The laws of recessionary economics are sure to influence the June 25 NBA draft, in which the supply of elite talent is low but demand for cheap young players—with the emphasis on cheap—is high. An expected drop in revenue means that there will most likely be an unprecedented decline in the salary cap (from $58.7 million to a predicted $57.3 million) next season, so the pressure is on general managers to discover talent that can contribute quickly, and at rookie prices.
Once Blake Griffin goes No. 1, however, every pick thereafter presents risks. Will Spanish point guard Ricky Rubio turn out to be a revolving-door defender? Can Hasheem Thabeet learn to score even the tiniest little bit? How high is too high for Stephen Curry? Here is a look at how these and other questions may play out in the lottery portion of next week's draft.
6'10" PF, Soph., Oklahoma
Hours after winning the lottery on May 19, Los Angeles committed to Griffin (below), the surest thing in a shaky draft: He is raw offensively and needs to develop a low-post game, but Griffin has the size, athleticism and work ethic to become a go-to frontcourt starter on a good team. "I don't know if he'll be an All-Star," says an Eastern Conference general manager, "but I look at all of the things he has going for him, and I don't think he can fail."
6'5" PG, Fr., Memphis
The Grizzlies face several options: Deal the pick to any number of teams that covet Rubio; call Rubio's bluff that he doesn't want to play for Memphis and pick him anyway; fill their need for size with the 7'2" Thabeet; or, most likely, use the pick on Evans, who, in addition to being a star from the local college, has the makings of a potentially dominant point guard. They could also swap picks with Oklahoma City or Sacramento and probably still get Evans. "No one knows what they're going to do," says a rival G.M. with a lottery pick behind Memphis's.
6'4" PG, DKV Joventut
The up-tempo point guard would create shots in transition for Kevin Durant and others. And because Rubio often played off the ball in Spain, he could pair with the more athletic Russell Westbrook to have two playmakers on the court at the same time. Another possibility: Trade down with the Kings, Knicks or Raptors, who all want Rubio.
6'1" PG, Soph., Syracuse
Most other G.M.'s wouldn't risk so high a pick on Flynn, who was viewed as a lottery outsider two months ago. But iconoclastic Geoff Petrie needs a point guard (assuming he can't get Rubio), and Flynn has the playmaking ability and vision needed to create offense for shooting guard Kevin Martin and young frontcourters Spencer Hawes and Jason Thompson.
6'5" SG, Soph., Arizona State
The Wizards would like to deal this pick for an NBA veteran who can complement their core of Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler and help them bounce back to the playoffs next season under new coach Flip Saunders. If Washington can't find the right trading partner, then Harden is a strong option—a versatile talent who would fill up the box score as a rookie.
7'2" C, Jr., Connecticut
How often can you find a shot blocker with his kind of potential impact? Thabeet would enable Al Jefferson to move over to his natural position at power forward, and Kevin McHale—if he returns as Minnesota's coach—could teach Thabeet (above) a few moves on offense.
6'6" SG, Fr., USC
Golden State needs help at point guard, but Don Nelson won't be able to pass on a player with this size and athleticism. DeRozan needs to extend his shooting range, but he would still instantly enhance the Warriors' zero-to-60 offense.
6'3" PG, Jr., Davidson
Is it too good to be true that Curry is still available here? He would be the point guard of their new era, a mature rookie with the shooting and ball-handling skills to thrive in coach Mike D'Antoni's wide-open offense.