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Feeling the Drafts

Posted by Christopher L. Gasper, Globe Staff  June 24, 2011 12:01 PM

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Full disclosure, I'm a draft-a-holic.

Sports drafts always draw me in, whether it be NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB, Major League Soccer. The first round of the NHL Entry Draft tonight is appointment viewing, as the NBA Draft was must-see TV last night.

There is something about the novelty of new talent that is always exciting. It's fascinating watching teams trying to project or predict the future, knowing their own hangs in the balance.

For the most part the players that are already on a team's roster are finished products. Their flaws and abilities have been documented and dissected. Draft picks are the solve-for-X of the team-building equation. They are unknowns that (theoretically) can be anything you want -- a franchise savior, an underrated role player or a project that pans out. Drafting is part inexact science and part public relations campaign.

Both hope and hype spring eternal at a draft, sports' perpetual exercise in optimism. Every plan makes sense. Every pick is the guy a team coveted. Such was the case last night with the Celtics in an NBA Draft that was weaker than a day old cup of decaf.

The Celtics had the 25th pick and parlayed it into Purdue power forward JaJuan Johnson and a 2014 second-round pick, making a pre-arranged deal with the New Jersey Nets, who actually selected Johnson at No. 27.

"We didn't think he'd be there, and he was," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers.

"This year we went in with an idea that if a good opportunity came to move out of the draft, depending on who was available in the draft," said Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge. "But when JaJuan was there we really wanted to stay. He was a guy that we had rated pretty high, and had targeted from the beginning."

Johnson, who led the Big Ten in scoring last season (20.5 points per game) and was the Big Ten Player of the Year and a first-team All-American, is that rarest of species in the hierarchy of wannabee hoopsters -- a four-year college player. He also stands in stark contrast to the first pick in last night's NBA Draft, Duke's Kyrie Irving, who played all of 11 college games before being taken No. 1 by LeBron's Leftovers, otherwise known as the Cleveland Cavaliers.

"Even though he is a four-year player we still like his upside," said Rivers, dropping a ubiquitous draft catchphrase.

Solid pick for the Celts, but it's safe to say the balance of power in the East has not undergone a tectonic shift. The Miami Heat are not quaking in their Nikes at the prospect of his addition. As much as the Celtics talked up Johnson they acknowledged that if the draft is the only avenue they use to augment their roster then Banner No. 18 will stay on the drawing board.

"The draft is always a futures thing," said Ainge, who tabbed Johnson's Purdue teammate, E'Twaun Moore, in the second round. "There are not very many rookies that come in and contribute to championship-caliber teams. We know that going in. ...We're going to have to add some more veterans to our roster. We'll have at least three young guys on the roster next year, and maybe one or maybe two contribute. Time will tell."

Such is the nature of the draft. The Cavaliers took Justin Harper with the first pick of the second round and the first reaction of draftniks is, "What a steal." Five years from now Justin Harper probably has as much chance of being in the NBA as Justin Timberlake. Harper was traded to Orlando for 2013 and 2014 second-round picks.

Only on draft night could Washington Wizards pick Jan Vesely, who went sixth overall, be called the Czech Blake Griffin with a straight face.

The NBA Draft had a subdued feel this year. There were plenty of awkward interviews and uncomfortable silences from the ESPN broadcast team. But the sartorial selections were mostly banal and there weren't any Green Room soap operas with crestfallen prospects. The most touching moment of the night came when Kansas star Marcus Morris cried after his twin brother, Markieff, got drafted by the Phoenix Suns, the realization sinking in that they would not be playing on the same team.

There was the Jimmer Fredette intrigue. The college hoops cult hero from Ainge's alma mater, Brigham Young, was taken with the 10th overall pick and is on his way to the Sacramento Kings.

The Celtics pick came in right around 10 p.m. They selected MarShon Brooks from Providence College at No. 25. Even though Brooks played his ball down I-95 from the Celtics, his bio said that his favorite player is Kobe Bryant and his favorite team is the Los Angeles Lakers. That made it fitting that the Celtics shipped him to Nets for Johnson in the pre-arranged deal.

The Bruins, who will make their first-round pick this evening, have a much better chance of nabbing an impact contributor through the draft than their TD Garden roommates. The Stanley Cup champions have the No. 9 selection in the first round of tonight's NHL Entry Draft, courtesy of the Phil Kessel deal.

Copious draft research has me wanting them to select pint-sized puck-moving defenseman Ryan Murphy of the Kitchener Rangers. Murphy has the perfect Boston name and his skill-set is just what the Bruins need. The 18-year-old Murphy finished first in the Ontario Hockey League in points among blue-liners with 26 goals and 53 assists, and he is billed as a power-play quarterback.

Of course, I was once equally excited about the Black and Gold drafting defenseman Johnathan Aiken in 1996 (8th overall) and Lars Jonsson (7th overall) in 2000.

The best part of the NHL Entry Draft is each team journeying to the podium and saying they're "proud" to select Player X and then rattling off every affiliation he has had since day care. Has a team ever been not proud to select a player?

I'm proud to announce I will be watching. It's a draft after all.

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The word

Christopher L. Gasper riffs on the news

Dearth

...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.

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