By David Aldridge, TNT analyst
Posted Jun 30 2009 7:08AM
It always amuses me when, nine seconds after the Draft ends, my brethren feel obligated to pick the winners and losers among the NBA teams.
Like we know what Brandon Jennings is going to become in four years.
Like we know if Austin Daye becomes a bigger, taller version of Tayshaun Prince, or a Joe Dumars drafting mistake alongside Darko Milicic and Rodney White.
Like all 30 teams have the exact same needs and/or desires. What Memphis needed out of the Draft is not the same as what, say, Denver needed. So both of them had good drafts, for different reasons. (The Lakers, which only need to save as much money as possible to re-sign Lamar Odom and Trevor Ariza, thus had a good Draft night, too, by selling their first-rounder to the Knicks.)
You can't assess a team's summer now. You have to wait until the free agency period, which starts at midnight Wednesday morning, has run its course. You have to wait until the summer leagues (Orlando, Vegas, Utah), when the trades that have been talked about for weeks either get done or die on the vine. And you have to wait until the veteran free agents that can still help teams, but who were passed over at their asking price the first time around, swallow their pride and sign on the cheap for contending teams. Then you can determine who helped their teams the most.
To me, the Draft always raises as many questions as it answers. Like...
Does David Kahn think he's the smartest guy in the room?
The Timberwolves' new president of basketball operations, given a chance to play it safe on Draft night with four first-rounders, chose to turn convention on its ear, taking point guards with the fifth and sixth picks. And he didn't take any old point guards -- he took the best two on the board, Spain's Ricky Rubio and Syracuse's Jonny Flynn.
Kahn insisted on Draft night that he envisioned Rubio and Flynn playing together. As that would involve one of them playing out of position for the first time in his life, no one believes him. There is the expectation that there is another shoe to drop, that one of them -- probably Rubio, who can go back to Spain for a year or two -- ultimately will be dealt. Whether it's to New York (whose priority, remember, is still clearing cap space for 2010) or another actor is yet to be determined. Kahn, who has time on his side, is in no hurry; Rubio's value will only go up in the next year or two, not down. I'm guessing that when all is said and done, Kahn's going to do much better than people currently believe on this deal. Or deals.
Is Kahn off of Steve Kerr's holiday card list?
By taking Rubio and Flynn, Kahn submarined a Phoenix-Golden State trade that would have sent Amar'e Stoudemire to the Warriors for Andris Biedrins, Marco Belinelli and the seventh pick. No one expected that pick to be Stephen Curry, the Davidson guard who was the top player on Golden State's board. Everyone figured that Curry would be long gone by then, either to Minnesota or a team that traded up to take him with one of the Wolves' picks. But Curry slipped to the Warriors, who know what a perfect fit he'll be in Don Nelson's system and have no intention of including him in any trade with Phoenix. And that has put the trade on life support. I'm told by one of the parties involved that the deal is as likely now to fail as it is to succeed. But I was also told on Monday that the Suns remain determined to unload Stoudemire, to whom ownership is wholly disinterested in giving a nine-figure contract extension. So ...
Is Riles burning up the 602 area code?
Stoudemire is just the kind of low-post terror that could convince a fella with options -- say, an all-world guard who was born and raised in Chicago, which will be a major player in 2010, and who will himself be a free agent in 2010 -- to stay on South Beach. A package of Michael Beasley -- whom Miami's management does not, to put it charitably, seem enamored with -- Mark Blount ($7.9 million expiring deal) and James Jones (partial guarantees in each of his three remaining seasons after this upcoming one, which would seem to be music to Suns owner Robert Sarver's ears), could get Stoudemire to Miami in time for happy hour at The Clevelander. Plus, Phoenix would get him out of the Western Conference instead of having him dunk on its collective bean in Warriors gear three or four times a year.
Why is Danny Ainge picking now to start channeling Red Auerbach?
The Celtics, normally quite disciplined when it comes to personnel matters, have let a lot of things slip in the past month. First, after getting caught shopping Ray Allen, they didn't deny that they'd move him if the right deal came along. Then, Ainge went public with the team's criticism of point guard Rajon Rondo, going on a radio station in Boston to point out all the shortcomings for a point guard that nearly averaged a triple double in the first round against Chicago: chronically late, including for Game 5 against Chicago (which I told you about on TNT that very night), stubborn and without a jump shot.
It was classic Auerbach, who notoriously worked the local media to great effect in the 1970s and '80s, poisoning the waters against many a Celtics free agent to be. But Red did his business before true free agency, when his players had only Europe as leverage. Nowadays, Rondo could have his pick of three or four teams next summer that might meet his asking price (think $80 million or so). Plus, in 2010, KG, Paul Pierce and Allen will all be a year older, not necessarily a year better. Rondo and Kendrick Perkins are the only two Celtics of note still on their first pair of tires, metaphorically speaking. Now, it's likely that all of this will be forgotten and Rondo will happily re-sign in Boston. But why make it any harder than it's already going to be?
If Rasheed Wallace is such a pariah, and finished as a player, why do so many good teams want him?
The reality, of course, is that Wallace is only offputting to referees and many in my line of work (personally, 'Sheed and I have gotten along just fine). His teammates have always considered him one of the smartest, most loyal guys around. When he smells a chance at a title, he's fully engaged. When he knows his team has no shot, as he knew last season's Pistons didn't, he's somewhere else.
And many teams that figure to be in the hunt next season -- Cleveland, Boston, San Antonio and Orlando -- are all interested in the 34-year-old, who'll become a free agent Wednesday morning. (Give Charlotte, where Wallace's favorite coach, Larry Brown, currently resides, a 1 percent chance.) While there's a slight chance he'll re-up in Detroit, the likelihood is that Wallace is moving on, taking his low-post defensive excellence (no one guards Tim Duncan and Dwight Howard better on the block, which each of those teams knows) and spread-the-court shooting ability with him.
The Cavs are the longest of long shots; Wallace has had enough of cold Midwest winters. The Celtics are hoping Garnett's longstanding friendship with Wallace could convince him to sign up in equally cold Beantown. That leaves the Spurs and Magic, which just happen to be the two leaders in the clubhouse for Wallace's services. Both teams have done extensive homework and both have the thumbs-up to proceed.
One potential pitfall: if Wallace, who'll turn 35 in September, signs a multi-year deal, it could be considered an "Over 36" contract by the league. For reasons way too complex to get into here, such contracts are harder for teams to swallow, because more money is put into the earlier years of the deal. (The last-year salary of such contracts is amortized into the earlier years of the contract. Happy now? I'm confused all over again. This is why God gave Larry Coon, the CBA guru, his own Facebook page. Go read it.).
Did Sam Young do something to annoy people in his pre-Draft meetings --whoopee cushion, hand-buzzer?
OK, DeJuan Blair falling is explainable -- he was red-flagged by a number of teams because of continuing concerns about his knees. (Of course, the Spurs, somehow, got over those concerns and drafted him in the second round, continuing their streak of not missing in 83 consecutive Drafts; see more below). But why Young fell out of the first round makes absolutely no sense.
How could the Hornets, picking 21st, pass on the 6-foot-6 Young, the Pittsburgh small forward straight out of Central Casting, in order to take UCLA point guard Darren Collison? With Peja Stojakovic's back a chronic and career-long concern (making him near impossible to deal), and with New Orleans in desperate need of more firepower for Chris Paul to find in transition and in the half-court, Young seemed to me a no-brainer if he got to the Hornets. Nothing against Collison, but there are a lot of guards out there who could take some minutes off of the near-exhausted Paul next season.
Perhaps the fact that Young is already 24 scared off the Hornets and other teams; Young fell to the second round, 36th overall, into the disbelieving-but-grateful hands of the Grizzlies. But all I saw was a tough, fiery, competitive kid who liked the challenge of guarding 3s in college, who was a difficult lefty matchup for many Big East squads and whose team was a second from the Final Four. Why on earth would you not want someone like that on your team?
Which point guard will get $9 million of Paul Allen's money this week -- Andre Miller, Jason Kidd or Kirk Hinrich?
Kidd, who genuinely enjoys playing in Dallas and with Dirk Nowitzki, is likely to stay there, as long as Mark Cuban comes correct with the loot. The Blazers could make Chicago a legit offer for Hinrich, who's due $26.5 million the next three years as a backup to Derrick Rose, without severely damaging the Bulls' 2010 free-agent prospects. The partially guaranteed, expiring contracts of Steve Blake and Travis Outlaw (each $4 million next season), plus the Draft rights to one or two of the European prospects Portland has stashed away, could get things moving. But it's more likely that Chicago holds onto Hinrich, both as insurance against injury to Rose and because of his excellent play against Boston in the first round.
That leaves Miller, the 76ers' free agent who is playing it coy, but who badly wants to be on a true contender. That same package that might not be good enough for Chicago to deal Hinrich may be all that Philly can get for Miller. Otherwise, he'll walk and they'll get nothing. I know the Blazers have found Blake wanting as a leading man, but I've always liked his game, and he could certainly hold the fort down in Philly for a year or two until Jrue Holiday is ready. Plus, Blake played a year in Washington for new head coach Eddie Jordan, who liked his skill set.
Did Memphis have the best Draft of anyone?
Yes, for what it needed, which was twofold: increase the talent pool at FedEx Forum and get some people on the roster that can guard in space.
With O.J. Mayo and Rudy Gay around, the Grizzlies will be able to score. Memphis needed to get better on defense to have any choice at even competing in the West. My NBA TV colleague Bruce Pearl, the head coach at Tennessee, summarized it succinctly: In his opinion, Young (the second-round gift) was the best defender at this position (small forward) in college basketball last season. DeMarre Carroll, the Grizzlies' second first-rounder, was the best defender at his position (power forward) in college basketball last season. And Hasheem Thabeet, taken second overall, was obviously the best defensive center last season. Having Thabeet will allow Lionel Hollins to move Marc Gasol from center to power forward. And all of a sudden, Memphis will go from one of the smallest frontcourts in the league to one of the biggest.
Why doesn't the league just hire Tim Grover to train everybody?
Gilbert Arenas and Tracy McGrady are the latest players to spend most of their summers in Chicago working with Grover, who kept Michael Jordan in fighting trim for a decade and who traveled the world this past year with Kobe Bryant, getting him through the Olympics, a full NBA regular season and the push to the championship. Arenas was hanging around at the Finals, chewing Orlando general manager Otis Smith's ear. That's either really great news for the Wizards or the worst possible news they could hear.
Who's the leader in the clubhouse so far for improving its team the most?
With the caveat that free-agent signings and trades could change everything, the leaders so far are the Spurs. They got Manu Ginobili insurance with the acquisition of Richard Jefferson from Milwaukee for none of their core group, and somehow, with nary a first-round pick in sight, still wound up with three excellent rookie prospects out of the second round: Blair, Miami guard Jack McClinton (whom many teams thought could slip late into the first) and Spanish point guard Nando De Colo, who'll likely stay over in Europe for a couple of years to get more seasoning.
Let's review. Last summer, the Spurs drafted point guard George Hill at the end of the first round, and signed free agent Roger Mason, Jr. -- who just may have been the most impactful free agent in the league last season -- for a fraction of the price that Philly spent on Elton Brand. This summer they've gotten Jefferson, Blair, McClinton and De Colo. They also have a great shot at signing Wallace and may well wind up again with Bruce Bowen and Fab Oberto -- sent to Milwaukee and Detroit, respectively, in the Jefferson deal, and who will likely be bought out or released by those respective teams. And San Antonio still has the draft rights to Tiago Splitter, still one of Europe's top prospects.
Even if McClinton and De Colo don't play much next season, and even if young center Ian Mahinmi doesn't pan out as hoped, that's still a fairly quick and painless retooling of a team around its three star players, with Jefferson's $29.2 million remaining the only significant financial commitment past this season. Meaning the Spurs could actually be free agent players next summer if they chose to be. Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Ginobili may be getting older, but the Spurs aren't getting any dumber.
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