Markelle Fultz goes first to Philadelphia in NBA draft as teams look for ways to compete with Warriors

Peering out onto the draft party inside the Lakers’ El Segundo facility, 10 spotless golden trophies, symbols of excellence in the NBA, sit behind a glass window.

You can see them, but you can’t touch.

It’s a feeling teams around the NBA can surely relate to right now.

After Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green and the rest of the Golden State Warriors went 16-1 in the NBA playoffs, a second-story display might be as close anyone gets to the Larry O’Brien trophy for a while.


The Warriors’ dominance defined Thursday’s NBA draft, where teams either plotted for the future or loaded up for a run at one of the best teams in league history.

Philadelphia, which has been planning for the future since its choreographed losing began in 2013, cashed in some of its assets, including the Lakers’ unprotected 2018 first-round pick, to move up to take Washington guard Markelle Fultz with the No. 1 overall pick. He’s the eighth straight freshman to be taken first — a streak that dates back to 2010 after the Clippers took Blake Griffin first in 2009 after his sophomore year at Oklahoma.

“That was my goal,” Fultz said. “In high school, I told my trainer … I wanted to be the No. 1 player in the country and the No. 1 draft pick, so it was a goal I set out there, and that’s what I was striving for.”

Fultz was the first of seven straight freshmen selected — followed by UCLA’s Lonzo Ball (Lakers), Duke’s Jayson Tatum (Boston), Kansas’ Josh Jackson (Phoenix), Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox (Sacramento), Florida State’s Jonathan Isaac (Orlando) and Arizona’s Lauri Markkanen (Chicago via Minnesota).

Twenty years ago, the top pick, Tim Duncan, played three more collegiate games than this year’s top four selections combined.

The New York Knicks took 18-year-old French guard Frank Ntilikina before three more freshmen came off the board with Dallas taking North Carolina State point guard Dennis Smith Jr., Portland moving up for Gonzaga big man Zack Collins and Charlotte getting Kentucky shooting guard Malik Monk.

A pair of relative geezer shooting guards in Duke’s Luke Kennard (Detroit) and Louisville’s Donovan Mitchell (Utah via Denver) were selected next. Both players were ancient, entering the NBA after their sophomore seasons.

Fittingly, the lottery ended with Miami taking Kentucky forward Bam Adebayo, the 11th freshman taken in the first 14 picks. Former UCLA forward T.J. Leaf went to Indiana at 18th overall, one of 16 freshmen selected in the first round. Before Thursday, the most freshmen ever selected in an entire draft were 14. Ike Anigbogu, another Bruin, went to the Pacers in the second round.

“I think I bring a lot,” Leaf said. “Just my ability to score, my ability to stretch the floor, and I’m a winner. I’m really competitive. I love to win, and I’m going to bring that to the team.”

While this year’s draft class has had NBA scouts and executives drooling for years, the timing of the record-setting freshman class has certainly been affected by the Warriors — and to a lesser extent — the Cleveland Cavaliers. Those teams have met in the Finals for three straight seasons, and both would have to be the overwhelming favorites to meet there again next season.

With both the Eastern and Western Conferences so top heavy, teams have been forced to go one of two paths. They can move their championship timeline down the road or they can scramble to try to compete with one of the star-studded rosters at the very top of the league.

Boston, one of the teams equipped to assemble a trade package for a bona fide star, decided to continue gathering assets. The Celtics traded out of the top pick and didn’t make a deal to trade the No. 3 selection.

Indiana’s Paul George, who has essentially dared the Pacers to trade him, stayed put for the time being and New York’s stars — Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis — weren’t dealt either.

It wasn’t for a lack of trying, though. Reports linked virtually every fringe contender to one of the stars presumably on the block, with teams such as the Washington Wizards, Houston Rockets and the Clippers making calls in an attempt to add star power in their uphill battles against the Warriors. The Cavaliers were even involved in talks to acquire George.

While none of the teams closest to one of those trophies were able to swing a major draft deal, the Minnesota Timberwolves pushed the accelerator toward contention.

In the biggest move of the night, the team acquired Chicago Bulls All-Star Jimmy Butler for former UCLA guard Zach LaVine, guard Kris Dunn and Markkanen.

Butler now joins his former coach, Tom Thibodeau and a young nucleus that includes former No. 1 picks Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, making the Timberwolves a more-than-credible playoff threat next season.

And while Philadelphia probably isn’t in position to make the playoffs next season, the 76ers might be in the best position to challenge for a spot at the top of the NBA’s hierarchy once the Warriors’ grip weakens.

Center Joel Embiid and forward Dario Saric might’ve been the two best rookies in the NBA last season. And, in Fultz and Ben Simmons, last year’s No. 1 overall pick who missed the season because of injury, the 76ers could end up with the two best rookies in the NBA again.

“It’s, like I said, a great opportunity, and I’m very excited really — just the fans in Philly, how they back up their players and everything like that,” Fultz said. “And I’m just looking forward to going in there and giving it my all and hopefully changing the program around.”

Roughly 29 or so teams will be hoping that something happened Thursday to get them closer to a trophy, to change things around. But with the Warriors as dominant as they are, teams know they’ll probably just have to wait.

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Twitter: @DanWoikeSports