The speculation in the moments leading up to this year’s NBA Draft was incessant, and some of the rumors, eye popping. But you know what they say about truth — it can be far stranger than fiction.
Hours after Phil Jackson set the internet ablaze by shopping Kristaps Porzingis, it was the departure of another NBA star that sent fans across social media reeling. The Bulls Thursday night finally parted ways with Jimmy Butler in a deal that sent him to the Timberwolves in exchange for Zach LaVine — coming off a season-ending ACL injury — Kris Dunn and the No. 7 pick in the draft.
Butler, a three-time All Star who has long been a subject of trade rumors despite his preference to stay put, reunites with former Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, under whom he won most improved player in 2015. The Bulls chose Arizona’s 7-foot power forward Lauri Markkanen with their pick. The Timberwolves moved down to 16, and picked Creighton’s Justin Patton.
Beyond that, though, things at the top went pretty much exactly as everyone expected them to on Thursday. Point guards ran the show. Markelle Fultz got picked first by Philadelphia. Lonzo Ball and his dad, LaVar, began representing their Big Baller Brand products almost as soon as Lonzo got picked second by the Lakers. And Porzingis? Well, despite all the trade talk, he’s still a Knick.
It’s “a great opportunity,” said Fultz, a 6-4 point guard out of Washington. “I’m very excited, really. Just the fans in Philly, how they back up their players and everything like that and I’m just looking forward to going in there and giving it my all and hopefully changing the program around.”
Despite some hearty cheers for the Knicks and Nets, Barclays Center had a certain Philly flair on Thursday. Sixers fans descended on Brooklyn en masse, positively giddy with anticipation. “Hinkie died for our sins,” read one fan’s shirt, referring to former general manager Sam Hinkie, who resigned last year, a casualty of the team’s painful rebuild. “Trust the Process” read a sign.
When NBA commissioner Adam Silver finally named Fultz, a natural playmaker who will no doubt be the 76ers starting point guard next year, the arena erupted and cheers and chants about “The Process.” It turns out, the best thing about that process is anticipating its end.
Fultz, who averaged 23.2 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.9 assists, joins Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Dario Saric on a team that suddenly doesn’t look quite so woeful. (The Celtics originally had the first pick — a product of that infamous Paul Pierce/Kevin Garnett/Jason Terry trade with the Nets — but moved down two spots in exchange for a future draft pick.)
Meanwhile, Ball was so sure he was being selected by the Lakers — his hometown team — that he had a pair of sneakers in Lakers purple waiting for him at his table. The shoes were Big Baller Brand, the luxury apparel company started by him and his father, and he put them on about five minutes before his name was even called, he said. LaVar, always a larger-than-life personality, immediately doffed a similarly branded hat when his son was called.
“Just had a good feeling,” the point guard said about changing out of his black shoes. “I’m glad they called my name.”
Ball, a 19-year-old out of UCLA, is an excellent scorer and facilitator who still needs to refine his defense. The Lakers telegraphed their move earlier in the week, trading point guard D’Angelo Russell to the Nets for Brook Lopez and the 27th pick. Timofey Mozgov was also shipped to Brooklyn.
The Celtics took Duke forward Jayson Tatum with the third pick. Kansas forward Josh Jackson went fourth to the Suns and the Kings selected Kentucky guard De’Aaron Fox to round out the top five.