NEW YORK – With the green room empty, the heckling fans gone home and the newly minted NBA players wondering if they can return those suits, it's time to take a look back on the winners and losers of Thursday's NBA draft at Madison Square Garden.
WINNER: Portland Trail Blazers – They got Greg Oden. At the end of the day, that's all that really mattered. At the team's draft party, fans stormed the court in celebration of landing an athletic 7-footer who is a supreme defensive talent and an absolutely great guy. This is the start of a great run.
That said, the trade with the New York Knicks was a bit baffling, Portland giving up 20-and-10 machine Zach Randolph to take Stevie Franchise Killer and a sort of stalled-out Channing Frye. Opening things up for LaMarcus Aldridge and eliminating about the last of the Jail Blazers makes sense, but was this the best the Blazers could get? You really want Francis in that locker room?
Is what they have now up front – Oden, Aldridge, Travis Outlaw and Frye – better than if they had gone with Aldridge, Randolph, Outlaw and Kevin Durant? Yes, probably because it is a struggle to play Randolph and Aldridge at the same time, but it's a fair question to ask.
Of course, in the end, it hardly matters. The Blazers are still big winners. Oden is Oden, the franchise is relevant again and Portland has an inside track on a second consecutive Rookie of the Year.
LOSER: Boston Celtics – The trade for Ray Allen was a head-scratcher, even by Danny Ainge standards. Can the Celtics ever trade for a guy not coming off surgery? Does Ainge know that NBA statutes actually allow this?
Boston gave up the five pick, Delonte West and Wally Szczerbiak for another gunner with questionable ankles. Maybe his brain/personality profile fits into Ainge's qualifications. (They also got Glen "Big Baby" Davis, which means buying stock in Bickford's isn't a bad idea right now.)
Perhaps Allen is the "veteran" that will keep Paul Pierce from going Kobe on the franchise and demanding a trade, but it can't be seen as anything but a desperation move by a front office and coaching staff trying to hang onto their jobs.
The ultimate insult is the parade of players who refused to be traded to the winningest franchise in NBA history. The Celtics are the new Clippers, which is almost unbelievable to imagine.
WINNER: Seattle SuperSonics – Not only do they get Kevin Durant, the most exciting player to enter the league Thursday and a future 10-time All-Star and highlight-making machine, they also shipped out Allen to get Jeff Green, the big-time scorer from Georgetown, an outside shooter in Szczerbiak and a rotation guard in West. Plus, with Allen gone, they have the money to re-sign Rashard Lewis.
That's a heck of a night for a franchise starting a brand new era. Durant is such a thrilling talent that he may even be able to energize the city and help get an arena built. If not, he'll be a mega-star in Las Vegas, the new-age Sinatra on the Strip. It's a win-win for the Sonics.
LOSER: Los Angeles Lakers – Javaris Crittenton? Yep, that ought to do it. Kobe Bryant is currently wandering Orange County parking lots looking for rogue film crews to tape his latest rant against the franchise.
The Lakers couldn't get Kevin Garnett or any other difference maker that Bryant wanted, and if they thought he wanted out of L.A. before, heaven knows what is coming now. Is there really any way he would pull a 180 and show up at training camp as a productive leader eager to help mentor Andrew "Are you kidding me?" Bynum. Agree or not with Kobe, the Lakers needed to do something to solve this problem.
A young and erratic (if gifted) point guard out of Georgia Tech wasn't it. Of course, they did pick up Marc Gasol in the second round. Maybe they can confuse Kobe and make him believe they got Marc's brother, Pau.
At this point, the Lakers need to try something.
WINNER: New York Knicks – Isiah Thomas has been an annual draft night loser, but this was one of the good ones for Thomas, who ditched one past mistake (Francis) and Frye to pick up Zach Randolph, a beast of a low-post scorer.
Now, how Randolph and Eddy Curry coexist down low is a major question, but at least Randolph plays hard. Of course, if he could find trouble in his hometown of Marion, Ind., and then Portland, uh, what's Manhattan going to do to him? And maybe Frye wasn't so bad. So this isn't the greatest night in the franchise's history.
But if nothing else, the move inspired the downtrodden Knicks fan base to foresee a better, brighter day. Then they landed a great athlete in Wilson Chandler.
For the Knicks, that doesn't make them good and doesn't solve all their past mistakes, but it at least makes them a little better.
WINNER: Scores – If the Manhattan gentleman's club was struggling financially, the arrival of Gentleman Zach Randolph can only be hailed as the start of the salad days for working girls and owners alike.
WINNER: Wilson Chandler – OK, the kid entered the draft after two seasons at DePaul with everyone saying he'd be a second-round choice. He then proceeded to work out for no teams and attend no draft camps. "He worked out for no one," said his agent, Chris Grier Luchey. And then the Knicks take him at 23. That is a truly incredible route to the first round.
LOSER: Money picks – The Phoenix Suns are trying to get over the hump and win a NBA title with a brief window (Steve Nash is 33) and now a young big man (Amare Stoudemire) who was deep on the trading block. So they trade the 24th overall pick to Portland for cash. They couldn't get anything that could help? They couldn't pay a little luxury tax?
Meanwhile, the Golden State Warriors have to ship Jason Richardson – whose high-wire act was perfect for their system and thrilled crowds – to the Charlotte Bobcats for Brandan Wright, who is talented but has consistency and toughness issues. It was all for the money because the Warriors can't pay Baron Davis and J-Rich, but for fans that's a tough thing to deal with. Golden State was more exciting and better before the draft than after.
WINNER: Atlanta Hawks – The Hawks kept their two lottery picks and landed Al Horford, who should be great, and a much-needed point guard in Texas A&M's Acie Law, who is a cold-blooded scorer down the stretch. Two solid picks by the Hawks. Plus they even avoided picking Yi Jianlian even though a part of the team's ownership group has business interests in China, as was reported this week.
WINNER: Mike Conley Sr. – In his first year as a sports agent, the former Olympic triple jump champion and AAU coach had three players (Greg Oden, Mike Conley Jr. and Daequan Cook) taken in the top 21 picks. That's a monster haul for a rookie.
Late Thursday, a round table of Armani-clad slime-ball agents gathered to orchestrate his immediate whacking. Try the onion rings, best in the state.
LOSER: Milwaukee Bucks – There were plenty of questions about Yi Jianlian – like, how old is he? 28? – even before the Milwaukee Bucks took him. But Yi's handlers want no part of Wisconsin, preferring a big market with a huge Asian population for their guy. They wouldn't even work out for Milwaukee, a city with just 27,500 Asian-Americans according to the Associated Press.
Yi has no choice, so he'll probably play for the Bucks and learn to love beer, cheese and brats as much as the next guy. Heck, one tour of the Mars Cheese Castle ought to do it (get him the beer bottle-shaped salami or the "Cheddar Christmas Tree"). But taking a guy with so many question marks who may not want to be there to even some degree doesn't seem like such a smart policy.
WINNER: Chicago Bulls – Always one of the most effective franchises on draft night (they never miss), the Bulls landed Joakim Noah who, with his energy and athletic ability, was born to play for Scott Skiles. No, he certainly doesn't solve their low-post scoring issues, but he fits in and will help Chicago immediately by doing all of the little things you need to win games.
WINNER: Florida Gators – They had three picks in the fist nine (Al Horford, Corey Brewer and Noah) plus Chris Richard and Taurean Green, who went in Round 2. That's a great night for the Gators although Billy Donovan was suspiciously absent from the festivities. Either he had flight issues getting to New York or his NBA ban includes the green room. Or he just held a press conference claiming how happy he was to be here and then hurried back to Gainesville.
LOSER: Philadelphia 76ers – The Sixers had three first-round picks and wound up with Thaddeus Young, Jason Smith, Derrick Byars and some "cash considerations." Not terrible but not overwhelming considering the potential of the night.
WINNER: Sean Williams – The Boston College shot blocker was booted off the team in midseason for repeated drug test failures. But he still went No. 17 to the New Jersey Nets, and he should be a great pickup. The good news is the Nets shouldn't have to worry about Williams smoking any more pot because, as we all know, NBA players never do stuff like that. He'll be insulated from the weed culture of America. It's like an alcoholic joining the Mormons. Nothing bad can happen now.
WINNER: Agricultural Leadership – That's what Acie Law majored in at Texas A&M and far be it from us to make fun of the course work at the Harvard of the Brazos River Valley. After all, this Agricultural Leadership student just became a millionaire at the age of 22. But what the heck is "Agricultural Leadership" again? "It's a wide-open field," he said. And he didn't even intend the pun.
WINNER: The Three UMass Fans At The Draft – Here's the beauty of the NBA draft – other than Joakim Noah wearing a bow tie or the screaming at Stephen A. Smith or chanting outrageous things about Duke players.
Deep in the second round just as deputy commissioner Adam Silver announced to a mostly silent theater that with the 46th pick Golden State had selected Stephane Lasme out of UMass, a wild and loud cheer went out. In the stands were three guys wearing UMass basketball jerseys cheering, high-fiving and eventually hugging each other in a show of complete jubilation and support because their guy had been chosen.
This was their night. They wait nearly five hours to hear a mostly anonymous player on a mostly anonymous team go No. 46. Then they promptly left.
That, folks, is NBA draft magic right there.
- Greg Oden
- Zach Randolph