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
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
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 backcourt 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."
Minnesota's Big Draft
WOLVES AT THE DOOR OF SUCCESS?
Shortly after Minnesota was eliminated in the first round of the
playoffs by San Antonio, Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders turned
to Kevin McHale, his friend and boss, and said, "We've got to
get more shooting." Consider it done. The Timberwolves drafted
the best pure marksman in the draft, Wally Szczerbiak, with the
No. 6 pick, then gleefully plucked Duke point guard William
Avery off the board at 14. Those selections made Minnesota one
of the biggest winners of the draft, especially since its top
Western Conference rivals--San Antonio, Portland, Utah and the
Lakers--didn't upgrade significantly.
Saunders says he envisions implementing a big lineup that would
include Szczerbiak, Kevin Garnett, Joe Smith and center Radoslav
Nesterovic, who was signed the day before the '99 season ended.
The 6'7" Szczerbiak would play shooting guard on offense, but
the versatile Garnett would assume defensive responsibility for
There has been speculation that Minnesota picked Avery as
insurance in case free-agent point guard Terrell Brandon bolts
or leaves in a sign-and-trade deal, but Avery's presence may
make it more likely that Minnesota will keep Brandon. The
biggest knock on Brandon is that he's injury-prone, but with
Avery on the bench, Minnesota could reduce the wear and tear on
Brandon by reducing his minutes.
If that isn't enough good news for Minnesota fans, be advised
that Smith, their power forward, is coming back, even though the
Timberwolves can give him only a 20% bump from his $1.75 million
salary of last season. "Joe has already told us, 'I'm not going
anywhere,'" says Saunders. "And my sense is we'll keep Terrell,
Saunders declined to comment on how much the Timberwolves are
willing to pay Brandon, but team sources say Minnesota won't
shell out the maximum salary, which would start Brandon at $9
million a season. The Timberwolves hope to get him for around $7
million a year.
COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN Chicago loves Brand for his very large hands and his very short neck.
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO Minnesota sees Szczerbiak (in red) as a two-guard, but only on offense.
Around The Rim
The impending trade of Pacers' backup power forward Antonio
Davis to the Raptors for No. 5 pick Jonathan Bender will have
one overlooked benefit: Under the new collective bargaining
agreement, Indiana will get a $4.5 million exception (Davis's
salary), which it can use in a sign-and-trade deal. Team sources
say the Pacers want to spend that money on free-agent forward
Before the Pacers agreed to move Antonio Davis, they were
discussing sending starting power forward Dale Davis to the
Lakers for Glen Rice, but sources say that deal died when Rice's
agent, David Falk, demanded the maximum seven-year contract
after next season, which would mean a $14 million salary in
In a classic Let's-swap-headaches move, Utah offered center Greg
Ostertag for Detroit's Bison Dele, but the Pistons declined,
thinking that they can get more for their off-center center....
When Warriors owner Chris Cohan announced that he expects his
team to make the playoffs next season, his front office started
fishing for veterans. That's why Mookie Blaylock, acquired from
Atlanta for the No. 10 pick, will be their point guard, instead
of William Avery or Jason Terry, either of whom could have been
had with that pick....
Didier Rose, the agent-confidant of 7'2" Frederic Weis, chosen
15th by the Knicks, has told New York he thinks Weis needs
another year overseas, but Rose has agreed to let Weis play on
the Knicks' summer-league team to help him--and New York--decide
how ready he is for the NBA.