Friday, June 29, 2007

Immediate Draft Thoughts

Never go to bed on an empty stomach. Never let the sun set on an argument. Never wait until the next day to post some thoughts on the NBA Draft.

Words to live by.

Anyway, here are some quick hits from my favorite sports day of the year.

1. Kevin Pritchard Owns the NBA Draft. One year after getting pretty much all the good players in the 2006 Draft, the Blazers' GM once again dominated the event. He resisted the Siren Song of Kevin Durant in order to pick the artist that will eventually be known as Four-Time Finals MVP Greg Oden at #1. This was significant not only because Oden is going to be the Next Gen Tim Duncan in terms of interior dominance, but because it gave Portland maximum flexibility to shape the rest of the roster. This was evident when the Blazers peddled Zach Randolph in the middle of the first round in exchange for Channing Frye and Steve Francis' skeleton. On paper, this seemed a bit puzzling, as you would imagine there being a better market for a 24-10 guy that can crush on the low block. But apparently the Bulls aren't biting and the Mavs don't want to overpay for a guy they would bring off the bench. And bringing Rasheed Wallace back to town? Forget it. So the Randolph market wasn't that great, which makes sense when you remember that his high school coach once said something along the lines of: every day that I read the paper and see that Zach didn't die or wasn't involved in a death is a good day. I guess a few GM's heard that one as well.

Anyway. The other part of the deal that seems bad at first blush is that Frye is really a slightly lesser version of LaMarcus Aldridge. And Steve Francis blows. So where is the value? The value is that they can buy out Francis and get a bit of short term savings and some huge long term cap relief when Stevie Franchise (now THAT has become a hilarious nickname) comes off the books in 2009. I sincerely doubt he will ever step foot in the Rose Garden's home locker room. As for Frye, he may or may not have a home in the rotation or even in a Frankensteinish three-bigs front court with two gazelle-like 6'11 guys flanking Oden. Doesn't matter. Because Frye has value around the league and can be packaged with other assets to bring in the 3 that the Blazers need. My hunch is that they bring Steve Blake back to run the point, put Roy, Udoka, Aldridge, and Oden in the starting lineup, let Travis Outlaw, Sergio Rodriguez, Demetris Nichols (for his shooting), Josh McRoberts, and Joel Przybilla come off the bench, and then use Frye and Martell Webster to unload Darius Miles and bring a legit small forward back in return. That's just my hunch.

Speaking of Nichols and McRoberts, the rest of the night was superb for Portland. They got a top-20 player in McRoberts with pick #37 (classic case of an overexposed Duke guy dropping too far - he's no Carlos Boozer and I actually don't think he's all that great, but he will make people pay for this), the shooter they desperately needed with pick #53, and somehow managed to add Taurean Green, Petteri Koponen (who I felt like I knew, thanks to Henry Abbots' work over at True Hoop), AND Rudi Feranandez ... all for a handful of cash. Are you serious? They have so many assets and parts and guys stashed overseas (Koponen and Fernandez join Brit Joel Freeland across the pond) that it is a little ridiculous. In three years, they are going to have a lineup of:

PG - Sergio Rodrigeuz (next Tony Parker)
SG - Brandon Roy
SF - Ime Udoka (next Bruce Bowen, except not dirty)
PF - LaMarcus Aldridge
C - Greg Oden
6th - Rudy Fernandez (next Ginobili)

Throw in tough-minded coach Nate McMillan and savvy GM Pritchard and you can see why the Blazers are shaping up to be the next San Antonio. And that doesn't even consider all the moves they might make, from trades, to free agent signings, to draft picks.

Okay, I'd better move on to point #2.

2. Celtics Do Well. I don't care what Stephen A. Smith or Mark Jackson say, Boston did a great job tonight. In fact, I'm still incredibly confused by the lashing they gave the C's on national television. Am I missing something? Do they think that Boston traded the rights to Durant rather than Jeff Green? I mean, I'm a Jeff Green fan, but it's not like he's a mortal lock to the make the Hall of Fame or anything. And to get rid of Wally Z in the process? Did Delonte West become the Bionic Man in the past month? Seriously, I am perplexed. If I'm not mistaken, Boston was able to free up the point guard spot for Rajon Rondo, keep Paul Pierce happy, add Big Baby to the middle, draft Gabe Pruitt for backcourt depth, and pick up Ray Freaking Allen. And that's not a great night? I know Allen is almost 32, but last time I checked, 32 wasn't the new 40. Steve Nash won his second MVP at age 32 and was even better last season at 33. Plus, Allen is a jump shooter, which means he will probably hold up better than most shooting guards as he gets older. The guy has at least three great seasons left in him. And with Rondo, Allen, Pierce, and Jefferson, the Celtics become an immediate contender in the East. PLUS, they didn't have to include Theo Ratliff's expiring contract in the deal, which gives them a fantastic trade chip for the summer of even next year's deadline. I give them an A+ on the night, yet the ESPN guys were just killing them. Strange. Then again, the ESPN guys were calling Portland the biggest losers of the draft last year and we all know how that turned out.

3. Could Phoenix Be Any Cheaper? This is getting ridiculous. If my man Sarver can't afford to pay rookies, he might want to sell the club. For the second year in a row, Phoenix sold a first round pick to Portland for straight cash money. The Blazers must be in heaven. Find a Spanish player you like? Buy him from the Suns! Steve Nash probably feels like choking someone right now. Quick, get KG to the desert before they both go insane. (Note: I did like both the Tucker and Strawberry picks. Those guys are immediate upgrades over James Jones and Marcus Banks.)

4. Houston, You Have a Problem. Cheesy pun alert! But seriously, what were the Rockets doing? They might need a power forward more than any team in the last decade, they were on the board with several intriguing (if not totally safe) prospects sitting there in Big Baby, McRoberts, and Nick Fazekas. Instead, they took Aaron Brooks, who I like, but becomes their fourth undersized guard, joining Rafer Alston, Luther Head, and the recently acquired Mike James. Did they forget that they JUST traded Juwan Howard for James? Were the Houston execs reenacting scenes from Scarface by snorting mounds of coke before their pick? I want an explanation or a trade or something that justifies this. And then to compound the lunacy, they took some Australian guard just one pick before nemesis Utah grabbed super sleeper Herbert Hill. I give Houston an F- for this draft.

5. Other "F-" Performances.. The Lakers, for taking a point guard who isn't ready (Javaris Crittenton) one year after taking a point guard who wasn't ready. Milwaukee, for taking a guy who doesn't even want to set foot in your city and might set off a diplomatic showdown that has the makings of 24: Day Seven. And, of course, Philadelphia. Although, technically, the late Byers pick probably bumps them to more like a D+, I am still putting them in this group. Leave it to Billy King to have THREE picks in the first round of one of the deepest drafts in years and come away with zero starters. Al Thornton was available and ready to start right away; King passed. Julian Wright was a steal at #12; King passed. Instead, he went with project Thaddeus Young, who simply isn't going to be as good as either of those guys. Then, so worried was he that Miami might take Jason Smith (yeah, right), he doled out some cash to swap picks. Which means that they gave up Igoudala's running mate for the next decade in Daequan Cook AND a bag of money in order to take a power forward who doesn't rebound. Oh yeah, and their biggest need was rebounding. Stellar work, Billy King, as always.

6. "A" Performances. I don't want to focus entirely on the negatives, so I'll mention the teams that cleaned up as well. Obviously, Portland headlines this group. And I've got Boston in there as well. Seattle gets an A for taking Durant, bringing in Green, bringing Lewis back into play, and completely remaking the roster in one night. They are seriously going to be fun to watch. (And I LOVE that Carl Landry pick.) Washington gets at least an A- for nabbing their new shooting guard, Nick Young (pack your bags, Deshawn Stevenson), at #16 and then adding a Kirilenko/Gerald Wallace/Josh Smith type of forward in Dominic McGuire at #47. I'm not saying McGuire will become a starter or even an immediate rotation player, but I think the offchance that his freakish skill set could transform the Washington defense makes it a great pick. Finally, Atlanta gets an A for not blowing the draft and for taking two guys - Al Horford and Acie Law - who should step in at the 5 and 1, join Joe Johnson, Smith, and Childress/Marvin Williams/Shelden Williams (take your pick) and form a decent starting lineup next year.

I also give the Warriors an A, because they accomplished so much and did it under the radar. They moved Jason Richardson, who is a very good player and appeared to be a "true Warrior" this spring, but who also has a heafty contract and a history of injury problems. That was a true "sell high" move right out of the fantasy hoops playbook. It also means they can play Monta Ellis at the 2 and Stephen Jackson at the 3 with #18 pick Belinelli (who is going to be really good) and possibly Matt Barnes in that mix. And in the frontcourt they now go Harrington, Biedrins, and Brandan Wright. For Wright, this is a dream come true. Nellie knows how to bring young bigs along, the uptempo style will make his transition (pun intended) easier, and he won't have the pressure of playing for UNC Overlord Michael Jordan. I expect Wright to be a steal and for the first time, I actually think G-State can build on the exciting spring. Speaking of the Warriors ...

7. Yi Trade in Order? First, this Yi fellow seems to be a bit of a d-bag if you ask me. Either that, or his agent is secretly Scott Boras deciding to get into hoops and hide behind a Chinese syndicate. Furthermore, don't be surprised if you come back from a bathroom break tomorrow, refresh your web browser, and see that the Bucks and Warriors have made a deal. I have the sneaking suspicion that Larry Harris took Yi at #6 with the knowledge that the #8 pick was for sale (from Charlotte), that the Warriors REALLY wanted Yi, and that G-State might be willing to part with some goodies to make it happen. My hunch is that Harris set this whole thing in motion and informed the Warriors that Yi could be had for Wright Plus. What "Plus" is I have no idea, because Monta Ellis would seem to be off the table in light of the J-Rich trade, but you never know. Maybe a future pick? The premium probably won't be high, but it will be enough to make it worth Harris' time to bother with Yi, rather than just take Wright at #6. But my gut feeling is that Wright is the guy Milwaukee wanted all along and that they will wind up with him soon, along with something else fairly nice.

8. Bulls Do The Best They Can. I'll never forgive Chicago for sitting on that Pau Gasol trade. I've been over this a million times, but it still makes no sense. They basically gave Tyson Chandler away, never used P.J. Brown's oh-so-valuable expiring contract, and hoped that someone would come their way dirt cheap or via the draft once the summer rolled around. Whoops. The #9 pick wasn't going to yield the lowpost scorer they need and it doesn't appear they can make the numbers work for any of the bigs like KG or Jermaine O'Neal. So now they are stuck adding a no-offense big man to a team full of no-offense big men. And this just one year after trading a polished post scorer in LaMarcus Aldridge on the day of the draft. John Paxson must hate lowpost scoring. All of that said, I actually really liked the Noah pick. After all of the backlash, I'm starting to think he could really be an important cog on a title team someday and I think his passing ability will be really valuable in creating open shots for his Bulls teammates. Plus, they really lucked out getting Aaron Gray deep in the draft. He's not all that great, but my bet is that he winds up having just as good of a career as Spencer Hawes. Heck, he immediately becomes the best post option on the Bulls team.

9. Utah Does it Again. Once again, Kevin O'Connor has nabbed a legit rotation guy deep in the second round. Herbert Hill should slide in right next to Paul Millsap as a "surprising" contributor next year. Not only that, but the Jazz nailed their first round pick as well, scooping up the pure-shooting Morris Almond, who would immediately step in as the starting shooting guard if Jerry Sloan didn't hate rookies so much.

10. Amir Johnson and Jason Maxiell Are Stoked. I was curious to see how the Pistons would draft this year. They had retread guys (Flip Murray and Lindsay Hunter) providing depth in the backcourt, with young guns bolstering the frontcourt (I'm not counting Antonio McDyess since he's a free agent, nor am I counting Nazr Mohammed, because I think he might have vanished). I wondered if the Pistons would draft help in both areas or if they would show confidence in the young bigs and draft all perimeter players. The answer was loud and clear. Rodney Stuckey and Arron Afflalo went in the first round and the dude from DePaul went late, giving Detroit three young guards to add to the mix. Throw in Alex Acker, who is busy crushing overseas, and the Pistons should be set on the perimeter. Well, provided Billups re-signs, of course.


jess said...

I like what the Suns did. Maybe they are cheap, but everybody already thinks they're desperate to get under the cap anyway (which isn't nearly as true as everyone makes it to be), so why should anyone be surprised that the Suns want to be thrifty?

They're going to keep Marion (I'm 99% sure of this), as well as Stoudemire and all the other core players, so they're going to be over the cap. Is 'cheap' really such a bad way to go?

They got two new players who seem like they'll complement the team well, and they were able to save some money. I'm not disappointed.

Michael said...

Portland will be awesome. I'm really REALLY pulling for them. I think it will be a smooth transition rooting for the Spurs, then switching over to the Blazers when the Spurs end the successful run they've been on for a while (hopefully at least 5 years down the road...or "NEVER" would be even sweeter).

That's not bandwagoning. I like character guys, great team basketball, defense, unselfishness...and the Blazers are shaping up to provide all that and more in abundance...I liked them this past season, and they're looking even better (much better) now. Really like that franchise's turnaround.

Not to mention Seattle, which seems just a few steps behind them (Presti offers some Spurs connections too), looking primed to be whipped into shape.

Looks like the NBA will have my undivided attention for a while longer now.