The 2012 NBA draft concludes the basketball season on Thursday night, and while the draft is considered to be the deepest in years, it only has one expected franchise player: Kentucky center Anthony Davis.
It's a foregone conclusion that Davis, the national player of the year last season as a freshman for the champion Wildcats, will go No. 1 overall to the New Orleans Hornets. After that, everything is a crapshoot.
Thus the main drama Thursday could be that surrounding Orlando Magic superstar center Dwight Howard. It’s now also considered a foregone conclusion that the Magic will deal the three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year and the league's most dominant big man before next season. Howard held the Magic hostage right up until the trade deadline last season, and the franchise is ready to move on with an entirely new front office and coaching staff (with a head coach TBA).
It's quite possible that Howard is moved during Thursday's draft. It is even-money at Bovada that it happens before the draft ends, while -140 that Howard is still a member of the Magic on Friday.
Certainly every team in the NBA would have interest in Howard to some degree.
The Los Angeles Lakers could finally decide to send young center Andrew Bynum to Orlando for Howard. The Clippers could have a Big 3 to rival Miami’s by landing Howard to go with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. The Chicago Bulls could offer potentially the best package of players.
However, Howard has made it mostly clear he wants to go to Brooklyn or Dallas. The problem for him is that neither of those teams likely has enough assets to satisfy Orlando in a trade. Thus the Houston Rockets could sneak in and land Howard.
After a trade was agreed to with Minnesota on Tuesday, the Rockets have picks No. 14, 16 and 18 in the draft. The Rockets likely will try to parlay those into a Top 5 pick — Sacramento at No. 5? – and send that pick along with perhaps last year's two first-rounders (Marcus Morris and Donatas Motiejūnas) to Orlando along with other pieces for Howard and the onerous contract of Hedo Turkoglu.
Howard has said he wouldn't sign a long-term extension with the Rockets, but the team believes it can change his mind by getting him for next season; after that Howard would be an unrestricted free agent. That a team like Sacramento in the Top 5 trades its pick at the draft is at even money, with no trades in the Top 5 at -140.
The Celtics, meanwhile, have picks No. 21 and 22 in the first round Thursday. There are many ways Boston could go, but the C’s do need a big man to likely replace Kevin Garnett and a scoring guard to replace Ray Allen as well as backup Rajon Rondo and/or Avery Bradley.
Bovada has over/under props on four players Boston could target with their first-round picks if the Celtics stay put: Ohio State forward Jared Sullinger (over/under drafted at No. 17.5, with over a -140 favorite), Baylor forward Perry Jones III (over/under 14.5, both at -120), Syracuse center Fab Melo (over/under 22.5, both at -120) and French guard/swingman Evan Fournier (-150 to go in first round, +110 to not).
Sullinger was considered a potential Top-5 pick had he come out after his freshman season in 2010-11, but he chose to return to Ohio State. That looks like a mistake as Sullinger wasn't as dominant as a sophomore and now has been red-flagged medically due to a back problem. Thus he could well slip all the way to Boston but would carry a major medical risk.
Jones III has perhaps as much upside as any player other than Davis in this draft but wasn't consistent at Baylor. The C's likely would fall all over themselves, however, if he somehow slipped to where they pick.
Melo's career at Syracuse ended before last season's NCAA Tournament due to academics. He has no offensive game to speak of and is a bit immature but was the Big East Defensive Player of the Year last season. He probably will be there at No. 21. The 6-foot-7 Fournier also should be there, although his stock is rising. He’s the top-rated European in this draft but could stay overseas for at least one more season.