By Steven Koek, Suns.com
Posted: June 27, 2003
When the Phoenix Suns selected Zarko Cabarkapa with the 17th pick in the 2003 NBA Draft on Thursday night, everything appeared to have fallen into place exactly the way the team's staff had planned and hoped.
It had been reported that if they landed their big man, they would look to free agency to find a player who could relieve overworked All-Star guard Stephon Marbury. Yet the Suns proved once again that you cannot take too much stock in pre-draft reports and rumor mills, despite most mock drafts getting the Cabarkapa pick right.
As reporters rushed to their laptops in the back room of the Fox Sports Grill in Scottsdale, home of this year's Suns draft headquarters, and analysts and fans alike began to dissect the team's selection, word came that the Suns were not done for the night.
The Suns traded a future first-round draft pick to the San Antonio Spurs for the rights to Brazilian Leandro Barbosa, after bringing the 6-5 point guard in for a secret workout Wednesday afternoon. A hip flexor injury had curtailed Barbosa's pre-draft schedule and a workout with the Suns had been cancelled a week ago, but there was enough interest in the playmaker to arrange the last-minute tryout.
"We told everyone at 17 we were still looking at a number of guards," said Suns President Bryan Colangelo, "and this kind of answered the bell. We liked him all along. We had him checked out medically and we felt comfortable moving forward. Quite frankly, if things had worked out a certain way in this draft (i.e. Cabarkapa was gone), we had him on our list at 17. He's a 6-3 long athletic guard. He's got a wingspan of about 6-9 ½ for a 6-3 frame. He can put the ball on the floor and push it up probably quicker than anyone in this draft."
Colangelo had been urged by Head Coach Frank Johnson to get some relief for their star playmaker and FJ was more than pleased with Thursday night's developments.
"We're really excited about his upside," Johnson said. "There were times when we were playing Stephon 45 minutes. Hopefully (Barbosa) will be able to come in and give us a boost off the bench from a point guard standpoint. Defensively, he can come up and put some defensive pressure on their guards. We're very, very excited."
Barbosa quickly developed into one of the dominant players in Brazil's top league and at 20 years old, has plenty of time to learn the NBA game as well as the English language.
"We're talking about a project guard," admitted Colangelo, "someone just coming in as a backup point guard. We're talking about a situation where we don't think the language is that much of an issue. In fact, he's further along with his language skills right now at this point that (Nuggets forward) Nene (Hilario) was at this point last year. Basketball seems to have it's own language."
ESPN.com's Draft Insider Chad Ford agrees that Barbosa could very well be the perfect pick as the Suns' reserve point guard.
"Barbosa's got great size and length which is what the Suns were looking for to compliment Stephon Marbury," reports Ford. "Barbosa has the potential to be a Gary Payton-like player someday."
The Suns are looking for Barbosa's hip injury to heal in time to give fans a preview of good things to come later this summer.
"He can put the ball on the floor and do things that I think you'll be pleasantly surprised eventually," said Colangelo. "He does have a hip flexor injury right now that will probably keep him out for a couple of weeks. We want to make sure that gets healthy before we put him into the rigors of the summer program. As soon as we get clearance medically for him to play, though, he'll be a highlight reel and a half in the summer league."