Opting for Name Brand
The Bulls were tempted by Lamar Odom, but spent the top pick on the Blue Devil they knew
duke Forward Elton Brand found out he was going to the Bulls as the top pick in the 1999 NBA draft the same time everyone else did: when commissioner David Stern stepped up to the podium at the MCI Center on June 30 and called his name. Brand's agent, David Falk, who makes it his business to know everything, had phoned Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf earlier that day to remind him how valuable a player of Brand's character would be to Chicago. When Falk hung up he was guardedly optimistic, yet in the final hours before the draft he had a fleeting moment of panic, fearing that Chicago would select Rhode Island star Lamar Odom instead.
Falk's concerns were justified. In the weeks leading up to the draft Bulls general manager Jerry Krause had been noncommittal about his selection until he finally met with the talented yet flaky Odom on June 29. He was charmed by Odom's pleasant demeanor and sorely tempted by his exceptional skills, but Krause kept harking back to Brand's impressive workout for the Bulls during the first weekend in June.
The Bulls put Brand in what they call the "pinch post" of their triangle offense—foul line extended—and asked him to hit jumpers. He did, again and again. Then they threw up crazy, unpredictable shots and asked him to grab the rebounds, which he did, again and again. Krause marveled at the kid's skills and his hands, "the biggest I've ever seen." He was also impressed by Brand's 7' 5" wingspan and by the fact that Brand has a chiseled body and a short neck. ( Krause insists that a long neck translates into wasted height.) Krause concluded that Brand, with his intelligence, poise, great hands and passing skills, was ideal for the four-spot in the triangle.
Nevertheless, the man his rivals jokingly call the Sleuth was not about to tip his hand to anyone, so the guessing game continued. Krause called Maryland point guard Steve Francis the morning of June 30 and told him to "stay ready." He also talked with Odom and offered similar instructions. Both young players interpreted that as a sign that the Bulls intended to take them.
What Francis had no way of knowing was that he had been cut out of the picture a few days earlier, when Krause studied the 1999 free-agents list and next year's draft class and saw a paucity of quality centers and power forwards. He decided then that he had to go big with this pick. Krause insists that he didn't mislead Francis or Odom. "In all my years, I have never—ever-told a player, 'We're going to draft you,' " Krause says. "In fact, I tell every player, 'If anybody tells you they're going to take you, don't believe it.' " But why contact Francis and Odom after he had decided to take Brand? "What if we had been given an 11th-hour offer for that pick that made sense?" Krause says.
Odom was taken fourth by the Clippers, and he announced that it must have been what God wanted. Francis was selected second by Vancouver and was clearly devastated. "They [the Bulls] took a big gamble by not picking me," he said through clenched teeth on draft night.
Sources say Francis has asked the Grizzlies to trade him, but Vancouver plans to keep him, even though Houston, the Lakers, Miami, New York and Phoenix immediately inquired about his availability. While a Grizzlies back-court of the 6' 3" Francis and 6' 1" Mike Bibby will be quick and should generate trapping pressure, neither player seems to be big enough or strong enough to guard opposing two-guards.
Chicago's selection of Brand revived the conspiracy theory that circulates whenever Falk is involved: The Bulls picked Brand because Falk promised to deliver one of his prominent free-agent clients to them. The Bulls scoff at such talk, but Falk seems to give it some credence. "The fact that Chicago drafted Elton Brand makes me feel very good about their organization," Falk says. "If they hadn't drafted Elton and I thought they'd made a bonehead mistake, I might have felt a little more negatively about steering players there."
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