Basketball Notes

Potential for a lockout adding intrigue to draft

By Gary Washburn
May 22, 2011

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The potential lockout hovering over the NBA like a money-green elephant in the room spread to the draft combine in Chicago last week.

There are many prospects trying to improve their draft stock and impress interested teams. But there is no question this stands to be the weakest draft in recent memory.

The college game has been decimated by early entries, and the looming work stoppage was critical in discouraging players such as Perry Jones, Harrison Barnes, and Terrence Jones from entering the draft. So the league is left to deal with the fallout; for instance, the top prospect in the draft played just 11 college games, while the second-best prospect is a little-known player from Turkey.

Teams in desperate need of help won’t have can’t-miss players to select. The scouting for the top pick will be as intense as it is for the 25th, which is where the Celtics reside. What’s more, the Celtics could benefit from such a bizarre draft. There is no guarantee that Danny Ainge won’t discover a better player late in the first round than, say, Detroit lands in the lottery at No. 8.

The terms “unpredictable,’’ “crap shoot,’’ and “weak’’ have been ways to describe the June 23 draft. But there is another way to view it, according to a league insider: intriguing. This crop may not be littered with franchise-caliber players, household names, or even All-Stars, he says, but the uncertainty could give it impact, especially for the Celtics.

“I wouldn’t call it shaky, but I don’t think you’re going to have the confidence to grab guys, early-entry guys, and expect franchise players,’’ said NBA co-director of scouting Ryan Blake. “Maybe media and other people think we’re not going to have these franchise players — with the Dwyane Wades and Derrick Roses coming out — but I think what we’re going to have is a lot of good players and seniors and a lot of good guys who are going to make an impact. But it may take a couple of years.’’

Fearing that paychecks may not arrive until next year, some premium prospects decided to return to school, leaving players such as Duke guard Kyrie Irving to exemplify the strangeness of this draft. He played in just 11 games, missing most of the season with a ligament injury in his left foot. Irving does not have an extensive résumé or even a signature NCAA Tournament game — he scored 28 points in the Sweet 16 loss to Arizona but was overshadowed by Derrick Williams — but because of his speed and ability to run the pick-and-roll, he is being viewed as the No. 1 overall talent.

Williams’s marvelous tournament run with Arizona catapulted him to a projected top-five pick from a late first-rounder before the season. The Turkish player, Enes Kanter, a 6-foot-11-inch center, was ruled ineligible to play at Kentucky, but he is considered the best international player in the draft.

“There’s always something different that happens every year in the draft, and this is my Super Bowl,’’ said Blake. “And although Irving has only played in 11 games, he’s mature. He has a lot of versatility, ability to turn the corner, to get inside and finish. You look at the strengths and they are surrounded by maturity.

“But then again, this is a beauty-is-in-the-eye-of-the-beholder draft.’’

So Kentucky guard Brandon Knight perhaps could vault over Irving in the next few weeks. But he is one of those prospects, pushed by agents, who are making decisions more difficult by playing chess games. Irving decided to skip the drill sessions at the combine, as did Knight and UConn guard Kemba Walker.

“In this draft, where you have so many players where you don’t know where they’re going to go, you want to be a first-round pick to get that guaranteed contract,’’ said Blake. “But you are going to find a lot of early-entry guys going into the second round and not making a team. You are going to still have a lot of good players. There are so many guys who are under the radar right now that are moving up.’’

These circumstances could benefit the Celtics, who need an immediate impact player at 25 and another athlete with the 55th pick.

Players such as Tennessee forward Tobias Harris, Maryland forward Jordan Williams, UCLA forward Tyler Honeycutt, Georgia forward Trey Thompkins, or Morehead State forward Kenneth Faried could fall to Ainge in the first round. And that 55th pick could turn into a player who aids the rebuilding plan down the road.

Ainge wasted two past second-round picks by trading Luke Harangody and Semih Erden to Cleveland to clear roster space to sign Troy Murphy and Sasha Pavlovic. So this draft may provide Ainge and his scouting department an opportunity to make up for that.

“Some of the guys under the radar, there’s a big in there who can come off the bench and help,’’ Blake said. “But there’s a lot of guys out there that teams may not be sure on, but they could be that guy.

“If you are the Celtics, you have to grab someone who is defensive who makes other players better. It’s going to be one of those crazy drafts where you really don’t know where these guys are going to land.

“That’s what makes this thing so intriguing. It’s definitely going to take a few years to see how this one pans out.’’

Cavaliers lucky at the lottery With his 14-year-old son representing the organization at the draft lottery, Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert got a major opportunity to resurrect his franchise, landing two of the first four picks. The Cavaliers have their first No. 1 overall pick since drafting you-know-who in 2003, and they also have the fourth pick, which was their own.

The pick that soared to No. 1 was via the Clippers, thanks to the trade that sent the anchor-like contract of Baron Davis to Cleveland for Mo Williams. That pick had a 2.6 percent chance to reach the top, and with typical Clipper luck, it did.

Ten months ago, Gilbert unleashed a tirade on the team’s website criticizing LeBron James for “The Decision,’’ prompting heavy criticism around the NBA but a groundswell of support in Cleveland. Some felt Gilbert paid a price for that, with the Cavaliers’ miserable 19-63 season that included a 26-game losing streak.

“It has been a roller coaster ride,’’ Gilbert said. “Obviously, shocking events took place last summer for not just myself, but a lot of people in Ohio.

“It was a slow, long, and painful haul to get through it, and maybe this will be the final straw of getting over the hump and getting to the other side and having a lot of hope for the future, and that’s what we need.’’

Don’t be surprised if the Cavs select Arizona forward Derrick Williams first and then hope that Kentucky’s Brandon Knight is available at No. 4. Gilbert would not commit to taking Duke’s Kyrie Irving, who for some reason showed up at the lottery as if he were Shaquille O’Neal in 1992 or LeBron in 2003 as the unquestioned No. 1 pick.

Whether it was just the luck of the lottery balls or a magic genie named David Stern that helped Cleveland overcome such stunning odds, the Cavaliers can now officially move forward without LeBron and hopefully leave behind the bitterness. Of course, they won’t get a LeBron-type impact player with the No. 1 pick, but they should be able to capitalize under a new collective bargaining agreement that gives teams control over players longer than they had with James.

“I think it’s good fortune that will make us be competitive again,’’ Gilbert said. “It was not just the players we lost, but it was the injuries, and those players are coming back, and we still have a trade exemption [from the LeBron sign-and-trade to Miami].

“Our front office has worked very hard on this draft, so we are confident we will pick the right players. I know these things are not built overnight. You’re not going to get two players in the draft and expect the next year to win the NBA championship, but you never know.

“We’re going to compete hard and I think we will be a lot better than we were last year.’’

Somewhere in there is a No. 1 The Celtics acquired an important first-round pick in the Kendrick Perkins trade with Oklahoma City. The Thunder acquired the pick from the Clippers for the rights to Eric Bledsoe. But it’s not as easy as the Celtics getting a potential lottery pick next season.

The pick is top 10-protected for the next four drafts, meaning the Clippers keep it if it is in the top 10. If it is, and the Clippers use it, then the Celtics get a first-round pick the following season.

If only it were that simple.

Former Celtic Sam Cassell comes into play because of a 2005 trade that sent him and a 2012 first-round pick from Minnesota to the Clippers for Lionel Chalmers and Marko Jaric. Now, if the Clippers finish out of the top 10 and are forced to give their pick to the Celtics, the Celtics would receive the lower of the picks between Minnesota and Los Angeles.

The Clippers are expected to make a playoff run next season, so their pick is likely to be mid-first-round and could serve as a trade chip next month for the Celtics. Because of the potential lockout, draft night could be an opportunity for teams to move veterans for draft picks, because if there is not a new deal by July 1, teams will be prohibited from making transactions.

Expect the Celtics to dangle that pick in a trade for a veteran, or they could keep it and have two first-rounders next year.

The 2012 draft is expected to be star-studded, with players such as Harrison Barnes and Perry Jones, so that first round pick the Celtics own may be valuable. It was astute for the Celtics brass to ask for a 2012 pick rather than a 2011.

Abdul-Jabbar has a gripe Hall of Fame center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar spoke out last week about being mistreated by the Lakers, not only in terms of receiving a statue but also regarding post-career work.

Adbul-Jabbar has a point in that his contributions have been overshadowed in comparison to those of Magic Johnson, who embraced the Los Angeles community the moment he arrived. The community embraced Johnson back, even after the announcement that he was HIV-positive. Johnson has contributed to the community and remained a visible local fixture.

Abdul-Jabbar, on the other hand, was a recluse as a player, often moody and not interested in the attention an All-Star receives. When he retired, Abdul-Jabbar became an author and pursued college coaching jobs, to no avail. Though he was a Hall of Famer, Abdul-Jabbar had the reputation of being aloof and not the hardest worker.

But again, he does have a gripe in believing that he should have been considered for more heralded positions, as Magic and Larry Bird were when they retired. Abdul-Jabber has never been seriously considered for an NBA coaching job, and that is indeed a shame because he has a brilliant mind.

Many believe Hall of Famer Rick Barry never received a desirable coaching opportunity because, as a player and a commentator, he was perceived as too brutally honest about his peers. And those peers who took management jobs never forgot that.

Some standout players have had to humble themselves and accept assistant coaching positions in order to move up the coaching ranks. Bob McAdoo, Alex English, Bill Laimbeer, Patrick Ewing, and Adrian Dantley have had to accept assistant coaching jobs while Erik Spoelstra, Frank Vogel, Lawrence Frank, and Jay Triano were given head-coaching jobs without any NBA experience.

That may not be perceived as fair, but the league’s general managers look for hard workers and bright minds over impressive playing pedigrees, and that has squeezed some potentially fine coaches out of the equation. Whether Abdul-Jabbar or Barry are in that group, we likely will never know for certain.

Lakers’ job up for grabs It is becoming increasingly unlikely that Brian Shaw will be the Lakers’ next coach. Shaw was expected by some to be the choice to replace the retiring Phil Jackson, but the Lakers have opened the search to include Rick Adelman, Jeff Van Gundy, and the well-traveled Mike Dunleavy. Although Shaw was Kobe Bryant’s choice to take over, the Lakers appear concerned that, as a first-time coach, Shaw may not have enough experience to win immediately with an aging roster. They have given Shaw, an Oakland native, permission to interview with the Warriors.

Uncertainty in Detroit The Pistons brass traveled to Chicago for the NBA pre-draft camp without Jon Kuester, lending to the belief that the beleaguered coach will be fired. New owner Tom Gores has told general manager Joe Dumars that he will return, but no decision has been made on Kuester. The Pistons pick eighth in next month’s draft and are quickly trying to rebuild with unhappy forward Tayshaun Prince a free agent.

Layups Timberwolves GM David Kahn seems to be leaning toward removing coach Kurt Rambis, who did not make the trip to Chicago either. Kahn stirred up more controversy by saying the fix was in during the draft lottery. He quickly recanted those comments and said he was joking, but he has been accused of being loose-lipped on several occasions, including ripping Chris Webber and saying that Michael Beasley smoked “too much’’ marijuana during his time with the Heat . . . The Raptors made the right move by signing GM Bryan Colangelo to a multiyear contract extension. The organization is seeking stability after the abrupt departure of Chris Bosh, and with trade exceptions, the Raptors should bounce back in the Atlantic Division relatively soon. Toronto picks fifth in the draft and should nab European swingman Jan Vesely, Kemba Walker, or Brandon Knight. With the emerging DeMar DeRozan, improving Ed Davis, and scorer Andrea Bargnani, Toronto is building a foundation for the near future. And DeRozan isn’t eligible for a contract extension until after next season, meaning the club controls his rights at least four more years.

Gary Washburn can be reached at Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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