s report suggests the Rockets are willing to bite. The Clippers would seem to be a candidate to do the same with Griffin, who could at least net them some spare change in a sign-and-trade if he didn’t want to re-sign with Doc and Co.
Though they don’t include picks, Morey’s high-value assets are players who benefited from the Rockets’ success this season (Pat Beverley is a wanted man). It’s all part of the plan. As the draft awaits and free agency looms, Morey is at bat yet again, and as is customary for him, he’s not looking for singles. He’s swinging for the fences.
Greg Monroe Wants His Money
Uggetti: Greg Monroe is a smart guy. On Tuesday, The Vertical’s Shams Charania reported that Monroe had basically told the Bucks: It’s my money and I need it now. Monroe is expected to exercise his $17.8 million option for 2017–18. This makes every bit of sense for Monroe, whose per-game averages in points, rebounds, and blocks decreased last season. His value on the free-agent market wasn’t going to be robust, and this way, he gets another chance to improve before hitting unrestricted free agency next summer.
This puts the Bucks in a bit of a bind. Milwaukee is an über-long and athletic team that has tried to trade the ill-fitting Monroe before. Now, with Monroe’s player option exercised, they will be just $15 million under the $121 million luxury tax line, and they still have to figure out what to do with Tony Snell, an unrestricted free agent, as well as Spencer Hawes, who will likely follow Monroe’s example and opt in to his own $6 million option.
Monroe’s salary is reasonable if he improves and thrives off the bench, but the larger theme here is that the Bucks are a young, talented team, though one that isn’t ready quite yet to truly compete in the East, and one whose financial situation suggests there’s little it can do to speed up its rise right now.
Results are good, and the Bucks’ Giannis-fueled flashes have been amazing, but this team is not a finished product. It’s still a process, whether Wes Edens likes it or not.
Dwyane Wade Updates His Résumé
What is worse here? The use of "#petty?" or the fact that Wade is probably right? Here’s to another run at an 8-seed, Chicago!
The Pick That Isn’t Promised
O’Shaughnessy: With the draft a day away, Josh Jackson is refusing to work out for the Celtics unless Boston promises to select him with the third overall pick, according to Chad Ford. The Kansas forward did not attend the NBA combine and canceled a previous meeting with the organization scheduled for June 12, which makes his current demand seem almost out of line. Additionally, per Ford, the team hasn’t been able to obtain Jackson’s medical records.
Duke’s Jayson Tatum has met with the team twice, and is expected by some mock drafts to be picked at the third spot, one Boston traded down for with the expectation of still being able to select the best player.
"They did a little bit of moving around with their pick," Jackson said on Wednesday. "[They] made it pretty clear who they were going to draft with the no. 1 pick, so I didn’t really feel like it was worth either of our times for me to work out with them. But then when they, you know, did the flip and went to no. 3, by then it was too late."
Was it? As of two days ago, when the pick swap had already been announced for two days, Ainge said he was "hopeful" that Jackson would still work out for the team.
Maybe Jackson’s second workout with the Lakers, which reportedly "did not go well at all," has spooked Jackson into holding out on Boston in hopes of getting a solid commitment.