7 Teams That Must Get It Right During 2014 NBA Draft
For some NBA front offices, the 2014 draft comes at a tenuous juncture for their franchise.
A couple executives have to make the right additions to satisfy current stars who will be 2015 free agents. Others simply have a huge chunk of their future tied into this draft thanks to a pile of picks waiting to be used or traded.
You don't have to be a bottom-feeding team to take this event seriously, though. There are a few winning squads who need to succeed on June 26 to take a big step toward championship goals.
We broke down seven clubs that absolutely must get it right in the 2014 NBA draft.
Los Angeles Lakers
Draft Position: One lottery pick (best odds to land No. 6)
Calling this draft "important" for the Los Angeles Lakers is an understatement.
The glitziest franchise in the NBA faces critical decisions on several fronts. General manager Mitch Kupchak is searching for a new head coach, free agents to pair with Kobe Bryant and young talent to carry the torch in the future.
While the right coach and lots of cap room are obviously essential to engineering a successful turnaround and future, the draft is the only surefire way to get younger. This year's opportunity is magnified by the fact that LA may not enjoy another first-round pick for years, as B/R Lakers insider Kevin Ding explains:
The Lakers traded their 2015 first-round pick to the Phoenix Suns in the Nash trade… The Howard trade costs the Lakers down the road too: They owe the Magic a future first-rounder. … The bottom line is that the Lakers don't have the future picks to plan on building through the draft. But this one pick coming up does offer a rare opportunity to secure a top talent whose cost will be controlled by rookie-scale salaries for future years—or swing and suffer a big miss.
With frontcourt cogs like Pau Gasol, Jordan Hill and Chris Kaman likely out as free agents, LA will be hurting for size. But it also needs a playmaker and a legitimate small forward.
So no matter what need the Lakers decide to address through the draft (whether it's playmaking via Dante Exum, forward production via Julius Randle or interior presence via Noah Vonleh), they can't afford to see that draftee fail. They need him to be a key part of LA's competitiveness during Kobe's final hour and, more importantly, serve as a reliable cornerstone in the long term.
Draft Position: One lottery pick (best odds to land No. 14), two additional first-round picks (Nos. 18 and 27), one second-round pick (No. 50)
With so many assets stashed in one draft, it's imperative that the Phoenix Suns use them or trade them wisely.
General manager Ryan McDonough told NBA.com's Scott Howard-Cooper in December:
Our preference would probably be to maybe package a few of them. We’re obviously all looking for stars and we feel like we can put together a package as good, if not better, than any other team in the league if and when a star becomes available.
Draft picks, especially of the first-round variety, are valuable commodities these days. If the Suns were to use a couple of them plus their second-round pick as part of a swap, their compensation had better pay dividends in the short and long term.
The Suns aren't a championship-ready team with a small window to pursue a trophy, so it wouldn't be ideal to trade for an aging star. At the same time, they would regret acquiring an unproven youngster who doesn't work out. It's a balancing act for Phoenix's front office.
This boatload of draft picks is a blessing for Phoenix, but it also puts a unique pressure on McDonough and Co.
Draft Position: One lottery pick (best odds to land No. 1), three second-round picks (Nos. 31, 36 and 48)
The Milwaukee Bucks need to get this draft right because, well, they put themselves in this embarrassing yet fortunate situation.
They conveniently won just 15 games in 2013-14, giving them the worst record in the Association and the best odds at landing the No. 1 overall pick.
A trend of puzzling decision-making helped put together an awful squad, but the upside is they have a chance to make the best selection and actually look like a team with a plan. It's a chance for the new ownership group to revive the organization.
There isn't a clear-cut No. 1, however, and there are risks involved in selecting each of the top candidates.
Andrew Wiggins is miles away from his ceiling and may never come close to reaching it. Joel Embiid's well-documented back issues make him a health risk. And Jabari Parker may get blown away by Wiggins and Embiid if they access their full potential.
The only way Milwaukee could really strike out is if it tabbed Embiid and he deteriorated physically. Nevertheless, it could still fail to "get it right" by choosing the least productive of the three options. The Bucks may pick a really good player while the other two become superstars.
Draft Position: One lottery pick (best odds to land No. 5), one additional first-round pick (No. 17 via ATL)
Rajon Rondo, the unquestioned leader and face of the Boston Celtics franchise, has one year left on his current contract. It's highly unlikely that he'll sign an extension, so if the Shamrocks want to re-sign him after the season, it would behoove them to put some promising pieces in place through the 2014 draft.
The headline of Ben Watanabe's NESN.com article summed up the pressure on Boston's front office: "Rajon Rondo's Future With Celtics Rides on Danny Ainge's Long-Term Plan."
Although the Celts may entertain trade options surrounding the eighth-year pro, they will likely make a heavy pitch next summer to keep him.
That pitch will be much stronger if Ainge pushes the right buttons in June and the draftees maximize their potential. Boston needs size and a wing for the future, so it will likely target a big like Noah Vonleh or an athletic, versatile forward like Aaron Gordon with its lottery pick.
Celtics fans better hope that selection, along with the other first-round pick, work out as compatible weapons alongside Rondo. Otherwise, he may not be convinced that Boston is the best place to spend the rest of his career.
Draft Position: Two lottery picks (best odds to land Nos. 2 and 10), five second-round picks (Nos. 32, 39, 47, 52 and 54)
Much like the Milwaukee Bucks, the Philadelphia 76ers need to crush this draft—particularly their first couple picks—because they stripped down their roster in anticipation of this moment.
But unlike Milwaukee, Philly has another lottery pick, plus five second-round picks. The Sixers tentatively have seven draft slots. They need to hit a home run with that top choice and execute optimal maneuvers with the remaining assets.
If they don't land a franchise cornerstone (for example, if Wiggins severely disappoints or Embiid crumbles) and don't get the better end of a draft-day trade, it would damage their rebuilding process, and this draft would retroactively be considered a colossal failure.
Over the past year, Sam Hinkie systematically ensured that Philly would not have a competitive team in 2013-14 (and let's be honest, it was cleaned out so thoroughly that 2014-15 likely won't be a winning season either).
Therefore, the 2014 offseason marks the end of the demolishing phase and a critical opportunity to add another foundational piece alongside Michael Carter-Williams.
Draft Position: Two first-round picks (Nos. 16 and 19), one second-round pick (No. 49)
The Chicago Bulls can't bank on Carmelo Anthony or another superstar scorer to sign in July, and even if they do, it's going to take a lot more than one addition to help Derrick Rose win a title.
CBS Sports' Zach Harper stressed the importance of supporting D-Rose so he doesn't have to be a superhero every night: "The Bulls need to keep rebuilding their backcourt and they need to have plenty of firepower around Derrick Rose so he doesn't have such a big responsibility on the court."
Remember, Chi-town finished dead last in the NBA in scoring and field-goal percentage. And even back when Rose was healthy in 2012, the squad struggled to find anyone else who could dynamically generate offense and connect from long range.
That's where the Bulls' two first-round picks enter the equation. The No. 16 pick from Charlotte and No. 19 pick could land them a sweet-shooting role player and some playmaking production. Several promising wings should be available in the mid-first round, along with a facilitating guard to fortify the backcourt.
Making the right or wrong moves in the draft will determine whether they have enough firepower and depth in the rotation to contend for a championship.
Draft Position: One lottery pick (best odds to land No. 9), one second-round pick (No. 33)
Not unlike Boston's situation, the Cleveland Cavaliers will make most of their 2014 offseason moves with the hopes of keeping their franchise point guard in town beyond 2015.
A year from now, Kyrie Irving may decide he's had enough of the Cavs, so general manager David Griffin needs to dominate the draft and free agency. Cleveland certainly can't afford to screw up the draft again. ESPN's Chad Ford (subscription required) explains that last year's Anthony Bennett blunder makes this year extra pressurized:
If you thought owner Dan Gilbert was impatient last year, wait until this year. It's 'Playoff or Bust, Part II,' for the Cavs, and you can make sure after last year's draft debacle that the Cavs are going to try to bring in a high-quality player who can contribute right now.
Is that player going to be Doug McDermott, the ultra-polished college star who may not be athletic enough to hang with NBA talent? Will it be Aaron Gordon, who's plenty athletic but may not have an NBA position? The Cavs could also go with a big if one is available, as B/R Lead Writer Howard Beck suggests in the video.
Cleveland thought it wouldn't be in the lottery again, but now that it's back, it needs to make the right move and find the best fit for Kyrie moving forward.
Dan O'Brien covers the NBA Draft for Bleacher Report.