In terms of pure entertainment, the NBA draft never ever fails to deliver. From the suits, to the names, to the haircuts, to the bozo selections, to the impeccable ESPN commentating crew of Dan Patrick, Screamin' A. Smith, Jay Bilas and Greg Anthony, you just can't lose.
If they could figure out how to do this thing weekly, it would be bigger than "American Idol."
Where else do you get the Portland Trail Blazers selecting a 6-foot-11 English guy that no one has seen play, and Patrick, in lieu of real commentary, immediately deadpanning, "He was discovered bagging groceries?" Patrick then threw it to Fran Fraschilla, the "international guru" who made a "paper or plastic" crack. Just imagine the confusion that engulfed Zach Randolph when he heard a potential teammate might have a "bag" and "paper."
That, folks, is NBA draft magic.
The Trail Blazers were all over the first round. But what were the odds that despite selecting three players and making four trades they still didn't get the guy named Douby? That seemed like the biggest lock since Travis Outlaw was in the draft and, naturally, Portland snatched him up in the first round in 2003.
Of course, the Blazers did land someone nicknamed "Spanish Chocolate" (Sergio Rodriguez) whom Patrick, when mentioning the player's propensity for turnovers, declared "he keeps both teams in the game." And you wonder why David Stern stopped the proceedings at one point to ask whether ESPN would praise any of the picks.
Why should they? It's all part of the fun on one of the great nights in sports and entertainment.
So without further ado, here are the NBA draft's winners and losers.
WINNER: Portland Trail Blazers
I know the ESPN crew was claiming Portland didn't need to make all those trades to wind up with Texas center LaMarcus Aldridge, Washington guard Brandon Roy, Spanish Chocolate, the English Grocery Bagger and, in a trade with the Boston Celtics, Raef LaFrentz and Dan Dickau.
But who cares? In the end, the Blazers got an athletic big man (Aldridge) and the best player in the draft (Roy), rid themselves of Sebastian Telfair, who was a lottery mistake two years ago and hasn't done much but a half-decent documentary since, and added a couple white guys the season-ticket holders always like.
Not that Portland is going to begin contending in the Western Conference, but that is a better team post-draft than pre-draft. As a bonus, none of the players appear to have outstanding arrest warrants, recently starred in the California Penal League or went to Baylor under Dave Bliss. It's a start.
LOSER: Isiah Thomas
The NBA draft is Christmas in June for Detroit Lions president Matt Millen, the day that Isiah Thomas reaffirms to everyone that it is he, and not Millen, who is the worst executive in professional sports. Called a "bum" by one Knicks fan in the crowd, Train Wreck Thomas used the 20th pick on an undersized forward out of South Carolina who never averaged double-figure points or rebounds, exasperating even the mild-mannered Bilas and prompting him to rip Isiah to shreds.
In addition to his general manager duties, Thomas was named Knicks coach late last week and was immediately declared a lame duck by owner James Dolan, who has all the brains of a Manhattan manhole cover. Nothing ensures maximum effort like letting the players know that, if they lose, the coach that is screaming at them to pass the ball will be fired. Fortunately, with a roster that includes Stephon Marbury, Eddy Curry and Stevie Franchise Killer, effort is never a question with the Knicks.
Anyway, Isiah needs immediate help to save his career. So, naturally, he takes Renaldo Balkman, a prospect that no one thought was going to crack the top 40 picks. After Bilas ripped the move out of shock – "he's a second-rounder … no one would have made this pick" – he tried to recover by comparing Balkman to a potential Dennis Rodman. Yeah, well, the Potential Dennis Rodman averaged 4.6, 4.8 and 6.3 rebounds a game the last three years.
Unless Balkman has a lot of tattoos, a drinking problem and a habit to land ridiculously hot women, I can't see where Rodman fits in the discussion. On the bright side, Balkman was the MVP of the NIT. That says something, right?
WINNER: Connecticut Huskies
Marcus Williams, who once led the nation in steals, fell to the 20s as questions about his character and conditioning plagued him, but four Huskies – Rudy Gay (No. 8, traded to Memphis), Hilton Armstrong (No. 12, New Orleans), Williams (No. 22, New Jersey) and Josh Boone (No. 23, New Jersey) – went in the first round. They all have guaranteed contracts. Another Husky, Denham Brown, went to the Seattle SuperSonics in the second round.
George Mason had no one selected. So UConn has that going for it, which is nice. And, judging by some of these guys' effort during the year, they might actually think they got one over on the Patriots. Meanwhile, those Mason guys, now preparing for life in middle management, had to be sitting at home cursing their fate. "I crushed that guy in the Elite Eight and now I am in management training for Wal-Mart and he's about to hit the VIP room at Scores?"
LOSER: Boston Celtics
Randy Foye, a big, tough, mature and ready-to-help combo guard out of Villanova, was selected at No. 7 with Boston's original pick. Brandon Roy, a big, tough, mature and ready-to-help guard out of Washington and arguably the best player in the draft, was selected at No. 6, a selection that was later used in a trade for the No. 7, Boston's original pick.
If you can follow the above paragraph, the Celtics, who have a small window to win before Paul Pierce falls from his prime, could conceivably have had either Foye or Roy – two players that would have made an immediate impact. Instead, they traded the pick for a fading Theo Ratliff and Sebastian Telfair, an inconsistent, undersized point guard who in two years in Portland showed he still needs at least two years to become anything.
Does that make sense to you? Well, in the trade with the Blazers, the Celtics got rid of Raef LaFrentz's dog three-year contract. Of course, they picked up Ratliff's dog two-year contract. And yes, there is still the Allen Iverson trade possibility, but for the purpose of this column, we are talking about Wednesday night only.
So how about then trading a future No. 1 for a faded Brian Grant and the rights to Rajon Rondo, an inconsistent, undersized point guard who in two years at the University of Kentucky showed he still needs at least two years to become anything. In fact, Rondo isn't even Telfair. He has no outside shot, no basketball acumen and not much other than fantastic athletic ability.
On a positive note, Rondo did just oversee two of the worst seasons in UK history, so he has that working for him.
WINNER: New Jersey Nets
Marcus Williams may have stolen some laptops and showed up at some workouts a bit heavy, but the guy can really play the point. He was an assassin in so many games as the one Husky with true heart in crunch time. Everyone had him as the No. 1 point guard on the board and here he falls to the Nets, with an aging Jason Kidd. Whereas Rod Thorn is not Isiah Thomas, New Jersey jumped at the gift. It says here Williams is going to be a very good player for a very long time.
WINNER: Memphis Grizzlies
One of UConn coach Jim Calhoun's secrets for success is his ability to take once-aloof talents and teach them to develop a champion's heart. He got the most out of Donyell Marshall, Ray Allen, Caron Butler, Ben Gordon and others through the years.
For some reason – a failure that probably cost him a third national title – Calhoun could never get that switch to flip inside Rudy Gay during the forward's two years in Storrs. That said, while Gay may let the game come to him too often, he was still the most talented player in college basketball last season. At 6-foot-9 and amazingly smooth, his potential is extreme.
Maybe Gay just becomes a classic glider in the NBA. But maybe he is a megastar. The Grizzlies now have a big-time talent that can put them over the top. In a trade with the Houston Rockets, it cost them Shane Battier, a solid player but not one that was going to elevate the franchise's fortunes. That's a worthy roll of the dice.
WINNER: Spanish Chocolate
Not the chocolate companies of Spain, which received a lot of free marketing due to the colorful nickname of guard Sergio Rodriguez. No, I mean Sergio Rodriguez, the man.
He was picked by the Phoenix Suns at No. 27, then traded to Portland for cash and cash only. The deal offers Rodriguez a unique perspective on life. It is rare – unless, of course, you are a Southeastern Conference recruit – that you are bartered exclusively for monetary considerations, which is why man, through the ages, has long struggled with defining his actual quantifiable worth. Sergio, of all people, now knows.
Hegel would be jealous.
LOSER: Seattle SuperSonics
The Sonics are fighting fan disinterest while trying to get Washington tax payers to pony up for a new stadium. So what do they do to drum up interest on draft night with the 10th overall selection? Maybe work a trade to get hometown hero Brandon Roy? Or local favorite Adam Morrison?
No. How about pick up Senegal's Saer Sene, who they will keep overseas to save money. I can't imagine why that franchise is in trouble.
WINNER: Dan Patrick
So the dye job is unnerving, but he is exceptional hosting this thing. He is appropriately light, doesn't act like this is too important and, unlike Chris "You're with me, Leather" Berman, doesn't tip off the pick 10 seconds before it is announced with some horrible pun or play on words.
He even knew how to use Stephen A.'s well-needed emotion properly while balancing in the more straight-forward Bilas and Greg Anthony. The NBA always has better halftime and postgame shows than other sports (it's a shame TNT can't loan out Charles Barkley) because the league doesn't act like this is the War on Terror. I can't wait until next year.
WINNER: J.J. Redick
We had serious questions about his game. He may be the ACC's all-time leading scorer with an undeniable shooting touch, but he can't create his own shot, drive the lane or play defense. He looked like the Trajan Langdon or Mateen Cleaves of this draft – a rotation guy at best.
But the Orlando Magic gets him and suddenly he is with a team that has a drive-and-pass point guard in Jameer Nelson and a double-team-drawing big man in Dwight Howard, who is also a menacing shot blocker who can clean up those defensive embarrassments. Redick might get some open looks. He couldn't have dreamed it up much better.
LOSER: Dick Vitale
We are still a fan of Vitale, but after his gush fest with Redick (even joking J.J. owes him tickets for all the positive pub), he can no longer wonder why they call him Duke Vitale. Yeah, he's positive about all college guys (unless they leave early) and is generally a great thing for college basketball, but sometimes enough is enough.
The Bulls basically decided that Thomas and LaMarcus Aldridge were equals and then smartly got Portland to give them a decent bench guy (Khryapa) to make the decision for them. That's good draft management. In reality, Thomas has better potential because he is such a breath-taking athlete who has received minimal coaching.
The interesting thing about Sefolosha is that he is known by some as the best defensive player in Europe, which is like being declared the thick side of Adam Morrison's mustache.
But, then again, that's life at the NBA draft.
- Isiah Thomas
- Jay Bilas