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Pelicans appear to have found their way back to relevancy, while Celtics may have missed window

Dan Woike, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Basketball

NEW YORK -- Before the NBA draft stage in Brooklyn could be dismantled, the first wave of draft reactions came flowing in. Phoenix moving up to draft Cameron Johnson? What are they thinking? Portland waiting to get Nassir Little, what a steal. Darius Garland and Collin Sexton on the same team in Cleveland, that'll never work.

The Pelicans were near-perfect, the Warriors were reaching, the Heat messed up, the Hawks got their guys and so on and so on.

All of these takes are premature -- we don't know who found the next Draymond Green or Nikola Jokic in the second round this year (if that level of player even exists). We don't know if there's a late first-round pick that'll affect a team like Jimmy Butler or if a future champion added multiple starters like the Chicago Bulls did when they took Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant in the same draft.

But that doesn't mean that there weren't clear winners and losers at the NBA draft. There were.

Winner: Asset accumulation

By the time last season ended, the New Orleans Pelicans had reached the end of the rope with their front office. Dell Demps wasn't the man to get an Anthony Davis deal done, the turmoil turning the franchise into a "dumpster fire" by coach Alvin Gentry's own admission.

Now, as we move into free agency, it's hard to find a team that people are suddenly more optimistic about than the Pelicans. They got virtually all of the Lakers' young players, they got virtually all of the Lakers' draft assets and they got the best prospect since Davis, Zion Williamson, with the No. 1 pick.

They turned the No. 4 pick into three picks in the top 35 while shedding their worst contract and picking up future draft considerations as well.

Outside of Williamson, it's hard to know whether new executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin made the right picks Thursday, but he did get a lot of bites of the apple -- and he has a lot more left to come. For a team that was recently in a dire position, it's hard to see how things could've turned out better.

Loser: Asset depreciation

There's a flip side to all of this, though.

At one point, it was Boston, not New Orleans, that seemingly held all the best cards for multiple drafts, thanks to a lopsided deal with Brooklyn. But with the team now bracing for Kyrie Irving and Al Horford to leave in free agency, the Celtics have to be wondering if they held onto their chips for too long.

Should they have taken one-season gambles on Paul George, Kawhi Leonard or Davis? They certainly had the players and picks to do so, though it would've meant parting with the most prized ones.

Boston moved one of their first-round picks when trading back twice Thursday, selecting Purdue guard Carsen Edwards and collecting Milwaukee's first-round pick next year, which should be in the late 20s.

The Celtics took some swings -- Romeo Langford at No. 14 -- but the prevailing feeling is that the Celtics missed their best chance to turn their assets into something really special.

Winner: Canada

Talk about taking American jobs.

The Canadian invasion is in full swing, with a record six players from the North taken in the NBA draft -- including four in the first round. RJ Barrett will be a huge factor in the Knicks' rebuild, Brandon Clarke and Nickeil Alexander-Walker will be a focus of rebuilds in Memphis and New Orleans, and Mfiondu Kabengele adds depth to the Clippers (who also have Shai Gilgeous-Alexander).

 

Coming off the country's first NBA title, the possibility of Toronto re-signing Kawhi Leonard and the wave of talent entering the league, you have to figure that more is on the way.

Loser: Transparency

NBA rules prohibit a lot of the trades agreed upon to sit in purgatory until the new business year (which begins July 6), which is awkward enough. But on draft night, especially when picks were flying around like crazy, it's just plain dumb.

Take De'Andre Hunter, the No. 4 overall pick. After hearing his name called, he walked onto the stage with purple and gold lights shining, a Lakers cap about to go on his head. That pick, of course, belonged to New Orleans via the Davis deal. An hour or so before the draft, it was clear that New Orleans had dealt it to Atlanta, meaning his hat was now two teams removed from relevancy.

By the time the second round rolls around, it's almost impossible to keep track of who has what pick, and faster processing of trades, say a period before and during the draft where these trades can be made official, would make things easier.

While in a complaining mood, let's make the "green room" smaller. There were more than 20 players waiting with cameras on them to be picked and, of course, a handful had their waits extend into the second round, complete with obligatory camera shots of their nervous, disappointed faces.

Winner: NBA hobbyists

While all of this was happening, the basketball internet got blessed with a good ol' fashioned rap beef.

It started early Thursday when Sacramento's Marvin Bagley III released a song called "No Debate," with lines including "your bars out of style / it sounds like your retired, homie" aimed at Damian Lillard.

Lillard, regarded by some people as the best rapper in the NBA, fired back with the subtly titled "MARVINNNNNN???"

"Was about to pass 'cuz you still in a Pamper, bruh. / Never seen Floyd spar with amateurs," he snarled. " ... You're a clown, so go enjoy the circus."

After the draft had been completed, Bagley released another diss track, "Checkmate."

"I'm fittin' to turn this Dame Dolla to chump change," Bagley rapped.

Good times.

(c)2019 Los Angeles Times

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