What to watch on draft night
Looming lockout, unpredictability over the top picks lead to intriguing draft night
Timberwolves are wild-card team since it's unclear what they'll do with No. 2 pick
Names to watch: Enes Kanter, Derrick Williams, vets Tony Parker, Monta Ellis
The ongoing labor negotiations combined with uncertainty over the top picks have set the stage for altogether entertaining night of reality TV when commissioner David Stern takes the podium in Newark, N.J., on Thursday.
Unpredictability. This trend seems to grow every year. "The teams in front of us have no idea what is happening," one NBA executive, whose team holds a late first-round pick, said Wednesday night. "This is the weakest and the least predictable draft I can remember." Putting it together, many of the team presidents or GMs probably won't love the player they pick, and they may not know who is available until shortly before they're put on the five-minute clock. Rough for them, exciting for audiences.
International big men. These first-rounders are all 6-foot-10 or taller and all from Eastern Europe: Enes Kanter (Turkey), Jonas Valanciunas (Lithuania), Jan Vesely (Czech Republic), Dontas Motiejunas (Lithuania) and Nikola Mirotic (Montenegro). Throw in two more likely first-round choices -- 6-10 perimeter shooter Davis Bertans (from Latvia) and 6-9 Bismack Biyombo (the defensive-minded power forward from Congo) -- and this becomes the most important foreign wave in years. If not for them, this draft would be abominably shallow.
Looming lockout. The ongoing negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement show little promise of avoiding a lockout on July 1. A work stoppage means teams will be unable to conduct the business of player personnel starting next week. Will that inspire executives to make moves now with the hope of improving their talent or payroll? Or will the uncertainty over the next set of CBA rules create an environment of caution that will prevent those executives from making big moves that could lead to unintended consequences in 2011-12? We won't know the answer until the trade market plays out over the remaining few days.
Cleveland Cavaliers: No. 1 and No. 4 picks. They're expected to take Duke point guard Kyrie Irving at No. 1 and a European big man at No. 4, but they have the assets to make any other number of moves -- including a trade of either or both picks. At No. 4, they could go with Kanter or Valanciunas, or they could attempt to move up to No. 2 in order to take Arizona forward Derrick Williams. Within one year of losing LeBron James as a free agent, the Cavs are positioned to create new hope for their fans as they embark on a mission to return to contention. The two most difficult positions to fill are point guard and center, and they could resolve both issues within the opening hour of this draft.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Nos. 2 and 20. Their top incoming rookie is Spanish point guard Ricky Rubio, and the presence of All-Star Kevin Love makes it difficult for them to take Williams at No. 2 (unless he slots in at small forward, which would compel the exit of Michael Beasley). The interesting thing here is how the Wolves have gone from having too few assets to now facing an abundance of options. They must also deal with the futures of coach Kurt Rambis (whose tenure, according to a Yahoo! report, will end after the draft) and incumbent point guard Jonny Flynn (made redundant by the arrival of Rubio). But everything begins with their move at No. 2, amid expectations they are seeking to retrieve a star should they deal the pick -- or maybe use it for Kanter or another big man.
Utah Jazz: Nos. 3 and 12. Do they go with BYU star and potential point guard Jimmer Fredette at No. 12 if he's still available? Or do they rule him out by preemptively taking Kentucky guard Brandon Knight at No. 3? If the Jazz go for a scoring point like Knight or Fredette, then they'll be signaling a departure from the Jerry Sloan-styled offense that was run through pure point guards John Stockton and Deron Williams. Should they use the No. 3 pick on a big man like Kanter or Valanciunas, Al Jefferson's future will come into question. And there's always a chance the Jazz will try to swap places with Minnesota in order to bring Williams to Utah.
Toronto Raptors: No. 5. Toronto, much like Cleveland, was devastated by the loss of their star player (Chris Bosh) in last summer's free-agent bonanza and is now seeking an overhaul around defensive-minded coach Dwane Casey, who promises to create a blue-collar mindset that will be popular with fans. The makeover may include the trading of perimeter-shooting big man Andrea Bargnani, which is why all options are in play for team president Bryan Colangelo -- a trade, a point guard, a Euro big man or 6-9 Congolese defender Biyombo. Colangelo and Casey are under the same pressures to win quickly, so the No. 5 pick will represent the first of many moves.
Derrick Williams. If all the predictions come true of Irving going to Cleveland at No. 1, then what becomes of Williams? Teams that are looking to trade up are intrigued by his athleticism and versatility, as well as the promise of signing him to a rookie-wage contract that is expected to be reduced under the next collective bargaining agreement. The wild-card disposition of the Timberwolves, who are willing to move the pick, means that he could wind up playing for virtually any team next season.
Enes Kanter. Because he sat out last season at Kentucky after being ruled ineligible by the NCAA, scouts haven't been able to see him in live competition since the Nike Hoop Summit 14 months ago. But he's a 6-11, 259-pound true center with skills and he plays hard, which makes him worth the risk of a high pick. He could go as high as No. 2; the only certainty is that he won't slide past the Wizards at No. 6.
Jonas Valanciunas. He's the best Lithuanian since fellow center Zydrunas Ilgauskas, but concerns about his existing contract in Europe have complicated his status in this draft. There's a chance he'll be forced to spend next season playing in Lithuania until he is able to buy himself out. But then there's also a chance there will be no NBA season next year. So someone is going to invest in his size and skill among the top half-dozen picks.
Jimmer Fredette. The biggest question is whether he can defend, and the simple answer is no, he can't. But then again, how many point guards can defend their position in this hands-off era? If you believe Fredette can transition to the point -- and many teams believe he can -- then he becomes a highly valuable commodity whose popularity can help his new team sell tickets following a destructive lockout. In this oppressive labor climate, no team can afford to ignore a rookie who is good for business.
Bismack Biyombo. Questions about his true age shouldn't hurt him; no matter how old he is, he can be an immediate contributor. Biyombo and Moorehead State's Kenneth Faried are the two defensive specialists with rebounding skills that should transfer to the NBA. But each is limited offensively, which means a large divergence of opinion -- many teams will love their strengths, but others will ignore them out of fear of their offensive weaknesses.
Tony Parker. After a disappointing performance in their first-round upset to Memphis, Parker is being dangled in exchange for a high lottery pick, as first reported by Yahoo!'s Adrian Wojnarowski. Parker, 29, is in his peak years, but the Spurs have George Hill ready to fill in should Parker be moved and they're interested in transitioning for the next era. But the same trade conversations hovered over Parker last year, and the Spurs didn't deal him then. Will they find a deal that makes sense now?
Andrea Bargnani. He and Beasley are two incumbents who could be moved on draft day, based on their teams' decisions at the top of the lottery. Bargnani hasn't developed a low-post game, but he has value as a 25-year-old who averaged 21.4 points last season. The question is whether the Raptors will move him now, or wait until after the new CBA is resolved.
Monta Ellis. The Warriors are on an aggressive charge to change their roster after their new owners have created a new front office and coaching staff. They've spent weeks investigating the value of Ellis, a prolific scorer who could combine with Stephen Curry to form an undersized backcourt. One or the other figures to be dealt over the next year, and the more likely candidate is Ellis.
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