NBA Draft buzz picks upthis week with lottery

With the first pick in the 2010 NBA Draft, the Nets/Kings/Timberwolves/Warriors select... Derrick Favors? While John Wall will in all likelihood be taken No. 1, Sam Smith is getting the feeling this could be one of those Greg Oden/Kevin Durant drafts.

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Joe Johnson

"Great kid, you hear, a guy you can feel great being the face of your franchise and investing in for years, a quick off the floor power forward, big hands, long arms, willing learner, getting better constantly," Sam Smith writes of Derrick Favors. "Scouts love to make comparisons and the one I’ve heard several times with Favors is Tim Duncan."
(Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images Sport)

With the first pick in the 2010 NBA Draft, the New Jersey Nets/Sacramento Kings/Minnesota Timberwolves/Golden State Warriors select… Derrick Favors?

It’s draft lottery time this week, Tuesday, and then the annual predraft camp in Chicago starting midweek through the weekend.

But a curious thing is happening. I know, Kentucky’s John Wall has been the consensus No. 1 pick for a year now, and I fully expect him to be taken No. 1. But I’m getting the feeling this could be one of those Greg Oden/Kevin Durant drafts.

No one had the courage to take the chance to skip everyone’s No. 1 back then. The Trail Blazers got unlucky as Oden was hurt. Though there’s some revisionist history now, everyone would have taken Oden then. Of course, you’d obviously rather have Durant now.

Now, some GMs and personnel directors are whispering that about Wall and Favors.

Everyone knows Wall, the highly touted point guard. Favors is generally less known and behind Evan Turner on most draft boards. That will change. As I’ve talked with GMs and personnel people the last few weeks, everyone seems to light up when talking about Favors.

Great kid, you hear, a guy you can feel great being the face of your franchise and investing in for years, a quick off the floor power forward, big hands, long arms, willing learner, getting better constantly. Scouts love to make comparisons and the one I’ve heard several times with Favors is Tim Duncan.

No, not Tim Duncan after four years at Wake Forest, but Tim Duncan as a freshman or sophomore when he would have been a top five pick. I know the rules have changed to favor guards, but there are a ton of good guards now. There aren’t very many great big men.

It just so happens the teams most likely to get the No. 1 pick happen to have pretty good point guards. The Nets have Devin Harris. The Timberwolves have a whole stable of them led by Jonny Flynn and Ricky Rubio, with Ramon Sessions hanging around. The Kings have rookie of the year Tyreke Evans. The Warriors have the guy they felt should have been, Stephen Curry.

Would they take Wall if they got the No. 1 pick?

Of course, you could trade a talent like Wall. Or you could trade your guy. Or maybe play both together as a lot of teams play small backcourts.

But this is not your Derrick Rose/LeBron James no-brainer. This is more Oden/Durant. In five years, you may rather have a dominating big guy like Favors as fewer of those types of players come along.

And not that Wall is a problem, but he’s more the entourage/AAU guy with what some scouts say is a bit of the me-first attitude. What if you knew the other guy could become a cross between Duncan and Karl Malone? You still need size, ultimately, to win in the NBA.

This isn’t going to be as easy as it seemed. The fun begins with the lottery Tuesday.

Last run for the Suns?

-- I’m picking the Suns to beat the Lakers and I picked Boston over Orlando. No, not after Boston won Game 1, which doesn’t really mean that much—see Bulls 1991 Finals—but Saturday. I wasn’t writing, so I did it on Twitter. Check it if you don’t believe me, though I personally can’t since I don’t know how it works. This is how bad it is: Ron Artest probably could teach me. But Suns/Celts is perhaps more the sentimental pick since we won’t get the promised Kobe/LeBron and Shaq Finals, and one of the great Finals ever was Boston and Phoenix in 1976.

We’ve been writing off the Celtics as a last run since 2008, but this may be the first and last for this Suns group with the free agency this summer of Amar’e Stoudemire, who suddenly has elevated himself among the free agents to probably the Chris Bosh level following James and Dwyane Wade.

The uncertainty with the Suns is even their management doesn’t know whether owner Robert Sarver will go the full maximum for Stoudemire, which questions about that led to trade talk for Stoudemire last February.

I was at Suns practice Friday and asked Stoudemire if he thought he’d be with the Cavs, who were the most rumored, even if they weren’t offering much with a package around J.J. Hickson.

“I think about that all the time," Stoudemire admitted. "We might right now be moving on to play the Magic in the Eastern Conference finals if the deal happened. But since it didn't happen, I'm in the Western Conference finals playing the Lakers. (It) could have been a good situation for both of us. But I think the best thing now is that I stayed put and we're doing a great job. (Cleveland) was one of the cities where I was going to end up going. It was between two teams, them and Miami at that time. I definitely thought I was out of here. I thought I was gone."

Actually, the Miami talk was fairly bogus, believed to just be propaganda to help persuade Wade the Heat was serious about making additions. Though the Suns got nothing offered that swayed them, probably the most serious was a continuation of summer talks with the Warriors involving multiple players, including Andris Biedrins and a guard, though the Warriors in the end doubted Stoudemire would re-sign.

Suns coach Alvin Gentry, obviously biased, said he felt Stoudemire was the best player in the league since the trade deadline, and what everyone has noticed about Stoudemire is the player Mike D’Antoni used to say was the league’s worst defender, actually has been a very good defender, even drawing several charges on the elusive Manu Ginobili in the conference semifinals.

“We've played Ginobili for the last five years and I don't know that we've ever gotten a charge on him,” said Gentry with a laugh. “He had three charging fouls in that series and Amar'e took every one of them.”

Gentry deserves a lot of credit for connecting with Stoudemire, though as Gentry points out Stoudemire is just 27 and with all the injuries hasn’t played that many minutes.

“I came straight to the NBA from high school,” noted Stoudemire. “I had six different high school coaches (six schools). When I came to Phoenix, we changed coaches my first two years (Gentry is his fourth in eight seasons). I’ve had to learn on the fly, but this season after my eye injury I’ve taken more time to study, to learn what it takes to be a great player. I feel I’m becoming a complete player now. I still have things to work on, and I will get better.”

That is what makes it a heck of an offseason decision for the Suns, who were reluctant to extend Stoudemire that six-year maximum deal. The belief is if they do, he’ll take it. If they don’t and lose him, they probably waste the last years for Steve Nash and Grant Hill, who both spurned offers from the Knicks last summer (they are just the first) to return to Phoenix.

So in some respects this is a desperate Suns team that could be on its last run. They have a better bench than the Lakers, they defend more than ever and are too fast for the Lakers. If they can hit shots like they did against the Spurs, they can beat the Lakers, I believe. And being around them you get the feeling they do as well. They are not scared, which may be why Phil Jackson was trying his little mind games with the Stave Nash palming contention.

Lakers pursuit of Bosh would likely cost Bynum or Gasol

-- One hesitation many around the NBA have on Stoudemire is that microfracture surgery a few years back. He’s strong and healthy now, but most wonder if the knee will hold up. But, really, giving anyone closing in on 30 a long-team deal is a risk, and players like Chris Bosh and Carlos Boozer, the other top power forward free agents, have a lot of miles on them. Rumors persist the Raptors will push for a sign-and-trade to the Lakers with Bosh, and Bosh is said to be amenable to that, though there is no word yet whether the Lakers would be as it obviously would have to involve one of their centers, Andrew Bynum or Pau Gasol. That would be difficult to do if they repeat, though I can still see LeBron James going to the Lakers in a sign-and-trade for one of them.

What truly is unique about James is, I believe, he is more Magic Johnson than Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan. In the 2008 Olympics, he was very happy as a setup man for Bryant and Wade. He’s had to become the big scorer, and it does produce more highlights. But you can see James run from the responsibility at big times, as he seemed to in the playoff series loss to Boston. I know there’s this notion that Kobe never would accept another such star. But he turns 32 this summer and has signed his extension. What’s he going to do?

How could the Lakers pass on James at 25 and the chance to extend their dynasty seven or eight more years, which Bryant certainly doesn’t have left? It’s hardly a shame for James to go where he can win. It didn’t harm the legacies of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain when they went to the Lakers. Plus, you figure the Cavs would most want James out of the East if he chooses to leave.

Yes, just add it to the speculation. As I’ve written previously and many have since speculated, the Bulls remain a strong option for James if he wants to win, and especially if he wants to remain the premier figure as Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah are the kinds of players who’d fit in with him and allow him to be in the spotlight. And the Nets continue to come up the rear with their new big money Russian oligarch owner. Now, I’m not saying anyone would do this. I know people are nothing but honest. But, just say, someone buys a franchise who has a network of investments all over the world. Maybe someone, and I’m just hypothesizing here, someone from Russia, where no one is quite sure what goes on with their economy. What’s to stop him from, say, hiding $50 million for a player in a buried account somewhere? I’m not saying anyone would ever do this because it would not be right. And people in sports would never do anything improper to gain an edge as it would not be in the best interest of fair competition. But what if someone had the means to do something like that? Not anyone specific, mind you.

Lesser role for Shaq difficult to accept

-- Now this is what I call desperate. Shaquille O’Neal was raving to the New York Post about playing in Newark and how great their arena is. Shaq is a Newark native, by the way, though I don’t hear him spending much time there. Shaq also said with all the time he missed because of injury he could play maybe four more years. Though he forgot to mention much of that was because he was overweight and out of shape. Actually, Shaq has a better chance of being the next Allen Iverson, the great who stayed too long. Like with Iverson, Shaq has now left a trail of defeat and disturbance. Though personally more amiable than Iverson, Shaq has the same effect in that he cannot change his game, it has deteriorated substantially due to age and he cannot accept not being Shaq. Mike Brown’s failure to accept Shaq could not keep up with the game anymore probably will cost Brown his job. Though there were other factors, if Brown had played smaller and quicker more without Shaq, the Cavs probably would have won that series. Coaches around the league are scratching their heads about how the Cavs used Shaq as one told me last week Shaq was there to play Dwight Howard and probably shouldn’t have played much until then, assuming the Cavs reached the Magic. Shaq was traded from Miami because he had quit on the team and Dwyane Wade desperately wanted him out. Similarly with the Suns, Shaq pretty much gave up after his name came up in midseason trade reports and it was generally known that Steve Nash wouldn’t have resigned unless Shaq was traded. And it was clear with the Cavs that LeBron James didn’t want the slower game Shaq represented.

Shaq’s a Hall of Famer and one of the great figures in the game’s history. But, like with Iverson, he cannot seem to accept he’s just a 10 to 15 minute role player now. Even during the last few games of the series with the Celtics there were rumors of Shaq complaining about playing time. Like with Iverson, someone probably will take a chance figuring Shaq can sell some tickets. But he can’t anymore. He’s a good guy, but he’s disruptive to team chemistry now. You cannot have a team anymore and a pecking order and leadership with his giant presence. This is three consecutive failures now, all with good teams falling below expectations and basically getting better after he left, though Miami took a big tumble right away with Dwyane Wade hurt before improving. I’d be surprised if by the end of next season Shaq still is in the NBA. Look, it’s been a great career. But it is the big problem for athletes, especially great ones. They rarely are ready to go when it’s time. The life was too great.

NBA news and notes

-- It was an innocent scene setter in a Washington Post story on Antawn Jamison’s tenure with the Cavs last week. But what caught my eye was that Jamison said he shared a cab with LeBron James to Game 6 from the team hotel in Boston. I know James gets special treatment from the Cavs, but it is fairly routine for everyone to ride the team bus, which has security. The rumor that was going around was there was a severe internal issue inside the team that contributed to James’ indifferent showing in Game 5 and James’ seemingly emotionless end of the season. It’s been rumored there was a serious dispute with a teammate. For example, in huddles he was looking at the ceiling or into the distance. It was just a rumor without details, but when I talked to coaches around the league about the last two games and asked about James’ elbow, most of them pooh poohed that and said from their experience with teams given the change in attitude there had to be something more internally. Connecting pieces, these comments by James’ friend Jay-Z after Game 5 also seemed intriguing: "I think the thing we're all forced to recognize at some point is that LeBron is a human being. And he's wise enough to know that even when it's not because of him, he owns it anyway. That can be frustrating, not really being able to say what you feel about yourself, what you're going through. Or what others need to do. But it's a burden that comes along with greatness sometimes."… For those who believe winning championships drives James like it did Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, for example, you had to wonder about James’ comments after the Game 5 loss: "I'm 25 years old and you're talking about reputation and legacy," James said in answer to a question. "C'mon man, I've got more years and a lot more time to play this game of basketball. As far as my reputation and my legacy, the only thing that I care about being a part of this league and being a part of this franchise or who I am is to help guys get better every day, lead guys and try to help guys understand that it's more than the game of basketball. Nobody can ever question what I do individually or what I've done in this short career.” The point is he’s satisfied with who he is and what he’s done so far. It suggests more fame and fortune still matters more than mere basketball success.

-- Tough week for coaches as Mike Woodson went, appropriately it would seem after coaching what had to be the worst playoff series in coaching history against the Magic, with 100 wins in the last two seasons. Mike Brown seems about to go after 127 wins in the last two seasons, and that was after giving up the last four games when they sat LeBron James with his supposed elbow issues. The conventional wisdom has been GM Rick Sund will go with Dwane Casey, with whom he worked in Seattle. Though don’t discount Sam Mitchell, who lives in Atlanta, and has been recommended to Sund by close associates of Sund’s. Plus, perhaps more than any group, the Hawks with Josh Smith are in need of being held accountable on the floor while Woodson was known for letting often indifferent starters like Smith and Marvin Williams get away with taking games off. Former GM Billy Knight tried to fire Woodson several times, but was overruled by management for financial reason. It probably didn’t help Woodson’s cause when the owner said the players looked like “deer in headlights” in the Orlando series. Both Atlanta Constitution columnists also called for Woodson’s firing during the series. And if Marvin Williams isn’t the league’s most overrated or underachieving player, he’s clearly in the team picture. … The Hornets are said to have cooled on Avery Johnson and seeking other possibilities. … Though New York is said to be a contender for free agents like LeBron James, one reason they’ll probably be shut out, according to one former New York player I spoke with, is the media. But not what most think about so many reporters around all the time. It’s who they work for. Imagine what the popular New York tabloids would be doing with Dwyane Wade’s sensational divorce, which Florida papers pretty much ignore. Chicago media and reporters pretty much downplayed or ignored salacious stories involving Michael Jordan. But the player told me the newspaper tabloids try to ruin your life with sensationalism, and who needs that. After the Knicks get shut out, most expect them to try to trade for the likes of a Paul Millsap or Tony Parker (by the way, Parker to New York was mentioned here April 26) or take on an expiring contract while they hope to attract Carmelo Anthony in 2011.

-- I know being a native that New York is a sad, pathetic place populated basically by losers telling themselves they are superior so they’ll endure their miserable daily lives. But how sad was this to see the New York Daily News now have a logo of on its basketball site and the New York Post urging the team to sign James’ high school teammates to lure James to the Knicks. I will tell you the fantasy of those around the NBA sick of hearing how important the Knicks are to the NBA: James goes to New Jersey and the Nets pick up another top free agent in a sign-and-trade, effectively making the Knicks irrelevant, though most would say they are now not having won a playoff game since 2001. … Just to set the record straight, despite source statements to the contrary, the Bulls have not limited their candidates to those who have coached in the playoffs. In fact, they are almost sure to interview and seriously consider at least one candidate who has not.

-- LeBron James has gotten a lot of criticism for the way the Cavs went out of the playoffs, and the Cavs are coming off consecutive 60-plus win seasons, which is why it’s been difficult to criticize the team the last two years. But it’s been an awful job by the Cavs of trying to put together a champion around James, and that, in part, is James’ fault. It also reflects well on what Jerry Krause did. The Bulls got a lot of criticism in the late 1980’s because Michael Jordan was criticizing them for not making the deals he wanted, Buck Williams for Horace Grant, Walter Davis for Scottie Pippen and having given up Charles Oakley for Bill Cartwright. Management suffered as Jordan said one time if he were GM this would be done differently. We know what happened. Let’s look at this Cavs team: Anthony Parker? Shaq? Antawn Jamison. OK, he was an All-Star, but they got him at 34 on his way down. Mo Williams, a second round pick given up on by two teams. Anderson Varejao? How about some of the past Cavs moves? Larry Hughes? Drew Gooden? Joe Smith? Wally Szczerbiak? Ben Wallace? Part of the problem has been to accommodate James, GMs around the league say the word is the Cavs cleared every personnel move with James. Given that, he would have a moral obligation to stay. But I’m guessing he doesn’t see it that way.

-- The obvious question regarding the Jazz is that they won’t be able to keep both free agent Carlos Boozer and Paul Millsap. It’s never been a secret Deron Williams and Boozer are not close, and while Williams has been complimentary of Boozer, Williams seemed to suggest to Salt Lake City media after being swept by the Lakers that he could see going it with Millsap once Mehmet Okur returns. Though Williams also said the Jazz need to add players not lose them. Bigger, tougher players, we assume he meant. "I think that's one of the problems—is it's kind of hard, you know—to play (Millsap) and Booz at the same time, especially against a team like L.A., teams that have a lot of length to them,” Williams said. "They're different players, but I think Paul is definitely capable of averaging around 20 and 10. I think you saw when Booz was out (during the 2008-09 season) and (Millsap) had, what, 19 straight double-doubles?" It also may have not gone unnoticed to Williams down the stretch in games against the Lakers Boozer wanted no part of the ball, hiding in the corner as Williams had to play more two man game with rookie Wesley Matthews. That said, you’d sure be taking a risk signing Boozer given that he missed almost 40 percent of his games with the Jazz with various, mysterious injuries. And he is 6-8, small for a power forward. But said coach Jerry Sloan: "Can you win 53 games if Boozer's not here? That's the tough part. He is a very talented guy. Teams double-team us, or they zone us. He’s terrific in the middle of the zone. He's got a lot of things, and not everybody has those kinds of skills—to be able to pass out of it, or take a shot that makes it look easy.” Williams, meanwhile, can be a free agent after the 2011-12 season and might be a big prize by that time if the Jazz don’t improve. But Utah has the Knicks’ lottery pick in the draft. … George Karl in great news said he plans to return to coach the Nuggets next season, and it was obvious how much they missed him. It was clear the way Carmelo Anthony reverted to selfish play without Karl and the Nuggets suffered. Hurry back, George.


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