The NBA playoffs are underway. While I understand that the coming NFL draft is of more vital national importance, it’s an exciting time for hoop fans.
The Warriors and Cavs are favored to meet in the Finals for the fourth straight year. But they won’t sap the drama out of the event this year by breezing through the first three rounds. Houston is seen as Golden State’s near-equal in Vegas, and Cleveland will have a tougher road in the East.
I have high hopes for the Raptors, who had a franchise-record 59 wins. Toronto tends to collapse in the postseason. They’ve lost 10 straight playoff openers. So they’re under pressure to prove they’re not playoff frauds, starting with today’s opener against the Wizards at the ACC.
On to the Mailbag:
Bob Rajczak asks: Next year, the Bills will have cap space and be able to get top free agents. So they won’t have as much need for a No. 1 pick. Next year’s first and No. 12 this year should be more than enough to move up six spots for a quarterback. What do you think?
Sully: I get your basic point, that they could spend less in draft capital this season by packaging this year’s 12th overall pick and next year’s first to trade with the Colts to get their quarterback at No. 6 in this year’s draft.
But you’re dismissing next year’s first-round pick far too easily. I expect the Bills to take a big step back next season. They were lucky last year to win nine games with six- or seven-win talent.
They’ll have a new quarterback and have lost the entire left side (center to left tackle) of the offensive line.
They have holes in a lot of other positions, too. Sean McDermott has strongly suggested they’ll regress next season, and he’s right. They could easily finish in the bottom 10, which means their first-round pick could be higher than it was last year, when they traded out of the 10th overall spot.
This tells you how tough a spot Brandon Beane is in. If he loves one of the top QBs and has to move into the top five – maybe all the way to No. 2 with the Giants – to get him, his trading partner will surely want next year’s first-rounder. The other GMs aren’t stupid. They know the Bills are likely to fall back next season.
Jay Skurski’s latest mock draft has the Bills shipping Nos. 12 and 22, and perhaps the third-rounder they got from Cleveland for Tyrod Taylor, to move up to the sixth overall pick for Josh Allen after Sam Darnold, Baker Mayfield and Josh Rosen go 1-3-5.
Jay sees it as a best-case scenario, because the Bills wouldn’t have to use as much draft currency -- mainly, next year’s first. Your idea would make sense if the Bills were a likely playoff team next season. Sorry, but they’re not.
@realmikebordo asks: Seven months ago you predicted the Sabres would finish with 88 points. What did you not see coming that you were off by so much?
Sully: I wasn’t the only one who overestimated the Sabres. Most hockey insiders expected them to improve and at least be on the fringes of a playoff run. Virtually no one expected them to be the worst team in the NHL.
I was skeptical from the start about rookie coach Phil Housley and his plan to open things up with his defensemen. It went far worse than anyone could have imagined. They didn’t have a legitimate top defenseman; newcomers Marco Scandella and Nathan Beaulieu were massive disappointments.
Most of the big names didn’t improve. Kyle Okposo was a waste of money. Sam Reinhart put up meaningless stats when it didn’t really matter. Ryan O’Reilly said he had grown accustomed to losing and lost his love for hockey.
That’s the one sinister force that I underestimated: The Sabres spent years creating a culture where losing was accepted – and in the case of the tank, encouraged – under Terry Pegula. It wasn’t going to change overnight.
Eric Sepci asks: What’ll it take for Housley to keep his job? Playoff run at minimum?
Sully: I don’t think Housley needs to make the playoffs next year to keep his job. He was over his head and would be fired in a lot of NHL towns, but the Pegulas will be reluctant to throw anyone into the volcano after whacking Dan Bylsma and Tim Murray a year ago.
They’ll put this year’s disaster at the feet of the players, regardless of Housley’s shortcomings as a head man. But losing this way – including the worst home record in history – is bad for business.
The fans turned away in large numbers and there could be a major hit in season ticket sales.
So if attendance is bad and things don’t get better in the first two months on the ice next season, Housley could be in trouble. And should be.
Kevin Lawrence asks: All MLB teams worry about injuries. This Yankee fan wants to know, who is most important for the Red Sox to keep healthy this year?
Sully: Good question. I’m tempted to say Mookie Betts, who I expect to have an MVP year. But the Sox have a lot of offensive weapons, including J.D. Martinez. You know how I feel about a top starting pitcher.
My pick is Chris Sale. One hitter is replaceable, no matter how good. But if you lose an ace, it can turn you from a playoff contender to a .500 team. Sale puts his team in position to win almost every time out. The Sox went 22-10 in his starts last season. He had 308 strikeouts. Boston fans pray he stays healthy.
@machino76 asks: Will the Sixers lose to the Heat? Miami has experience and had a strong second half of the season. This series will be chippy!
Sully: An NBA question! The Heat are tough. They have a rising star in forward Josh Richardson, a solid veteran point guard in Goran Dragic, and the big-game wisdom of the ancient Dwyane Wade. In Erik Spoelstra, they have a coach who has won titles and knows what it takes in the playoffs.
But the Sixers are for real. They’ve won 16 in a row, the last eight without Joel Embiid. Ben Simmons has arrived as a superstar. Markelle Fultz is finally playing. Embiid is still recovering from his orbital fracture, but is expected back soon.
Believe in the Process. This team could go far.