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5 Things to Take Away from the NBA Summer League

After a hiatus last year, thanks to the lockout, the NBA Summer League returned to action the past few weeks in Orlando and Las Vegas. Summer League provides the first opportunity to see recent draftees face off against NBA competition, albeit the lowest tier of players. Regardless, it can give a glimpse of what players can one day become. Here’s are some observations from this year’s Summer League.

1. Damian Lillard is the real deal

Damian Lillard proved he belongs after his strong Summer League showing.

Portland’s point guard, drafted 6th overall, got some heat for never going against elite competition, having played his college ball at Weber State. His performance in Vegas quelled any worries that this would be a problem. Lillard averaged 26.5 points, 4 rebounds, and 5.3 assists in four Summer League games, earning co-MVP honors with Memphis guard Josh Selby.

Lillard showed off his hops, did a great job of getting to the line, demonstrated the deep range of his shot, and showed that he’s not just a scorer and can also pass. For someone who didn’t play against elite competition in college and declined to participate in any group workouts prior to the draft, Lillard had a great showing, proving that his skills can translate to the next level.

2. Even if they couldn’t trade into the top 10, Houston may have had the best draft

Royce White grows an impressive beard.

The Rockets may have helped themselves in their quest for Dwight Howard this Summer League. Their roster was stacked with young talent, and they all met their expectations. Jeremy Lamb showed off his scoring ability by averaging 20 points a game. Terrence Jones put up 18 points on 50% shooting and added 8.6 rebounds per game. Royce White demonstrated his versatile skill set, averaging 8.4 points, 7.2 rebounds and 3.6 assists including several highlight reel passes. Undrafted rookie Scott Machado, who led the NCAA in assists, also showed his passing ability averaging 5.6 assists. Finally, Donatas Montiejunas, a rookie drafted last year, was very impressive. He averaged 16 points on 62% shooting along with 8 rebounds.

All these players proved they can make an impact on the game and could be dangled as trade bait to Orlando in exchange for Dwight. But if that doesn’t work, Houston will have a team filled with young talent.

3. Big name struggles

A number of players from the past two drafts with high expectations had a rough Summer League. Dion Waiters, Andre Drummond, Thomas Robinson, Jared Sullinger, Austin Rivers, and Derrick Williams all had their struggles. Waiters shot just 30% from the field, which won’t quiet critics who thought the Cavs took him too high at fourth overall.

Drummond wasn’t awful, but he lived up to his reputation of a lackluster motor and horrendous free throw shooting (he air balled a free throw wide left). Drummond averaged just 7 points and 5 rebounds to go with his 25% free throw shooting and seemed to be hesitant to use his elite athleticism on offense, resorting instead to fade away midrange shots. Not exactly what you want to see from a player drafted solely for his hops and strength.

Dunks like these didn’t happen enough for Drummond during his Summer League stint.

Robinson rebounded the ball excellently, pulling down nearly 10 a game, but he struggled mightily on offense, converting just 34% of his shots. He also blocked only 1 shot in five games. You have to expect more from the number 5 pick playing against the lowest level of NBA players.

Sullinger started off well in Orlando with a 20 point outing, but struggled in most of the other games, fueling the fire that critics lit when questioning his ability to score over the NBA’s lengthy and athletic players. In 9 games, Sullinger shot over 40% just three times. He rebounded well, but his offensive ceiling may be as more of a jump shooter, a la Glen Davis.

Austin Rivers only played two games, thanks to an injury, but was not impressive in either of them. He shot just 21% from the field, 1 of 8 from deep, and averaged 5.5 fouls per game. It’s a small sample size, but Rivers may not be a dominant scoring threat as quickly as previously thought.

Lastly, Derrick Williams, drafted second overall in 2011, did not perform well despite dropping nearly 15 pounds in the offseason. Williams had a tough time finding his shot, hitting just 35% of his field goals. After a less than impressive rookie season, a much improved year is not out of the question, but doesn’t appear too likely given his Summer League play.

4. Expect a step forward from Klay Thompson

Thompson is no Royce Whiter. Shave off that scruff, Klay!

In contrast to Williams, Thompson seems to be ready for a breakout season. After spending a week in Las Vegas practicing with Team USA, Thompson played two Summer League games and was fairly dominant. He hit 10 of 14 three point shots en route to averaging 20.5 points per game. Equally impressive were his

rebounding and assist numbers, as well as his defensive play. He grabbed 6 boards a game and dished out 4.5 assists, showing he’s more than just a catch and shoot player. With Monta Ellis’ departure, Klay will have more room to grow and show his complete game. His 1.5 blocks and steals each also points towards some defensive improvements. The Warriors could have found a gem with the 11th pick last year.

5. Don’t get too excited

The final and most important point is to take everything that happens in the Summer League not just with a grain of salt, but with the whole shaker. Too often in the past have players built up their hype by dominant Summer League performances only to disappoint in the regular season.

The most notable recent example is Anthony Randolph in 2009. Randolph was incredible in the Summer

Summer League was the highlight of Anthony Randolph’s career.

League, averaging 27 points on 61% shooting to go with 9 rebounds, 2 steals, and 3 blocks. He followed that up with a fairly mediocre season, scoring 11.6 points on 44% shooting and getting 6.5 rebounds a game. Not terrible, but certainly a far cry from his summer stats. Since then Randolph has languished at the end of the bench due to his inconsistency and poor shot selection.

Josh Selby could be a prime example this year of why to temper Summer League excitement. 24 points per game on 56% shooting for a point guard are impressive numbers, but you have to put it in context of what it is. The style of Summer League games resemble street ball much more than a structured, slow paced NBA game. The competition is also at a whole different echelon, as most of the Summer League’s players are just scrapping for an invite to training camp. Of the few that earn that invite, even less will actually make an NBA roster. Furthermore, the role that players have on Summer League teams are generally far different than what it will be during the regular season. Selby will not be the star player on the Grizzlies next year. He won’t be given the green light to chuck up 8 threes a game as he did in Vegas. He won’t have the ball in his hands for 27 minutes a game.

It goes both ways. Even though Damian Lillard was great, he still may struggle in the regular season against faster, taller, stronger, more athletic players than he faced throughout the Summer League. And as a rookie, he won’t be the number one option on offense, particularly with LaMarcus Aldridge on his team.

Summer League is a whole different animal, so while it can offer hope that one day a player can bring a similar performance to an NBA game, they first must prove themselves during the actual NBA season to earn a role on their team that would put them in position to duplicate their summer numbers.

What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Summer League stats are no exception.

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NBA Mock Draft

Just a few days removed from the conclusion of the NBA Finals and the draft is already just two days away. Gotta love the shortened season.

Just a week separates the biggest day for the leagues best teams and the biggest one for its worst. But one good pick could catapult some teams in the lottery into the playoffs. Here’s a look at how I think the first round of Thursday’s draft will play out.

1. New Orleans Hornets: Anthony Davis, PF, Kentucky 

A pretty obvious pick for the Hornets. The recent trade of Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza will allow New Orleans cap room to re-sign Eric Gordon and could also allow them to add another Free Agent to help with the rebuilding project. Davis will be the centerpiece of this team for years and the Hornets could be back in playoff contention in just a year or two.

2. Charlotte Bobcats: Thomas Robinson, PF, Kansas 

This pick is tough to project, as there is no clear cut second-best player in the draft. For this reason Charlotte has been looking to trade this pick for some young talent. Assuming they keep the pick, Robinson is a safe pick to make. While he’s super athletic and a great rebounder, a lot of scouts don’t seem too optimistic about his upside. Even if he doesn’t exhibit a lot of growth in the NBA, the Bobcats will still get an above-average starting big man with this pick.

3. Washington Wizards: Bradley Beal, SG, Florida 

Beal would be the perfect backcourt complement to John Wall. While Wall is the slashing passer, Beal is a knockdown three-point shooter who could really help the Wizards space the floor. With the addition of Okafor at center and Ariza at small forward, and Nene playing power forward, Washington has a decent starting five to build around.

4. Cleveland Cavaliers: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, SF, Kentucky 

Dan Gilbert failed in his promise to bring Cleveland a title before LeBron won, but drafting MKG could help boost the Cavs one step closer to the playoffs. Kidd-Gilchrist’s biggest skill is just what the Cavs need: he is a winner. His desire to win makes him one of the toughest competitors and a nightmare on defense.

5. Sacramento Kings: Harrison Barnes, SF, North Carolina 

In many respects Barnes is the perfect player for the Kings and in many he’s the opposite. For a team that has struggled with immaturity, mainly from DeMarcus Cousins and Tyreke Evans, Barnes could really provide the team an emotion stability that could be important to help Sacramento’s young talent make the most of that talent. However Barnes’ skill set duplicates some of the team’s problems. He loves to shoot. Unfortunately, so do Evans, Cousins, Marcus Thornton, Jimmer Freddette, Donte Green, and John Salmons. Will there be enough shots left for Barnes to make his mark?

6. Portland Trailblazers: Damian Lillard, PG, Weber State 

The Blazers are in a tough spot here. Andre Drummond is still on the board and he has the athletic ability to be a terrific center. But the last time Portland drafted a center with potential and question marks, things didn’t turn out too well. Then again, passing on an elite talent that could provide production at the center spot that Greg Oden couldn’t stay healthy enough to do could be an even bigger mistake.

Ultimately I think the Blazers play it safe with Lillard. He has some question marks of his own, having not faced elite competition (his refusal to take part in group workouts hasn’t helped answer those questions), but he is a much more complete prospect at this point. And since Portland is in a “retooling” faze rather than full blown rebuilding, they can’t afford to wait a few years for Drummond to produce.

7. Golden State Warriors: Andre Drummond, C, UConn 

The Warriors are also in a tough spot here. They could draft Drummond and hope he develops behind two talented bigs in David Lee and Andrew Bogut. But given Golden State’s history of big men who become busts, that could scare them off.

The Dubs could also go with Dion Waiters, a slashing shooting guard compared to a middle class man’s (is that a phrase? It is now) Dwyane Wade, to replace the role Monta Ellis had. However, the Steph Curry/Ellis backcourt didn’t work. Plus, the Warriors drafted their 2 guard of the future – Klay Thompson – last year. GM Bob Myers has said the team is just hoping to stockpile “assets”  which would give them pieces to either develop or trade. Ultimately, Drummond’s potential will give him trade value even if he hasn’t developed, and he could yield the bigger return for Warriors – through trade or development.

8. Toronto Raptors: Dion Waiters, SG, Syracuse 

Toronto has a bit of a bad reputation for being a “soft” team, stemming perhaps from their center, Andrea Bargnani, who prefers to launch threes than fight for rebounds. But last year’s pick, Jonas Valanciunas, is coming this year and he projects to be a solid center. Drafting Waiters could help that problem even further, adding toughness on the perimeter. He has been described as a “bulldog” and while his style of play – driver and not a great outside shooter – seems duplicative of Demar DeRozan, Waiters has the upside to be a contributor beyond just dunk contests.

9. Detroit Pistons: John Henson, PF, North Carolina 

Detroit’s main issue they hoped to address in the draft was shot blocking and rebounding, and given Drummond’s uncertainty, he could easily slip this far and provide a perfect solution for Detroit. In this case, the Pistons will have to settle for Henson, who provides both blocking and rebounding. However his rail thin frame won’t allow Detroit to slide Greg Monroe over to PF. Not the perfect fit, but Henson can hit a mid range shot, and help hide Monroe’s struggles on defense.

10. New Orleans Hornets: Kendall Marshall, PG, North Carolina 

Marshall certainly isn’t the flashiest of players, given his lack of speed, athleticism, or shooting touch. But the kid can pass the ball, and that’s exactly what the Hornets need. He can help with Anthony Davis’ development by giving him the ball in positions to succeed and the Hornets could run some alley oop plays much as Kentucky was so successful doing. Marshall’s defensive struggles could easily be masked by Davis’ stifling help defense and shot blocking.

11. Portland Trailblazers: Tyler Zeller, C, North Carolina 

Three Tarheels in a row! Again, Portland is looking for some immediate help in the draft to take full advantage of LaMarcus Aldridge while he’s still in his prime. Zeller has limited upside, after four years of college, but he did improve significantly in his final two years, so he might still have room to grow. Regardless, Zeller will be able to contribute immediately and could help the Blazers make a playoff push next year. He’ll bring added size and rebounding to Portland’s frontcourt, as well as a solid mid range shot and excellent speed for his size.

12. Milwaukee Bucks: Meyers Leonard, C, Illinois 

Having dealt Andrew Bogut, the Bucks now have a glaring hole in the middle. Leonard is incredibly athletic and would bring a different look at that position than Bogut did. However he is still raw offensively, so Milwaukee shouldn’t expect him to contribute immediately. But adding an athletic center to a young athletic team that also features Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis could bring the Bucks a lot of highlights, if not wins.

13. Phoenix Suns: Austin Rivers, PG/SG, Duke

With Nash’s contract having expired, the Suns could likely need a new playmaker in the backcourt. Rivers is certainly no Steve Nash. While Nash looked to get his teammates involved, Rivers does the opposite, looking to create for himself and score. But he certainly does it well. Rivers is a bit of a concern in that he lacks the size and athleticism of a shooting guard, but does not possess the pass first mentality of a point guard. Either way, he has star potential thanks to his killer crossover and could be the face of the franchise as the Steve Nash era comes to a close in Phoenix.

14. Houston Rockets: Jeremy Lamb, SG, UConn 

The Rockets have been at a crossroads for several years. They can never quite get good enough to be a legitimate contender, but can never be bad enough to get a high enough draft pick to lift them to the next level. So while they already have a talented shooting guard in Kevin Martin, the Rockets at this point just need to take the best player available and stock pile assets. Lamb has a similar game to Martin and could make him expendable in a trade.

15. Philadelphia 76ers: Terrence Ross, SG, Washington 

Three-point shooting has been the Achilles Heel of the Sixers for a while now, but drafting Ross could change that. Although he was dumb enough to compare himself to the ever-enigmatic JR Smith, Ross could still help Philly improve. He has deep range on his jumper and fits in well with the 76ers athletic style of play, being quite the leaper himself. Like Smith, though, his shot selection can be atrocious at times and his ball handling needs work. Ross is still a terrific offensive player and could contribute early on for Philadelphia.

16. Houston Rockets: Terrence Jones, PF, Kentucky 

Jones is an intriguing talent, possessing the skills to play both inside and out. The question is, however, is he good enough at either to be able to take advantage of it in the NBA. He has a decent three-point shot, but it’s inconsistent. He’s a good ball handler and passer, but is he quick enough to get past people? And his strength could make him dominant in the post, but he seems to prefer to drift by the perimeter. Despite the questions, Jones is talented, and given that the Rockets have the 14th and 18th picks as well, they can afford to reach a bit.

17. Dallas Mavericks: Perry Jones III, SF/PF, Baylor 

Jones might just be the biggest enigma of the draft. He stuns scouts with his athleticism and versatility one minute, then scares them off with inconsistent outside shot, guard’s mentality, and lack of toughness the next. Giving him a chance to sit behind one of the league’s greatest inside-out forwards in Dirk Nowitzki could be great for Jones. Jones is no where near the same shooter Dirk is, but can still be given time to develop by being on a playoff team where the pressure for him to contribute isn’t on him from the start.

18. Houston Rockets: Arnett Moultrie, PF, Mississippi State 

The Rockets traded Chase Budinger to Minnesota for this pick, and it appears the Rockets are stock piling first round picks in the hopes of trying to package them in a trade, perhaps for Dwight Howard. Josh Smith is said to be a fall back option for the Rockets.

If they keep all three picks, however, Moultrie coud be their guy here. He could easily be this year’s Kenneth Faried, given his high rebound numbers in college and his athleticism. But while Moultrie is more skilled than Faried, he lacks the “Manimal’s” energy and motor. Still, Moultrie could be a solid rotation big for a playoff team.

19. Orlando Magic: Moe Harkless, SF, St. John’s 

Orlando has to know that Dwight Howard is not going to stick around, so they might as well draft for potential since the Magic most likely won’t be contending in the next few years. Harkless can jump, and at this point in the draft if there is someone who is 6′-9″ and has athleticism he tends to get drafted, even if the rest of his game is lacking. That’s basically the case with Harkless. He can dunk, rebound, and block shots thanks to his athleticism, but needs to develop basically everything else. But if he does round his game out, that skill combined with his athleticism could make him a good player.

20. Denver Nuggets: Jared Sullinger, PF, Ohio State 

Sullinger, once considered a top-10 talent, is expecte to drop on draft night after having his back red-flagged medically. He is also undersized and not a great athlete for the PF position. The last person with those 3 criteria to fall in a draft was DaJuan Blair and he’s proven to be a steal for the Spurs. Sullinger knows how to rebound, can hit a mid-range shot, and can score in the post (as long as his defender isn’t too tall or athletic). I think, worst case scenario, Sullinger could be a Glen Davis type player for the Nuggets.

21. Boston Celtics: Royce White, SF, Iowa State 

The Celtics have reportedly promised this pick to White and he has pulled out his remaining workouts and interviews. And for a player with White’s question marks, not having the opportunity to talk with him could scare teams from drafting him. While being one of the draft’s most intriguing players, given his combination of size and passing skills, White suffers from Anxiety Disorder. This results in him having difficulty flying, which is kind of a big deal in the NBA. But Boston could be the perfect place for White to thrive if he overcomes his mental obstacles. Paul Pierce’s career is heading towards its last stages and he could be a great model for White to develop his scoring game around.

22. Boston Celtics: Fab Melo, C, Syracuse 

Boston is at a tough place. They just came within 1 win of the NBA Finals, but might already need to shift to rebuilding mode. Kevin Garnett has been mulling retirement, Ray Allen has expressed interest in taking his talents to South Beach and playing for the Miam Heat, and it seems the Big 3 will be going their separate ways. So do the Celtics draft for potential or NBA readiness for one final title push?

Drafting Melo could be a compromise. He’s a bit of a project offensively, but he has a lot of upside. However he is already a great interior defender and could bring Boston the same qualities they had in Kendrick Perkins.

23. Atlanta Hawks: Tony Wroten Jr., PG, Washington 

Atlanta has been cursed at PG ever since skipping over both Deron Williams and Chris Paul to instead draft Marvin Williams. Jeff Teague has been decent for them, but could use an upgrade. Wroten has a chance to be a really special given his height (6′-6″), athleticism, and passing ability. However he cannot hit an outside shot to save his life and has a reputation of being a terrible teammate. But given Wroten’s potential to be a taller version of Rajon Rondo, the Hawks need to roll the dice on this pick.

24. Cleveland Cavaliers: Andrew Nicholson, PF, St. Bonaventure 

Nicholson is a big who can really shoot from the outside. He draws a lot of comparisons to David West, but also has some similarities to the Cavs’ Antawn Jamison. Nicholson has been pegged as a better defender than Jamison, though, and given Jamison’s age, Nicholson could be his replacement. With Tristan Thompson looking to be Cleveland’s starting PF for the future, Nicholson could provide a different style of play off the bench.

25. Memphis Grizzlies: Miles Plumlee, PF, Duke 

The Grizzlies need to add more athleticism in their front court. Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol are great players, but both play below the rim. Plumlee in 7 feet tall and posted some ridiculous vertical leap numbers and the draft combine. He’s a raw player, but he can be a great energy guy for Memphis.

26. Indiana Pacers: Marquis Teague, PG, Kentucky 

Drafting Teague, an Indiana native, would give the Pacers flexibility to try to deal Darren Collison. Collison hasn’t produced for the Pacers like he did his one year in New Orleans, but still has trade value. Teague could share the PG spot with George Hill and has the quickness to be a decent player in the league.

27. Miami Heat: Draymond Green, SF/PF, Michigan State 

Miami won the title, but still needs to majorly upgrade their bench, particularly in the front court. Green could contribute immediately for Miami with his post scoring, passing, outside shot, and rebounding.

28. Oklahoma City Thunder: Kyle O’Quinn, C, Norfolk St. 

Kendrick Perkins hasn’t been a huge difference maker for OKC and at the very least, the Thunder could upgrade their front court depth with this pick. O’Quinn is a solid rebounder and shot blocker and can also contribute offensively (which can’t be said for Perkins), hitting some mid-range shots.

29. Chicago Bulls: Will Barton, SG, Memphis 

With Rose on the shelf for much of next year, Chicago will need someone to fill the perimeter scoring vacancy. They might address that need in free agency, but Barton could also alleviate the pain. He is a tremendous scorer who has been flying under the radar in the draft process. While he could certainly put on a few pounds (he weighs just 174 lbs. and is 6′-6″), Barton can shoot and is great at driving to the basket. Once Rose returns, he could provide scoring from the SG spot that has been missing since Ben Gordon left.

30. Golden State Warriors: Quincy Miller, SF, Baylor 

If Miller falls this far, Golden State would be really excited. SF is the position they need the most help at, and Miller was considered to be a top-10 pick had he returned to Baylor for another year. Miller is still recovering from an ACL injury and didn’t impress scouts with his diminished athleticism. But he is big and can score from anywhere on the court. He could be great value for this pick.

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NBA Draft Lottery: The David Stern Conspiracy Continues

It’s been a rough year for David Stern’s PR team. As the NBA commissioner, much of the blame of the lockout fell on his shoulders. The refusal of the owners, which he represented, to concede to the demands of the Players Union elongated the process and resulted in missed games and a truncated regular season.

Then came the Chris Paul debacle. Shortly after the league-owned New Orleans Hornets agreed to trade their superstar point guard to the Los Angeles Lakers, the league announced that Stern had shot down the deal for “basketball reasons.”

This set a pack of rabid Laker fans on Stern, and their complaints made some sense.

Jack Nicholson and a hoard of crazed Lakers fans protested David Stern’s decision to cancel the Chris Paul trade to the Lakers.

It seemed to be a conflict of interest that NBA commissioner was the owner of a franchise that was controlling the fate of two other franchises (the Houston Rockets would have gotten Pau Gasol in the trade).

Matters only grew worse when Paul was instead traded to LA’s other team, the Clippers, to team up with the NBA’s newest superstar in Blake Griffin. While the trade with the Clippers did land the Hornets some younger pieces to build around than the Lakers/Houston deal, things just smelt a tad fishy.

New Orleans better be ready for this handsome mug on their billboards.

Fast forward five months and Stern and the Hornets are in the news again. New Orleans won tonight’s NBA Draft Lottery, or better known as the Unibrow Sweepstakes as the Hornets will undoubtedly select Kentucky’s Anthony David first overall.

The league recently sold the Hornets to New Orleans Saints’ owner Tom Benson, and I’m sure Stern wishes the  deal wasn’t struck until after tonight’s results, as the addition of Davis will significantly boost the team’s value. But Stern and the league technically are still the team’s owners while the deal with Benson is finalized and approved by the other NBA owners.

After last year’s lottery went to Cleveland, allowing them to replace their lost superstar with

Vince McMahon might just be the perfect choice to replace David Stern as commissioner, given his background in WWE and their honest and not-rigged wrestling.

a new one in Kyrie Irving, it just so happens that this year’s lottery winner also lost their former franchise player. Conspiracy? Who knows, but if these types of “coincidences” keep happening, Vince McMahon might need to take Stern’s job.

Other story lines from the Draft Lottery:

  • The Bobcats fell to No. 2 in the draft, continuing to hold onto the unlucky claim to be one of just two teams (the other being the Phoenix Suns) to never have won the draft lottery. This news will be especially hard to swallow this year, coming off the worst season in NBA history based on winning percentage and drafting second in a draft with just one elite player.
  • The Brooklyn Nets did not move into the top three, meaning their pick at No. 6 will go to the Portland Trailblazers as part of the Gerald Wallace deal. Again, a tough break for a team that could have used extra help with the return of Deron Williams in doubt and the chances of acquiring Dwight Howard having disappeared. You can’t sympathize too much, though, because this was just a poor trade. The trade for Wallace could have been completed for a much lower pick, so even if the Nets only liked the draft’s top three players (their reasoning for only placing top-3 protection on the pick) they could have traded the No. 6 pick for a useful player to entice Williams to stay.
  • The Warriors, on the other hand, were able to keep their pick, which was top-7 protected, thanks to a terrific tanking job to end their season (they went 5-22 to finish the season, moving from the 10th worst team to the 7th over that span and securing the No. 7 pick). There have been rumblings in Golden State that trading the pick is a possibility, with Andre Iguodala’s name popping up frequently, but given Philadelphia’s admirable performance getting deep into the second round of the playoffs, it seems unlikely they would trade away a key player for a chance to draft an unproven rookie. Golden State will have four picks in the draft, though, so it is likely at least one of those will be traded away.

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