We just finished a season. The confetti is still stuck to Laker fans’ shoes. But one of the best things about the NBA is that immediately the slate is wiped clean and the season begins anew with the draft. And more so than any other sport, draft night can define your franchise. Even if you elect not to participate, it likely means something about who and what your team is. And Thursday night was no different for 2010-2011.
Here’s a look at five teams and what their draft night actions meant for their franchise. Their mantras, so to speak.
1. Sacramento Kings: “If you’re going to swing, swing for the fences.” The Kings had every reason to play it cool. They’ve got their franchise player, they’ve got a good core of young players. They didn’t have to take the risk that other teams weren’t willing to take. But they did. And they were rewarded with a player that many say could be the second best prospect in the draft. A willingness to go big or go home landed them not only DeMarcus Cousins, who will pair with Evans to create a frontal assault not unlike a barrage from catapults, and they then landed Hassan Whiteside who plummeted to the second. The Kings capitalized on their opportunities tonight and it paid off for them.
2. Minnesota Timberwolves: “Irrational movement is still progress.” The Wolves turned 5 beautiful, untouched picks into a marginally good small forward with a considerable, if not large, contract, and several tweener players that would have been available later in the draft than where they were selected. Wes Johnson is fine, but is he better than Cousins? Than Udoh? Than Monroe? Lazar Hayward… what? And they sent Babbitt to Portland for Martell Webster…and gave them Ryan Gomes! The Wolves’ GM got worked by a guy who was fired.
3. Oklahoma City Thunder: “Let the good times roll.” Oklahoma City could have used their cap space to aggressively pursue veterans for the young Thunder squad. And they would have overpaid. Considerably. That’s what happens to small market teams with young cores. Veterans who would be marginal elsewhere have their agents smell blood when those types of teams come calling,and the prospect of getting an impact guy turns the money into quicksand. But Sam Presti, as usual, is one step ahead. He takes on Daequan Cook, who can shoot and is cheap, nabs the 18th, and then turns around and uses the 21st and 26th to grab Cole Aldrich at 11. Aldrich could only work on specific teams that needed his size and rebounding, where he wouldn’t be pressured to produce on versatile terms. Like,oh, say, Oklahoma City. Stunning how good some people are and aren’t at this game.
4. Memphis Grizzlies: “We are going to be screwing with our backcourt.” That’s what I take away, anyway, as someone who does happen to pull for the bumbling bears. Xavier Henry and Greivis Vasquez. The good way this would turn out is if this means they’re moving O.J. Mayo to point, slotting in X at two-guard, re-signing Rudy and all of a sudden you have long athletic scorers all over the floor. The bad way this may turn out is that they keep Conley, slot Vasquez behind him, and then deal O.J. Mayo in order to clear space enough to re-sign Gay. Effectively running in place. This is something watch as the summer gets started.
5. New Jersey: “We (heart) athletes!’ We’re going to find out very quickly if Derrick Favors is going to be good. Because really, it comes down to whether he can shoot or not. He’s athletic, whee! He’s compared to Dwight Howard because he can jump and is muscular! Whee! But he’s not Howard’s size, so it’s going to come down to whether he can do anything on the offensive end. If he can, the Nets have something special there. If not… well, hey, at least they also got Damion James who’s also athletic. This is, after all, professional athletics. I suppose you can’t have too many athletes.