With the NBA Draft Lottery in the books, we now have a bit more clarity as to how next monthís draft might play out. Of course, with more than a month until the big night, thereís still plenty that could -- and will -- change, but itís never, ever too early to begin firing reckless speculations into the dense cloud of sourced and unsourced mystery that is the lead-up to the draft.
This weekís NBA Draft Combine -- the public portion of which takes place Thursday and Friday in Chicago -- should bring us a bit more clarity, but until then, here are eight thoughts on what went down Tuesday night:
1. The Suns won the lottery and now have a difficult choice to make
Two teams moved up into the top-three, but the Suns, holders of the best lottery odds, held off the Kings and the Hawks and grabbed their first top pick in franchise history. Outside of Devin Booker, the Suns have whiffed on other recent high picks -- Alex Len, Marquese Chriss, Dragan Bender -- while itís still too early to appraise Josh Jackson, who had an up-and-down rookie season but still looks like heíll be a significantly better long-term asset than any of the aforementioned big men.
Itís never a bad thing to pick first, but in a draft like this one, with several potential stars but no true locks, the decision at No. 1 is ultra-important. DeAndre Ayton and Luka Doncic have established their own top tier, and one of the two will likely end up being the pick at No. 1, but it wouldnít be insane to suggest Jaren Jackson, Marvin Bagley, Mo Bamba, or even Trae Young, could be the best player in the draft in five years.
In a lot of ways, this class mirrors the 2014 draft -- top-heavy, frontcourt-dominant, with a handful of really good prospects but no Tim Duncan or LeBron James or Anthony Davis. For the most part, everyone agreed Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Joel Embiid were the best of the elite prospects, but each had unique flaws that prevented a consensus from ever emerging. The second mini-tier -- Aaron Gordon and Dante Exum -- were close behind but never truly in the contention to go No. 1. Marcus Smart and Julius Randle finished out the legitimate-star-potential group, with a massive chasm separating the top-seven from the No. 8 pick, Nik Stauskas.
But anyway, back to the Suns. Most drafts donít have a Duncan or a James or a Davis, but Phoenix has made this an especially difficult pick to project. Hiring Doncicís former Slovenian national team coach and then passing on him would be odd, sure, but the Suns are no strangers to defying logic, and they did make the hire weeks before they knew for sure where their pick would land. If the Suns pass on Doncic, it will likely be for Ayton, who finished high school at Hillcrest Academy in Phoenix before becoming a first-team All-American at Arizona. This isnít exactly LeBron/Cleveland 2.0, but passing on a local(ish) kid who most of your fans watched terrorize the Pac 12 would be a minor disaster for whomever is running the Suns' Twitter account on draft night.
In terms of need, point guard is probably the Sunsí most glaring hole, but this is a particularly weak guard draft, and taking Young would be an unnecessary gamble. Itís hard to imagine the Suns trading a pick they threw away an entire season to get, but with an owner desperate to return to relevance, nothing can be ruled out. Say Portland dangles Damian Lillard (highly unlikely) or -- take a deep breath -- the Thunder test the market on Russell Westbrook (somehow even more unlikely) -- Robert Sarver is taking the call.
2. The Kings got some much-needed luck
Sacramento has been a lottery team each of the last 12 years, but none of those picks have landed in the top-three -- not even in 2009, when the Kings lost a league-high 65 games and fell all the way down to No. 4 on lottery night, losing out on the Blake Griffin sweepstakes (although if weíre being honest they absolutely would have found a way to talk themselves into Thabeet).
Repped by a grinning DeíAaron Fox, the Kings leapfrogged all the way up to No. 2 on Tuesday night after entering the lottery with only an 18.3% chance to move into the top-three. While Sacramento has done nothing to deserve such luck, it was a massive break for a franchise that drafted Jimmer Fredette, Thomas Robinson, Ben McLemore and Nik Stauskas in consecutive years. Vlade Divac has some ties to Donic -- because theyíre both European, you see -- but all indications are that Sacramento is more than happy to sit back, reprise the role of the 2007 Sonics, and take whichever of the two is available.
3. Things did not go the Grizzliesí way
Sacramento and Atlanta moving into the top three meant two teams with top-three lottery odds moved back. One of those was the Grizzlies, who will pick fourth, despite winning only one more game than Phoenix. Memphis will still get a really good player, but it was a letdown for a franchise that had hoped to use a rare down year to re-energize its veteran core with a potential superstar.
Picking at four makes Memphis even more of an interesting team to monitor. Unlike every other team in the top-seven -- and possibly all the way down to nine if LeBron leaves Cleveland -- the Grizzlies arenít in rebuilding mode. The Gasol/Conley pairing isnít a championship-level pairing, but Memphis still has a small window to build a playoff contender around that core. Grabbing a high-upside young player to bridge the gap between this current era and the next is the obvious play, but Memphis -- especially after falling out of the top two -- could trade out if the right offer for more-immediate help is on the table.
Hanging over the franchise is the future pick Memphis owes to Boston because of course they do. Itís top-eight protected in 2019, so Memphis has to either be bad enough to keep it or good enough to avoid forking over a valuable lottery selection. If the pick doesnít convey in 2019 -- AKA if Memphis is a bottom-eight team -- it drops to top-six protected in 2020 before becoming unprotected in 2021. With that in mind, the realistic goal should be making the playoffs and handing over something like the 17th pick in the 2019 draft.
4. Things also did not go the Mavericksí way
Dallas was the other team to fall out of the top-three, landing at fifth overall and likely missing out on the Ayton, Doncic, Jaren Jackson trio. On paper, Jackson is a perfect fit for the Mavs, but assuming heís off the board, theyíll have a bit of a watered-down group from which to choose Dennis Smithís long-term running mate.
5. Clevelandís luck has run out
Winners of three lotteries this decade, the Cavs failed to move up from No. 8, despite the best efforts of Nick Gilbert and his wooden bowtie. A few hours later, the Cavs parlayed a comedically horrific second half into an 0-2 deficit, and suddenly the LeBron era could be over before this time next week. Thatís not to say the Cavs wonít get a nice young piece, but the dream of moving into the top-three and opening up a world of offseason possibilities is officially dead.
On the other hand, the Cavsí meltdown did give us this incredible and completely justified postgame interaction between Ty Lue and Jason Lloyd of The Athletic. Jason, thank you for your service.