Niyo: NBA draft sets off silly season of speculation

John Niyo
The Detroit News

Auburn Hills — Whatever this is, at least it’s not boring.

And whatever those NBA playoffs were — excitement was in the eye of the beholder, obviously, but ratings were sky high again — this is probably the direct result.

The silly season is nothing new for this league, but after an anticlimactic end to an anticlimactic season, we won’t have to wait until the start of free agency in July for some senseless entertainment.

The NBA draft is still a day away and already the league has seen a pair of eye-opening trades this week with Boston and Philadelphia swapping the first and third-overall picks, Atlanta shipping Dwight Howard to Charlotte, and the Los Angeles Lakers unloading Timothy Mozgov’s contract along with young guard D’Angelo Russell in exchange for Brook Lopez and a first-round pick from Brooklyn.

That latter move helps set the table for the Lakers to acquire All-Star forward Paul George, either in free agency next summer or by striking a deal with Indiana now. It also quieted talk the Pistons, who are stuck in the middle with you — and stuck with a 37-win roster that’s pushing the payroll luxury tax next season — might get into the act, as the Lakers were gauging the interest of lottery teams in Russell in recent days.

A Pistons-Lakers deal involving Russell seemed like a long shot, at best. And maybe it’s worth noting the cap-strapped Pistons were among the NBA’s worst when it came to long shots last season, anyway.

Twitter aflutter

But at this point, who cares? Because in a league once again dominated by talk of “super teams,” and with a fan base heavily populated by tech-savvy millennials, the swirling speculation makes spreading rumors a breeze.

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“The availability of information has never been better, so everybody’s able to follow along much easier and somehow play their own role with social media opinions as well,” Pistons general manager Jeff Bower said Tuesday, as he and team president Stan Van Gundy held their annual pre-draft news conference. “So it’s really created a cottage industry for basketball fans.”

That’s the one term for it, I suppose. But whatever you want to call it, the intrigue figures to last a bit longer than the NBA Finals did this month.

Just don’t expect it to get much juicier for Detroit than a debate over who the Pistons will select with the 12th overall pick — Luke Kennard and Donovan Mitchell make sense, but maybe they take a flier on a prospect like Terrance Ferguson — even though Van Gundy insists “we’ll listen to anything” in trade discussions.

Other teams have inquired about George, who won’t be a free agent until next summer but has come out publicly stating he’ll leave Indiana and wants to play for the Lakers whenever he does.

Among them is Cleveland, and according to multiple reports the Cavaliers’ GM, David Griffin, was trying to put together a three-team deal that’d bring George to Cleveland, and send Kevin Love to Phoenix, which owns the No. 4 pick in Thursday’s draft. According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, he was working on a similar proposal to land Chicago’s Jimmy Butler.

Of course, Griffin now is a free agent himself, as his tenure came to an abrupt end Monday, unable to come to terms on a contract extension with owner Dan Gilbert.

Gilbert was scheduled to meet Tuesday with Chauncey Billups, who had emerged as a top candidate to take over Cleveland’s basketball operations.

Elsewhere, the Knicks and Phil Jackson were reportedly listening to offers for Kristaps Porzingis, Kyle Lowry may be ready to bolt Toronto, and San Antonio appears to be positioning itself to land the Clippers’ Chris Paul.

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The Clippers, meanwhile, hired Jerry West with the intention of keeping Paul in the fold but also perhaps luring Carmelo Anthony and some guy named LeBron, who owns a $20 million mansion in L.A. and can be a free agent next summer. King James may chase another crown with the Cavs next season, but after that, many around the league predict he’ll head to Hollywood to play for Magic Johnson and the Lakers.

Of course, none of that may end up happening. But after a season that played out the way it did, and the way everyone figured it would, a little uncertainty never hurt anybody. And maybe that’s why Toronto GM Masai Ujiri was laughing Tuesday, when asked about all the alarm bells going off around the league.

“One day it’s quiet, the next day it’s noisy,” he said. “That’s just how the NBA works.”