Tuesday, June 28, 2005

After Tonight, You're Dead To Me

The NBA draft is upon us tonight, marking the one night per year that I get particularly excited about an NBA event. To me, the event is less about the NBA, and more about bidding a final farewell to the college players that have entertained me for the last 1-4 years. And it’s a chance to see some of the worst suits ever tailored. It’s sort of like a graduation ceremony for the remarkably talented, but stylistically challenged. Given my love of the event, and the fact that Milwaukee is abuzz over the opportunity to draft first this year, I think I need to weigh in. So here, in no particular order, are my draft-related thoughts and predictions:

1) The debate in Milwaukee right now is whether the Bucks should draft Andrew Bogut or Marvin Williams. Let me go on record right now that I think Bogut’s the guy. Bogut has proven himself at the college level, has done well in international play, and has stated that he would like to play in Milwaukee, a rare sentiment from a pro athlete. Williams is an exceptional athlete who didn’t start on his college team, and had a sub-par workout with the Bucks. That’s about all I need to know. Of course, I have two follow-up rants on this topic:

First, the Bucks’ GM Larry Harris makes me laugh every time I hear him say that they’re not sure who they want to pick. There’s not a doubt in my head that it’s Andrew Bogut. And if there was, it was dispelled last night when I saw a sound clip from current Buck, Desmond Mason, on the news giving an endorsement to Bogut. I understand that you need to keep from revealing your choice if you want to continue to receive media attention over a controversy, but there can’t be a more contrived controversy than this one.

Second, the concept of picking Marvin Williams encompasses everything that I hate about the NBA draft. So much of it now is based on potential. Teams no longer draft hoping to add talent to their roster, but rather simply try not to get anyone fired because they passed on the next Kevin Garnett. This Williams-Bogut thing is the perfect example. Williams is 19 years old, and many don’t think he can step in right away and be an impact player, but he has great potential. Bogut is roughly one year older than Williams, and is generally thought to be ready to play in the NBA from the moment he is drafted, but may not have as much potential. Maybe it’s just because I’m risk averse, but I’m taking the guy that can play, rather than the guy who might be able to play in a couple years (when, notably, his 3-year contract may be up).

It’s not wanting to miss the next big thing that leads to decisions like the Clippers, in 1998, using the number one pick to take a raw center from Pacific who had only played basketball for something like 5 years beforehand. Simply put—if you’ve got the number one pick, you don’t take a project. You take the surest damn thing you can find. Even if he’s not a star, you’ll at least have a solid player for awhile.

Of course, it’s views like these that keep me from getting on Let’s Make a Deal. Like I’m going to give up $500 to take what’s inside a random box.

2) Last night as I was going to bed, I happened upon the NBA Network (which I actually didn’t know I subscribed to) and they were showing the first hour or so of various old drafts through the years. I wish someone had told me about this beforehand, because it was excellent television (and because I missed all of the years in which David Stern was still wearing a hilarious mustache). There’s nothing more entertaining than seeing the happy face of a GM picking a player with a high draft pick, but knowing (as he surely does not at the time) that the guy he just drafted will be playing in Uzbekistan within three years of being drafted. I felt like Biff Tannen in Back To the Future II.

Perhaps the high point of what I saw last night, though, was watching 1989 draft and hearing Rick Barry discuss how poorly the Clippers had done in prior drafts, and then watching them take Danny Ferry, the most raved about player in the draft. Of course, we know now that he’s also the guy who would make the unprecedented move of playing in Italy to avoid joining the Clips. All the while, the present day news crawl at the bottom of the screen kept repeating that Ferry was just named GM of Cleveland. It was surreal, and I couldn’t believe that I had missed other drafts earlier that night. Thank goodness I have the DVR box working overtime to capture the early 1990s tonight.

3) I hate the ESPN show “The Top-5 Reasons You Can’t Blame…,” but last night’s installment featuring reasons that you couldn’t blame Portland for drafting Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan in 1984 was something not to be missed. I learned a few tidbits, but probably the best part was Bowie himself reflecting on the fact that given Jordan’s career, Portland should have drafted Jordan. Yeah, no crap. The show did give me moment for pause, however, as every time I saw Bowie play on the downside of his career, he was referred to as a great passing center. I always sort of thought that was code for “a center who can’t really rebound or score.” As a Milwaukean, should I be concerned that people keep talking about Andrew Bogut’s great passing ability?

4) Given the NBA Network’s old draft coverage, I’d love to write up the top-10 draft moments that I can find from the old footage that they’re showing. Of course, given my track record of actually writing about something that I’ve referenced as a future topic, there’s probably about a 4% chance that I’ll actually buckle down and do it, so I should just get the important ones out of the way now. With that in mind, I’d have to say that my all-time favorite draft moment would have to be Jalen Rose being drafted, and walking to the stage in his red suit with yellow pinstripes, which still stands as the ugliest suit I’ve seen at an NBA draft (which is pretty much an ugly suit convention to begin with). A close second is David Stern shaking hands with Gheorge Muresan, who was roughly 2.2 times his height.

5) Ah, the state’s talent. Who’s going to be drafted? Well, after two banner years in which players with Wisconsin ties went at the fifth pick, Travis Diener’s really the only hope tonight. It doesn’t sound like Mike Wilkinson’s workouts went very well, and Ed McCants has been spending his summer learning Italian, so I assume the state’s second-best players know what they’re doing this upcoming year. Apparently Diener’s stock has shot up over the last month, and he’s gone from being a fringe second-rounder, to a high second rounder. I still don’t think that Diener will ever see significant floor time for an NBA squad, but he’s definitely a guy who I’d want on my roster. If nothing else, I think Travis will see lots of the country in the next couple years as he bounces around the NBA. And 12th man, even for the worst team in the league, is still better than what most of us are doing for a living.

6) What am I doing for the draft? There’s a small part of me that wants to go to the Bucks’ draft party downtown at the Bradley Center. But it’s a really small part. Advertised as being free, I’m assuming that the draft party is largely just an excuse to get some more PR and sell $8 beers to fans. Thus, I’m watching the draft at a sports bar with some friends. The beers will still probably be $4, but it will be a lot easier to make audible jokes to my friends about players’ suits.

7) Point guards are going to be the real story of this draft when we look back on the NBA Network in 10 years. So my predictions on the top three?

Deron Williams: A solid NBA cog for years to come, but never a superstar. Will still be in the league 15 years from now, getting ready to retire with an adoring fanbase, and great memories of the one all-star game he played in.

Chris Paul: Not sure what it is, but something tells me this guy just doesn’t make it big. This should be a fun quote to re-visit in a year, given the chances that I’m horrifically wrong on this one. I just have a feeling, though, and I’m predicting bust. After all, we need someone to laugh at when we’re watching this draft 10 years from now.

Raymond Felton: Will be the top point guard of this year’s class. Since his sophomore season at UNC, he looked more like he was wearing an NBA jersey than a UNC jersey. He’ll make someone very happy.

So let the draft begin. And enjoy your evening draftees, because after tonight, the amount that I care about what you do on a basketball court drops about 90%. (Not that that bothers any of you, because by the end of the night you’ll all be able to buy and sell me 50 times over.)

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