All over the country, NBA executives woke up Friday and remembered what they did last night. Just like college! We selected the best (and worst) nuggets from various front offices’ post-draft interviews to review. Welcome to the 2018 NBA draft hangover:
San Antonio Spurs
Haley O’Shaughnessy: GM R.C. Buford was forced to address the All-Star elephant in the room after the draft. “Kawhi and his family mean a lot to our organization and to our community,” Buford said. “While none of us would wish we are where we are, we are going to do what we can to build the best relationship we can with him. We will explore all of our options, but the first one would be to keep Kawhi as part of our group.”
RC Buford on where #Spurs stand with Kawhi Leonard...says 'Kawhi and his family mean a lot to us' and 1st option is to keep him w/group. Adds there is no timeline for decision, would not comment any proposals or formal trade request from Leonard (via @markmendez) #KSATsports #NBA pic.twitter.com/5jd6sxKz12— RJ Marquez (@KSATRJ) June 22, 2018
San Antonio entered draft night contemplating more than just which player it would select with the 18th overall pick. (That turned out to be Lonnie Walker IV.) Kawhi Leonard reportedly asked for a trade last week. Gregg Popovich has since met with Leonard in San Diego to do damage control. It worked once before for the Spurs; Pop refused to indulge LaMarcus Aldridge’s trade request last summer, hashing it out instead, and coached the big man to his best season since leaving Portland three years prior. (Pop later said no player in his 22-year coaching career had ever asked for a trade. LaMarcus was the first. Bad streak.)
Buford’s choice of words—“We are going to do what we can to build the best relationship we can with him”—felt like a red flag with a white one behind it. Build—like, from the ground up?
Oklahoma City Thunder
Paolo Uggetti: The Thunder came away from Thursday night’s draft having spent three second-round selections on high-upside players like Hamidou Diallo. But the real war room was somewhere in Los Angeles, where a surprise birthday party was thrown for Paul George, and yep, some Thunder staffers skipped the draft to attend it. Priorities, people!
That we’re this close to July 1—the start of free agency—and the Thunder haven’t been eliminated from the Paul George Destination conversation is a small miracle. Yes, George has been flirting with possible future Laker teammates at video game events in L.A., but it’s also been reported by Marc Stein of The New York Times that the Thunder have a real shot to keep him, and moreover, that most of the league expects George to sign a one-year deal to stick around and wait until 2019 free agency. Both the Thunder and George are reportedly “keeping lines of communication open.” The Thunder also have another chainsaw to juggle in the meantime: Carmelo Anthony’s deadline to opt in or out of his $28 million option for next season is Saturday.
“I can’t speak to necessarily what he’s going to do with respects to the early-termination option,” Sam Presti said Thursday night. “But we have been in touch with him and tried to provide him with as much information as we can so he can make the most informed decision possible.”
As in, the information that outlines how many fewer minutes they want him to play next season?
O’Shaughnessy: Brett Brown revealed quite a bit Thursday night, mostly that he should be given the mic only after NBA games, not NBA drafts. Philadelphia selected Villanova star Mikal Bridges with the 10th overall pick, then flipped him within a half hour to Phoenix for the rights to the 16th pick (Zhaire Smith) and Miami’s 2021 unprotected first-round pick. It was, in a way, a selfless act from Brown the coach, who should want to win right away—Smith isn’t as NBA-ready as Bridges, and 2021 is a long way away for a coach who just signed a contract extension through 2021-22. Brown the interim GM, however, was anything but tactful.
“The phones were active and we knocked back an incredible deal where we would lose [Bridges],” Brown said after the first round. “We didn’t rate it to be a godfather type of deal, something that would impact the franchise to the level that it would have to in order to trade Mikal, who we valued very much.”
S/o to Brett brown for keeping it stern and sexy ✊ https://t.co/TnDqXm0EUN— Evan Turner (@thekidet) June 22, 2018
“Then Phoenix came in and offered a 2021 unprotected [first-round pick], plus our 1B in Zhaire, who we valued very highly, and you’re in a position that you’re on the clock and you have a decision to make.”
So not only did Brown explicitly describe Bridge’s worth to the franchise, he called Smith, the player now with the Sixers, 1B—their second choice. Bridges, a Villanova product, spent the moments after his selection gushing about the opportunity to play at home. His mom, Tyneeha Rivers (who serves as the vice president of human resources for the company that owns the Sixers, Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment), called it “an experience I’ll never forget. I’m so excited he’s coming home to be a part of our Sixers family.” The 21-year-old Bridges was still making the photo and interview rounds, on behalf of the Sixers, 10 minutes after his trade had been reported.
Brown went on about “the torment of trying to do [his] job,” explaining that he, too, lives in Philly, and he, too, watches Villanova. “I love [Bridges’] mom. I love his college coach. There’s a human side of this that’s really kind of hard to explain.” Trust me, Brett. You’ve explained enough.
Uggetti: Like the Thunder, the Cavs are also keeping “lines of communication” open with their free-agent star. Cavs GM Koby Altman reportedly said that those lines have been open with LeBron since the season ended. That’s notable given how, in the past, LeBron has gone dark in free-agency situations.
“I think LeBron has more than earned the right to approach his contracts the way he does. He’s done that before, so this is nothing new for us,” Altman said on Thursday night. “We want to respect his space during this process, and I continue to have really good dialogue with his management team as he goes through that process.”
Notably, the Cavs didn’t package the eighth overall pick or Kevin Love for any win-now deal that might have appeased LeBron. Instead, they drafted 19-year-old Collin Sexton and are reportedly happy to keep Love. The good news for Altman is that there are reports that, despite everything but the hometown connection pointing toward a LeBron departure, James is still trying to see which other stars he could recruit to join him in Cleveland. Time is tight, though. LeBron has to inform the Cavaliers in a week whether he’s opting in to the final year of this two-year contract or not. Opting in doesn’t mean he’d stay, but it would open the door for Cleveland to do a sign-and-trade and at least get something back for him. If he opts out, well, they’ll just have to recruit him that much harder.
Los Angeles Lakers
Uggetti: “It’s not like teams are saying, ‘Oh, I’m not going to do a deal with the Lakers,’ but I do think when you have 16 banners, there’s going to be a natural envy from your competitors because you’re sitting at the top of the food chain, but that’s just life in general.”
Lakers exceptionalism is back like it never left (it didn’t), and I couldn’t be more excited about that this time, because Rob Pelinka is the messenger. This was Pelinka’s answer to a question Thursday night, asking whether the Lakers have faced any resistance from prospective trade partners. Of course, this stems from the increasingly loud buzz that the Spurs are not engaging with Los Angeles on any Kawhi Leonard deal, as of now. As one report put it, the Spurs “basically shut the door” on the Lakers when they reached out to talk trades. San Antonio is not going to give in as easily as Cleveland did with Kyrie Irving last season. But even though the Lakers’ plan is to acquire two big-name free agents (LeBron and George?) and a third via a trade (presumably Leonard), there’s always the old, reliable, failsafe backup option if things don’t pan out this summer.
“We do feel like the road is a flexible road for us, if July 1 happens with one or two superstar players, great,” Pelinka said. “If it doesn’t, we love this young core that we’re developing and we know 2019 could present some amazing opportunities as well.”
The Lakers have been the Bruno Caboclo of teams in free agency. Always a year away from being a year away. Is 2018 finally the offseason when they make it happen?
O’Shaughnessy: The bad side of an ugly, very public disagreement between a player and a franchise is that moving said player becomes more difficult. (Also bad: the ugly, very public disagreement part.) The Heat were reportedly planning on shopping Hassan Whiteside after an unpleasant end to the season, when Whiteside said that his lack of minutes was “bullshit” and that “a lot of teams [can] use a center.”
Whiteside is only two years into his hefty four-year, $98 million contract, and it would’ve required some sweetening to take him on, even before the discord. His trade value dove further when it became clear he was unhappy; magically, the Heat are suddenly, publicly, open to working it out.
“I expect a lot of out Hassan,” team president Pat Riley said Thursday, “contrary to what people might think about us trading him. We haven’t offered him to anybody, really, to be honest with you. So you go through an emotional period with a player and you deal with it and you come back and you work things out.”