NEW YORK – Suddenly, there promises to be a drama unfolding in the NBA draft that hasn’t been witnessed for years: True intrigue near the top, where perhaps the best pure talent in the class – Kansas State’s Michael Beasley – could go to the highest bidder.
Maybe Pat Riley keeps him. Maybe he drafts him No. 2 and trades him. Maybe he lets him pass his grasp and takes O.J. Mayo out of USC. Whatever happens, the Heat president is dictating the terms of engagement on Thursday.
There are still so many teams trying to move up in the draft, trying to score with a deep pool of talent. Perhaps, there hasn’t been a draft as unsettled as this within hours of the clock starting to tick on the Chicago Bulls, who will assuredly choose Memphis guard Derrick Rose with the No 1 pick.
From then on, only one thing seems certain: All hell is going to break loose.
Here is the latest look at where things stand in the draft lottery.
1. CHICAGO BULLS
All signs with the Bulls suggested that they’ve been unimpressed with Michael Beasley’s disposition and maturity, and they’ll select Memphis point guard Derrick Rose with the No. 1 pick.
No one thinks Beasley is a bad kid, just too goofy. On pure talent, he’s probably without peer in this class. Still, GM John Paxson doesn’t have the luxury of too much risk-taking given the recent slippage of his franchise. Rose will just feel like a surer bet to bring leadership and purpose to a team desperately needing it.
Pick: Derrick Rose, Memphis
2. MIAMI HEAT
Pat Riley is believed to be unsure about Beasley. Character issues have him unsettled. He’s been working the phones hard, trying to find a way to secure O.J. Mayo and a good, veteran player to come with him. Nevertheless, he understands Beasley’s talent is an immense bargaining chip. The best-case scenario for Miami finds O.J. Mayo dropping to Memphis at No. 5, and the Heat and Grizzlies orchestrating a trade. Beasley and Mark Blount for Mayo and Mike Miller.
Only problem is that Mayo probably won’t drop to five.
With Shawn Marion refusing to opt out of his contract, Riley must now decide whether to follow through on his private threat to trade him. Philadelphia GM Ed Stefanski has been hot on Marion’s trail since the pre-Shaq trade in Phoenix, and could be a factor here. Yet, Philly probably doesn’t have the parts to make a deal. Nevertheless, the Clippers (Elton Brand) and Jazz (Carlos Boozer) do.
Pick: Michael Beasley, Kansas State
Two months ago, the Wolves’ assistant GM, Fred Hoiberg, who’s being groomed to take over basketball operations, suggested to intimates that he was partial to Stanford’s Brook Lopez as a bookend to rising star Al Jefferson. Yet, it is believed that Tim Floyd, old coach at Iowa State and the Chicago Bulls, sold him on O.J. Mayo. Floyd isn’t known to criticize his players to NBA front-office truth-seekers, but if there was ever a source he’d tell the complete story, it’s his guy, Hoiberg.
Kevin McHale, the Wolves president, was believed to be partial to UCLA’s Kevin Love, but some league executives believe he’s been swayed to Mayo.
Pick: O.J. Mayo, USC
Sonics GM Sam Presti and his staff are still believed to be haggling over these two difficult questions: Do we go big or small? Do we stay at No. 4 or trade down?
If they go small, there’s a good chance they’ll take UCLA’s Russell Westbrook. They’d prefer to trade down and still get him, but there’s no guarantee Westbrook will drop much.
Milwaukee has been trying to trade into this spot, but hasn’t made the proper offer. If Seattle moves down to Milwaukee’s spot at No. 8, several executives believe the Sonics are willing to take whichever guard drops to him: Westbrook, Eric Gordon or Jerryd Bayless.
If the Sonics go big, Brook Lopez figures to be the pick.
Pick : Russell Westbrook, UCLA
The Grizzlies appear to be in terrific flux, balancing designs and offers on moving up and down in the draft. They seem determined to dump Miller’s contract and would leap at the chance to cut that draft-day deal with the Heat should Mayo drop to them at No. 5. Will owner Michael Heisley let his GM, Chris Wallace, be the strongest voice on the pick? Or will that be player personnel director Tony Barone?
Love had been the choice here, but more than one league executive believes that Indiana’s Eric Gordon has risen in contention. Odds are, the Grizzlies will be drafting No. 5 for someone else, and cut a deal to move up or down on Thursday.
Pick: Kevin Love, UCLA
Donnie Walsh and Mike D’Antoni are desperate to reshuffle the roster, and appear destined for a draft-night trade. The Knicks have a roster that this new regime is desperate to turn over, and this makes them far less likely to draft on the need of a competent point guard and take the best available player.
Walsh has told people he’s fascinated with West Virginia forward Joe Alexander. He’s a legitimate candidate here. So is Italian forward Danilo Gallinari. Here’s betting they’ll go with the explosive young guard, Bayless, who’ll be the point that D’Antoni gives the ball.
Pick: Jerryd Bayless, Arizona
The Clips have been targeting an explosive guard from the start, and short of finding a way to move up and grab O.J. Mayo, they appear settled on Gordon or Bayless. Gordon could be the most talented guard in this draft, but there are still doubts where he fits in the pros at 6-foot-2. Nevertheless, Gordon’s a peerless long-range shooter and should be able to make the transition into a combo guard in the league.
The Clippers, league sources say, are bracing for Corey Maggette to opt out of his contract, and agent David Falk has been gauging interest with teams on Elton Brand, who has to decide whether to opt out of the $16.4 million owed him in the final year of his contract. Brand has loyalties to staying in L.A., but he needs to see this franchise is serious about winning.
Pick: Eric Gordon, Indiana
GM John Hammond and coach Scott Skiles are determined to infuse some toughness and tenacity in these Bucks and that makes Alexander a natural here. What’s more, Alexander, raised in Beijing, speaks Mandarin and could be a cultural and basketball complement to Yi Jianlian.
Still, one Eastern Conference executive says that Bucks owner, Herb Kohl, has been an advocate of LSU freshman Anthony Randolph. He’s a long, spidery 6-foot-10, short on polish and long on potential. “Outside of Rose and Beasley,” one Western Conference executive said, “I think he has the highest ceiling in the draft.”
Odds are the choice will be Alexander, but if the Bucks pass on him here, he’ll privately be hoping that he drops down to Portland at No. 13.
Pick: Joe Alexander, West Virginia
Larry Brown hadn’t been on the job five minutes, and he’s already complaining about something. This time, it’s the fact that too many agents didn’t want their players working out for his team. Tough luck.
They could get lucky and find Lopez or Love dropping down to them, and they’d readily gobble up one of those forwards. Here’s betting it’s Lopez, whom some executive surmise may eventually be surpassed by his twin brother, Robin.
Pick: Brook Lopez, Stanford
10. NEW JERSEY NETS
The Nets had targeted Westbrook, but are enthralled with Gallinari and will almost assuredly take him over Alexander, who also is a favorite of some in the front office. They’re still intrigued with the possibility of Brook Lopez here, too. Nevertheless, the Nets own the 10th and 21st picks and are eager to make some deals here, especially if that includes moving Richard Jefferson.
They’ve talked with Portland about sending the bad contract of Trenton Hassell and the 10th pick for the 13th pick and point guard Jarrett Jack. Portland believes it has better options to move its 13th pick, but Trail Blazers GM Kevin Pritchard could change his mind should he think he can get Alexander at No. 10.
The Nets are taking another look at Rider’s Jason Thompson, a fast riser on draft boards, in a workout on Wednesday. Nets president Rod Thorn has also been intrigued with Ohio State’s Kosta Koufus, sources say, but knows No. 10 is probably too high to take the 7-footer. Should the Nets move down to 13, Robin Lopez or Koufus could be the choice there.
At No. 21, the Nets could break San Antonio and New Orleans’ hearts and take Cal shooter Ryan Anderson or opt for J.J. Hickson.
The Nets are also eyeing enigmatic Memphis center Joey Dorsey at No. 40 of the second round to bring some inside muscle.
Pick: Danilo Gallinari
11. INDIANA PACERS
Indiana has long had its heart set on Westbrook, but it seems unlikely he’ll drop to the Pacers here. It appears they’ll have to draft Texas’ D.J. Augustin by default, but he’s the kind of tough leader that they’ll welcome running the team. Larry Bird has put a premium within his organization on drafting character in this class, and Augustin comes with no baggage, no issues.
As much as they need a point guard, the Pacers also are thinking hard about the wild upside of LSU’s Randolph. They fear he might be too talented to pass up, but they probably won’t take a player that’s two or three years away from helping them.
Pick: D.J. Augustin, Texas
12. SACRAMENTO KINGS
Geoff Petrie is waiting to see what intriguing prospect drops to him, and one surely will. It could be LSU’s Randolph, or perhaps even Alexander. Nevertheless, the Kings have shown an intense late interest in Rider’s Thompson, who would complete an improbable rise if he goes in the late lottery. League executives love the seriousness of purpose with Thompson, a 6-11 forward with terrific offensive skill.
Thompson is a bit of a dark horse, but Randolph probably becomes the pick and someday could be considered the steal of the draft.
Pick: Anthony Randolph, LSU
With Paul Allen coughing up what Yahoo! Sports learned was $3 million to buy New Orleans’ pick at No. 27 on Tuesday night, it appears GM Kevin Pritchard is leaning toward trading the No. 13 pick as part of a bigger package. It makes little sense for the Blazers to have two first-round picks in this draft, when they already have 14 players under contract for next season. Already, they’re one of the youngest teams in NBA history.
The Blazers will likely use the 27th pick for an international center that they won’t need to sign for a couple years, such as Ante Tomic, whom a source said is close to signing a contract in Israel or 20-year-old French 7-footer Alexis Ajinca.
If the Blazers do stay at 13, they’ll hope that Alexander drops to them. That said, it seems doubtful they’ll use this pick.
Pick: Likely traded
GM Chris Mullin and coach Don Nelson have become smitten with Thompson, and this is perhaps the most realistic lottery spot for the Rider star to be selected. His highly skilled offensive game fits perfectly with the Warriors.
Nevertheless, the Warriors understand that Ohio State freshman center, Kosta Koufus, who has showed such deft offensive ability in workouts, could’ve been a top-five pick in the 2009 Draft had he stayed for his sophomore year. Koufus is a 7-footer with terrific footwork and legitimate three-point range. He’s the perfect big man for small ball.
Pick: Kosta Koufus, Ohio State