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Basketball notes

Draft has turned into a glorified trade show

By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / June 27, 2010

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The fun has been robbed from the NBA draft. The days when fans would eagerly anticipate their team’s first-round pick and bank on that prospect catapulting their team to the Finals are gone.

Now we’re subjected to a bunch of players with little credentials, taken strictly on potential. And if a team doesn’t like its draft position or the players available, it trades the pick.

Thursday’s draft broadcast was constantly interrupted by trade rumors. Players strutted on stage, shook hands with commissioner David Stern, and donned the cap of a team they never will play for. Draft-day trades are sucking the life out of the process because teams no longer have faith in their picks.

And the sentiment is understandable. The younger the players who come out, the less faith teams have in the players making a contribution. Just last week, we saw the Heat give away Daequan Cook, once thought to be a cornerstone, to the Thunder after three listless seasons.

I recall when Spencer Hawes was projected as a franchise center by the Kings for his ability to pass and shoot from the perimeter. He was just dumped by Sacramento in a three-player trade to acquire Samuel Dalembert. The Kings gave Hawes three years and without hesitation moved the former lottery pick for an expiring contract.

Martell Webster, the sixth overall pick five years ago, was dealt by the Trail Blazers to Minnesota for former Celtic Ryan Gomes and 16th overall pick Luke Babbitt.

So beyond the brilliance of John Wall and Evan Turner, the excitement generated from this year’s draft is tempered.

“It’s a deep draft in terms of guys who can help you, but there are going to be some guys taken high who don’t perform and some taken low who do,’’ said an Eastern Conference scout. “There is a lot of potential here but some kids are going to get it and some won’t. That’s just what you have to deal with.’’

The real draft begins Thursday when free agency opens and the elite teams decide the best way to improve is by signing proven commodities.

There’s too much unpredictability in the draft because much of what players do in college never translates to the NBA. Joe Alexander wowed scouts with his jumping ability and was taken eighth by Milwaukee two years ago. Now he’s looking for work after the Bucks dumped him on the Bulls, who were seeking expiring contracts to clear salary-cap space.

The prevailing theme is that if draft picks don’t perform to their capability, they will be used for trades to clear space for players who will. Patience is gone, even if the younger the player, the more patience is needed.

So we will be reduced to draft nights like Thursday’s, which was highlighted more by trades and players dropping like rocks than the excitement of franchises being rejuvenated.

Anyway, here are some draft winners and losers:

Winners
■ Detroit. Drafted Greg Monroe, Terrico White.

The Pistons took Monroe with the seventh pick when they couldn’t trade up to get DeMarcus Cousins, and then took Ole Miss guard White with the 33d pick. Detroit needs size and toughness, and Monroe should provide a steady presence in the paint. What he doesn’t bring in bulk, he will provide in passing ability and basketball IQ, and Georgetown players flourish in the NBA without the constraints of the Princeton offense. White came out a year too early but he could take the place of Will Bynum, who is a free agent. GRADE: B.

■ Indiana. Drafted Paul George, Lance Stephenson, traded for Magnum Rolle.

The Pacers are tired of the lottery process because they never get a break. You could see the disappointment on Danny Granger’s face during the lottery when the Pacers remained 10th. But instead of taking a player with a low ceiling, they took a chance on George, who could develop into a star. And Larry Bird took a bigger risk on Stephenson, a former New York high school star who has been plagued by immaturity and holes in his game. Still, he is a great value at the 40th pick and Indiana now has two young players who could become cornerstones in the near future. GRADE: A-minus.

■ Clippers. Drafted Al-Farouq Aminu, traded for the rights to Eric Bledsoe, drafted Willie Warren.

Remember, the Clippers will have four first-year players next season, with Blake Griffin returning from his knee injury. Aminu could team with Griffin in the frontcourt. The Clippers also have a load of cap space to offer someone such as Rudy Gay a mega-deal, so there could be too much depth. The Clippers will take that problem over what they have been dealing with the past few years. Bledsoe could eventually take over for the erratic Baron Davis while Warren either should have left Oklahoma last season or stayed another year, as his stock plummeted because of attitude problems. But he has NBA talent. GRADE: B.

■ Miami. Drafted Dexter Pittman, Jarvis Varnado, and De’Sean Butler.

The Heat didn’t come away with any superstars, but they didn’t want any because that would require first-round money and count against the salary cap. They are trying to sign two maximum-salary players to join Dwyane Wade. With their three second-round picks, the Heat took intriguing players who could turn into contributors. Pittman is a skilled big man who has battled weight issues but doesn’t appear any bigger than Glen Davis. Varnado is a supreme shot blocker while Butler was kept out of the first round by a torn ACL sustained in West Virginia’s Final Four game against Duke. All three could have been first rounders, so the Heat got great value and don’t have to use cap space on guaranteed contracts. GRADE: B.

■ Sacramento. Drafted Cousins and Hassan Whiteside.

There were several reasons the Kings traded Hawes. Coach Paul Westphal didn’t like his attitude, he was a finesse center, and they had a chance to replace him with Cousins. Sacramento needs a mean guy in the paint; even during their heyday in the late 1990s, the Kings were accused of being too nice. Whiteside is someone who could learn from Dalembert and become a solid NBA center and eventual trade chip. GRADE: B-plus.

■ Washington: Drafted Wall, traded for Kevin Seraphin, Kevin Booker, and Hamady N’diaye.

Not only did the Wizards get a franchise point guard, they acquired the intriguing Frenchman Seraphin and a rugged rebounder in Booker. The Wizards are not going to improve by signing overpriced free agents looking for a payday; they need to surround Wall with talented pieces and watch them grow together. Washington could have called it a night after taking Wall but its work continued, and now the Wizards begin the Wall Era with a core of talent. GRADE: A.

Losers
■ Atlanta. Traded for Jordan Crawford, drafted Pape Sy.

It’s not that Crawford is a shabby player. He may very well turn into a gem, but he’s not a big man, and that’s what Atlanta desperately needed. The Hawks offered no resistance to the Magic’s Dwight Howard in the postseason, so the center position was supposed to be addressed in the draft. Instead, Atlanta found someone who may replace Joe Johnson in a few years, but that’s about it. GRADE: D.

■ Golden State: Drafted Ekpe Udoh.

Nothing wrong with Udoh, but the Warriors are filled with young bigs who need to fill out. They already have Anthony Randolph and Brandan Wright, who was practically forced to leave North Carolina three years early and has not been heard from since. So now the Warriors bring in Udoh and create more depth problems. Golden State needed Cousins or should have traded the pick for a veteran center. Instead, a young team gets younger and probably not much better. GRADE: D.

■ Cleveland.

Cavaliers general manager Danny Ferry went all out to get LeBron James some help this past season, dealing his first-round pick for the rights to Antawn Jamison. Now the Cavaliers have Jamison’s contract for two more years, no first-round picks, and potentially no LeBron. They could have used another young player in the mix to entice James to return. They had no picks in the draft and made no deals to dump salary to try to get back into the draft. When James leaves for Chicago, the Cavaliers will have only themselves to blame for their lackadaisical attitude the past few weeks.

COME SEE ABOUT ME

In Akron, he’s a drawing card

LeBron James’s camp has announced that he won’t be doing a LeBron-apalooza tour of interested teams and instead will meet with clubs in Akron, Ohio, beginning Thursday, the first day of free agency. The Nets apparently have made the first appointment and will bring rapper Jay-Z, billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov, and coach Avery Johnson.

The Knicks, Clippers, Heat, and Bulls are also on the appointment list. James (above) cannot sign with any team except the Cavaliers until July 8.

Those players who may exercise their early termination options this week are Dallas’s Dirk Nowitzki, Phoenix’s Amar’e Stoudemire, the Celtics’ Paul Pierce, Charlotte’s Tyson Chandler, and Milwaukee’s John Salmons.

Those expected to stay put are Milwaukee’s Michael Redd, San Antonio’s Richard Jefferson, New Orleans’s Peja Stojakovic, Houston’s Jared Jeffries and Yao Ming, and Golden State’s Vladimir Radmanovic.

A PALL OVER PORTLAND

GM is victim of a late call

Blazers owner Paul Allen allowed general manager Kevin Pritchard (left) to work the draft before firing him, a classless move that puts Portland in a new light among NBA observers.

Pritchard executed some shrewd moves to get the Blazers out of salary cap chaos and put a young and competitive team on the court. When it was apparent that Pritchard was going to be fired, Allen didn’t act; he waited.

Pritchard went to work on the draft, knowing it would be his last in Portland. He acquired Luke Babbitt from Minnesota along with former Celtic Ryan Gomes for Martell Webster and he also nabbed Elliot Williams and Armon Johnson for more young support.

The Blazers never really explained why Pritchard was fired, but the roots of his exit began taking hold when assistant general manager and salary cap guru Tom Penn was mysteriously fired in midseason, robbing Pritchard of his trusted confidant.

It seems Allen didn’t appreciate the power Pritchard was wielding in the organization and now likely will hire someone who conducts business in a more mellow fashion. Concord native Sam Presti is on the list of replacements but it would take a lot for the Thunder to let Presti leave for a division foe.

The Pritchard situation is making Allen’s reputation as a kindly owner just looking to win look like a farce. He is a cutthroat businessman, and removing the man who shed so many bad contracts and replaced those with top young talent is inexcusable.

Given that, what general manager candidates looking for work are going to line up for this job, knowing they could be removed at any time under any circumstances? The only criticism of Pritchard was his selection of Greg Oden over Kevin Durant. It looks like an easy call now, but Oden was considered a franchise center, something the Blazers desperately needed.

Layups
Kudos to the Warriors for moving the weighty contract of Corey Maggette to the Bucks for Dan Gadzuric and Charlie Bell. Golden State has tried offering bloated free agent contracts to overrated players and is still looking for its first hit. Derek Fisher, Maggette, and Rony Turiaf are recent LA players who left Southern California for the riches of the Bay area, and none of those acquisitions worked out. General manager Larry Riley, who took over for Chris Mullin, has to seek a quality veteran presence looking to win, not just get paid. Maggette never has been considered a winner, only a ball hog who gets to the free throw line . . . Former NBA player Marques Johnson is expected to coach the Belize national team, which will be led by former Celtic Milt Palacio . . . Minnesota general manager David Kahn said he has made a decision on whether to move former Celtic Al Jefferson or Kevin Love, and the choice is Jefferson. Kahn desperately tried to move Jefferson before the draft and now the big man is on the block. Jefferson has $42 million and three years remaining on his contract and would be a welcome addition to many frontcourts looking for a young scorer. Kahn said he is not going to give away Jefferson, but it’s apparent the Timberwolves feel Love fits better in Kurt Rambis’s triangle offense. By the way, the Timberwolves will be an estimated $22 million under the salary cap after the contracts of Mark Blount, Antonio Daniels, and Daniel Wilkins come off the books. Don’t be surprised if the Timberwolves use their money to go after a bona fide center or pure scorer to add some excitement . . . The Pistons are looking to move Jason Maxiell and Chris Wilcox, who will combine to make $8 million next season. Maxiell is undersized but a fierce rebounder while Wilcox has the skills to be a productive player but lacks consistent desire . . . Former NBA forward Brian Cook is working to get a contract after being waived by the Rockets in February. Cook turned down an opportunity try out with the Celtics because of the birth of his first child. Cook was the Big Ten Player of the Year in 2003 at Illinois.

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com. Material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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