Draft-day buzz: Ibaka letter, Hibbert to Charlotte

The Vertical
Yahoo! Sports

NEW YORK – An interesting email was dispatched to front offices late Wednesday night, a plea from the agent of Serge Ibaka, the intriguing 18 year-old prospect out of the Congo.

The instructions were clear: Pass on Ibaka in the first-round and take him in the second.

Justin Zanik wrote to league executives that Ibaka, a 6-foot-10, 220-pound forward, had been offered two rich four-year contracts in the Spanish ACB League, and would sign one of them with a buyout that wouldn’t allow him to join the NBA until the 2010-2011 season. Even then, Ibaka would have a large buyout that needed to be paid before he could come back here.

“The NBA buyout would make for a great burden for him to make the transition to the NBA if he’s locked into the first-round salary scale,” the email read.

Zanik implored teams to take him in the second round, where teams have leeway to pay players more money after their rookie seasons. One GM wondered if this was a way to get most teams to back off, only to cut a pre-draft deal with a team that wants him late in the first round. Portland and Boston – picking 27th and 30th – are two teams motivated to ship a young big man overseas.

After securing the 20th pick in a trade with Denver, the Charlotte Bobcats are determined to draft Georgetown center Roy Hibbert, multiple league sources said. Agent David Falk had long insisted that Hibbert was a lottery pick, but everyone knew he lost that chance by staying in school for his senior year.

It appears that Falk’s most famous client, Charlotte part-owner Michael Jordan, has bailed him out on the 7-foot-2 center. Until this development, Hibbert appeared ticketed to drop deeper into the 20’s, perhaps to Utah (23), Houston (25) or San Antonio (26).

The Bobcats are considering Texas point guard D.J. Augustin with the ninth pick, because new coach Larry Brown already has his doubts about life with another old Tar Heel guard, Raymond Felton. Even so, holding two picks in the top 20 could give the Bobcats the ability to thrust themselves high into the lottery. The Bobcats have targeted Memphis’ pick at No. 5, one league executive said.

The Milwaukee Bucks plan to pick West Virginia forward Joe Alexander with the No. 8 choice, team officials have shared with confidants.

Unlike Yi Jianlian a year ago, the Bucks will have an eager and willing prospect with the draft’s fastest rising star. He loves the idea of the blue-collar city, and felt like he bonded with coach Scott Skiles in his second visit to Milwaukee on Monday.

“I’d love to play for him,” Alexander said.

His agent, Doug Neustadt, would be wasting no time in trying to turn that connection with Jianlian into marketing gold back in China. Alexander spent several years living in Beijing as a teenager, where his father, Steve, is a CEO.

After selling the 27th pick to the Portland Trail Blazers for $3 million, Hornets GM Jeff Bower ultimately decided that his resources were best spent on retaining his own players and dipping into the free agent market this summer.

Bower and his assistant GM, Brian Hagen, have one of the smallest scouting staffs in the league, but have been creative and sensible in developing a model small-market franchise contender. After winning 57 games and advancing to a seven-game Western Conference semifinal series with San Antonio, the Hornets are sitting out draft night.

Coach Byron Scott was just awarded a two-year, $10.2 million extension, and the Hornets superstar, Chris Paul, sources say, is expected to seek a three-year maximum contract on July 1. Bower will offer Paul a five-year max-out offer, but sources close to Paul expect him to be more inclined to follow LeBron James and Dwyane Wade and take the shorter deal.

What’s more, New Orleans has place a priority on re-signing reserve guard Jannero Pargo, who is a restricted free agent. The Hornets just lost top assistant Darrell Walker to Michael Curry’s staff in Detroit, and here’s a sleeper candidate to replace him on Scott’s staff: Jeff Ruland, who led Iona to three NCAA tournaments and coached the past season in Albuquerque of the NBA D-League.

The Spurs, who chose 26th, were working hard on Wednesday to move up in the 20s, opposing GM’s said. Spurs executives talked with Seattle (24), Orlando (22) and New Jersey (21), but couldn’t pry those picks.

Here’s something a source uncovered, and a Kings official confirmed: Before Atlanta Hawks co-owner Michael Gearon was rejected by Cleveland’s Chris Grant and he eventually hired Rick Sund, he made a call to Sacramento Kings GM Geoff Petrie and offered him the chance to run his basketball operations.

Petrie declined, and the Maloof family soon extended his Kings contract.

In an impressive level of agent dominance, Arn Tellem is representing seven of the 15 players invited to sit in the green room at the Garden tonight. He has Derrick Rose, Brook and Robin Lopez, Anthony Randolph, Augustin and Russell Westbrook.

For those NBA fans of insightful writing and reporting, you long ago likely discovered Cleveland Cavaliers beat writer Brian Windhorst of the Akron-Beacon Journal. Well, he’s fallen seriously ill in Ohio and can use all of our prayers and thoughts. He’s covered LeBron James since high school and even King James will tell you that nothing could be the same for him until Brian’s back on press row.

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