In a draft rich in raw players with potential, few teams are
likely to find a quick fix
If you thought this past season's rookie class was
unproductive--apart from Mike Miller of the Magic and a few
others--wait until you see what the 2001-02 class contributes
next season. This year's No. 1 pick is probably going to be an
unaccomplished player such as 18-year-old Kwame Brown of Glynn
Academy in Brunswick, Ga., or Seton Hall freshman Eddie Griffin.
In any case, it's going to take years before most of the
first-round picks pay dividends.
That's why the Hawks, who had the league's fifth-worst record but
got lucky in Sunday's lottery and drew the third pick in the June
27 draft, are willing to consider trading their first-round spot
for a veteran who can help them now. Atlanta is already loaded
with young talent, including 21-year-old guard DerMarr Johnson,
its 2000 first-round pick, who spent his rookie year learning
from the bench.
In theory, this is the perfect year to make a deal. Several teams
will be looking to unload a big salary to avoid having to pony up
in the first season of the luxury tax, and they might have to
package quality veterans to such teams as the Hawks, the Clippers
(who have the No. 2 pick) and the Bulls (No. 4) for draft choices
that will bring inexpensive rookies in return. "We've got
unbelievable flexibility," said Clippers coach Alvin Gentry
after his team improved six spots in the lottery. "Teams will
want to trade up, and we've got a lot of cap room."
A record 75 players (including 17 foreigners) applied for early
entry, turning this into a highly unpredictable draft. Because
only 58 players can be chosen, perhaps 30 of the early entries
will withdraw by the June 20 deadline. Even then, NBA scouts will
be guessing on players who won't mature for years. "If you're
picking at number 10, you may be able to get the same kind of
player you can get at number 2," admits Gentry.
Adding to the uncertainty of the draft is the fact that the
Wizards won the No. 1 choice. Much of their draft strategy will
depend on whether Michael Jordan comes back to play next season.
As the team's president Jordan's first instinct might be to
select a player like Brown, an aggressive power forward with
loads of potential. Jordan the player, however, might have
different priorities. There is already widespread speculation
that he may surround himself with such veteran free agents as
Charles Barkley and Patrick Ewing. If Jordan thinks he has a
chance to win a championship in the next year or two, will he
package the No. 1 pick for an established player who he believes
could put Washington over the top?
For now, the questions in this year's draft easily outnumber the
answers. Teams have so little information on the six early-entry
high school players--Brown, Tyson Chandler, Ousmane Cisse, Eddy
Curry, DeSagana Diop and Tony Key, who are all at least 6'9"--that
meaningful assessments of them won't be formed until they've been
put through private workouts. Clearly, though, the days when
teams could get an immediate and sizable lift from the draft are
probably over. The NBA draft is now a futures market. Says one
G.M., "If you're looking at a senior who's 6'7" and can shoot,
and a freshman who's 6'7" and can shoot, the senior needs to be
at least 20 percent better. Otherwise, you've got to invest in
the player with potential."
American Expat Makes Good
The Next Big European Import
Given the shortage of draft choices who are ready to play, every
NBA team would like to find its own version of Marc Jackson, the
25-year-old Warriors center who played for three years in Turkey
and Spain before returning home to average 13.2 points and 5.0
rebounds a game this season and finish third in the Rookie of the
The search for "the next Marc Jackson" has led scouts to
26-year-old center Nate Huffman, who was named player of the
year in Europe while leading Maccabi-Tel Aviv to the SuproLeague
championship. The 7-foot Huffman has come a long way since 1997,
when he went undrafted after leaving Central Michigan as a
skinny 220-pound center. Following a couple of unspectacular
seasons in the CBA and in the Spanish League, he was discovered
by Maccabi assistant coach David Blatt, a Princeton graduate who
was intrigued by Huffman's potential. In the past two years
Huffman has added 35 pounds to his frame and refined an array of
low-post moves to become one of Europe's dominant centers,
averaging 17.9 points and 9.2 rebounds (in 40-minute games) over
Though Huffman has another year on a contract that is estimated
to be worth close to $1 million annually, he says he will
exercise an escape option to sign with an NBA team as a free
agent this summer. At least a half-dozen NBA scouts were in Paris
two weeks ago to watch Huffman and other prospects in the
SuproLeague final four. "His post-up game is good," said one of
the scouts. "He was more of an outside player when he came out of
college. He's still going to have trouble guarding anybody, but
the new rules [allowing zone defenses] will help him."
Huffman says he would be willing to accept a role as a backup
center with the understanding that he could exploit certain
matchups, as he did in Maccabi's 81-67 victory in the final over
defending European champion Panathinaikos of Greece on May 13.
With 21 points and nine boards, he outplayed star Yugoslav center
Zeljko Rebraca, whose soft performance (four points, one
rebound), might have doomed his chances of joining the Raptors,
the team that controls his NBA rights.
The only thing that will keep Huffman from coming home is money.
He is unlikely to accept anything in the neighborhood of the
minimum salary of $320,000 that Jackson received from Golden
State. "A couple of people have compared me to him, but the story
I've heard is that he didn't really succeed in Europe," Huffman
says of Jackson. "I'm looking for something like a two-year deal
for $5 million. I think I can get it. I've put up solid numbers,
I've been on winning teams and I'm player of the year. To me
that's almost better than being a number 1 pick. It means I'm
older, more mature and ready to help right away."
COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN Griffin (center) figures to be an early pick who will not make a big contribution next season.
COLOR PHOTO: XAVIER LHOSPICE/REUTERS After winning player of the year honors in Europe, Huffman (7) is ready to help an NBA team.
around the Rim
The Celtics have asked 6'9" forward Antoine Walker to prepare to
play some minutes as a Magic Johnson-style point guard next
season. It shouldn't be that huge a leap for Walker, who often
ran the offense from the perimeter this season. The shift will
help shore up Boston's weakness at point guard and could create
20 minutes a game for talented forward Jerome Moiso, last year's
first-round pick, who has been stuck on the bench behind
Jonathan Bender averaged only 9.7 minutes and 3.3 points per
game for the Pacers in his second NBA season, but general
managers who have approached Indiana about the 6'11" swingman
have discovered that he is not for sale. "I'm not looking to
trade Jonathan at all," says Pacers president Donnie Walsh, who
believes the 20-year-old Bender will blossom the same way Tracy
McGrady did during his third year in Toronto. "Jonathan's
defense and his body have prevented him from playing, but if he
played 25 minutes a game, we know he would average 15 to 20
points for us."...
The NBA is expected to approve the Grizzlies' move to Memphis by
early June. In the meantime, General Motors Place, the
Grizzlies' current home court, has set aside 41 dates in case
the move falls through.