Doing mock drafts this far ahead of the draft is always a challenge. Teams are still working out players and gathering info, and for the most part, they are still a few weeks from making a decision on whom they'll draft. To complicate things, there has been an abundance of trade talk surrounding draft picks this year.
Per sources in the league, the Philadelphia 76ers, Minnesota Timberwolves, Golden State Warriors, Detroit Pistons, Indiana Pacers, Toronto Raptors, Chicago Bulls, San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder all have had discussions about moving up, down or out of the draft.
The Pistons, Spurs and Thunder have been the most aggressive about moving up.
The Pistons have been searching for a big and would love to get their hands on either DeMarcus Cousins or Derrick Favors. The Spurs and Thunder also are in the hunt for a big and have targeted a number of teams in the lottery to move up a few spots. The Thunder have multiple picks to offer. The Spurs have Tony Parker or George Hill. While the Spurs aren't necessarily shopping either player, they're not untouchable, either. If the Spurs can get another big man to help prolong Tim Duncan's career, they'll do it.
The Wolves continue to look in all directions. They have interest in moving up to the No. 2 spot to grab Evan Turner and have shown interest in perhaps trading one or two of their first-round picks for a player like Anthony Randolph.
The Pacers and Raptors are in the same boat as the Wolves. They would like to move up in the draft and have inquired about the Sixers' and Nets' picks. They also wouldn't mind moving out of the draft if they got the right pieces in return.
A new twist with Turner
I might have jumped the gun a bit when I put Favors at No. 2 in my latest mock draft. As I wrote last week, I had sources disagreeing on which direction the Sixers were leaning. Some suggested Favors, others Turner and one said Cousins. However, I decided to lean toward a source who said he had direct knowledge of Doug Collins' thinking and that Collins liked Favors.
Since the mock draft, I've gotten a number of strong signals from inside the Sixers' organization that Turner is the guy they'll take at No. 2.
While the signals certainly could be legit, I take some of those indications with a grain of salt. Since Turner is the consensus No. 2 pick in the draft, the Sixers want other teams trying to trade up for him (the Wolves and Pacers seem to be the hottest suitors) to believe they're taking him. If teams think he's slipping, they'll begin dealing with New Jersey instead.
For what it's worth, the Sixers are still asking teams to take back Elton Brand's contract in a deal for the No. 2 pick. But virtually every GM I've spoken with believes the Sixers will soften their stance as we get closer to the draft.
The Sixers also are exploring other trade possibilities. The team had Andre Iguodala on the trade block in February and might look to put him back on the market this summer. If Iguodala goes, suddenly Turner looks like a better fit in Philly.
The Jazz and the Monroe Doctrine
The Utah Jazz historically don't do a lot of workouts, often targeting a few players in their draft range and then selecting from that group. But when they do workouts, they do them right. Over the past few days, they've examined some of the best prospects in the draft.
On Friday, they brought in Georgetown big man Greg Monroe for a solo workout. Monroe's agent, David Falk, will let Monroe work out against only Cousins or Favors. Since neither player is projected to be available at No. 9, Monroe went at it alone in Utah.
The Jazz don't have any other high-profile workouts scheduled. Glean from that what you will, but I think it's safe to say those are the five prospects the Jazz are considering at No. 9. Monroe fits a big need if Carlos Boozer leaves this summer. Henry, Babbitt, Hayward and Aminu all fill a void left by Kyle Korver hitting free agency.
From the sound of things, Monroe is still atop the Jazz's list. But it seems like Babbitt is strongly in the running, too. The Jazz have been higher on Babbitt than most all year. The rest of the league is playing catch-up to what Utah was saying in January.
The interest in Indy
Picking right behind the Jazz are the Pacers at No. 10. The Pacers also got to work early last week and had virtually every player they'll be considering in for workouts. On Tuesday, they brought in Daniel Orton, Ekpe Udoh, Hassan Whiteside, Lance Stephenson and Derrick Caracter. The next day, they watched Avery Bradley, Eric Bledsoe, Sherron Collins, Willie Warren and Jordan Crawford.
Much like the Jazz, I think you're looking at the key players the Pacers will be considering at 10. If they go big, Orton, Udoh and Whiteside are the three guys they'll likely consider. Obviously Ed Davis or Monroe would be in the picture, too, if they were to fall, but neither player is expected to be there at No. 10.
If the Pacers go with a guard, it most likely will be Bradley or Bledsoe. While 10 might be a bit high for both players, point guard is the Pacers' biggest need and both players have sufficient upside.
Other prospects like Collins, Warren, Crawford, Stephenson and Caracter would be in the mix for the Pacers' pick at No. 40.
It's too early to say which way the Pacers are leaning. Of the bigs, Udoh seems like the safest choice, but Orton and Whiteside have more upside. As far as point guards go, I think Bradley has the edge over Bledsoe at the moment.
Last week I reported that there were no medical red flags coming out of the physicals at the draft combine. A week later, after each team's medical staff has had a chance to look at the results, the top prospects still appear to be clear.
However, a few teams have privately expressed some concerns about Orton's left knee. While the issue hasn't risen to the point that a team would seriously consider not drafting him, there are worries his knee is still weak and might have some structural issues.
Orton tore cartilage in his left knee in November 2008 and ended up missing his senior year of high school. This past February, Kentucky coach John Calipari noted to the media that he felt Orton was still hobbled by the knee -- although Orton, at the time, claimed it was 100 percent.
While the teams that had the information stressed that the concerns have not scared them away from drafting him, they do muddy the waters a bit when you factor Orton's sparse playing time this past season and the fact that he lacks the production of other big men in the draft.
The other player with injury questions swirling around him is Memphis guard Elliot Williams. Williams suffered a minor knee injury after a workout with the Spurs and skipped the combine. He hasn't really been heard from since. Several NBA teams say he has turned down multiple workouts.
There are two possible interpretations. One is that Williams' injury is worse than he's letting on and he can't work out. The second is that a team somewhere in the first round has promised to pick him and he is sitting out the workout process. Of the two, the second scenario seems more likely. Williams has been working out in L.A. for the past few weeks, and I'm told by sources that he's fine.
So where is the promise? The Memphis Commercial Appeal speculates that San Antonio might be the culprit because he's worked out there. The Spurs do have a history of making such promises, and the 20th pick isn't out of Williams' range. I'd also pay close attention to the Memphis Grizzlies. After passing on Memphis guard Tyreke Evans last year, they might have decided they're better off taking a hometown kid with one of their three first-round picks this year.
There's no place like home
Finally, this year's international crop is looking weaker and weaker by the day. Forward Donatas Motiejunas withdrew from the draft Friday. Motiejunas was the only international player in the draft who projected as a potential lottery pick.
Last week we got more news that Kevin Seraphin (currently the only international player we have in the first round) had injured his knee and would be out the next few weeks. His agent, Bouna Ndiaye, insists that Seraphin hasn't withdrawn from the draft, but if the injury is serious enough, he might have no choice. Ndiaye told me he's looking for a first-round promise for Seraphin. If the right team commits, he'll stay. If no one does, he'll pull out of the draft.
If Seraphin withdraws, we could be facing the first year without an international player in the first round since 1995.
If a player or two creeps in, keep an eye on two prospects -- Tibor Pleiss and Miroslav Raduljica. There are five teams with two or more first-round picks. Someone's going to want to stash one of these guys overseas.
Pleiss is a 7-footer from Germany. He's a hustle player who gets things done on the defensive end, despite lacking strength and offensive polish at the moment. While he's still a year or two away from being an impact player in the NBA, he's a nice developmental pick.
Raduljica is the other guy who could get some love. The Serbian big man posted solid numbers in the Adriatic league this year, and he has the size and strength to make it in the NBA. Raduljica didn't endear himself to several NBA executives when he bailed at the last minute on a workout at the Eurocamp. However, I'm told by a source inside the camp that a team representative might have convinced Raduljica to shut down the workout. That could be a sign that a team already has him locked up late in the first.