It's inarguable that where a player commences his career has a tremendous influence on that player’s career trajectory.
Flash back to June 20, 2010, the night of the 2010 NBA Draft, at approximately 11:00 p.m. I recall wanting to light my hair on fire when the Sacramento Kings selected DeMarcus Cousins in the lottery. The same Sacramento Kings who’ve had 5 coaches since Boogie arrived and are now owned by Vivek Ranadivé, of recent "four-on-five defense" infamy (no, that is not an Onion-esque satire bit – can you believe your eyes?).
It's conjecture, to be sure, but it is my ardent estimation that Boogie would have several all-NBA team spots on his resume by now had he been taken by another, more stable, lottery organization with a proficient front office. Cousins did make his first All-Star team this past season (though it was in place of the injured Kobe Bryant) and he’s still only 24 years old, so we should all expect and hope for sundry spoils ahead. One cannot help but wonder, though, how sunny circumstances would be for our beloved former big man if, say, he had dropped just one spot in 2010, to the Golden State Warriors.
We all want what's best for ex-Cats. We want Nazr Mohammed-like NBA careers for them – glory, both team and personal (he was a starter for the 2005 NBA champion San Antonio Spurs), longevity (drafted in 1998 and still contributing), health (played in 1,000 games so far), and wealth ($60+ million earned, still getting paid by Chicago). We don’t want...Daniel Orton-like NBA careers for them. No further explanation is necessary there.
So that you’ll be familiar with all thirty of the seven eligible former Wildcats’ potential first employers, I’ve assembled a comprehensive look at team needs and organizational stability and then correspondingly assessed where each of the seven UK prospects fit best in order to have a career more resembling Mohammed's than Orton's. I base "fit" on immediately available minutes and the aforementioned stability, which has a direct bearing on a team’s aptitude at developing talent and ability to assemble and/or sustain lasting team success.
Do not rigidly interpret this exercise as a projection (except where noted in the "fit" section); for one thing, many teams (lottery especially) are going to employ the "BPA" (best player available) strategy and eschew need to varying degrees. And listing Cleveland as a fit for Karl-Anthony Towns does not mean I expect that marriage to happen.
Also, with respect to team needs, I am mostly ignoring 2015 free agency because only one of the top twelve or so free agents appears to be poised to make a potential move (LaMarcus Aldridge) while others (LeBron James, Marc Gasol, Jimmy Butler, Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Love) will almost certainly re-up with their current clubs. However, if it seems a foregone conclusion that a player is heading elsewhere (e.g. Rajon Rondo leaving Dallas), I have considered it.
1. Minnesota Timberwolves
Needs: Defense; a starting PF; large muscles; anything in the post, especially the low-post; depth everywhere except PG
Stability: Talented and athletic young core; organization all-in on Flip Saunders, President who chose himself as coach in ‘14; but no playoffs in 10+ years and mediocre-to-bad Drafts in last 5 years; B-
2. Los Angeles Lakers
N: Two-way PF/C; SF; depth everywhere
S: Kobe-reliant and somewhat handcuffed by Kobe’s bad contract; stubborn coach and bare roster…but they’ve been in the playoffs twelve of the last fifteen seasons (five titles), and they’re still the Lakers in the L.A. market; B+
3. Philadelphia 76ers
N: Versatile PG who can shoot and take care of the ball; mid-range/perimeter shooters; starting SF; depth
S: Ownership completely supports GM Sam Hinkie’s long-term rebuild; player development-minded coach from Popovich coaching tree (Brett Brown); lots of draft picks; Noel-Embiid frontcourt; B
4. New York Knicks
N: Everything everywhere (bottom three in both offense and defense last season); ten guys who can fit in the Triangle and put up with Carmelo Anthony?
S: Terrible ownership, but Phil Jackson is firmly in charge, and it’s a huge market with rich tradition; won a playoff series 2 years ago, lest people forget; B-
5. Orlando Magic
N: Scoring in general; SF depth; a stretch 4
S: Just hired a retread coach (Scott Skiles) whose most recent playoff experience was getting upset in the first round as a 2 seed, but GM Rob Hennigan has hit on all of his lottery picks and the roster is young and promising; B
6. Sacramento Kings
N: An interior complement to Cousins and more frontcourt depth; long-range shooters; SF
S: Addressed above, but George Karl is the new head coach and Vlade Divac is making personnel decisions now; the less ownership is involved, the better; D
7. Denver Nuggets
N: A leader and "face of the franchise"-type player; frontcourt depth; PG; an offensively efficient SG
S: Struggled mightily since the departure of Carmelo Anthony and former GM, NBA Executive of the Year in 2013, Masai Ujiri; no current head coach; C-
8. Detroit Pistons
N: SF (desperately); shooters; PG depth; offensive-minded C to back up Andre Drummond
S: Stan Van Gundy is adept at turning train wrecks around and they looked special at times last year despite a general talent deficiency and the Brandon Jennings injury; B
9. Charlotte Hornets
N: Just about everything, but especially scoring; PG depth; two-way SG
S: Bad, all around; Michael Jordan is the greatest player of all-time, but can’t build a winning team; solid defensive-minded coach Steve Clifford has helped to develop MKG on both sides of the ball; D+
10. Miami Heat
N: Rare lottery team without glaring need; bench scoring; depth; a Dwyane Wade understudy at SG?
S: With Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra in charge and Chris Bosh healthy, Miami should return to the playoffs next season; everyone knows about the consecutive Finals appearances; A-
11. Indiana Pacers
N: Offense; SG (badly); PF; PG
S: Solid; missed playoffs for the first time in last six years; extending head coach (and former UK JV player and student manager) Frank Vogel last fall was the right move; a healthy Paul George away from a middle seed in the East; B+
12. Utah Jazz
N: A guard (preferably PG) who likes to pass the ball; depth everywhere; a stretch 4
S: Honestly, I’m a dedicated NBA fan and had to look up who was running things and coaching; we’ll just say B- because no one seems to enjoy playing there
13. Phoenix Suns
N: Perimeter players; PF; C
S: This team would have made a playoff run in the East; young core (Knight, Bledsoe, Morrises) combined with good coaching (Jeff Hornacek) and a lottery pick; B+
14. Oklahoma City Thunder
N: Assuming (safely) they resign Enes Kanter, just a new SG to fill the still-empty James Harden void
S: Depends on what Kevin Durant does next summer, but GM Sam Presti has built this team up and I love the Billy Donovan hire and the addition of Monty Williams as an assistant; A-
15. Atlanta Hawks
N: PF/C depth and not much else
S: NBA Coach of the Year Mike Budenholzer on the bench; just lost in the Eastern Conference Finals but own pick #15 from Brooklyn as a result of the Joe Johnson trade a few years back; A- (- because two starters are free agents)
16. Boston Celtics
N: Scoring from everywhere; interior defense; a stretch 4; SF
S: GM Danny Ainge and head coach Brad Stevens are a partnership that we should expect to last; made monumentally unexpected playoff run this past season; A-
17. Milwaukee Bucks
N: A Larry Sanders (PF/C) replacement; outside shooting
S: I love this team’s future; made the playoffs without Jabari Parker and are building through the Draft; not many free agents; still scratching my head over them essentially swapping Brandon Knight for Michael Carter-Williams, though; B
18. Houston Rockets
N: PG; frontcourt depth; someone who can shoot free throws?
S: GM Daryl Morey pulled in both James Harden and Dwight Howard via free agency but needs to get better in the Draft; but this still still a perennial playoff team as it stands A-
19. Washington Wizards
N: Frontcourt depth (especially a versatile stretch 4); reliable backups for John Wall (PG) and Bradley Beal (SG)
S: GM Ernie Grunfeld hasn’t hit on every draft pick, but when he’s hit, it’s been big; the Wizards should be contenders for years to come though head coach Randy Wittman seems hapless at times; B+
20. Toronto Raptors
N: Interior (especially) and perimeter defense; frontcourt depth
S: Lots of talent but GM Ujiri (previously mentioned) has cooled off a bit since traveling north and the team certainly seem to hit a quick wall in the playoffs, only advancing out of the first round once in its history; lots of free agents (including Chuck Hayes); B-
21. Dallas Mavericks
N: PG (no more Rondo); rebounding; SG if they don’t pay Monta Ellis; maybe a shooting forward to learn under Nowitzki
S: Though wild card Mark Cuban is the owner, this has been a consistently successful and prudent franchise over the last decade; A
22. Chicago Bulls
N: PF, C (can you believe Joakim Noah is 30?); backup PG due to Rose’s health?
S: Though none of us know what really happened with Tom Thibodeau, general consensus is that the Bulls will regress after firing him; still, there’s a reason they’re picking at #22 and are a top team in the East as long as Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler are together; B+
23. Portland Trail Blazers
N: Dominant C; SF depth
S: Head coach Terry Stotts has been in Portland for three seasons and made the playoffs twice; GM Neil Olshey nailed his last two lottery picks (Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum); B+
24. Cleveland Cavaliers
N: Lots more than you’d expect for a Finals team; a wing/competent backup at SF for LeBron as he ages; depth
S: LeBron for the rest of his career, Kyrie Irving, and a great GM (David Griffin) alleviate all previous concerns; A-
25. Memphis Grizzlies
N: Shooters (especially from the 2); finesse; backups for Mike Conley (PG) and Marc Gasol (C)
S: Memphis has grown into a respectable organization over the past half-decade with its old-school playing style, making the playoffs the last five seasons, winning four series, several as underdogs; A
26. San Antonio Spurs
N: Shooters; PF/C; backup for Tony Parker (PG)
S: Even with aging stars, the portrait of stability; 15+ seasons of 50+ wins; A+
27. Brooklyn Nets
N: A lot of defense; PG; backups at SG and in frontcourt
S: Recent blockbuster trades (Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, etc.) have proven disastrous; former head coach Jason Kidd’s departure was strange; ownership murky; C
28. Golden State Warriors
N: Frontcourt depth; rebounders; shooters off the bench
S: Head coach Steve Kerr just set the NBA record for most wins by a rookie leader with 67; its shooters are under contract and they still have what it takes to roll Cleveland this year; they make the most of draft picks (Barnes and Green in '12, Thompson in '11, Curry in '09); A-
29. New Orleans Pelicans (no first round pick; currently own only #56)
N: A big partner for Anthony Davis not named Omer Asik; a wing; long-range shooting
S: GM Dell Demps has the best player in basketball (and, by the way, has drafted A.D., Nerlens Noel, Darius Miller and Josh Harrellson) but firing former coach Monty Williams seemed ego-driven; nevertheless, there is a foundation and clear direction here, as well as a feeling that Davis will remain in town for the long-term; B
30. Los Angeles Clippers (currently own zero picks)
N: Depth absolutely everywhere (only runs 6 deep), especially at SG and in paint
S: Doc Rivers is a fantastic coach, but this past season exposed his shortcomings as an executive; still, with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, if they can retain DeAndre Jordan, this is a playoff team; Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer is an energetic asset; B+
FORMER WILDCAT TEAM FITS
The first franchise listed is where I believe the prospect fits best based on my opinions as stated above. The other two are logical destinations pursuant to the same.
Karl-Anthony Towns: Los Angeles Lakers, New York, Cleveland, but honestly, KAT is poised to succeed wherever he goes
Willie Trill Cauley-Stein: Sacramento (ugggh; this is the one situation where I am projecting; he would pair beautifully with Cousins – potentially elite defender and athlete who won’t cut into Boogie’s offense), New Orleans, Los Angeles Clippers
Devin Booker: Phoenix (very possible; a projection), Miami, Milwaukee
Trey Lyles: Boston (very possible; another projection), Washington, Cleveland
Andrew Harrison: Houston, Philadelphia, Denver
Dakari Johnson: Memphis (a perfect match in styles), Chicago, Minnesota
Aaron Harrison: San Antonio, Indiana, Golden State
At the very least, I hope this piece enhances your 2015 NBA Draft viewing experience as a UK fan. Expect more Draft-related content from me as the June 25 event approaches. Finally, a sincere thanks to our new blog manager, Jason, for bringing me on as a contributor.