Oden proceeds to that little desk where Stuart Scott is going to interview the draftees who are present. Scott notes that he saw Oden worrying his hands before the pick and wonders why, since everybody knew Oden was going No. 1, the kid was so nervous.
“I wasn’t,” Oden says. “I was putting on hand sanitizer. I didn’t want to get Mr. Stern sick. You know, I’m here with a little cold.”
The cold has a publicist and an agent and is negotiating to be on that new ABC comedy about the car-insurance cavemen. Things are rocking now but in a few years it’ll be happy to get a spot on “Surreal Life: Minor Afflictions” with Winona Ryder’s broken arm and George Brett’s hemorrhoids.
Kevin Pritchard, Portland’s general manager, says the process of choosing Oden over Durant was “very difficult.” Kevin, get back in the war room. You have like 30 trades to make before the night’s over. The Blazers kept things hopping on draft night last year by trading every known particle of matter in the universe for every other known particle, plus a second-round pick in 2010, but things seem to be a little more sedate this time around.
Wait, here we go. Seattle sends Ray Allen to Boston for the No. 5 pick plus Delonte West and Wally Szczerbiak. Later it’ll come out that the Sonics are also sending the 35th pick, a second-rounder, to Boston. That pick will end up being Glen “Big Baby” Davis of LSU, just on the off chance you were able to follow all that.
What on earth are the Celtics doing?
We will now traverse the Marianas Trench, the gap between Oden-Durant and everyone else in this draft.
3. Atlanta Hawks: Al Horford, F, Florida
Whoa, Joakim Noah, with his hair down and a ’70s tux on, looks like he’s going to his prom. No, wait, he looks like he’s going to my prom. No, wait, Jay Bilas is going to make that same joke in about two hours, so I’m going to have to take it out. Ah, screw it.
Atlanta needs a point guard and Mike Conley Jr. is going to be a good one. I think the Hawks are making a mistake here, but you know, that’s what makes them the Hawks.
The Hawks also have ugly new uniforms, by the way, replacing their perfectly nice bright red and gold rompers with dull navy and red — what do sports teams have against bright colors anymore? — and switching to a corporate-looking typeface and a new logo that looks like the Arizona Cardinals cardinal. Good team to emulate, Hawks. I’m sure it will strike fear in your opponents when they see that hawk. Which looks like a cardinal.
4. Memphis Grizzlies: Mike Conley Jr., Ohio State
One last smart pick by Jerry West, whose moves in Memphis didn’t all turn out well, but who has a pretty good track record all the same.
5. Boston Celtics: Jeff Green, F, Georgetown
This is one of the dumbest things about the NBA draft. Trades have to be made by 2 p.m. on draft day or the pick won’t move to the new team. So every year, you have scenes like this: Green gets picked by the Boston Celtics, he goes up onstage and puts on a Boston Celtics hat and smiles, and he already belongs to the Seattle Sonics.
Why would the Celtics rather have Ray Allen than Jeff Green? Or Brandan Wright or Yi Jianlian? Just someone with new tires. Allen’s a nice offense-only player heading into his twilight years on two surgically repaired ankles. Boston’s not going to build around him. He’s not going to develop into anything. You have to win a little before you go into win-now mode.
Trading the fifth pick for Allen might make sense if the Celtics were a big-time scorer away from contending for a title. What they were was a big-time scorer away from being a lousy team with two big-time scorers instead of just one, Paul Pierce. Throwing in Delonte West, a useful guard who’s eight years younger than Allen, and tossing in the 35th pick, a detail announced later, just seems nuts. The Celtics did rid themselves of Szczerbiak, though.
Green’s onstage, wearing a Celtics cap, talking to Scott about what it’s going to be like playing for the Sonics. So dumb.
6. Milwaukee Bucks: Yi Jianlian, F, China
Yi’s a 7-footer, but he’s listed as a forward. He’s slim and agile. The highlights ESPN shows are the first time I’ve ever seen him play, and he looks like he can move. He’ll have to get bigger and stronger, but he’s only 19, and it’s already clear he’s not a stiff. So is he going to be a twin tower with Andrew Bogut? Chinese officials don’t want Yi to play in Milwaukee, so perhaps a trade is in the offing. The kid speaks English.
7. Minnesota Timberwolves: Corey Brewer, F, Florida
Stephen A. Smith, two things: Stop yelling, and stop saying “At the end of the day.” I know there’s no hope of this, but please.
What’s really annoying to me is I agree with Smith a fair amount. I also think he’s a pretty good columnist. I just wish he’d quit yelling at me.
8. Charlotte Bobcats: Brandan Wright, F, North Carolina
Michael Jordan wants to trade this pick for a veteran player. He fails, at least for now. Brandan Wright. Another Carolina pick. I like this pick. Charlotte has a habit of choosing college all-stars, but this guy, leaving after his freshman year, looks like an NBA guy.
A few hours later news will come down the line that the Bobcats have traded Wright to the Golden State Warriors for Jason Richardson. Stephen A. Smith, shouting, calls it a “stupid” move by Jordan. He’s right.
9. Chicago Bulls (from New York): Joakim Noah, F, Florida
Remember the Eddy Curry trade? It’s continuing to haunt the Knicks, whose pick this is. They got Curry and Antonio Davis and gave up Tim Thomas, Michael Sweetney and Jermaine Jackson, none of which is a big deal, especially considering Jermaine didn’t have nearly the moves of Michael or even Tito.
But the Knicks also gave away a first-round pick last year, which became Tyrus Thomas at No. 4, and they swapped first-round picks with the Bulls this year, which means the Knicks pick 23rd, not ninth, which means they’ll end up with Wilson Chandler of DePaul, who’s nobody’s idea of a lottery pick. And the Knicks gave Chicago their second-rounders this year and in 2009.
Sign held up by a Bulls fan in the audience: “Thanks Isiah.”
So now it’s three Gators in the first nine picks, some kind of record. The ESPN guys point out that Indiana had three in the top 11 in ’76. Scott May went to Chicago at No. 2 that year, Quinn Buckner to Milwaukee at No. 7 and Bob Wilkerson to Seattle at No. 11.
How that worked out: The three of them combined to play 20 seasons in the NBA without any of them ever averaging 20 points or 10 rebounds a game. According to Player Efficiency Rating, Buckner and May had two seasons each when they were slightly better than league-average players.
So let’s reserve judgment on the dominance of this Florida class in the NBA.
Jay Bilas: “One of the things I love about Noah is he absolutely hates to lose. I’d rather have a guy that hates to lose than a guy that says he loves to win.”
I’d rather have a guy who’s good at playing basketball.
I’m fond of Noah, who’s got panache and who seems kind of artsy and who may have gotten that seersucker tux at a thrift store. But I’m not convinced he’s going to be more than a so-so NBA player.
10. Sacramento Kings: Spencer Hawes, C, Washington
Ceiling: Backup center. If you’re 7 feet tall and you’re not a great rebounder or shot blocker, you’re not going very far. Hawes says he’ll get better at that stuff. Right. You couldn’t rebound or block shots in the Pac-10, but you’ll do it in the NBA. Gotcha.
Stop shouting, Smith!
11. Atlanta Hawks (from Indiana): Acie Law, Texas A&M
ESPN had leading basketball stathead John Hollinger roll out this huge system of ranking college players for NBA readiness on its Web site this week, so why doesn’t the network include him in its draft coverage? We have Smith, Bilas and Mark Jackson all giving variations on the same point of view, so where’s Hollinger to say that the last two picks, Hawes and Law, were terrible?
His system has them pegged as second-rounders, and with good reason. Hawes has what Hollinger calls the “red flags” of poor rebounding and shot-blocking, which Bilas also described as “red flags.” Law, without the aid of any fancy system, has looked to these naked, vision-corrected eyes like a guy using savvy and experience to beat younger, greener players on the college level. Where’s that thing he does really well, that outstanding athletic skill? You need that sort of thing in the NBA.
The Hawks could have had Mike Conley as a point guard if they wanted, and now they’ve got Acie Law. Nice work, Hawks. Also: Your new uniforms stink. And quit trying to pass the new color scheme back as something that “harkens back” to the historic Hawks unis from the St. Louis era. It’s baloney. You followed a trend and now you’re trying to justify it with historical resonance. Lame. Also, it’s hark back, not harken.
Scott says Law wasn’t allowed to shoot until he was about 9 or 10 years old. “You spent from 5 to 10 just dribbling, just passing, not shooting. How did that shape you?”
Wouldn’t it have been funny if Law had said, “Well, if they’d have let me goddamn shoot, I could have come out after my freshman year”?
12. Philadelphia 76ers: Thaddeus Young, F, Georgia Tech
The panel had agreed the Sixers needed size, but Philly went out and got a small forward who wasn’t expected to go this high. He’s not in the room. Bilas thinks the Sixers should have taken Al Thornton. Hollinger has Young as the fourth-ranked collegian in this draft. It’s a showdown!
13. New Orleans Hornets: Julian Wright, F, Kansas
The Hornets have cleared out of Oklahoma City, leaving room for the Sonics.
Bilas says Wright does everything well except shoot. Perhaps this is a good time for my annual marvel at how the whole wide world, all those colleges, all those basketball-playing countries, can barely spit up a dozen players every year who look unambiguously ready to play in the NBA. We’re on the 13th pick here, and we’re onto guys who can’t shoot, which is kind of a basic skill.
14. Los Angeles Clippers: Al Thornton, F, Florida State
The last pick in the lottery. If the Clippers hope to regain their playoff form, they need a point guard badly with Sam Cassell another year older and Shaun Livingston injured. Instead, they take Al Thornton, the forward from Florida State.
I have no idea if this is a good pick and care even less. I just got a kick out of typing, “If the Clippers hope to regain their playoff form.” It’s like saying, “As Halle Berry whispered to me last night before we drifted off …” It doesn’t compute.
15. Detroit Pistons (from Orlando): Rodney Stuckey, G, Eastern Washington
Now the playoff teams. Stuckey’s a small-college guy. Judging from the highlights, he’s not quick enough, but judging from highlights is probably a dumb thing to do.
Quick or no, I like him. Scott says, “Rodney, we’ve seen Greg Oden, Kevin Durant, Joakim Noah. All these big names and a lot of buzz. Who is Rodney Stuckey?”
Stuckey: “That’s me.”
16. Washington Wizards: Nick Young, G, USC
I like the white jacket and black pants. The suits, Noah aside, have been very dull this year. The Atlanta Hawks fashion director must be consulting with player agents. Well, Young’s suit does hark back to Guy Lombardo.
Young’s an all-offense guy. He’ll be a rotation player with the Wiz, I think.
17. New Jersey Nets: Sean Williams, F, Boston College
The Knicks upstage their local rivals by making a trade, getting Zach Randolph, Dan Dickau — who is well on the way to playing for every team in the league without helping any of them — and Fred Jones for Channing Frye and Steve Francis. This is the first move the Trail Blazers have made in two years that I haven’t liked.
What I don’t like about it: Steve Francis becomes a Portland Trail Blazer. It’s never a good idea to trade for Steve Francis. The Knicks’ all-never-a-good-idea backcourt, Francis and Stephon Marbury, is, alas, no more. Meanwhile, Randolph in New York? He was a knucklehead in Portland. What’s he going to do in New York?
Williams was kicked out of B.C. and went through drug rehab. But he’s a talent.
18. Golden State Warriors: Marco Belinelli, guard, Italy
The Warriors always screw up their pick, but maybe this is a new era. Maybe not. They did make that nice trade with the Bobcats, though.
19. Los Angeles Lakers: Javaris Crittenton, G, Georgia Tech
We are solidly into that part of the draft where it sucks to be the teams in this part of the draft. This bunch didn’t sniff real title contention last year, but they also didn’t play badly enough to get a hot-shot prospect with a high pick. They had mediocre seasons, then they get to pick a guy who in all likelihood will be mediocre.
20. Miami Heat: Jason Smith, F, Colorado State
The Heat are rebuilding, whether they realize it or not. Hard to do that with the 20th pick.
21. Philadelphia 76ers (from Denver): Daequan Cook, G, Ohio State
This pick comes from the Allen Iverson trade, and the Sixers reportedly trade it again, sending Cook and some cash one pick up the line to Miami for Smith. This is not the kind of blockbuster we’re looking for on draft night. Portland Trail Blazers, where are you? Just before announcing the 30th pick a while later, Stern announces this trade, adding that the 76ers are also sending a 2009 second-rounder to Miami.
22. Charlotte Bobcats (from Toronto): Jared Dudley, F, Boston College
Back to the college basketball all-star team.
23. New York Knicks (from Chicago): Wilson Chandler, F, DePaul
Knicks fans in the house grumble over the pick, in a way that sort of says, “Who?”
24. Phoenix Suns (from Cleveland): Rudy Fernandez, G, Spain
Well, that’s a little something, Blazers. A small trade, sending the Suns some cash for this pick. It’s something.
Fernandez is 21 and may have to spend another year in Spain if he doesn’t want to buy out his contract. One thing that’s already clear, though: Some of the uniforms on those Euro teams are horrible.
25. Utah Jazz: Morris Almond, G, Rice
Man, these guys are young. Remember Rodney Stuckey, the 15th pick? He wears uniform No. 3 because he idolized Dwyane Wade as a kid.
Idolized him as a kid. I have socks older than Dwyane Wade!
On his blog, Oden describes going to ground zero the other day, his first in New York. “It is crazy how something like that happened when I was in the eighth grade and is still not built up,” he writes.
Eighth grade. When I was in the eighth grade they hadn’t thought to cut the bottom out of the peach basket, Mr. First Draft Pick.
26. Houston Rockets: Aaron Brooks, G, Oregon
Brooks is a guy who should be able to come off the bench and energize a team for a few minutes with his speed-based offensive game. If he’s in the league in 10 years, it’ll be with at least his sixth team, and the fans will love him in all those places.
27. Detroit Pistons: Arron Afflalo, G, UCLA
Afflalo was born at UCLA Medical Center. So was I. Another thing we have in common: We’re not going to be big stars in the NBA.
28. San Antonio Spurs: Tiago Splitter, F, Brazil
A 7-foot Brazilian and the best name in the draft. ESPN’s Fran Fraschilla says the 22-year-old is a lottery-type talent, but he’s going to have to wait a year to come north because of a bad buyout clause.
If I’m going to trust anybody to pluck a gem out of the Spanish league at the end of the first round, it’s San Antonio.
29. Phoenix Suns: Alando Tucker, F, Wisconsin
Nick Fazekas and Josh McRoberts are about to become the two biggest college names not to go in the first round. Just for the hell of it, I’ll say Fazekas and McRoberts will both have better careers than Tucker. OK? Check back in 10 years. Fazekas goes to Dallas at No. 34, McRoberts to Portland at No. 37.
30. Philadelphia 76ers (from Dallas): Petteri Koponen, G, Finland
Koponen has his own cheering section. There were a bunch of Finnish basketball players at Cal when I covered the women’s team there. Basketball’s big in Finland.
There you go: One more little tidbit I picked up in college that’s benefited me down the road, making a total of eight.
The Blazers, valiantly trying to stir up a little excitement, give the Sixers some cash and the 42nd pick for Koponen. The 42nd pick turns out to be Derrick Byars of Vanderbilt.
And they’re going wild in Portland’s Little Helsinki neighborhood.
Previous column: Take the big guy
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