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NBA draft winners and losers: A win for LaMelo Ball, woe for the Warriors

LaMelo Ball should have greater opportunity and less pressure as the third pick of the Charlotte Hornets than he would have if he had been selected No. 1 overall by Minnesota. (Rick Rycroft/Associated Press)

The NBA draft is in the books, with Anthony Edwards, James Wiseman and LaMelo Ball going 1-2-3 to the Minnesota Timberwolves, Golden State Warriors and Charlotte Hornets, respectively. Here are the winners and losers from a busy night that saw a heartbreaking injury, some surprise picks in the lottery and a number of meaningful trades involving aspiring contenders.

On quiet night for lottery selections, Anthony Edwards goes No. 1 to Timberwolves

Losers: Golden State Warriors

In time, it’s possible that Wednesday will be remembered as the night the Warriors drafted a perennial all-star big man in Wiseman and set up another title window for the twilight of Stephen Curry’s career. In the moment, Wednesday was the devastating night that Golden State’s Klay Thompson tore his right Achilles’ tendon and will miss the upcoming season. He had spent the past 17 months recovering from a right ACL tear suffered during the 2019 Finals.

This is simply awful news for Thompson, the Warriors and the NBA as a whole. Losing Thompson for a meaningful period of time would completely shift the focus for the Warriors two days before free agency is set to open and less than two weeks before training camp. They would likely be a borderline playoff team at best without Thompson, and they would be susceptible to another ugly losing season should Curry miss any time along the way. Golden State ownership must now decide whether it’s willing to take on salary in a season that might not pay off with title contention or whether it should pivot toward a dramatic retooling to ensure the team’s best shot at a deep playoff run in 2022. Life came at the Warriors so fast.

If there’s a silver lining, it’s Wiseman. His development was going to be a secondary priority for the Warriors if they were fully healthy this season, and now the 19-year-old from Memphis rises rapidly up the ranks of important figures in the franchise. With Thompson out, the pressure to win should subside, allowing Wiseman more room to learn on the job.

Winner: LaMelo Ball

The Minnesota Timberwolves took Edwards instead of Ball with the No. 1 pick, and that could wind up being really good news for Lonzo’s younger brother. In Minnesota, Ball would have needed to tread lightly and fit his game around D’Angelo Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns. He would also have faced some pressure to help the Timberwolves win after a disappointing 2019-20 season. In Charlotte, Ball should have more opportunity to develop and less pressure to deliver instant results. Though he is a spectacular passer, Ball needs plenty of refinement in his game. That could take years, and he’s better off undertaking the project without wearing the “No. 1 pick” label and with a fan base that isn’t especially demanding.

Footnote: Ball’s entire dynamic would change if Hornets owner Michael Jordan decides to pull the trigger on a Russell Westbrook trade. If that happens, Ball’s immediate role and long-term standing with the franchise would get complicated.

The NBA offseason is a wild ride in normal times. This year? Buckle up.

Losers: Fans of lottery trades

This seemed like a perfect year to produce a lot of trade activity in the draft lottery. The Timberwolves could have used an injection of veteran talent. The Warriors were trying to win now. Teams such as the Chicago Bulls and Detroit Pistons had good reason to trade up for lead playmakers. Instead, there were no trades in the lottery. That inactivity probably points to a lack of interest in this year’s top-tier prospects. Even highly motivated sellers can’t make a trade if there aren’t buyers willing to include worthwhile pieces to move up the board.

Winners: Philadelphia 76ers

76ers President Daryl Morey wasted little time undoing General Manager Elton Brand’s work from last summer, trading away Al Horford, Josh Richardson and multiple picks to acquire Seth Curry from the Dallas Mavericks and Danny Green from the Oklahoma City Thunder.

In Curry and Green, Morey added shooters to flank his two stars, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Neither deal necessarily precludes Morey from building a trade package for James Harden, the Houston Rockets’ disgruntled superstar, around Simmons. A theoretical lineup featuring Harden, Curry, Green, Tobias Harris and Embiid looks awfully nice on paper.

Back to reality: The immediate win for the 76ers was needing to attach only one first-round pick to dump the three remaining years of Horford’s massive contract. It’s worth noting, too, that Green is a significant downgrade from Richardson at this point in their respective careers.

NBA free agency and trade tracker

Thunder GM Sam Presti also did exceptionally well this week, getting great value for Chris Paul, decent value for Dennis Schroder and taking on numerous future picks in a flurry of deals. Horford now looms as an intriguing chip for Presti, who loves nothing more than flipping players he has acquired by trade.

Losers: Milwaukee Bucks

After two trades Monday, the Bucks had a dreamy starting five all lined up: Jrue Holiday, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez. That group is big, athletic and versatile while also being loaded with two-way players, and it would qualify on paper as the East’s best lineup. Antetokounmpo would have four shooters around him, and the Bucks would have plus defenders at four positions.

That plan is on hold now that Bogdanovic reportedly plans to test restricted free agency rather than head to Milwaukee as part of a sign-and-trade agreement with the Sacramento Kings. Such a U-turn is rare, and it’s possible the deal gets put back together. But the Bucks gutted their depth to make these moves, and they really need the scoring punch and fearlessness that Bogdanovic brings to the table. If they can’t find a way to acquire him, they will be hard-pressed to find a comparable replacement. The stakes are massive, of course, because Milwaukee parted with three first-round picks and two pick swaps to acquire Holiday and because Antetokounmpo is weighing whether to accept a supermax contract extension.

Winners: Dallas Mavericks

Richardson isn’t a splashy name, but he’s a really nice fit next to Luka Doncic in Dallas. Don’t bet against the Mavericks being one of the West’s best regular season teams this season, assuming Kristaps Porzingis is back on the court relatively soon after a meniscus injury. Doncic was brilliant during the bubble playoffs, and Richardson brings some much-needed size and defensive versatility on the wing.

Losers: Phoenix Suns

Suns GM James Jones doesn’t give a rip about mock drafts. For the second year in a row, Jones drafted a player well above his anticipated landing spot. Last year, it was Cameron Johnson, whose selection famously elicited a “Wowwww bro, that’s crazy” from Bulls draftee Coby White. This year, it was Maryland power forward Jalen Smith. After trading for Chris Paul, the Suns clearly targeted Smith to balance out a frontcourt rotation lacking in interior physicality. Drafting on short-term needs can be a good way to make a mistake, and a number of intriguing guards went after Smith. Indeed, the next four players selected — Devin Vassell, Tyrese Haliburton, Kira Lewis and Aaron Nesmith — might have been better options for Phoenix. With that in mind, the San Antonio Spurs (Vassell), Sacramento Kings (Haliburton), New Orleans Pelicans (Lewis) and Boston Celtics (Nesmith) all left the night looking and feeling like winners.

Maryland’s Jalen Smith taken 10th by Suns in NBA draft

Winner: Killian Hayes

Hayes, a French teenager who spent last season playing professionally in Germany, jumped out in a draft class that was largely bereft of lead playmakers with major upside. He might not get there, but there’s a chance he develops into a star thanks to his comfort with the ball, pick-and-roll ability, passing skills and fondness for the step-back three-pointer. If Hayes is going to deliver on that potential, he needed a landing spot that would give him a wide berth and a long runway. The Pistons, who just hired a new GM and have limited backcourt talent on hand, look well suited to giving Hayes every chance to succeed.

Losers: New York Knicks

To be clear, taking Dayton’s Obi Toppin at No. 8 is no grave mistake. The 22-year-old scoring forward was projected higher on many draft boards, and he will be able to help right away on one of the NBA’s worst rosters. If there’s a concern for Knicks fans, it’s that the new front-office regime and Coach Tom Thibodeau chose to draft on instant impact rather than long-term potential. New faces, same old problematic philosophy?

Winners: Cleveland Cavaliers

In contrast to the Knicks, the Cavaliers resisted the obvious temptation to take Toppin, given his Ohio ties and dependable scoring, and went with Auburn’s Isaac Okoro instead. Cleveland had the worst record in the East last year, and it needs help at virtually every position. It’s a good sign that its front office felt empowered to add a 19-year-old, defensive-minded wing to the mix rather than seeking a shortcut to success. The Cavaliers will need to sort out pretty quickly whether they really need Collin Sexton, Darius Garland and Kevin Porter Jr., given their overlapping interest in scoring. Okoro should fit with any of them, regardless of how long that process takes to unfold.