The National Football League and Major League Baseball draft are based on potential and finding missing pieces. The NBA draft is about saving helpless franchises, like Tim Duncan did for the San Antonio Spurs or Allen Iverson for the Philadelphia 76ers. It’s about taking an empty, quiet arena and filling it with 20,000 flag waving, jersey-wearing fans that have each paid a hefty sum just to have a seat and a hot dog.
So when the NBA nation gathers in Madison Square Garden on June 28, Greg Oden will not be drafted to be a part of the Portland Trailblazers, he is being drafted to be the Trailblazer. In one moment, Kevin Durant will go from college phenom to the man charged with not only making the Seattle SuperSonics good again, but more important, helping to keep the team in Seattle.
In a draft loaded with talented and proven players who have college experience, many NBA teams are exploring the possibility of climbing higher up the draft to grab a “can’t miss” prospect. From the moment the lottery balls gave Portland and Seattle the No. 1 and 2 picks, this draft has been the source of much scrutiny and controversy.
Pre-draft workouts are just beginning and the players won’t walk across the stage for a few more weeks, but several of the issues surrounding this year’s draft are just warming up.
L.A. LAKERS GONE WILD
Since being shown the exit door in the first round of the playoffs, the Lakers have stayed on the front page of newspapers and Web sites, but for all the wrong reasons. They overshadowed the conference championship series and suddenly find themselves at a crossroads.
To recap this tumultuous summer in Tinsel Town, let’s go back to the moment the Lakers walked off the floor after their final defeat to the Phoenix Suns, when an angry Kobe Bryant demanded changes. He then followed up that demand by extending an open invitation for Jerry West to rejoin the club after he retires from the Memphis Grizzlies to serve as a consultant to current general manager Mitch Kupchak.
Mind you, this is sort of like asking your ex to help you and you current partner with your relationship. After verbal sparring over whose responsibility the team’s current predicament is, Bryant unleashed a searing analysis of Lakers owner Jerry Buss’s role in exiling Shaquille O’Neal.
The most crushing blow came on May 30 when No. 24, a.k.a. the face of the Lakers franchise, demanded a trade on a national radio show. Then, hours later, declared he is a “Laker for life.”
Add in a DUI for Buss, and you have the worst possible scenario for a franchise to be in as it approaches this important time of year. They lack clear direction and leadership, are publicly feuding and dealing with a disgruntled, confused and selfish superstar.
What should the Lakers do? Trading Kobe Bryant is not the answer, unless a total rebuilding project is what the Lakers have in mind. In that case, you can kiss Coach Phil Jackson goodbye, too.
Kobe’s complaint is that management hasn’t done enough to win, and he isn’t content to sit and wait for young players like Andrew Bynum to develop. Therefore, Lakers brass must decide whether to aggressively go after a top five draft pick or high profile sidekicks like Kevin Garnett or Jermaine O’Neal by trading players from their current roster and future first round picks.
If they want to keep Kobe, as well as their fans, they would be wise to make a big deal that allows them to not just make the playoffs (barely), but actually contend for the title. The Lakers charge a small fortune just to buy a ticket to a game, and courtside seats are populated by the rich and famous. I don’t see Jack Nicholson or Denzel Washington bothering to come to watch the Kobe-less Lakers get trounced every night.
L. A. CLIPPERS ON SHAKY GROUND
With Western Conference teams Portland, Seattle, Minnesota and Sacramento all slated to pick before them, the L.A. Clippers need to draft well. After finishing 40-42 and missing the playoffs, the Clippers are clearly in need of retooling.
What they have lacked most is offense and specifically, variety in the offense. Elton Brand posting up in the lane can only be relied upon so much. Shaun Livingston, an offensive spark, will need a lot of time to recover from his catastrophic knee injury and shouldn’t be viewed as a reliable contributor anytime soon.
What should the Clippers do? They should draft a versatile guard who can create his own shot or a center who can offer additional post offense and an imposing defensive presence. Sam Cassell isn’t getting any younger, so drafting point guard Mike Conley or shooting guard Corey Brewer would add youth and energy to the Clipper offense.
LOUSY LUCK ENHANCES WESTERN CONFERENCE
Little white lottery balls are the target of another NBA controversy. Why? Because they produced the most unlikely result in the NBA lottery which sets the drafting order.
Boston was already dreaming of Greg Oden throwing out the first pitch at a Red Sox game as the Celtics No. 1 pick. However, Portland and Seattle, teams that did not have the worst records ended up with the league’s best picks. This outcome was shocking because of the statistical improbability and geographical significance.
It means that the Western Conference, which is clearly stronger and where a No. 8 seed beat the No. 1 seed in the fist round, is going to add two of the most talented college players of the last decade. Furthermore, it leaves Eastern Conference teams like Boston, Atlanta and Milwaukee without the draft position they need to drastically improve their franchises.
Now the question remains whether the lottery system is really the best way to determine the draft order for the top 14 picks. At the present time, it may be fun and lucky to conduct the lottery this way, but this could impact the balance of power in the league for the next five to 10 years.
SOCAL’S EARLY ENTRIES
What does the NBA future hold for these standout SoCal stars?
Shooting Guard, UCLA
Afflalo hurt his draft prospects with a solid but not spectacular showing in the NCAA Tournament. He is a scorer but will have to become a much better defender.
Prediction: The depth of talent in the draft will make him a mid second round choice.
Point Guard, USC
Pruitt has declared for the draft but as of press time had not hired an agent, meaning he can opt to return to school by the June 18 deadline. He helped USC to a 25-12 record and led the team with 47 steals.
Prediction: Quality point guard play is a “must-have” in the NBA, so raw talent like Pruitt is certain to be snatched up in the late first or early second round.
Shooting Guard, USC
Young is a gifted and athletic swingman capable of creating his own shot and a good enough shooter to knock down fadeaway jumpers on a consistent basis. He is pesky on defense and brings a palpable energy to the game.
Prediction: Young will be picked in the mid to late first round by a quality team looking to add a burst of speed off the bench, similar to the way Leandro Barbosa does for the Phoenix Suns.
2007 NBA TOP 10 DRAFT PICKS
(assuming a Kobe Bryant trade doesn’t totally change everything)
1) Portland – Greg Oden, Center
2) Seattle – Kevin Durant, Small Forward
3) Atlanta – Al Horford, Power Forward
4) Memphis – Brandan Wright, Power Forward
5) Boston – Yi Jianlian, Center
6) Milwaukee – Joakim Noah, Power Forward
7) Minnesota – Corey Brewer, Shooting Guard
8) Charlotte – Nick Young, Shooting Guard
9) L.A. Lakers (traded from Chicago) – Al Thornton, Small Forward
10) Portland (traded from Sacramento) – Mike Conley Jr., Point Guard