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Daft draft

Making sense of this year's class isn't easy

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Posted: Friday June 29, 2001 3:28 PM

Now that a champion has been crowned and a few more teenagers have become millionaires, it's time to close up the ol' mailbag for the summer. Thanks to everyone who wrote in because the 'bag is only as interesting as you make it. Those of you whose e-mails didn't appear, don't take it personally. It was only because of time or space restrictions. (Or because I couldn't come up with a decent answer for you.) Here are the final Q's and A's of the year. By the time you read them, I'll probably be in a gym somewhere, working out my nine-year-old son. After watching the draft the other night, he's thinking about giving up his final year of grade-school eligibility and going pro. (Memo to the Bulls and Clippers: That was a joke. Please don't call.) Enjoy the offseason, 'bag heads.

What were the Grizzlies thinking with their draft day moves? They send Shareef Abdur-Rahim packing for a couple of marginal players and an untested rookie, then trade Mike Bibby, their second-best player, for a showboat and an aging benchwarmer. I know they can't get much worse, but they really seem to be trying.
--Ben, Kamloops, British Columbia

I wish I could explain the logic behind the deals, but there isn't much. Part of the Grizzlies' thinking in dealing Bibby to the Kings for Jason Williams and Nick Anderson was that Bibby, although a solid player, wasn't worth the $70 million or so it would have taken to lock him up beyond next season, and I'd probably agree with them there. They're also thinking that Williams' flashy style will help fill the seats in their new Memphis home. But there's no question that on a basketball level, they just downgraded themselves at point guard. The Abdur-Rahim deal only looks good if Pau Gasol, the 7-footer from Spain who everyone is high on, pans out. The other guys, Brevin Knight and Lorenzen Wright, aren't going to make anybody forget about Shareef. Even with the addition of Shane Battier, the Grizzles have managed to make themselves worse than they were at the end of the season, which is no easy task. The only encouraging thing I can tell you is that as a British Columbian, at least they're not your problem anymore.

Phil, do you agree with me that the draft has really lost its importance? When Houston, Chicago and New York took Olajuwon, Jordan and Ewing, respectively, they got franchise guys who led their teams to the finals. These days there are very few players who have done well with the team that drafted them -- aside from Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett and Allen Iverson. It seems to me, as in baseball and hockey, the draft is secondary to trades and free agency. It's a shame because now only the NFL draft has any real meaning. Basketball players who are drafted still need to be developed.
--Andrew Stead, Kingston, Ontario

The draft is getting to be a joke, and the only reason people still pay attention to it is out of habit. There's at least a decent chance that no one taken in the first round will have a major impact next season. I don't want to get into a debate over whether college players should be paid, but as a practical matter it would make more sense to just have the teams draft players after they finish high school, and then pay them a decent salary while they play college ball for at least a couple of years. For instance, top pick Kwame Brown is the property of the Wizards, but he plays for, say, N.C. State for a few years before he goes to Washington. That way the league gets more developed players, the kids don't feel the need to skip college entirely, and the college game isn't drained of star players quite so quickly. There may be holes in my plan, but it couldn't be any worse than the current system, in which teams are drafting high school players basically out of fear that they'll look bad if one of the kids turns out to be the next Kobe Bryant or Kevin Garnett three or four years down the line.

Instead of going for an age restriction, shouldn't the NBA put a salary system in place under which players would be paid according to age, not according to how many years they've been in the NBA? I know this isn't a perfect proposition, but it would offer incentive to high schoolers to go to college, gain national recognition and then jump to the NBA when endorsements are waiting for them. The top-five picks in this year's draft won't get anywhere near the endorsement deals Grant Hill got when he came out of Duke. If a salary system were set so players had more earning potential after four years of college, kids would choose to go to school -- even if it is for monetary reasons -- and the NBA and NCAA would be much more fun to watch.
--Denis, Toronto

I've suggested in the past that players' starting salaries should be on a sliding scale, with guys earning more for each year they stayed in college. Subsequent raises should be based on a percentage of the original salary, so a player who left school after his freshman year could never make as much as much money as he would have if he'd stayed four years and been drafted in the same spot. People keep talking about these kids wanting to get into the real world and start making money instead of going to school. Well, in the real world, the amount of money you make is almost always directly tied to the amount of education and training you've had in your field. It wouldn't stop players from leaving school early, but it would provide one more incentive to stay.

I heard a rumor yesterday that the Bulls were in the mix to nab Gary Payton. How could this be? I thought he wanted to go to a contender. What are the chances that the Timberwolves could work out a deal to send Wally Szczerbiak and Terrell Brandon to the Bulls for "The Glove" if he indeed does go to Chicago? If not Wally, then Brandon and some bodies for Payton?
--Tony Raiber, Minneapolis

The Bulls' deal was a complicated multi-team trade that seems to have fallen through, at least for the time being. If I were Seattle, though, I'd listen to a Brandon-Szczerbiak offer. There's also a rumor that Golden State is offering Mookie Blaylock and Larry Hughes for The Glove, but I'd take the Minnesota pair over that duo. Payton is certainly attainable for the T'wolves.

Robert Horry opting to not become a free agent will make keeping Horace Grant on the Lakers' roster very difficult. Without Grant, L.A. will once again have a large hole at the four spot. I don't feel Mark Madsen is ready to come in and be productive enough to warrant a starting slot, so what do you see the Lakers doing to fill their need at power forward?
--Nate Armstrong, Hamilton, Ind.

There's not a lot out there in the free-agent market at power forward, at least not for the $4.5 million salary cap exception that is all the Lakers can offer. Chris Webber and Antonio Davis are obviously off the table, and Anthony Mason and Maurice Taylor are also too expensive. That leaves guys like Chris Gatling, Otis Thorpe, Gary Trent, Adam Keefe and Jerome Williams. Basically, the Lakers are going to have to continue to scrape by at that spot. Unless, that is, they can pull off another steal, like the trade that brought them Lindsey Hunter for Greg Foster.

The Bulls have bombed in their rebuilding plan. After Jordan retired and Pippen was traded, Kevin Garnett said he wouldn't go to Chicago after the way management had treated Jordan and Pippen. Do you feel that the superstars who passed on the Bulls the past two summers were thinking the same thing?
--J.P., Elmont, N.Y .

Definitely. That's why the Bulls acquired both Tyson Chandler and Eddy Curry in the draft. Jerry Krause has finally realized that he'll never have any luck landing big-time free agents, so the only way the Bulls are going to get stars is to try to grow their own. He may also be trying to buy himself time, thinking that with two high schoolers, no one will be able to judge this latest rebuilding plan for at least a few years. But I've been saying for two years that the fastest way for the Bulls to return to respectability is to clear out Krause and make themselves attractive to free agents again.

Considering that the East is so much weaker than the West, if Michael Jordan came back and he and his ancient friends could get the Wizards to .500, wouldn't they have a decent shot at making the playoffs? And once they got to the playoffs, wouldn't anything be possible? Consider the Mavericks, not to mention the L.A. Kings in the NHL this year.
--Brian Lee, Kensington, Md.

I don't see it quite that way. First of all, the East might not be as weak as you think. Philadelphia and Milwaukee are legitimate 50-win teams, and Orlando might join them if Grant Hill is healthy. Toronto is going to be tough again, and you can't overlook the Knicks, even if they don't get Webber. I just can't believe that even a player as great as Jordan could come back and elevate a team as bad as the Wizards past all of those clubs, not with a bunch of immobile geezers like Charles Barkley and Patrick Ewing. More power to him if he can, but I think just getting the Wizards to .500 is asking a lot.

Sports Illustrated senior writer Phil Taylor is a regular contributor to

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