Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Inside the NBA Draft: CBA is league's biggest problem

By John McMullen

New York, NY - Television productions tend to embellish on a fairly regular basis so I must confess snickering a little bit when I overheard the Worldwide Leader call the 2010 NBA Draft historic from my perch above its set at Madison Square Garden.

Of course, I suppose five Kentucky players being selected in the first round of the draft, and the fact that the first senior wasn't taken until No. 23, the longest wait ever for four-year players, did have some scurrying for the record books.

Heck, even the venue itself gets the juices flowing. When you reach the escalator at Penn Station and slowly make the climb up to the Garden, you can't help thinking about Willis Reed limping onto the floor, Bernard King dropping 60, Spike Lee jawing with Reggie Miller or in my case Ivan Koloff pinning Bruno Sammartino.

That said, this draft was all about history to me for a different reason. It was the first time a number of teams flat out ignored the young talent available in order to clear salary cap space for the most high-profile free agent class ever, featuring the likes of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Amare Stoudemire and Joe Johnson.

The Chicago Bulls gave away an excellent player, Kirk Hinrich, for nothing. The hometown Knicks, perhaps spooked by Chicago's move, refused to trade up into the first round despite liking a number of players, and the Miami Heat virtually cleared the decks, making room for two high-profile free agents to join Wade in South Beach.

The Chicago Bulls gave away an excellent player, Kirk Hinrich, for nothing.
It was almost surreal watching NBA teams hang their entire futures on the recruiting process. It was like the stench of AAU basketball had invaded MSG and took over The Association.

It's been a problem for years but the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the league and its players is now officially ruining the game for the fans. When salary cap slots become more meaningful than the human beings sporting your favorite team's colors -- something is wrong.

For years I've decried the conventional wisdom that says the salary cap makes it impossible to make significant personnel moves in the NBA. I used to think that was the philosophy of the weak, the GM's that have no imagination or foresight. Winners tend to be winners for a reason I always thought.

I've also always prided myself on being open-minded and when everyone takes the opposite view of your own -- it's time to revisit your thesis.

You can bet all 30 teams would like to be joining the "King James" sweepstakes that are set to kick off in a week but only the ones with the foresight to clean out the closest are in.

Much like our government, the NBA is rewarding bad behavior.

One of my pet peeves in the real world is the estate or death tax. If you make a lot of money in your life and do the right thing by saving and providing for your kids, the government will swoop in after you pass and take 50 percent of the money you were already taxed on when you were living, essentially stealing from your family. If you are a horrible person, go to Vegas and blow that same money on craps, booze and blow, the government will never see a dime.

That is the very definition of rewarding bad behavior.

In the NBA, teams routinely tank seasons or jettison competent pieces to the puzzle, and are given high draft picks or the siren's song that is cap relief.

Perhaps it's pie-in-the-sky stuff but wouldn't be nice to see a league where everyone is trying to compete at a high level?

2010 NBA DRAFT PICK-BY-PICK ANALYSIS:

1. - Washington Wizards - John Wall (Kentucky), Point Guard (6-3, 195) - Wall, the first ever No.1 overall pick out of Kentucky, is the one can't miss prospect in the draft. He combines rare speed with the ball, along with the size and athleticism to be an elite player very early in his career. He needs to improve his jumper but could be a quicker version of Derrick Rose.

2. - Philadelphia 76ers - Evan Turner (Ohio State), Combo Guard (6-7, 215) - The Sixers stayed put and took the most NBA-ready player in the draft, a virtually mistake-proof pick in Turner, the college player of the year. Turner has a tremendous feel for the game and is an extremely efficient offensive player in the mold of Portland's Brandon Roy. His mid-range jumper is something rarely seen these days and he can handle the ball with either hand. Turner should team with Jrue Holiday to give the Sixers a top-tier backcourt for the next decade or so.

3. - New Jersey Nets - Derrick Favors (Georgia Tech), Power Forward (6-9, 245) - The Nets had the real decision in the draft and went with Favors, the logical pick. DeMarcus Cousins may have the bigger upside but New Jersey already has an All-Star type center in Brook Lopez so they went with Favors, a prototypical four in the mold of Kenyon Martin.

4. - Minnesota Timberwolves - Wesley Johnson (Syracuse), Small Forward (6-7, 205) - Despite his annoying bloviating and his comically inept criticism of Favors, Wolves basketball chief David Kahn got his man in Johnson, a silky- smooth small forward with a big wingspan and a nice jumper.

5. - Sacramento Kings - DeMarcus Cousins (Kentucky), Center (6-11, 280) - Last year Sacramento fell from No. 1 to four in the lottery and lucked out by snaring Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans, a player that is now the cornerstone of the franchise. The Kings reportedly asked Evans his opinion on who the pick should be this season and Tyreke wasn't shy about professing his desire to play with Cousins, a talented big with a questionable work ethic. Cousins' eventual upside will likely be determined by his waistband.

6. - Golden State Warriors - Ekpe Udoh (Baylor), Power Forward (6-10, 235) - Udoh shot up the board in the final days leading up to the draft but strikes me as a reach by a troubled franchise, lacking leadership. Of course, any player with a defensive mindset is welcome in Oakland. Udoh has the wingspan of a 7-foot-4 player and should develop into an elite shot-blocker early in his career as well as an exceptional offensive rebounder.

7. - Detroit Pistons - Greg Monroe (Georgetown), Power Forward/Center (6-10, 245) - Since Ben Wallace and Kwame Brown were the big men in the Motor City last year, Detroit needed a center and choice the more-skilled Monroe over a traditional pivot like Cole Aldrich. Monroe, a lefty with the skills of a much smaller player, must prove he has the toughness to excel on the boards and at the defensive end.

8. - Los Angeles Clippers - Al-Farouq Aminu (Wake Forest), Combo Forward (6-8, 220) - Since the Clippers have All-Star Chris Kaman in the pivot and will have Blake Griffin coming back next year at the four, they really wanted a small forward to round out the front line and lucked out when Aminu, a player with elite physical tools and a nice upside, fell.

9. - Utah Jazz - Gordon Hayward (Butler), Small Forward (6-8, 210) - Utah could have used a big man to replace Carlos Boozer but he Jazz get a replacement for Kyle Korver by taking Hayward, a weak-side shooter with a high basketball IQ that can take advantage of double-teams by sticking the three.

10. - Indiana Pacers - Paul George (Fresno State), Combo Forward (6-8, 210) - Weirdest pick in the draft. Was sure there was a trade coming when I saw the Pacers took George, a rangy guy that can handle the ball very well for a wing player and run the floor. Indiana needs a point guard badly and were reportedly shopping this pick with the intent of landing Jonny Flynn, Ty Lawson or Nick Collison. Meanwhile, George projects at the same position as the Pacers best player -- Danny Granger.

11. - New Orleans Hornets - Cole Aldrich (Kansas), Center (6-11, 250) - The Hornets took Aldrich in order to trade him and Morris Peterson for picks 21 and 26, which ended up being Iowa State power forward Craig Brackins and Washington small forward Quincy Pondexter. Aldrich is a legitimate center with top-tier rebounding and defensive skills that will help the Thunder compete with the Lakers out West.

12. - Memphis Grizzlies - Xavier Henry (Kansas), Shooting Guard (6-6, 220) - Henry, the Kansas freshman, is a physical specimen that is tailor-made for the NBA game and gives the Grizzlies some insurance for Rudy Gay. If Gay stays on Beale Street, Henry will provide a nice punch off the bench, while he could develop into a starter if Gay departs.

13. - Toronto Raptors - Ed Davis (North Carolina), Power Forward (6-9, 225) - The Raptors figure to lose Chris Bosh in the offseason so they needed a big and Davis fits the bill. He's raw but athletic. A little added strength and attention to the mid-range game wouldn't be a bag thing for Davis.

14. - Houston Rockets - Patrick Patterson (Kentucky), Combo Forward (6-8, 235) - Patterson seems like a good choice here. The Kentucky junior has the ability to move between the three and four, meaning he can play with Yao Ming and Luis Scola and provide some insurance up front in case the injury bug continues to haunt the Rockets.

15. - Milwaukee Bucks - Larry Sanders (VCU), Power Forward (6-10, 235) - I had heard Sanders got a guarantee from the Bucks that he would be selected here if available. The Bucks added an impressive quarterback last year in Brandon Jennings, and Sanders is the type of athlete that will fit right into what the team is trying to accomplish. Scott Skiles seems to be enamored with his length and ability to help on the defensive end and the boards.

16. - Minnesota Timberwolves - Luke Babbitt (Nevada), Combo Forward (6-8, 220) - In one of the more questionable decisions ever made in the NBA, the Blazers fired GM Kevin Pritchard but told him he would be in charge of the draft on his last day. Pritchard made a deal here as Minnesota takes Babbitt and trades him, along with Ryan Gomes, for Martell Webster. Babbitt, the WAC Player of the Year, is a great athlete but I'm not sure he fits with the Blazers.

17. - Chicago Bulls - Kevin Seraphin (France), Center/Power Forward (6-10, 255) - Seraphin was taken for the Wizards in the Hinrich deal that won't be announced until July 8. The only European player taken in the first round, Seraphin is very raw and may be stashed overseas by Washington for a year or two, although he does have a very reasonable buyout.

18. - Oklahoma City Thunder - Eric Bledsoe (Kentucky), Combo Guard (6-0, 195) - The Thunder got this pick from Miami on Wednesday and worked a deal with the Clippers by trading Bledsoe for a future No. 1. A shrewd deal by Sam Presti considering how often the Clips are in the lottery. Bledsoe, while not quite ready, can play both guard positions and has a solid upside. He should start as Baron Davis' caddy and eventually become his heir apparent.

19. - Boston Celtics - Avery Bradley (Texas), Shooting Guard (6-2, 175) - Danny Ainge made good on picking Bradley. Since Ray Allen may move on in the offseason, the C's felt it was prudent to take a flyer on Bradley, an undersized freshman that is a pure shooter and scorer.

20. - San Antonio Spurs - James Anderson (Oklahoma State), Shooting Guard (6-6, 195) - Anderson is slight but tough and could be the best pure shooter in this year's draft. The tread is wearing thin on both Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. George Hill could be a difference-maker down the line but the Spurs could use another active body in the backcourt and Anderson is a nice value pick.

21. - Oklahoma City Thunder - Craig Brackins (Iowa State), Power Forward (6-10, 230) - Brackins will head to New Orleans in the Aldrich deal and provide a big body to compliment David West.

22. - Portland Trail Blazers - Elliott Williams (Memphis), Shooting Guard (6-4, 180) - Chad Buchanan, the Blazers' director of college scouting, recently said there would likely be "two really solid catch-and-shoot guys" that could help the team at 22 and Williams, a versatile southpaw guard with upper-echelon athleticism, was obviously a player he was targeting.

23. - Minnesota Timberwolves - Trevor Booker (Clemson), Power Forward (6-7, 240) - The first senior taken was Booker, a guy I had rated as a second rounder. The Wolves quickly traded the rights to Booker and the 56th pick, Hamady N'diaye, for the 30th pick, Lazar Hayward, and the 35th pick, Nemanja Bjelica. Booker is undersized for the four spot and not athletic enough to play the three.

24. - Atlanta Hawks - Damion James (Texas), Small Forward (6-7, 230) - The Hawks take another senior in James but move him to New Jersey for Jordan Crawford, the 27th pick, and Tibor Pliess. James excels in transition and is an exceptional rebounder and defender for his size.

25. - Memphis Grizzlies - Dominique Jones (South Florida), Shooting Guard (6-4, 215) - The Grizzlies take Jones. a powerfully-built combo guard with a nice offensive game, and sell him to Dallas for cash. Jones may be the best finisher in the draft outside of Wall and the Mavs need players that can excel at the rim.

26. - Oklahoma City Thunder - Quincy Pondexter (Washington), Small Forward (6-7, 220) - The slight Pondexter also moves to the Big Easy in the Aldrich trade. A heady offensive player, Pondexter should excel playing with Chris Paul.

27. - New Jersey Nets - Jordan Crawford (Xavier), Shooting Guard (6-4, 195) - Crawford moves to Atlanta, along with Tibor Pliess, for Damion James. With Joe Johnson likely moving on, this is the player the Hawks wanted although expecting Crawford to replace an All-Star is unrealistic.

28. - Memphis Grizzlies - Greivis Vasquez (Maryland), Combo Guard (6-5, 195) - Nice energy player that lacks great speed and top-tier athleticism. That said, Vasquez is a nice player to have coming off your bench.

29. - Orlando Magic - Daniel Orton (Kentucky), Power Forward (6-10, 255) - Most thought Orton was a lottery pick and he nearly slid all the way out of the first round due to concerns over his work ethic. He still has a significant upside, however, with impressive length, although his offensive game needs a lot of work despite a very soft touch that is rare among young bigs today.

30. - Washington Wizards - Lazar Hayward (Marquette), Small Forward (6-6, 225) - Most mock draft had Hayward going mid-to-late second round, but Minnesota likes his offensive upside and was willing to work a deal to get him.
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