Draft winners and losers
Celtics, Knicks recapture glory; Jordan errs with 'Cats
Posted: Friday June 29, 2007 1:59AM; Updated: Friday June 29, 2007 3:01AM
NEW YORK -- It has been quite a roller coaster ride these last two months for Danny Ainge. The beleaguered Boston Celtics director of basketball operations oversaw one of the worst seasons in the Celtics' storied history and saw his only chance at redemption -- landing the top overall pick in the NBA draft -- lost with a fateful bounce of a Ping-Pong ball. His frantic attempts to acquire the type of veteran talent that would appease franchise player Paul Pierce while not gutting the franchise of its youth fell short. Kevin Garnett wouldn't play for them. Shawn Marion would, but only if Boston agreed to pay him like Garnett. It seemed hopeless.
So how did it happen that in one night Ainge somehow came up smelling like roses? For starters, Boston's acquisition of Jesus Shuttlesworth, er, Ray Allen was a stroke of genius. In Allen, Ainge picks up arguably the league's best perimeter shooter whose presence alone will open up huge driving lanes for Pierce. Despite playing in just 55 games for the floundering Sonics last season, Allen averaged 26.4 points on 43.8 percent shooting. Granted Allen is owed nearly $52 million over the next three seasons; but at 31 (he will turn 32 next month), the UConn product is still capable of averaging 22-25 points per night in the Boston offense, where he will benefit from playing with a slashing scorer (Pierce) and a legitimate low-post presence (Jefferson). For all of Rashard Lewis's wonderful talents, he was neither.
And the truth is, Boston didn't have to give up that much. Other than adding to a growing collection of players named Green, Jeff Green didn't have much to offer the Celtics, who are committed to developing 2005 top pick Gerald Green at the small forward position. By jettisoning Wally Szczerbiak, the Celtics rid themselves of a locker room lawyer who never meshed in Boston and Delonte West's departure hurts a lot less than it would have -- had Boston been forced to include Rajon Rondo in the deal. In the second round, Ainge continued to stockpile talent. Former USC point guard Gabe Pruitt steps in as Rondo's backup, while many scouts rated Glen "Big Baby" Davis, who came over as part of the Allen deal, as a first-round talent. Boston can now boast a Jefferson-Kendrick Perkins-Davis frontcourt rotation with Ryan Gomes filling in at both forward spots and the possibility of Theo Ratliff returning to provide depth at the center position. Hey, never underestimate a player with an expiring contract.
The draft-day dealing almost certainly puts Boston back in the playoffs, though it's tough to pinpoint exactly which team drops out. The injury-riddled Celtics were nowhere near as bad as their 24-58 record suggests; and with a healthy roster, they would have to be considered a strong candidate to win the Atlantic, which is unlikely to get more than two representatives in the postseason. Boston would also have the opportunity to dangle Ratliff and his expiring $11.6 million contract at the trading deadline, though indications are, if the oft-injured Ratliff sits out the season, the Celtics would elect to let him play out his contract (the bulk of which would be paid by insurance) and use the financial flexibility to lock up Jefferson long term.
THE WINNERS ARE ...
The Trail Blazers had two weaknesses going into the draft: center and point guard. The selection of Greg Oden solves the pivot problem for the next 15 years, while Portland chose to address their point guard deficiencies by acquiring, well, every one available. Barring a buyout, Steve Francis, who comes over in the trade for Zach Randolph, becomes the likely starter while Taurean Green, Petteri Koponen, Rudy Fernandez and incumbents Jarrett Jack and Sergio Rodriguez vie for the title of Trail Blazers point guard of the future.
In the coming months, there will be a lot of questions about Randolph; how he will fit in next to Eddy Curry, what off-the-court problems he brings to the Knicks and how he handles playing with the ball-hogging Stephon Marbury, just to name a few. But there are no questions about Randolph's talent. The burly power forward is a bona fide threat on the low block and will give New York one of the most intimidating offensive frontcourts in the entire league. Had the Knicks' attempts to acquire point guards Jared Jordan and Taurean Green in the second round come to fruition, they would have vaulted to the top of the winners list.
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