I generally think of the time between the finals and the draft as a journalistic no-man's land. No one cares about post-finals stories unless their team won or the story involves a blowup on the losing team (which, unbelievably, didn't happen this year). No one cares about mock drafts in the NBA, because there's usually a very small pool of talent that can actually play. Personally, I think mock drafts are much less interesting than trying to figure out how well certain players will adjust to the league, but every web site that covers basketball keeps doing them, so maybe I'm all alone in that feeling.
In any event, I can wrap up my thoughts on the finals quickly. I thought the Celtics played great defense and I enjoyed watching Ray Allen get his groove back and Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce win a championship. I'm happy the Lakers lost because I don't care for Kobe, and I'm still awestruck that the Jazz didn't stick it to them in the playoffs (many said this about the Spurs, but I didn't think the Spurs looked great this year).
The draft is a little more interesting than looking back at the finals. The newsmaker to me was the Knciks' drafting of Danilo Gallinari. To a Knicks fan like myself, following the team has become almost a masochistic endeavor, because each decision seems improbably less logical than the last. Even this spring, seemingly a step forward, was haphazard. "Let's hire Donnie Walsh without interviewing Jerry West, even though Jerry wants the job." "Let's hire Mark Jackson sight unseen. No wait! D'Antoni will fit in great with the New York population, let's hire him! And let's make him the highest-paid coach in NBA history!"
The really sad part of the story is that the Knicks, due to their crazed, cash-throwing hubris, aren't even lovable losers...they're like the fat, ugly, unbelievably rich girl who thinks she's better than everyone and refuses to talk to them because thusfar she's lived a life of luxury without consequences.
Last night, of course, the Knicks drafted the player from Italy whose father was roommates with Mike D'Antoni and who refused to work out for any team other than the Knicks or Nets. As his draft profile said: "He is a proven scorer who needs help to develop defensively." There doesn't seem to be a single person on the planet outside of the Knicks management who is optimistic abotu the pick and I can't think of many positive signs to note about Gallinari. For a team that has embittered its fans so often by making novel picks or thoughtless trades, it would have been sensible for the Knicks to just get a solid player.
Sadly, Gallinari brought fans straight back to the Knicks' last draft debacle, when they drafted young Frederick Weis, arguably the worst player in the entire world, in front of Ron Artest, the penultimate Knicks prospect (played at St. Johns, best defensive player of his generation, mean, nasty, and crazy...oh it was so perfect).
The story on Gallinari is that he's a euro who can shoot and handle the ball, something Donnie Walsh described as "an unusual package". Broadcasters were trying to throw all sorts of comparisons out last night as to who Gallinari plays like, and I think their statements ("he drives to the hoop like Ginobili") were somewhere between uneducated and insane. After watching the video of this guy play, he seems to me to be a less-polished, worse-shooting, higher-jumping version of Andres Nocioni. This sounds like a bit of a slap in the face but I actually respect Nocioni as a good forward (of course, he can play defense, which the scouts say Gallinari can't). So maybe Donnie Walsh knows what he's doing and we should all try to ignore that his last draft pick was Shawne Williams at 17.
Sadly, the Gallinari pick seems like another small step in the Knicks' fractured yet constant struggle for identity and development. It appears that because the Knicks refuse to think long-term, each step is in a different direction and there is almost never tangible forward progress.
To be fair to the Knicks, though, I don't know that any team who drafted last night made significant forward progress; the Bulls got a great point guard when they already have a good one. The Heat got an undersized power forward who needs the ball and I don't see how that could fit with Dwayne Wade. Memphis's trade/pick of OJ Mayo might have been the best fit, or perhaps Minnesota's pick of Kevin Love (who I think will be terrible, but who still fits on that team nicely). Even those picks have massive qualifiers like "OJ Mayo has the kind of ego that could destroy a young team," or "Kevin Love's best talent is throwing outlet passes". Everything else is a total crap-shoot: Westbrook to the Sonics, Augustin to the Bobcats, Lopez to the Nets, Alexander to the Bucks....who knows what to think about these moves, none of which seem like home runs.
Perhaps more meaningful than the often-mediocre draft picks were the big trades pulled off during the day and then later at the draft.
The Bucks moving Yi Jianlian and Boby Simmons for Richard Jefferson, kind of a strange draft-day deal in that it did not involve draft picks, seems like it could work out well for both teams. The Nets get a Chinese hero, never a bad thing to have in the New York market, as well as a decent shooter at small forward. (The price they pay is inheriting one of the worst contracts in the league.)
By acquiring Richard Jefferson, the Bucks get one of the better small forwards in the league, who is highly-paid but probably deserves it (and who had an under-the-radar career year last year). The Bucks now have Mo Williams at point, Michael Redd at SG, Jefferson at SF, Villenueva at PF, and Bogut at C, with Charlie Bell coming off the bench as their sixth man. Frankly, that's a team with offensive and defensive potential, and I think with the right coach they can put themselves in pretty strong position in the Eastern conference. Is Scott Skiles the man for the job? Who knows.
The newsman says that the Raptors and the Pacers agreed to trade Jermaine O'Neal to Toronto for TJ Ford and Radoslav Nesterovic, but that the trade can't go through until July 9 because TJ Ford is a "base-year compensation" player. I don't know what that means.
I think this is also a good trade for everyone. The Pacers get rid of a monstrous contract and get two good ones (both Nesterovic and Ford earn about $8 million but both expire in 2009). (Wondering who signed Radoslav Nesterovic to a six year, $45 million contract? Bet you wouldn't have guessed the San Antonio Spurs.) They also get a point guard who can compliment Crazy Jamaal Tinsley. As a Knicks fan, it's nice to see somebody unafraid of rebuilding, and based on Jermaine O'Neal's recent injury struggles and his generally bad attitude, this seems like the perfect time to let him go. (Oh yeah, that reminds me, they're rebuilding a team that was completely screwed up by the guy the Knicks just hired...)
The Raptors will be an interesting team with O'Neal and Bosh up front. O'Neal is a very good shot-blocker and both players have good offensive games and will provide rebounding and toughness. When you think about it, it's almost a perfect compliment to the many euro-shooters on the Raptors, because they'll be able to set up outside and let the two big guys work on the boards to get the break running or to get offensive rebounds. The more I think about this, the more potential I think it has to work. The only downside is that Jermaine O'Neal will be making close to $20 Million for the next two seasons.
Despite the possible trade gains for the aforementioned teams, I think there was some nice drafting that could pay dividends in the long term. In my eyes the teams who made the best moves last night were the Minnesota Timberwolves and the New Jersey Nets, and I am not referring to the OJ Mayo/Kevin love pick or the "better" Lopez twin.
After everyone went to bed, the T-Wolves used the 34th pick to get a great backup and probably a solid starting point guard who can shoot, defend, and who has good size when they drafted Mario Chalmers, the guy who beat the number one pick in the draft last year in a head-to-head matchup.
The Nets got Chris Douglas Roberts with the 40th pick in the draft, a great move and a good excuse to get Vince Carter the hell out of dodge. I think Douglas Roberts will be a good player in this league and if the Knicks hadn't traded away their 33rd pick to Portland (who landed Joey Dorsey, a guy who might have fit in nicely with the Bockers), I would have loved to see them get Douglas Roberts or Chalmers. I would go so far as to say that Chris Douglas Roberts was the best shooting guard in the draft.
Chalmers and Roberts are the kind of players that can make any team better and I hope they both get to see some quality playing time.
As always, e-mail me at email@example.com