A Diary With Upside
By Bill Simmons
The NBA draft never disappoints. Even during last night's pregame show, within 20 seconds, Mike Tirico set the bar for hyperbole by calling New York City "the greatest city in the world." Jay Bilas creeped everyone out by bemoaning the lack of a "sexy superstar." And everyone seemed to feel the same way: Any time you have a superstar-free draft with a never ending supply of Upside Guys and Foreign-Born Guys, with some of the most incompetent executives drafting these players, there's always some tremendous upside potential.
Without further ado
7:30 p.m. Nothing gets me more pumped for the NBA draft than a Lenny Kravitz song from 12 years ago. Really? "Are You Gonna Go My Way?" was the best ESPN could come up with tonight? Anyway, I'm joined here by well, nobody's here. It's just me (Dad couldn't make it). Although I might get stuck with a crying baby at some point if the Sports Gal pulls the disgusted, "I know you're working, but do you think you could stop watching sports and take her for 20 minutes?" look on her face at some point in the first round. Stay tuned.
7:32 Ladies and gentleman, Mr. David Stern
"Hello everyone and welcome to the NBA Draft at Madison Square Garden in New York City, home of the Knicks and (whoops, I have to sound excited when I say this) the New York Liberty! A quick note this is the last year that we will allow high schoolers to be drafted. As you probably heard by now, I have destroyed the Players Association again. There's nothing left. Just rubble. Don't challenge me again next time, the casualties will be significant. I'm warning you "
7:34 On the clock: The Bucks, who are planning to take Andrew Bogut at No. 1. No, not in a supplemental draft the actual draft. I thought he was going to be the next Bill Wennington until last week, when I found out he was only 20 years old. Now I'd like to upgrade that prediction to the poor man's Mike Gminski. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing G-Mo had a few good years, and sported the best, red, mid-'80s beard except for possibly Chuck Norris. Plus, the clips of Bogut trying to guard Amare Stoudemire could fill an NBA DVD some day.
Meanwhile, Anthony worries about Bogut going to the coachless Bucks, saying, "Without a coach, you don't have a philosophy, a style or a system." Apparently he didn't watch Atlanta last season. That's followed by Tirico pointing out that the 1999 Clippers (with Michael Olowokandi) were the last team that drafted a center first even though they didn't have a coach, followed by Anthony laughing and joking, "I hope that's not an omen." Do you think a group of fans have ever been less excited by a No. 1 pick than Bucks fans? In any sport?
7:36 Bogut (desperately needing to grow a wispy mustache) goes first and hugs a bunch of happy Australians. Couldn't they have given us a "Most Successful Australians" montage here? They could have shown the Crocodile Dundee, Men At Work, Nicole Kidman, the Bee Gees I mean, this is a guy who could go down some day as the greatest Australian-Croatian center of all-time. We can't celebrate this?
7:39 We just learned that Bogut's favorite food is "soup." That choice narrowly edged "bread." Also, his father just told us that Andrew was working out with a personal trainer since he was a little kid (although it's too late to get him on Bravo's "Sports Kids Moms and Dads"). That's followed by an enjoyable interview with Bucks GM Larry Harris, who seems even more happy to be here than Ralph Macchio was on "Entourage" a few weeks ago.
(Note: Can't you see Harris showing a date this draft telecast 10 years from now? "See, I told you I ran an NBA team! Yeah, we had the first pick I took this slow Australian guy with bad eyesight biiiiiiiiiig mistake ")
7:42 Picking second and needing a point guard, the Hawks grab Marvin Williams, who shattered Shane Battier's record for "Most flattering stories and comments about someone's character before an NBA draft" this summer by the time the draft started, I was waiting to see footage of him pulling kids out of wells and delivering babies in elevators. To sum up his UPPPPPPPPside as an NBA prospect, Bilas uses phrases like, "Sky is the limit unbelievably long active, athletic the real deal the complete package active, bouncy, athlete really long wingspan of about 7-foot-3 " and then adds, "The thing that makes him special is his range as a shooter."
(Of course, nowhere in that gushing monologue was the phrase, "Couldn't start for his college team." But we'll let it slide. I like Jay Bilas. He's unbelievably long.)
7:45 Of all people, it takes Dick Vitale (with a red background behind him) to ask the "Why the heck would the Hawks take Williams when they already have Josh Childress, Al Harrington and Josh Smith?" question. If he's the voice of reason tonight, we could be in serious trouble.
7:48 Following a trade with Portland, Utah takes Deron (don't call me De-RON) Williams at No. 3. Perfect pick with some luck, he'll be half as good as Chris Paul. Bilas sums up everyone's concerns by wondering if Deron has the "blowbyability" to get into the lane I'm going to vote "yes" since he's 202 pounds and should end up looking like John Bagley before everything's said and done. On the bright side, Deron has the hottest girlfriend since Casey Jacobsen's girlfriend turned Craig Sager to jello in the 2002 draft.
7:49 Stu Scott finishes his interview with Deron Williams by saying, "Mike, seven tattoos on this man, still, character all the time, character," followed by a confused Williams staring at him in disbelief. Highlight of the draft so far.
7:54 New Orleans happily grabs Chris Paul with the fourth pick, partly because he's the best player in the draft, partly because he's one of four people in this draft who could handle playing in New Orleans. "He will be the mayor of New Orleans!" Vitale screams. "Trust me! He will be the king of New Orleans!" Translation: He's going to hand out more beads than assists.
Meanwhile, Paul's brother CJ fondly remembers all the fights they had when they were kids including the time Chris pulled a knife on him adding, "it was all out of love, it was all out of love." Gotcha. CJ also reveals that he's going to live with Chris and serve as his manager and personal assistant. I can't believe he was available.
7:57 The following exchange about the Paul pick just occurred:
Stephen A. Smith: "If you're the New Orleans Hornets, you could pick Winnie the Pooh and you would have improved."
Bilas (on autopilot): "Winnie The Pooh what I like about him is that he's unbelievably long, 7-foot wingspan, bouncy, great athlete, very high basketball IQ "
(All right, I made the second part up. But Stephen A. really did bring up Pooh.)
8:01 Hey, remember when the Mavs took Devin Harris fifth, and it seemed like a reach, and he ended up not even cracking 1,200 minutes as a rookie? In a related story, the Bobcats just took UNC's Raymond Felton fifth. "He has a 6-foot-4 inch wingspan," notes Bilas. Seriously? I always thought it looked like it was in the 6-foot-3 area.
8:06 Thanks to ESPN's fun little draft fact thingie, we just learned that Felton "writes poetry in his spare time." I think I would pay $7,500 to hear him recite Tyrone Green's "Kill My Landlord" to Stu Scott right now and pretend that he wrote it.
8:07 High schooler Martell Webster just went sixth to the coachless Blazers, where there's a 95 percent chance he'll be corrupted by D-Miles, Zach Randolph, Ruben Patterson and the rest of the chain gang. With one of the other picks they got in the Utah trade, they should draft the Whizzinator.
(Funny story about Webster and fellow stud high schooler Gerald Green from Monday night's draft preview special: Stu asked them if they knew who the first lottery pick ever was in 1985 and both of them drew a blank. Then Stu gave them the "New York, New York" clue still, complete blanks. Finally he told them and Webster defended himself with, "I was only 1." And you wonder why the age limit is coming in.)
8:08 Bilas on Webster: "He's really long he could have shaken hands with David Stern from the Green Room!" Would there be anything more riveting than hearing Bilas trying to analyze a draft where teams could take only midgets and dwarfs?
8:12 New highlight of the night: Webster's grandmother's hat. It's looks like a chef's cap crossed with an overcooked souffle. Fantastic. Also, Portland GM John Nash (looking grim and nervous) just explained the pick by saying, "First of all, we think we took an outstanding young man, he's a terrific character, somebody that the community of Portland can be proud of, in addition to a very good player." Translation: Don't worry, this guy may stink down the road, but at least he won't end up in jail.
8:14 Remember my running joke about Charlie Villanueva looking like the lead singer of Midnight Oil? Well, Charlie has a new claim to fame he just became one of the top-five worst picks in the history of the NBA draft. Toronto took him seventh. Seventh! Seventh! Rob Babcock just drafted Rafael Araujo and Charlie Villanueva with back-to-back top-10 picks when he already had Chris Bosh! And he just left Green and Danny Granger on the board! Throw in the Carter trade and are we absolutely sure that Babcock isn't Scott Layden using a fake Canadian passport? You're lucky I didn't start out as the Toronto Sports Guy, I would have been capable of 25 to 30 straight Babcock columns this summer.
8:16 After listening to Bilas and the crew killing his selection for 90 seconds, a shell-shocked Charlie gets interviewed by Stu, who wraps up his interview by singing, "It's Brooklyn in it's Brooklyn in it's Brooklyn in da house!" Who else is waiting for Charlie to jump up brandishing a pistol and screaming, "All right, who's the bust now? Huh? Huh?"
8:19 I'm sorry, I think "Isiah Thomas and the Knicks are on the clock" has surpassed "Elgin Baylor and the Clips" are on the clock as the most exciting moment in the draft every year. Bilas votes for Channing Frye here, Anthony and Smith vote for Granger, and I vote for Frye becoming the next Loren Woods regardless of what happens. We'll see.
8:20 Yup, Frye goes to the Knicks at No. 8 as we see Spike Lee clapping with a confused, "Crap, should I renew my courtside seats?" look on his face. Any time you can waste a top-eight pick on a center who couldn't average eight rebounds a game as a senior, you make that move every time.
8:25 David Stern sums up Golden State's pick of Ike Diogu at No. 9 by saying, "Ike is not here." On the bright side, it's good to have someone named "Ike" in our lives again, isn't it? Long overdue. And speaking of long you're not going to believe this, but Ike Diogu is very long. A wingspan that measures 7-foot-4. If you're looking for someone to sit in the backseat of a car and open both doors at the same time, he's your guy.
8:30 Apparently the Lakers are trading Kobe this summer they just took 17-year-old, 290-pound center Andrew Bynum with the 10th pick. I'm speechless. The best high schooler in the draft (Green) and the best perimeter player (Granger) just inexplicably dropped out of the top 10. You figure it out.
(By the way, I think this draft should have a running feature called "Pick Me Baby One More Time" with failed GM's from years past trying to explain crappy picks for the teams that just made them. For instance, former Celtics GM Chris Wallace could have come out tonight and reenacted his explanation for the Kedrick Brown pick four years ago, and then later in the show, he could have performed an explanation for this Bynum pick. Wouldn't that have been just as riveting as seeing Wang Chung singing "Everybody Wang Chung Tonight" and Nelly's "It's Getting Hot in Here"?)
8:34 I have to say, I enjoyed Bynum's interview with Stu right down to the three-step handshake. "He has lost 20 pounds," explains Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak, "so he's dedicated himself in the last month or so." Well, that's good news. I mean, if he's been dedicated for a solid month, that changes everything.
8:35 Just talked to my Dad, who's officially in "We might end up with Danny Granger at No. 18!" mode.
8:38 All right, I'd like to nominate Fran Vazquez as the odds-on favorite to replace the retiring Shawn Bradley as "The guy who will be dunked on more than anyone else in the league next year." He just went 11th to the Magic and received multiple kisses on the cheek from another man. Apparently Granger either committed an armed robbery last night, or he recently contracted Hepatitis A-thru-M. There's no other explanation.
8:39 I take back every Vasquez joke: Didn't realize he averaged 8.4 points per game and 4.4 rebounds per game in the Spanish ACB league last year. By the way, Stu Scott is talking to Vasquez through an interpreter right now.
8:39 Addendum to previous note: The interpreter is for Vasquez, not Stu.
8:44 Did you enjoy the Elgin Baylor Era? The Clips took Mike Dunleavy's guy (Yaroslav Korolev) at No. 12, signifying Elgin's inevitable move upstairs that came about eight years too late. We'll remember Elgin as a Hall of Famer, a veteran of the lottery process, and the guy who said about Shaun Livingston's progress last year, "It might take a season, it might take half a season, it might take a year." Farewell, Elgin. Farewell.
(And just for the record, as a Clippers season-ticket holder, consider this my formal complaint that they passed on Granger for some Russian dude who can't help them for three to four years. I'm sending my second installment of my payment plan to the Clips right after I dip it in golden retriever urine.)
8:46 Fantastic monologue from Vitale: "I do know Sean May and Granger and Green and I can't believe these guys are being bypassed. I think there's a tendency to look at the foreign player and we get enamored, and we look at our own kids and find all their faults. I know this though, it's a fact. Twenty international players taken in the first round in the last four years, and only one of them have made an impact Yao Ming!"
(Wait a second, you're telling me that Darko Milicic didn't make a major impact? I milked like 300 jokes and counting out of the Darko Era! That's an impact, pal!)
8:49 Stephen A. Smith follows Vitale's lead and rants about the foreigners/college player problem; I'd give you the transcript, but the font size on my computer doesn't go high enough. Meanwhile, almost like a WNBA team, the Bobcats are picking local players hoping that will boost their attendance numbers at No. 13, they just grabbed Sean May, whose favorite movie is "Ferris Bueller's Day Off." I need to know these things. Meanwhile, my Dad and I just had this exchange:
Dad: "What's the name of the ESPN announcer I don't like?"
Me: "Stephen A. Smith?"
Dad: "Yeah I thought he just made a really good point about the foreign players."
8:55 Hoping to replace Latrell Sprewell's scoring, explosion and overall insanity, Minnesota takes Rashad McCants at No. 14. This leads to the funniest moment of the draft McCants taking so long to hug his family and posse that Stern zoned out on the podium, followed by McCants having to tap him on the shoulder for the obligatory handshake. Fantastic. That could have earned this telecast "Save Until I Delete" TiVo status for at least three weeks.
8:59 Poor Gerald Green he has a "If I drop four more spots, I'm going to have to return that Hummer and the three Plasmas" look on his face right now.
By the way, here's my McCants question everyone was writing that his stock was dropping as teams kept doing background checks on him. Well, what were they finding? Did he kill a litter of puppies? Did he appear in a snuff film? Or was it something as innocent as "His favorite movie is 'Scarface'"? As I'm mulling over the possibilities, McCants gives us the quote of the night: "My passion for winning is very misunderstood it took us three years to win a championship, sometimes it takes guys 10 years."
(Yup, he's going to fill Spree's shoes nicely.)
9:02 ESPN should have a feature in the post-draft special with NBA fans calling friends who aren't watching the draft to tell them what happened in the last 10 picks. I just called my buddy House, who's at the Nationals game in DC right now he let out a series of "What? You're lying! What? What? Come on! Get out of here! Whaaaaaaaaat?" Highest of high comedy. I felt like I was telling him that I just grew three extra nipples and a third leg.
9:02 Antoine Wright to the Nets at No. 15, Joey Graham to the Raptors at No. 16. Sorry, I can't concentrate on this draft anymore the Celtics are one pick away from getting one of the top-six prospects at No. 18 (Green or Granger). This is incredible it's like we tanked the 2005 season even though we didn't. My Dad and I have officially moved to "Stay on the phone through the Celtics pick with our fingers crossed" mode.
9:13 Indiana takes Granger, the only guy in this draft other than Paul who could have played in last week's Spurs-Pistons series now he's going to one of the most talented teams in the league? Yikes. My disappointed father (a Granger fan) immediately brings up the '85 Draft when the Pistons took Joe Dumars one spot ahead of the Celtics. That leads to this exchange:
Me: "Well, Green went No. 3 in just about every mock draft this week he's supposedly the closest thing in the draft to Kobe and T-Mac since Kobe and T-Mac."
Dad (shuffling through his USA Today): "Yeah, the USA Today has him No. 3 (getting more excited ) No. 3! (legitimately excited) Wow! Let's take him!"
That was fast.
9:15 I'm telling you, Vitale is like Confucius tonight. He just had this rant after the Granger pick: "I get so carried away sometimes hearing all these people talking about quickness, jumping ability, wingspan, hey, this isn't track and field, this is basketball!" Listening to Dickie V tonight makes me feel like Katie Holmes hearing Tom Cruise discuss Scientology for the first time I feel like he's unlocking a key to a higher being or something. Or, it might just be the blood-red background.
9:17 And the Celtics take Gerald Green!
(Woo-hoo! Yippee! Yee-hah! Hey now! Hi-ho!)
According to Andy Katz, the Celtics are absolutely thrilled, adding that Portland, Atlanta and Denver have already called to try to get this pick. Bilas adds, "an insane athlete great pick at 18." Green tells us that it was "God's plan." On ESPN.com, Chad Ford calls it the "second steal of the draft." Stu Scott tells us that Green was cut by his high school team ("just like a guy named Michael Jordan"). My Dad says, "Trade Pierce! Trade Pierce! Let's build around the kids!" And ESPN tells us that his nickname is G-Money. Just a satisfying three minutes all around. I get to root for Big Al and G-Money for the next 15 years. What could be better than that?
In fact, let's zoom through the rest of the first round. The rest of the highlights
1. Hakim Warrick (another one of my favorites) won the "Last guy in the Green Room" award, getting tabbed by Memphis at No. 19. We also learned that he has not one, not two, but three nicknames Helicopter, Stretch and Skinny and that Grizzlies GM Jerry West thought he was a "very good player at Princeton." More tapioca, Mr. West?
2. E-mail of the night from Florida reader Frank Kosher: "Was I the only one expecting to hear, 'With the 27th pick, in the 2005 NBA draft, the Portland Trail Blazers select Carlton Dotson, from Baylor University."
3. Best picks: Sacramento (Francisco Garcia at No. 22) and Houston (Luther Head at No. 24). Plus, Vitale called Garcia "multi-dimensional, very versatile, he can play three positions on the floor." He's even flexible.
4. Frenchman Ian Mahinmi (who went to San Antonio at No. 28) received the unprecedented thumbnail scouting report blurb: "Must Improve: Overall Skills." Probably not a good idea to invest in his rookie cards any time soon.
5. Friends calling and e-mailing all night to congratulate me on the G-Money Era. This was like having a baby all over again. Congratulations, you must be shocked! Did you know it was coming? How long was the labor? What a nice-looking kid!
6. Denver pick Julius Hodge (No. 20, wearing a lovely cream suit) to Stu Scott on how he became an NBA fan during a Lakers-Knicks game at MSG: "I was at that game and the ball went out of bounds and I happened to get some good seats and Magic kinda just glazed into the crowd and I was smiling my Mom remembered telling me, and he just winked his eye at me and I been a Magic fan ever since, I love the guy."
(Let's just say that any Magic Johnson story that includes the phrase "Magic glazed into the crowd" has to be considered one of the draft-day highlights of all-time.)
7. With the final pick of the round (No. 30), Isiah and the Knicks took their 47th power forward (David Lee, the first white American player taken in the round), followed by the crowd booing, a shot of a completely horrified Spike Lee and a grinning Stern, quickly turning Round 2 over to Russ Granik before hightailing it out of there. Yet another classic first round in the books.
See, that's one thing that never changes with the NBA draft: It has a ton of upside, its wingspan is incredible, it's bouncy, it has a ton of energy, it's active and it's very, very long. Until next year.