What is D'Antoni thinking now?
NEW YORK -- On a raw New York morning, eight hours before the annual spitting of the lottery balls in Secaucus, N.J., Mike D'Antoni sipped a Starbucks latte in midtown Manhattan and insisted that he had "absolutely, positively" no second thoughts about accepting the head coaching job of the New York Knicks instead of holding out for an offer from the Chicago Bulls. Had the offer come -- and most insiders believed the Bulls would've eventually made it official -- it would not have matched the $24 million he will get over four years from the Knicks. But it would've been attractive, especially given the Bulls' roster, a decent match for D'Antoni's fast-break system.
So, it was no surprise to see the frozen grin that D'Antoni wore on the dais Tuesday night after the long shot Bulls got the first pick in the June 26 draft. One could almost imagine what was going through D'Antoni's head. Now if I was there ... would we draft Derrick Rose and put him in a three-guard alignment with Kirk Hinrich and Ben Gordon? Or draft Rose and dangle Hinrich, even though he's coming off a subpar year, as trade bait? Or draft Michael Beasley and give Hinrich another offensive target? Or decide that the Hinrich-Ben Gordon backcourt is okay and dangle the No. 1 pick to get veteran firepower? Well, those decisions now belong to general manager John Paxson and the as yet unknown (Avery Johnson? Tyrone Corbin? Terry Porter? Brian Shaw?) who will eventually get the head job.
Anyway, who else besides Bulls representative Steve Schanwald (who, befitting his title as executive vice president of business operations, provided the number of the ticket office and a reminder that "operators are standing by") felt lucky on Tuesday night? Well, among the other teams in the top six, really no one.
The Miami Heat had a 25 percent chance of getting the top pick, but, in keeping with lottery history (only four times since 1990 has the team with the worst record gotten the No. 1 pick), could only watch in frustration as Eastern Conference rival Chicago stole it away. The Heat thereby missed a chance to pair Rose with Dwyane Wade. How good would that backcourt have been? Then again, Miami could still end up with Rose or "settle" for Beasley, who is an obvious upgrade at power forward from Udonis Haslem. Anyway, sometimes it's better to go second and let the other guy screw up the top pick.
Third is not a good position for the Minnesota Timberwolves. The idea that 2008 is a "two-player draft" is a little overblown, but taking either Rose or Beasley would've pleased the fan base. Now? There is no consensus No. 3 and considerable opportunity to pick a bust, which the T-wolves have been known to do.
Fourth and fifth, respectively, was hardly what the Seattle SuperSonics and Memphis Grizzlies were hoping for. Both teams have to first decide if they are content with their point-guard play (a Luke Ridnour-Earl Watson combo for the former, Mike Conley for the latter) and, if they are, go for a big man such as Stanford's Brook Lopez. If they want to shake things up at point guard, then a Rose Lite such as Indiana's Eric Gordon, Arizona's Jerryd Bayless or Texas's D.J. Augustin could be the pick.
Despite Donnie Walsh's and D'Antoni's protestations to the contrary, Stephon Marbury is not the Knicks' point guard answer and they were hoping for a seven percent solution that could've gotten them to No. 1 and Rose. So what now? Take a chance on one of the lesser points? Or give the QB job to Nate Robinson and go for an all-around player such as small forward Danilo Gallinari? After all, D'Antoni likes Italians.
Actually, one person besides Schanwald felt lucky on Tuesday night. That would be commissioner David Stern, who could point to the Knicks' No. 6 draw and proudly say: "No conspiracies in this league!"