Peace, Love and Thunderstanding: Lottery Fallout
5:02 PM EDT on May 21, 2009
Before I get started, this mock draft makes me giddy.
I have a confession to make, I didn't watch the lottery broadcast. My softball team had a game at 8:00 and it takes a commute to get to the fields, so I found out about all the excitement when my cell phone started blowing up with text messages. Unfortunately, none of them actually gave me the results, just coy remarks like, "are you dying with excitement?" and "could it be?" Luckily, one of my teammates had an iPhone so I did know what happened before we took the field.
They weren't results I was pleased with. I spent the whole game, in which we got crushed--so thinking about softball was out of the question, bemoaning how #3 was just as bad as #6. In fact, maybe even worse. With a handful of rejects to choose from after Griffin/Rubio, at #6 you take whoever is left over and hope for the best. At #3, Sam Presti would actually have to make a choice and then if anyone of the other players turned out better, there would be buyers remorse.
Just a few hours later, my outlook had brightened considerably.
ESPN's Chad Ford is one of my favorite writers and probably the most well connected of any draft prognosticators you'll find anywhere. When he unveiled his first mock draft within hours of the lottery results, he had this to say about Memphis picking at #2:
An NBA source told me today that Memphis was the one team that might take Thabeet instead of Griffin if it were to get the No. 1 pick -- that's how much the Grizzlies need size. So it seems likely they would take Thabeet ahead of Rubio.
At first, I didn't believe this could possibly be true. Then, I thought about it. The Grizzlies have spent their last three first round picks on point guards. After taking Kyle Lowry (and trading for Javaris Crittenton) in 2006, they selected Mike Conley, Jr. in the lottery of 2007. Then in 2008, they selected Kevin Love, but swapped him for Minnesota's first round pick, O.J. Mayo. That's four point guard prospects out of the last three drafts, and the log jam was so bad that Memphis gave away two of them before the trading deadline in February.
Essentialy, what was happening is that Memphis was making the same mistake Seattle did in taking project centers every year and that Atlanta did by taking 6'9" swing men every June. That has to suggest the Grizzlies might go a different direction this year.
And to be fair, the Grizzlies are desperate for help in the middle and are pretty well set at the point. Last season when Memphis came to town, they played Darius Miles (a guy who was drafted as a 6'8" shooting guard out of high school) at center when Marc Gasol got into foul trouble. Also, Conley and Mayo are the true/scoring point combo I have been coveting for the Thunder should Ricky Rubio fall into their lap.
Alas, not all is well in my world. Thanks to a story on DailyThunder.com, a DraftExpress.com article alleging that Rubio's agent has no interest in coming to a small market was brought to my attention. The article suggests that the agent, Dan Fegan, is going to attempt to finagle a scenario in which Rubio ends up with the Clippers. I will try to be as brief as possible in how this could be a problem. 1) Rubio can still withdraw from the draft and blame it on the buyout with his Spanish league team if he truly does not want to play in a small market like Memphis or Oklahoma City (his two most likely destinations at this point). 2) Even if he stays in, his agent is the guy who manufactured the Yi Jianlian drama two years ago when Milwaukee drafted the Chinese big man sight unseen (and he was unseen because Fegan would only let Yi workout for teams in large markets). He eventually signed with the Bucks, but a year later he was traded to New Jersey.
Logically, this can be worked out for Oklahoma City. Sure, we are a small market. However, LeBron James plays in a small market and that has not limited him from becoming an international superstar. Rubio will have one advantage that James did not have, too. He's coming from a foreign country that is going to follow him just as avidly if he plays in L.A., New York, or Oklahoma City. That fact should not limit his marketing opportunities.
Second, landing in Oklahoma City is bound to get him more exposure than even the Clippers. Name me one player who has benefited from being in the shadow of the Lakers in Los Angeles from a marketing standpoint? I can't think of one. In Oklahoma City, though, Rubio will be paired up with a player in Kevin Durant who will soon be one of the faces of the league. Once Rubio helps to lead the team to the playoffs and gets the young stars on the big stage, which I think is only a matter of time, it won't matter that Oklahoma City is smaller...because in L.A. with the Clippers' horrible management, he'd still be playing in relative obscurity.
That being said, I am confident that Sam Presti will be able to impress that upon Rubio's management, and I think Fegan can be convinced that Rubio and Durant could become as famous as Stockton and Malone. The issue then will be assuring that it comes to fruition.
That's why I suggest the Thunder take the initiative to verify the Grizzlies can't mess it up by swapping the #3 pick and the #24 pick (where the pickings will be really slim) to move up. The day before the lottery, Ford posted an article saying that Memphis intended to build their team with the "Portland Model" of acquiring extra draft picks. So, you would have to think this deal would appeal to them, especially since they will probably get the player (Thabeet) they want anyway, but it would keep them from trading the opportunity to select Rubio to a different team, or go for a fifth point guard prospect in four years. As for the Thunder, they'll get another potential superstar and free up the roster spot that could be used in free agency on a veteran presence.
Clark Matthews is a world-class checkers champion, co-founder, and basketball editor-emeritus of The Lost Ogle
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