The debates that drive the draft (cont.)
International players: Risk vs. reward
Though many pundits still quietly question Dirk Nowitzki's leadership or shout about how soft Pau Gasol is, almost 20 percent of the league is foreign-born, a fact that has shifted the debate from one over talent to one over availability.
"The bigger concern these days with the foreign player is, Will the player come?" Colangelo said. "Is there a buyout? How much is the buyout subject to change? Will the player sign a new deal where a foreign agent stands to make more money? There are all sorts of variables that are starting to creep in because the foreign players generally are being represented by a foreign agent and a domestic agent; there are competing agendas there in some cases.
"You also have the foreign leagues of the clubs getting much more protective trying to retain the talent. To some degree, there is competition for the best talent to play in their respective leagues, whether it's the NBA or otherwise.
"There are no assurances. All you have to do is look at the Fran Vazquez scenario [in which the Magic selected the 6-11 power forward 11th overall in 2005 only to see him decide to remain in Spain] to underline that. ... Where players once would do anything to get here, now the dollars are different, it's more competitive. There is plenty of reason for those players to stay."
This expanded market not only entangles the arrival of foreign help with a host of contract buyout issues, but it also allows a player to dictate the terms under which he comes to the NBA, be it playing time or salary. But with coaches, GMs and organizations judged increasingly year-to-year, the need to accumulate the best talent, no matter the origin, makes no hurdle too high to attempt.
It was only a year ago that Milwaukee drafted Yi Jianlian over the strong reservations his representatives had expressed about the Chinese forward's playing for the Bucks. After a summer of silence from Yi, he finally signed a contract when owner Herb Kohl flew to meet with him in Hong Kong and reportedly assured him of playing time.
"If a guy is a better player, then 99 times out of 100, that's the guy you're going to take," Thorn said.
Big vs. small
As the Celtics proved again in the Finals, interior defense and rebounding go a long way toward winning. More often than not, those rebounds and blocks are coming off the hands of big players.
"Even though there's a lot of small ball played in the NBA and there aren't as many good, quality big guys as maybe you'd like throughout the league, the teams that have quality big players are the teams that are good," Thorn said.
But those big men aren't found easily, a fact that has made some very ordinary players very wealthy. Jerome James. Stromile Swift. Rasho Nesterovic. None has averaged as many as eight rebounds a game for a season, yet all have received lucrative long-term deals.
The exorbitant prices attached to free-agent big men have also driven a fevered market in the draft to find size on the relative cheap. But for every Shaquille O'Neal and Yao Ming that approach delivers, it also pushes a Portland to select Bowie over Michael Jordan and a Detroit to tap Milicic over Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade.
"Historically, the potential to get a great or a very good big guy has always elevated them to higher parts of the draft, to a point," Petrie said. "You can go back and look at the history of a lot of drafts and see [many cases] where there were big guys taken ahead of smaller guys, and if you had to do it over, it would be reversed."
The Bulls find themselves in just this conundrum in trying to decide between Rose and Beasley with the first pick.
"Quality bigs and point guards may be the two hardest positions to find," Paxson said.
Little fish, big pond vs. big fish, little pond
Playing at a basketball factory has its advantages: plenty of national TV exposure, NCAA tournament appearances, tutoring from a coaching superstar. So, too, does getting free rein at a school with less basketball tradition: feature stories, gaudy stats, plays called solely for you.
But does the team success enjoyed at the North Carolinas and UCLAs enhance an individual résumé suppressed by an abundance of talented teammates? Or do the numbers and the attention generated by a solo star allow him to shine even brighter on teams with far less talent?
Those basketball factories don't become basketball factories for nothing.
"Playing in a [big] program is like having a talent," Thorn said. "You don't have to worry about whether the guy is a team player. You don't have to worry if a guy understands how to play with other people. Those are talents a lot of other people don't have. If [a player] survives in those programs and does well, he has to be a pretty good player.
"[Small-school] guys, you look at them with more skepticism. If you have tremendous athletic ability and/or basketball talent, that tends to show up quickly. But if you're playing on a small stage, you have to prove yourself a little bit more."
That doesn't mean teams won't find -- or draft -- those lesser-known prospects. It does mean, however, that the emphasis clubs place on finding "winners" isn't merely cliché.
"If you're a good player, your team generally wins to some level, and those teams generally win every year," Petrie said. "[Big] programs tend to recruit some of the best players year after year and offer tremendous teaching and coaching programs, which are valuable when you're trying to look at players. Even where teams might have more high-quality players, you get to see players stand out. If a guy is talented at doing something, coaches usually figure a way to let him do it."
No matter what decisions teams make heading into any draft, GMs caution that no level of debate can prepare an organization for the twists every draft offers.
"You can't go into a draft with a preconceived notion that you are going to do a certain thing," Colangelo said. "Someone might drop to you. You might sit there in the draft and say we're taking point guard, and a good big comes along; you might take the big because the big has a better shot to help you or because there are so few opportunities to get a big. Each year is a different scenario and you need to make adjustments with respect to your draft process."