Friday, June 18, 2004
What happened to the deep draft?
By Chad Ford
# Mock draft (June 14): Standard version | Slideshow version
Also see: NBA draft camp combine results | Who's In, Who's out?
A month ago, the conventional wisdom on this year's NBA draft was that it lacked any real impact players but was among the deepest in years. That was thanks to a record 94 American and international underclassmen who had flooded the draft.
After Thursday's mass exodus of underclassmen, has the draft suddenly lost all its depth?
A record 38 international underclassmen declared for the draft in April, but just six prominent names -- Andris Biedrins, Ha Seung Jin, Sergey Monya, Pavel Podkolzine, Peter John Ramos and Sasha Vujacic -- actually stayed in the draft. Everyone else pulled out on Thursday.
"I think the draft was looking a little bit deeper than it is now, with some of the Europeans and some other people pulling out," Magic GM John Weisbrod said. "It's moving the priority in the draft selections more and more forward."
The NBA draft is on the Atkins diet, and the rapid talent loss is putting the squeeze on teams like the Celtics, Jazz, Hawks and Blazers, who were trying to package their multiple picks to move up.
Both Boston and Utah had the opportunity Thursday to make draft promises to a number of international underclassmen with their late first-round picks but declined to do so, according to sources. Players like Peja Samardziski, Tiago Splitter, Johan Petro, and Roko Leni Ukic would have settled for a draft spot outside the lottery, but none of them got a satisfactory guarantee.
Why not? It's the same story we've been writing for months. Teams outside the lottery are reluctant to make promises, because there's a good chance they'll be able to trade up on draft night. Most lottery teams are willing to move their picks for talented veterans, and several playoff teams would love to capitalize on the opportunity. If you don't know for sure you'll still be drafting in the 20s come draft night, it's awfully tough to promise someone that spot.
It also has been nearly impossible to pin down the projected draft order, which also helped limit promises and ultimately sparked the withdrawls. Teams simply don't know who will be on the board when they pick. Players such as Josh Smith, Jameer Nelson, Rafael Araujo, Pavel Podkolzine, Luke Jackson, Sebastian Telfair and Peter John Ramos have draft stock that could land them in the lottery or in the mid to late first round. No one wants to be locked in to a promise only to see someone they like better fall to them.
Those realities, along with the chilling reminder of what has happened in the past to several highly touted international players -- such as Maciej Lampe, who slipped from a lottery projection all the way to the second round -- sent folks running to the hills.
"I just didn't feel that the commitment I had from a team in the lottery was firm enough," agent Herb Rudoy said Thursday evening after reversing course and pulling Splitter's name at the last minute. "On Wednesday we thought he was in for sure. As the day went on (Thursday), we began changing our mind. It is a tough decision to make, but I think it was the right one for Tiago."
Top American underclassmen like Lawrence Roberts and Ryan Gomes told a similar story.
"Too many unanswered questions," Roberts said during an appearance late Thursday afternoon on ESPNews. "Anytime you have a situation like that, the best remedy is to answer the questions people have in their heads. That's going back to school ... and proving I'm a higher pick than people might think."
While the decisions might have been wise for the players, the exodus has wreaked havoc on the draft. Some GMs are feeling a little remorse after seeing the potential draft pool slashed.
"We may have been too smart for our own good," one NBA GM who has a pick in the 20s told Insider late Thursday night. "We didn't want to commit, because we thought the chances of a great player falling to us were really high. Now that so many pulled out, the chances are really low. As it stands, I think we liked a few of the guys who pulled out a lot more than anyone who is going to fall to us. Last year, too many kids stayed in. This year, too many probably pulled out. This is how it goes."
The good news for several prospects is things are opening up at the bottom of the draft. Underclassmen who opted to stay in -- such as Delonte West, Donta Smith, Dorell Wright and Kevin Martin -- along with a few 22-year-old internationals -- such as Viktor Khraypa, Anderson Varejao, Beno Udrih and Albert Miralles -- now have a realistic shot of getting picked late in the first round.
# Emeka Okafor is in Orlando today to work out for the Magic. According to various reports, Okafor's back checked out in the Chicago pre-draft physical and he was not medically red-flagged by the league. You can expect the Magic doctors to go over his results and his back carefully one more time, but from what we're hearing, it's not going to be a major issue.
Much more pressing for Okafor and the Magic is owner Rich DeVos' meeting with Tracy McGrady, which is supposed to take place sometime this weekend. The meeting will be a two-way affair. While the Magic want to hear McGrady's plans concerning his right to opt out of his contract after next season, they have some issues of their own they want to address. McGrady reportedly had a so-so work ethic with the team last year and didn't participate in practices much. If T-Mac wants to stay, the Magic want him to commit to change his ways, too.
"We want to know that Tracy will put his heart into it if he stays and will come to terms with the things we are asking him and all our players to do," DeVos told the Orlando Sentinel.
While the Magic downplay the significance of the meeting to their eventual choice in the draft, the truth is T-Mac's plans will shape the team's direction. If T-Mac is on board, the Magic likely will either try to trade the pick for a veteran or select Okafor, the most NBA-ready player in the draft. If T-Mac wants out, the Magic likely will begin rebuilding and will have to decide whether Okafor or Dwight Howard holds the most promise.
Howard will be in Orlando on Saturday. He also plans on making visits to the Clippers (though he won't work out) and to Charlotte (where he will likely workout). The Hawks are trying to swap picks (No. 2 for No. 6 & No. 17) with the Clippers, but need to be assured that Howard will be there when they pick. The Bobcats are trying to do the same thing (No. 4 plus a player or draft pick they pick up in the expansion draft), though they would be happy with either Okafor or Howard at No. 2.
# The Bulls finally worked out Luol Deng on Thursday. Deng has long been thought to be Chicago's most likely pick at No. 3, but he had yet to work out for the club.
"Luol was relentless in his work. And that's who he is," GM John Paxson told the Chicago Tribune. "We got a decent read on his quickness, and he's a better athlete than people give him credit for. He's going to be a very good shooter in this league. Right now, he has more of a mid-range game than a deep game. But he's 19 and has time to develop that. And he's a willing learner."
The Bulls seem to be deciding between Deng, Josh Childress, Andre Iguodala and possibly Ben Gordon, who had a stellar workout with them earlier in the week. While Gordon, at 6-foot-2, isn't a great fit in the backcourt with Kirk Hinrich, the Bulls were blown away with his workout. That goes the same for the Hawks and Suns. Athletically, few have been able to match Gordon in workouts.
# Where will Pavel Podkolzine land on draft night? Don't count out the Dallas Mavericks. Sources claim the Mavericks, who don't own a first round pick, have been talking to teams in the late lottery trying to move up to select Podkolzine, with whom Donnie Nelson fell in love with at the Reebok Eurocamp in Treviso. The Mavericks need a big, physical center in the worst way, and Podkolzine would be a perfect fit in Don Nelson's liberal offense.
One potential scenario has them trading last year's No. 1 pick, Josh Howard, to the Cavs for the No. 10 pick. The Cavs are looking for a young, veteran swingman to put on the court with LeBron James, and Howard fits the bill. Not only did he have four years of college experience, he also started 29 games for the Mavericks last season and played a big role in their playoff run. The Cavs own a trade exception that could allow them to acquire Howard without having to send back a player in return.
# Several NBA agents told Insider on Thursday that the Nets canceled workouts with draft candidates. As we first reported last week and again on Thursday, the Nets have been in serious discussions with the Blazers about a trade to acquire Shareef Abdur-Rahim for Kerry Kittles, Aaron Williams and New Jersey's No. 22 pick. Now that the Nets are canceling workouts, is the deal done? Nothing can become official until after the expansion draft, because Kittles was left unprotected. It's unlikely the Bobcats will select him, meaning the Nets could to trade him Wednesday, a day before the draft.
What will the Blazers do with three picks? One of the later picks likely will be used for Sebastian Telfair. The other two? Don't be surprised if they package both to move up higher in the draft. Most of the players the Blazers like won't be on the board when their first pick comes up at No. 13.
Thursday, June 17, 2004
Who's pulling out of the draft?
By Chad Ford
# Mock draft (June 14): Standard version | Slideshow version
The deadline for underclassmen to withdraw from the draft is at 5 p.m. ET. Most of the top American underclassmen -- Emeka Okafor, Dwight Howard, Andre Iguodala, Josh Childress, Luol Deng, Josh Smith, Devin Harris, Shaun Livingston, Ben Gordon, Kirk Snyder, J.R. Smith, Kris Humphries, Robert Swift, Donta Smith, Sebastian Telfair, Trevor Ariza, Randy Orr and Jackie Butler -- already have hired agents, ending their college eligibility.
A source close to Dorell Wright told Insider on Thursday afternoon that Wright is staying in the draft. Another source close to Kevin Martin said Thursday afternoon that Martin would also stay in the draft. Delonte West's college coach, Phil Martelli, told ESPN.com that he's staying in the draft. ESPN.com is also reporting that Al Jefferson will remain in the draft.
A few prominent underclassmen -- including LaMarcus Aldridge, Ryan Gomes, Lawrence Roberts, Brandon Bass, Nate Robinson, Dijon Thompson, Odartey Blankson, Martin Iti, Roger Powell and Marco Kilingsworth -- will return to school.
More difficult to project are the international underclassmen, who don't have the specter of NCAA eligibility hanging over them and can withdraw without penalty. Insider made a flurry of phone calls Wednesday and Thursday trying to track down the status of the top international underclassmen.
Here is what we have confirmed as of 6 p.m. on Thursday.
Andris Biedrins, PF, Latvia
Ha Seung Jin, C, Korea
Sergey Monya, SG, Russia
Pavel Podkolzine, C, Russia
Peter John Ramos, C, Puerto Rico
Aleksandar Vujacic, Slovenia
Martynas Andriuskevicius, C, Lithuania
Luka Bogdanovic, SF, Serbia
Ivan Chiriaev, SF, Russia
Marcin Gortat, C, Poland
Marcelo Huertas, PG, Brazil
Mile Ilic, C, Serbia
Ivan Koljevic, PG, Serbia
Erazem Lorbek, PF, Slovenia
Miguel Marriaga, PF, Venezula
Damir Omerhodzic, SF, Croatia
Drago Pasalic, PF, Croatia
Kosta Perovic, C, Serbia
Johan Petro, C, France
Dusan Sakota, SF, Greece
Peja Samardziski, C, Macedonia
Armands Skele, SG, Poland
Uros Slokar, PF, Slovenia
Tiago Splitter, PF, Brazil
Marko Tomas, SG, Croatia
Roko Ukic, PG, Croatia
Marcus Viera de Souza, SF, Venezula
A couple of things stand out here. Splitter's agent, Herb Rudoy, reversed course on Thursday and pulled him out of the draft just before the deadline. Rudoy told Insider on Wednesday night that Splitter was staying in the draft. What changed?
"I just didn't feel that the commitment I had from a team in the lottery was firm enough," Rudoy told Insider on Thursday evening. "On Wednesday we thought he was in for sure. As the day went on today, we began changing our mind. It is a tough decision to make, but I think it was the right one for Tiago."
There was a rumor running rampant late Wednesday night that Ramos might pull out. His agent, Andrew Vye, hasn't been able to secure a promise for the big man, and there was some thinking he might pull out with an eye toward being a top-10 pick next year. However, Vye confirmed early Thursday morning that Ramos will stay in the draft. He has a workout in Seattle today along with Podkolzine and Samardziski, then will work out almost every day leading up to the draft.
# Samardziski's agent, Marc Cornstein said Thursday afternoon that Samardziski will withdraw his name. He worked out for Utah on Wednesday (against Podkolzine) and Seattle on Thursday (again against Podkolzine) but couldn't obtain a lottery promise from either team. According to Cornstein, Samardziski was hearing he'd be a lottery pick for sure next year with some playing time at Partizan next season. With Nenad Kristic leaving, his ability to get that time on the senior team will be greatly enhanced.
SFX agent David Bauman told Insider on Thursday afternoon that Vujacic is in. Bauman's other clients, Ukic, Lorbek and Pasalic, all withdrew from the draft on Thursday.
Four prominent international players pulled their names out of the draft on Wednesday. Andriuskevicius was expected for some time. His agent, Rudoy, was asking for a top-five promise and wanted Martynas to remain in Lithuania next year. That was a pretty big pill for any team to swallow. If he continues to develop, Andriuskevicius should be a lock for the top five next year.
Perovic had a buyout issue with his team, Partizan, that clouded his picture. His agent, Bill Duffy, said Wednesday the feedback he was getting also factored in. "The feedback that we got from teams was that he could improve his stock by playing another year at Partizan without Nenad Kristic," Duffy told Insider. "There were a lot of teams that were interested, but the consensus was that if he played well next year, he had the chance to be a top-five pick."
Petro got some buzz after a few impressive workouts with Denver and Utah. However, he was unable to secure a promise from either team, meaning he'll try again next year. If Petro gets some playing time in France next season, he could move himself into the lottery.
Omerhodzic was another disappointment. His lack of playing experience combined with a series of lackluster workouts really hurt his stock. If he starts getting minutes in Croatia, his stock will go way up next year.
# Cavs GM Jim Paxson told Insider the Cavs are exploring trades for their pick, No. 10 overall. The team is trying to obtain a veteran wing who can help LeBron James and Carlos Boozer make the playoffs next season. However, so far the interest in the pick has been limited.
The No. 10 spot is a tough one to gauge right now. There could be a talented guard like Ben Gordon, Devin Harris or Shaun Livingston who could slip that low, but all three easily could be off the board, too. It's a bit of a crapshoot. If the Cavs keep the pick, don't be surprised if they use it on an experienced college player like Luke Jackson or Kirk Snyder.
# The Bulls and Wizards recently discussed a swap that would have sent Jarvis Hayes and the No. 5 pick to Chicago for the No. 3 pick and Chris Jefferies. The Wizards apparently like Luol Deng and are afraid that either Chicago or Charlotte will take him first. Giving up Hayes isn't a huge loss, considering he plays the same position as Deng. However, so far, nothing looks imminent.
The Bulls also have explored trading down. They like both Luke Jackson and Donta Smith and could get them much later in the lottery or late teens.
# One team the Bulls may want to talk to is the Sixers, who are desperately trying to move up.
"There is a guy I love in the draft, and I don't know if he will be there [at No. 9]," Sixers GM Billy King said. "I have seen him work out a couple of times and have seen him play in college, and I think he will be a very good player."
Who's that? Sources claim it's Deng.
# The Bobcats are trying to move up to get the No. 1 or No. 2 pick, whichever one would land them Emeka Okafor. "I really think there's a good possibility that the Clippers would (trade). I think it's something that they want to do," Bobcats GM Bernie Bickerstaff told the Charlotte Observer. "... And I think Orlando is interested. I think if there was something that made sense with them, with veteran players, I think they would get it done."
# A source close to high school center Robert Swift claims he won't slip past the Celtics at No. 15. We've been hearing that off and on for weeks, but this is the best confirmation we've heard that Boston will take Swift this high.
# If you didn't believe Sebastian Telfair-to-the-Blazers was a done deal before, this should seal it. Trail Blazers coach Maurice Cheeks said only one player has jumped out at him during the team's workout sessions.
"Sebastian Telfair," Cheeks told The Oregonian. "He's one guy who understands this game. Even though he is a high school player, I can see that he understands about how to play."
"To me, (Telfair) was better than Jameer," Cheeks said. "Jameer probably can play, because I think he has a bigger body and can defend better, but that kid Telfair had something about him that I saw. It's there. Now, I don't know if he can step in and play this year ..."