Winners and losers: Cavs cash in
The buzz around the Cleveland Cavaliers landing Shaquille O’Neal(notes) hadn’t even reached a crescendo when the Orlando Magic matched (or raised) them by getting Vince Carter(notes) from the New Jersey Nets.
This after San Antonio landed Richard Jefferson(notes) for one final run at a title in the Tim Duncan(notes) era and the Boston Celtics shopped around Rajon Rondo(notes) and Ray Allen(notes) for another push. Denver later moved back in the first round to draft Ty Lawson to back up Chauncey Billups(notes).
This was the weakest NBA draft in recent memory – no sure-fire superstars, a lack of depth – which meant all the wild action from contenders shifted to trades. This was about the future, but the more immediate one: the playoff chase of next spring.
The push for next year’s championship is coming from all directions. Well, except one. The champion Los Angeles Lakers not only aren’t making any trades, in a sign of the times, they sold their first-round pick for about $3 million and will stand pat.
They’re about the only ones. Here are the winners and losers of draft (trade) night.
WINNER: Blake Griffin
The guy’s been a Clipper for hours already and as best we can tell he doesn’t need reconstructive knee surgery. That alone is reason for Clippers fan(s) to celebrate.
After just two winning seasons in 30 years and a dark history of draft futility, Griffin seems like a perfect cornerstone to the Clips’ efforts to turn things around. He’s athletic, tough, a hard worker, and by all accounts a high-character guy. There’s a consensus that he will be, at the very least, a longtime NBA starter.
Of course, they say that about every top pick. Some don’t even get that far. In the last 20 years, five top picks – Pervis Ellison, Joe Smith(notes), Michael Olowokandi(notes), Kwame Brown(notes) and Andrew Bogut(notes) – have failed to reach even a single All-Star game. Greg Oden(notes) could end up as part of that group.
Conversely, there have been just six franchise guys you’d expect from that spot – Shaquille O’Neal, Allen Iverson(notes), Tim Duncan, Yao Ming(notes), LeBron James(notes) and Dwight Howard(notes). Reigning Rookie of the Year Derrick Rose(notes) also might get there.
Few see Griffin joining the Shaq/Duncan group. The key is avoiding the Smith/Brown one.
In the middle, and we’re being generous to some of these guys, are Derrick Coleman, Larry Johnson, Chris Webber(notes), Glenn Robinson, Elton Brand(notes), Kenyon Martin(notes) and probably Andrea Bargnani(notes).
When you think No. 1 pick, you think about potential greatness. Far more often than not, you don’t get it.
WINNER: Cleveland Cavaliers
Shaq makes them better because it was clear that big men Zydrunas Ilgauskas(notes) and Anderson Varejao(notes) weren’t capable of getting it done, especially as Dwight Howard improves. The Cavs almost took O’Neal at the trade deadline and clearly regretted not getting it done then.
Cleveland has everything on the line next season. Shaq will be 38 and has one year left on his deal, and LeBron James will be a free agent after the season. Win the title and perhaps LeBron stays. Fall apart and perhaps he doesn’t.
No one knows. And while the O’Neal deal doesn’t solve long-term concerns, there is no doubt LeBron signed off on this trade. And it’s not like Cleveland gave up much in Ben Wallace(notes) and Sasha Pavlovic(notes).
One key will be limiting both Shaq’s minutes and games. The big guy is at his best when he’s playing about 60 regular season games, and he absolutely has to be healthy and fresh for a 20-plus game playoff run.
LOSER: Indiana Pacers
Only time will tell on every pick, but as hard a worker and as good a guy and as big a winner and so on and so forth that Tyler Hansbrough is, how he winds up the 13th pick of the draft is a mystery.
The Pacers have put a premium on character, but Hansbrough is a classic tweener. At 6-8 he isn’t big enough to guard power forwards and isn’t quick enough to guard small forwards. He scored a million points in college but also benefitted from getting nearly every call (which will end on Day 1 in the NBA) and hitting strange-trajectory shots (that will be swatted on Day 1 in the NBA).
They probably could’ve gotten him later in the first round. Of course, college broadcaster Dick Vitale said Hansbrough would average 14 points a game. Fourteen? Do D-League stats count?
WINNER: New York Knicks
So Don Nelson did as expected and stole Stephen Curry for Golden State one slot ahead of the Knicks, sending fans attending the draft into mourning.
But New York survived, taking 6-10 athlete Jordan Hill from Arizona. They later traded for Darko Milicic(notes) and picked up the Lakers’ pick of Florida State guard Toney Douglas, who was a bit of a late-round steal.
You never know who will work out in the draft, but it’s clear the Knicks are building their team around Mike D’Antoni’s offensive system. They have an actual plan, which was missing most of the last decade at MSG.
WINNER: Brandon Jennings
The kid from Compton was heavily criticized for deciding to do his one year of NBA-mandated purgatory as a pro in Italy rather than at an American college.
Between salary and endorsements he made seven figures, says he matured through adversity and promises that his fundamentals and knowledge of the game (especially defending the pick and roll) is vastly superior to what it would’ve been had he played in the NCAA.
And he wound up the 10th pick in the draft, ahead of a slew of college stars. His ESPN interview carried a hint of “I-told-you-so” that he earned. He’s been called every name in the book for trailblazing against the college establishment.
He even encouraged other young players to take the Euro route: “I think you’ll see more people do it,” he said.
No truth to the rumor that Vitale was up in a balcony with a high-powered rifle about to silence the anti-NCAA message forever.
LOSER: Detroit Pistons
First-round pick Austin Daye is a really nice, 6-11 forward from Gonzaga. He also weighs just 190 pounds and was routinely pushed around in college. Pistons GM Joe Dumars has made some nice non-lottery picks through the years, but at 15 and for a team in need of talent, this is a looong-term project and more than a bit of a reach.
WINNER: Chicago Bulls
The Bulls returned to the playoffs this year and took the Celtics to seven games in a classic battle. Now they build around rookie of the year Derrick Rose, using two so-so picks to acquire athletic ability and versatility in James Johnson (16) and Taj Gibson (26).
Neither is going to be an immediate star (none were available at that point), but they add more flair to an already fun, up-and-coming team.
LOSER: Ricky Rubio
Rubio is originally from El Masnou, Spain, a beach town on the Mediterranean. It’s a lot like Minnesota in February.
Oh, and apparently he gets to battle brutally strong, iron-tough, take-no-prisoners Jonny Flynn for the starting point guard job – provided he doesn’t spend another season in Europe. Rubio is a great talent with poise beyond his years, but this transition wouldn’t be fun for anyone.
WINNER: Denver Nuggets
The Nuggets had no first-round pick and for a while looked content to deal away their second-rounder and take the night off. Instead they made a move to improve their team, grabbing brilliantly fast point guard Ty Lawson of North Carolina.
He’s there to be a backup for Chauncey Billups, and not only will he provide quality minutes but his speed creates a totally different look for opponents to have to deal with. This is a very intriguing pick for the Nuggets, who weren’t so far from taking down the Lakers in the Western Conference finals.
WINNER: James Harden’s style
The Oklahoma City-bound guard not only had the best beard in the draft, he also rocked a patterned purple bow tie, which not just anyone can pull off. If he plays like he did in the regular season and not the NCAA tourney, the Thunder got more than a fashion plate.
LOSER: DeJuan Blair’s knees
He’s had surgery on both of them. Although he never missed a game or practice while starring at Pitt, and his physical power overwhelmed UConn’s Hasheem Thabeet (the second pick overall), Blair fell all the way to the Spurs in the second round.
That’s a long wait for one of the college game’s best players.
WINNER: Jrue Holiday
Last year UCLA had a point guard battle between Holiday and Darren Collison. Bruins coach Ben Howland went with the experienced Collison rather than the freshman Holiday, who played shooting guard.
So, for at least a night, Holiday got a little friendly revenge. He wound up on top, getting picked by Philadelphia at 17. Collison had to only wait until New Orleans grabbed him four spots later. Those must have been some pretty good practices in Westwood.
• Most interesting opening line:
Stuart Scott on Memphis draft pick DeMarre Carroll: “Here’s a guy with liver disease.” (He went on to add he probably wouldn’t need a transplant for a couple decades. How reassuring.)
• Lack of loyalty to alma mater:
Michael Jordan, who makes the decisions for Charlotte, defied all known tenets of the Carolina-Duke rivalry by passing on three Tar Heels and instead making Blue Devil Gerald Henderson a multimillionaire.
• Frankest Tweet:
Seth Greenberg, coach of Virginia Tech, was blunt in ripping some underachieving college players.
“[Jrue] Holiday and [B.J.] Mullins (sic) were not productive players for their respective teams why would they be any different at the next level?”
We’re all in favor of a coach tweeting his mind but in the case of Mullens (and you could spell his name right), he grew up in abject poverty in Ohio, including spending long stints in various homeless shelters.
When someone is willing to give you a guaranteed multimillion-dollar contract, you think you’re going to apologize for your rebounding production in the Big Ten?