Thumbs Up To The NBA Draft
Yesterday afternoon, I skipped all of the chatter surrounding the NBA draft and went to the movies. I saw that horror film, "1408." I hadn't heard about it before I showed up at the theater but it was only matinee showing at the time I arrived, so I decided to check it out. I wouldn't recommend it for anyone unless you want to torture yourself for two hours. I kept watching ghosts jumping out of windows and part of me wanted to join them. I should've used my Sam Jackson theory: With the exception of "Pulp Fiction," any film in which Jackson stars and wears a wig or a hair piece is generally bad.
Anyway, I left the theater and rushed back to my hotel to get ready for the big show at the Theater at Madison Square Garden. That was some night. It was by far the most exciting draft I've ever covered, given the big name players who got moved and the superstar talents who went first and second. Since I've turned film critic over here, I figured I'd assess the NBA draft like Ebert & Roeper, offering up my initial reaction on a few teams who made big splashes last night.
Portland, Thumbs up: The Trail Blazers were helped immensely by the ping-pong balls, but they didn't just settle for grabbing Greg Oden with the No. 1 pick. Oden was the clear-cut choice for general manager Kevin Pritchard. You take the potentially dominant, franchise-chasing center 100 times out of 100. Oden immediately gives the Blazers a tremendous, defensive building block, a solid rebounder and a new (old) chiseled, bearded face for the franchise.
But like I said, Portland didn't rest with Oden. They got him help and got rid of a potential problem in Zach Randolph, one of the last links to the Jail Blazers era with his incessant off-court issues. The Blazers added a high character guy like Channing Frye, Oden's good buddy from Indiana, Josh McRoberts, and the extremely underrated Taurean Green - the forgotten member of Florida's back-to-back national championship teams. They also snuck in some deals for James Jones and two late first-round draft picks.
I remember watching Pritchard playing college ball at Kansas and it is really crazy for me to see him in this role now, but he is doing a great job thus far. Last year, he made shrewd deals to land the rookie of the year in Brandon Roy and forward LaMarcus Aldridge. If he can figure out a way to get rid of Darius Miles, Paul Allen needs to ante up and give this guy a serious raise.
Seattle/Prince George's County, Thumbs up: The Sonics' choice was actually chosen for them. They basically got the second No. 1 pick in this draft in Kevin Durant. I kept reminding myself last night - this kid won't be 19 until late September. Forget trying to find comparisons for this guy. He's only been playing ball for 10 years and he is going to be phenomenal. He truly wants to be great and that's what separates him from most.
Like Portland, they didn't just settle for taking Durant. New general manager Sam Presti - the 30-year-old boy wonder that Durant joked looked like he could've been taking classes with him at Texas last year - brought in the best complementary piece he could find in Jeff Green. He gave up Ray Allen, but the franchise is starting over - and could be on the move after next season. In the interim, can we call them the Maryland Sonics? Durant, Green and Delonte West all hail from PG County, and I know Chris Wilcox is originally from North Carolina, but he spent enough time in College Park to get added to the mix.
Boston, Thumbs down: I seem to say this after nearly every one of Danny Ainge's moves: This is strange, Ainge. I know he was under pressure to get some veteran help to appease Paul Pierce, but trading for Allen looked like a complete panic move for the franchise. Allen is great guy, a sharpshooter and a leader who should be a positive role model for the young'uns in Celtics green.
But he'll be 32 next season. That might not sound too bad, but history has generally been pretty hard on shooting guards when they cross age 30. You can go down the list over the past decade - Allan Houston, Michael Finley, Jalen Rose, Eddie Jones and Penny Hardaway - and the decline is swift and steep. Reggie Miller is probably the only player to maintain playing at a relatively high level - and even then, he was never more than the second option in Indiana - and the Celtics had better hope Allen, a similar long-distance shooter, follows suit.
But while it might yield short-term results, just remember, the Sonics had losing records in three of the past four seasons with an offense centered on Allen and Rashard Lewis. What does an Allen-Pierce combination really do in the East? I hope I'm wrong but this looks like a reach.
Charlotte, Thumbs up: I am not among those who believe that Michael Jordan made a huge blunder in trading Brandan Wright (the eighth overall pick) for Jason Richardson. This is one of the first moves Jordan has made as a basketball executive that I can look at and agree with. I actually like the deal for both teams - especially Charlotte.
Injuries limited Richardson to just 16.1 points last season, but he averaged at least 20 points a game the two previous seasons. Charlotte needed a shooting guard - how long can you have a backcourt with little guys/duplicate players Ray Felton and Brevin Knight? - and wasn't going to get one through free agency. Richardson was the best they could get and he isn't half bad. Not to mention, there is a natural funny story bound to come out of Richardson and Gilbert Arenas playing four times a year.
The Bobcats didn't need to sit around and wait for Wright to develop when it already has several big bodies and Charlotte is already tuning out the team after just three seasons. Richardson, a former two-time slam dunk champion, gives them an exciting player who is just 26. He could be an all-star in the East. And Wright probably wrote his ticket out of town when he was asked if his 44-year-old boss could still take him one-on-one and said, "I don't think Jordan wants any right now."
New York, Thumbs down: Did I miss something? I was baffled by Knicks fans' overwhelming show of approval for the Randolph trade. My man Spike Lee shot up like they had just acquired a young Patrick Ewing. Maybe they were just happy to see Steve Francis gone. But have they ever watched Randolph? Don't get me wrong, Randolph gets his numbers. I think he is a load in the low block and his shot is so fluid that it looks like he's never going to miss. But he doesn't play defense and I cram to understand how he will coexist with Eddy Curry (I also think the Knicks were better when David Lee started at power forward).
The Knicks force-fed Curry all last season and at times, I thought it worked as a detriment to the offense. Curry has a tendency of inhaling the ball and never letting it back out, leaving his teammates as spectators. Do you know how many assists Curry averaged last season in his breakout season? Less than one. That means he and Randolph combine to average three assists a game. I'm trying to understand how the ball is going to move on that team. The problem used to be a glut of shot-first point guards, now the Knicks will start a team with ball hogs at every position.
I can see Knicks fans getting excited about ridding themselves of Steve Francis and his contract, but Randolph is a bit risky and carries a stiffer price tag long term. And, just when it looked like the Knicks were close to finally getting over their salary cap woes in 2009, they add another $61 million over the next four years with Randolph's contract. Oh well, that's the Knicks.
Wizards, thumbs up: When it looked like Al Thornton or Nick Young were about to slide down to the Wizards, I kept saying, "They are about to get really lucky." I think Young is going to work out pretty well. The only way the night would've been better was if Thornton had landed in their laps. Thornton, I think, is going to be really good. Now that Thornton is in Los Angeles, maybe the Clippers can finally move Corey Maggette for a point guard (Wizards, are you listening? How about using Antonio Daniels in a package to get Maggette?).
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