- Chad Ford, Senior Writer, NBA Insider
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With the NBA draft just three days away, you might think that we'd have this all figured out by now. Think again.
The Minnesota Timberwolves are waiting, too, and talking to numerous teams about possible deals.
At least four different players have been mentioned as possible picks for the Seattle SuperSonics at No. 4.
At No. 5, the Memphis Grizzlies are talking trade, too -- to move up in the draft or to move down.
The New York Knicks, picking No. 6, are still looking at five players.
And on and on.
Every team I speak with says the same thing: This is one of the most difficult drafts ever to predict. Different teams are coming to wildly different conclusions on the same players. Agents are insisting that their players are going higher than others project. Last-minute workouts and trade talks are still changing the landscape dramatically.
On top of all of that, the draft board has been shifting rapidly the past few weeks. A number of young, inexperienced bigs have been hurting themselves in workouts. It's now a possibility that LSU's Anthony Randolph falls out of the lottery. Texas A&M's DeAndre Jordan, Nevada's JaVale McGee and Florida's Marreese Speights might not hear their names called until the 20th pick or after.
Meanwhile, a few older players like Kansas' Mario Chalmers, Rider's Jason Thompson, Georgetown's Roy Hibbert and Western Kentucky's Courtney Lee are passing them on the board -- a somewhat amazing development. Usually young, inexperienced bigs rise in the draft. Perhaps teams are adjusting their thinking after drafting for potential in past years.
With more and more information (and misinformation) flowing in from NBA team sources, here's our best educated guess as to how the draft might play out on Thursday.
And for the first time this year, we're adding our predictions for the second round as well.
Remember, this mock draft is not a report of what I think teams should do. Rather, it's a forecast of what they are likely to do.
To see how the prospects rank, check out our newly updated Top 100.
The skinny: Rose and Beasley finally got their close-ups in Chicago last week, and sources say both players worked out well.
And as you can tell from their news conferences, neither pretended to be something he's not. Rose was humble and talked about leadership. Beasley was brash and funny and talked about scoring.
The Bulls continue to maintain that they haven't made up their minds about who they're drafting. But I'd be shocked, at this point, if it isn't Rose. The team needs leadership, defense and a player who's willing to put his team before himself -- that guy is Rose. Beasley may score more and win more individual awards. But ultimately, I think the Bulls will be more comfortable with the belief that Rose can take the franchise where they want it to go.
The skinny: The Heat continue to wait and hope that somehow Rose falls to them at No. 2. Rose opted against working out in Miami, but did invite Heat brass to Los Angeles for a private workout -- though Heat team president Pat Riley didn't show up.
The Heat were scheduled to be in Chicago this weekend to watch Mayo again, but they skipped the workout to see Rose.
We continue to hear that the Heat will probably trade the No. 2 pick if Rose is off the board. The latest talk has the Sonics and Heat discussing a swap that would send the No. 2 pick and Mark Blount to Seattle for Chris Wilcox and the No. 4 pick. The move would give the Heat a huge amount of cap space in the summer of 2009. (Wilcox is in the last year of his contract, while Blount has two years and $16 million remaining.)
At No. 4, if Mayo were off the board, the Heat would have their choice of Jerryd Bayless, Russell Westbrook or Brook Lopez. All three would fit a need for them.
The skinny: The Wolves remain the most difficult team to peg right now.
As of Sunday, the word out of Minnesota was that the team will draft Mayo if Beasley is off the board. Though Mayo doesn't fit a need, he would be considered the best player available, and that appears to be swaying Minnesota in his direction.
At the same time, a lot of trade talk surrounds this pick. The Knicks, Clippers, Bucks and Trail Blazers all have tried to maneuver to get this pick. The Bucks may have the best chance of succeeding if they offer Yi Jianlian or Charlie Villanueva as part of a package.
If the Wolves trade down, their target seems to be Lopez or UCLA's Kevin Love.
The skinny: We've had Bayless at No. 4 since our first mock draft, but we've gathered enough information over the weekend to suggest that the Sonics may be leaning in another direction.
GM Sam Presti is notoriously tough to read, but sources say it appears that Westbrook, Lopez and Indiana's Eric Gordon are strongly in the mix at No. 4.
The Sonics have been talking to other teams about moving down a few spots with an eye toward drafting Westbrook, Gordon or Lopez. But with the Knicks' strong interest in Westbrook and Gordon at No. 6 and the Clippers looking at Westbrook, Gordon and Lopez at No. 7, the guy they want may not be there.
So why Westbrook? Two reasons: upside and defense. The Sonics have time to let players develop and Westbrook could turn into a better shooting version of Rajon Rondo down the road.
The Sonics also want Beasley and are trying to work out a deal with the Heat to get up to No. 2, as noted above. Beasley and Kevin Durant are best friends and the Sonics think a pairing of the two scorers would be devastating.
The skinny: For weeks we've been hearing that the Grizzlies are high on Love. He fits a need, is one of the more NBA-ready players in the draft and would be popular in Memphis.
He still could be the pick. But there's a growing chorus saying that the Grizzlies are looking strongly at Gordon -- an athletic, sweet-shooting 2-guard -- with the pick.
Even stronger are rumors that the Grizzlies are talking to a number of teams, including the Knicks, Blazers and Suns, about deals that would send the No. 5 pick to whomever is willing to take Brian Cardinal's awful contract (two years, $13 million left). The latest buzz has the Knicks talking to Memphis about a deal that would send David Lee and the expiring contract of Malik Rose to Memphis for No. 5 and Cardinal.
In other words, it sounds like GM Chris Wallace is, once again, being pushed by ownership to cut payroll.
OK, we've come full circle.
We had Danilo Gallinari going to the Knicks in our first mock draft, but dropped him when a Suns source said that Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni wasn't a big fan. Apparently Gallinari's workout, combined with some research, has changed that opinion. Gallinari has worked out well everywhere and it sounds like the Knicks are comfortable with him here.
Russell Westbrook is also a strong possibility if he is on the board. Ditto for Jerryd Bayless. Joe Alexander is the dark horse -- the Knicks' brass watched him work out for a second time on Friday.
The skinny: The Clippers have been trying to move up in the draft to get Mayo or Bayless. In this scenario, they have Bayless drop into their lap.
The Clippers are in desperate need of guards, and Mayo, Bayless, Westbrook and Gordon appear to be atop their board. Bayless' shooting and scoring ability would be a welcome addition to the Clippers, even as many scouts question whether he has what it takes to be a full-time point guard in the pros.
The other potential scenario for the Clippers is a trade. They've been talking to the Suns about a deal that would send Corey Maggette and No. 7 to Phoenix for Leandro Barbosa and No. 15.
The skinny: Alexander is a high-energy forward who impressed GM John Hammond and new coach Scott Skiles with his toughness and grit. That's exactly what the Bucks are going for right now. Hammond wants to change the culture in Milwaukee, and Alexander has that capability. He also fits a need. The Bucks will be shopping Bobby Simmons (along with just about everyone else) hard this summer.
It sounds like Anthony Randolph is the other player the Bucks are looking at closely here. However, Randolph is further away than Alexander right now. Alexander is still a work in progress too, but if he figures things out, he has a chance to be really special.
The skinny: If the draft plays out this way, Charlotte will have a very difficult decision to make. The Bobcats have been looking for a big man so they can slide Emeka Okafor over to the 4 full-time, and Brook Lopez would be a great complement to Okafor up front.
But a lot of teams are questioning Lopez's upside. Teams love size, but they don't see Lopez as a star NBA player.
That's where Love comes in. He's a Larry Brown type of player -- he knows how to "play the right way." Love would bring toughness, rebounding, basketball IQ and the ability to step in and contribute right now. While he doesn't have ideal size, he knows his way around the basket.
The skinny: This is a dream scenario for the Nets if it happens. Lopez may have been projected too high at No. 3, but he would be a steal at this point in the draft. The Nets have been looking for a strong, scoring big man for years and Lopez really fits the bill.
If he's not here, other names to listen for are Danilo Gallinari (if available) and Robin Lopez, Brook's brother.
The skinny: The Pacers have been eyeing two point guards -- D.J. Augustin and Russell Westbrook -- for a while.
Westbrook looks like he'll be long gone. He canceled his workout with the Pacers last week and hasn't rescheduled.
That leaves Augustin, who's an excellent fallback option for the Pacers. Augustin is a better floor leader than Westbrook and a better perimeter shooter, and he's more ready to step in and play right away. He should be an excellent fit for Indiana.
If Augustin and Westbrook are gone, the Pacers could reach for the next-best point guard on the board: Mario Chalmers. No. 11 may seem a little high for him, but he has been generating serious buzz in workouts.
The Pacers might also go in another direction if they could move Jermaine O'Neal for a veteran point guard such as T.J. Ford or Kirk Hinrich. In that case, Kosta Koufos or a similar prospect could be the choice.
The skinny: The Kings might have a tough choice here: Go for an upside pick in Anthony Randolph or fill a need at the point in Chalmers.
Randolph has scared away a lot of teams with his lack of strength and a skill set that looks several years away from being fully NBA-ready.
Chalmers, on the other hand, is seen as one of the most NBA-ready players in the draft. He's an excellent shooter and defender who knows how to get to the basket. His workouts have been so positive that he's no longer a reach here at No. 12.
Another option for the Kings is Roy Hibbert. Like Chalmers, Hibbert wouldn't be an upside pick. But he would be able to step in right away and contribute.
The skinny: It seems unlikely the Blazers will actually keep this pick. They are loaded with young players and have a history of draft day activity on the trade market.
GM Kevin Pritchard is already burning up the phone lines. I think either he'll package some of his young players with this pick and move up in the draft to get a solid prospect or he'll trade the pick for a veteran. The Blazers have had talks with the Nets about Richard Jefferson, the Suns about Leandro Barbosa and the Grizzlies about a deal that would send the No. 13 pick and the expiring contract of Raef LaFrentz to Memphis for No. 5, Brian Cardinal and Jason Collins.
In case they do keep the pick, the Blazers have been eyeing Joe Alexander and Russell Westbrook. The Blazers would like to move up to get one or both players, but so far they haven't found the right deal.
For the past several weeks we've had Brandon Rush in this spot. But the more I talk to the Blazers, the more I think they may go for a bigger splash. Ajinca is a long, athletic big man who is pretty skilled. He doesn't fill a need for the Blazers, but Pritchard loves to gather assets.
The skinny: By all accounts, Koufos has been excellent in workouts and could have become a top-five pick had he waited until 2009. Golden State has taken several big men in recent drafts, but it will probably be drafting for talent, not need -- and Koufos' combination of size and offensive skill should be a nice complement to Biedrins' defensive and rebounding prowess.
Rider's Jason Thompson and Syracuse's Donte Greene are other possibilities with this pick.
The skinny: The Suns have been eyeing Rush, a college veteran who can step in and play the 2 and the 3. Rush can hit open shots, play defense and stay out of the way of the Suns' stars.
Other candidates: The Suns have major interest in Mario Chalmers and Robin Lopez, and Anthony Randolph would be very tough to pass up.
But the future is now in Phoenix, and Rush seems like the guy.
At some point, Randolph can drop no further.
He hasn't been great in workouts, needs to add a lot of strength and appears to be a few years away from making an impact.
But he has length, athleticism and tremendous upside, and the Sixers, a team on the rise, can afford to wait.
The Raptors really need size, toughness and rebounding. While Lopez doesn't project as a great scorer in the pros, he's a big, rugged player who could solidify the Raptors' front line.
Alexis Ajinca and Donte Greene are possibilities here.
The skinny: The Wizards could lose free agent Antawn Jamison to free agency this summer. In case they do, they might want Arthur, a player who, in a lot of ways, is Jamison's clone -- a face-up 4 who runs the floor and can score in a variety of ways.
The skinny: The Cavs need help inside and are hoping that Koufos falls to them. If he doesn't, they'll have a tough choice to make. Of the players projected to be available, Hibbert is the most ready to step in and help right away.
Mario Chalmers is another possibility here, if available.
The big man from Rider may not be flashy, but he put up big numbers for four years and would give the Nuggets something they need: a consistent scoring presence in the paint.
Thompson could end up moving ahead of a number of bigs with more upside because more teams are valuing production over potential this year.
The skinny: If the Nets grab a center with their first pick, they might look to add even more toughness in the paint with their second pick. J.J. Hickson is built like a tank and can be a tough scorer both inside and outside. He's got great upside.
The skinny: The Magic need a 2-guard and like Courtney Lee. But they are also very thin up front and could use big bodies to help out in the paint. Marreese Speights has too much talent to slip any further in the draft than this.
This would be a disappointing drop for JaVale McGee. Though he has enormous upside, he's struggled in workouts, and teams think he's a project that could take a few years to develop. The Jazz are always on the lookout for size and upside, so this one seems like an easy call if McGee lasts this long.
The skinny: Expect Seattle GM Sam Presti to use a trick or two from his days in San Antonio and look internationally with his second pick. Serge Ibaka has the talent to be a potential lottery pick someday, but he's still very raw. The Sonics can leave him over in Spain and reap the benefits down the road.
The skinny: This seems like an unbelievable fall for a player with as much upside as Donte' Greene. Indeed, teams like the Kings and Warriors will look at him in the lottery, and likewise for the Raptors in the mid-first round.
But if he slips past them, he could be on a free fall. He's a great shooter with upside, but he's not ready yet.
The skinny: The Spurs got burned by Tiago Splitter last year, but it won't stop them from grabbing Tomic here. His combination of skills reminds some of a young Pau Gasol. He needs to get stronger and continue developing, but this would be a value pick for them. And the good news is that in Croatia, they don't pay nearly as much as Spain.
The Spurs are also trying to move up into the mid first round for a shot at Robin Lopez.
The skinny: Chris Douglas-Roberts would be a great fit for the Hornets if he's still on the board. He is a big-time scorer who excels at slashing to the basket. He also is an excellent midrange shooter. He should be able to step in and contribute right away.
The skinny: DeAndre Jordan has too much talent to pass up here. The Grizzlies like Courtney Lee as well, but if they land Eric Gordon at No. 5, they can to go big here at No. 29. Jordan is a major project, but he shouldn't slip any further than this.
The skinny: The Pistons are looking for size in the middle. They really don't have anyone on their roster who technically qualifies as a center. However if all of the bigs are gone, look for them to take a chance on Walker. If he's healthy, he's a steal here. Joe Dumars is an opportunist. He'll take what he can get at No. 29.
The skinny: Of Boston's big three, Ray Allen looks like the one who could use the most help. Courtney Lee can step in from day one and become an important player off the bench. His ability to shoot and score would be a big help.
Chad Ford covers the NBA for ESPN Insider.
With the draft coming on Thursday, Chad Ford provides another look at how it might play out.