This is not an easy NBA Draft to decipher. Thursday night's event will change lives and team trajectories, but more than most years, the lack of top-tier talent and the concentration of teams with multiple picks (five teams own 14 picks) combined with the financial flexibility this summer's salary cap affords means that several teams face tough decisions.
Typically the big debate in any draft is who goes No.1. But the Sixers have signaled since landing the No.1 pick in the lottery that they're taking Ben Simmons, an indication that only intensified this week with reports they had provided him a promise and worked him out, finally. No, the dilemmas in this draft are more subtle, more complex, and in some ways, more urgent.
Here's a look at the top five biggest dilemmas for teams headed into Thursday's draft.
1. What on earth is Boston going to do with eight picks? The Celtics set themselves up to have the best possible trade package they could for the future, but all of those asset calls have suddenly come up at once in a weak draft. They have 13 players on roster for next season and eight draft picks. They obviously can't hold them all, but they also have them in odd spots.
The No.3 pick presents a number of tough calls. Dragan Bender is the best fit for what they need, but all indications are that the Celtics are much more enamored with Kris Dunn of Providence or another guard, which would give them approximately 1,100 guards on their roster. Dunn may be the best overall prospect, but there's just no way to make room for him with Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart, R.J. Hunter and Terry Rozier on roster.
Boston has to make a trade just to create roster spaces. If no one's biting on those picks (three in the first round), they may have to combine assets to move up. These picks remain their best assets to try and acquire a star player. Expect Danny Ainge to be burning up the phones.
2. The Nuggets' optical illusion: Denver looks to be in a great spot, with three first-round picks and a young core. But they need a star player to sell tickets (Denver was bottom-three in attendance last year) and provide them with a top-flight player ot lead them. (Emmanuel Mudiay and Nikola Jokic have the potential but are far from being high probability to reach that level.)
They have veteran players like Danilo Gallinari and Kenneth Faried, players who aren't good enough to build around but too good to discard without quality return. And their draft positioning is just outside the range of true impact players.
The most logical decision for the Nuggets would be to package their picks not for a "star" as the ones on the market, like Kevin Love, bring flaws, but instead to add veteran yet younger players who fit the timeline of their core. But doing so risks perpetuating the idea that Denver's not really going anywhere.
3. Orlando's bizarre logjam: At pick No. 11, the Magic can go in a lot of different directions. However, they've got solidified starter-worthy picks at point guard (Elfrid Payton), shooting guard (Evan Fournier and Victor Oladipo), forward (Mario Hezonja, Aaron Gordon) and center (Nikola Vucevic). There's not a player that is justifiably better than those at their positions, even though each comes with his own set of limitations.
Do the Magic make a move to disrupt that young core? They've already cleared out cap room to pursue free agents this summer. Do they package the pick to try and make a big swing or stick with the slow development, and look to add a defensive big man like Jakob Poeltl. Do they take a low-risk player they know will likely give them minutes or take a risk with what they already have in place?
Orlando's in a delicate spot.
4. The Irrational Kings: Unlike last year, everything's quiet with the idea of the Kings trading DeMarcus Cousins. But Sacramento is always looking to make big moves as they try and magically teleport themselves to the playoffs. The Kings always seem like they're ready to make a short-term-gain, long-term-pain move. Would they rather add another top-10 draft pick, or gamble for something more solid to try and ease relationships with DeMarcus Cousins?
It should be noted that Dave Joerger was the rare coach who in Memphis last year wanted his team to get younger and more athletic.
Trying to predict what the Kings will do, but at pick No. 8 with good fits for their roster, especially at shooting guard and small forward, it's going to be impressive if they don't find a way to improve.