Posted Jun 24 2010 11:08AM
NEW YORK -- A Draft unlike any other arrives Thursday night, the final prelude to the Great Summer Free-Agent Bonanza. Some teams are saying that they will read the Nets' decision in the Draft -- they pick third -- as a sign of New Jersey's intentions in the free-agent market, which officially starts next week. Other clubs will use Thursday's proceedings to put themselves in position to dump salary before the mad scramble of July 1.
Even the backdrop Thursday is perfect: Madison Square Garden, home of the Knicks and the clearinghouse for every, "Of course LeBron is leaving Cleveland" theory. Any other year, with the Draft at the Garden, it's simply a location. This time, You Know Who will be on everybody's mind, even when the night ostensibly isn't about him.
But the Draft, unavoidably, has become about LeBron James and the other mega-watt free agents. Wednesday, after front-office sources around the league reported Miami was among the teams working hard to clear cap space, the Heat dealt Daequan Cook and No. 18 to the Thunder for a second-round pick to take $3.2 million off Pat Riley's books. Other clubs with an eye on the summer could take a similar approach before the end of the Draft.
The Nets are a perfect example. The suggestion has been that New Jersey will rebuild either by going with a big man in the Draft and then focusing on a wing in free agency, or by choosing a perimeter player Thursday night and going hard after a veteran power forward next week. Whether it's true or not remains to be seen, but that's the read from some other war rooms. Taking Georgia Tech power forward Derrick Favors or Kentucky center/power forward DeMarcus Cousins Thursday night means the Nets still like their chances for Joe Johnson or Rudy Gay or even James. But if the Nets go with Syracuse small forward Wesley Johnson, that will trigger a focus on Amar'e Stoudemire or Carlos Boozer on July 1.
Kentucky point guard John Wall will go first to the Wizards and Ohio State swingman Evan Turner will be off the board second, to the 76ers, barring a startling development, leaving the Nets with their decision. The consensus among opposing front offices is that they'll take Favors, though it's far from certain, leaving the Timberwolves (at No. 4) to choose between Cousins and Johnson and the Kings (No. 5) to take whichever of the two is left.
Other developments in the final hours before the selections begin:
• The important consideration in the otherwise minor deal of the Trail Blazers sending No. 44 and cash to the Warriors for No. 34 is that Portland remains in its usual aggressive Draft stance despite general manager Kevin Pritchard being hung out to dry while his bosses search for a replacement. The Blazers have traditionally matched Pritchard's work with Paul Allen's money to add picks in the first round. The deal Monday indicates they're still open for business amid major front-office uncertainty.
• Turner is saying he prefers to go second to the 76ers rather than first to the Wizards. Of course, it's easy to say that once Washington made its intentions clear to take Wall. But Turner said talking with Allen Iverson about Philadelphia and looking at the Sixers' roster convinced him that Philly is a better fit, even if there will still be a slight revenge factor against the Wizards.
"Anybody -- not just me -- whatever team didn't consider picking them would think that," Turner said. "But, honestly, it's all about the best fit for them and all about the best fit for me. I think they're getting a good player in John Wall. I don't want to sit here and be like I'm throwing it in their face or anything like that. You live, you learn, you don't think about it. You focus on what you can control."
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