Publish date:

Bargain Hunting

Nearly every selection in this year's lottery will be a gamble, adding to the pressure on financially challenged teams to make their picks pay off

The laws ofrecessionary economics are sure to influence the June 25 NBA draft, in whichthe supply of elite talent is low but demand for cheap young players—with theemphasis on cheap—is high. An expected drop in revenue means that there willmost likely be an unprecedented decline in the salary cap (from $58.7 millionto a predicted $57.3 million) next season, so the pressure is on generalmanagers to discover talent that can contribute quickly, and at rookieprices.

Once BlakeGriffin goes No. 1, however, every pick thereafter presents risks. Will Spanishpoint guard Ricky Rubio turn out to be a revolving-door defender? Can HasheemThabeet learn to score even the tiniest little bit? How high is too high forStephen Curry? Here is a look at how these and other questions may play out inthe lottery portion of next week's draft.

Blake Griffin
6'10" PF, Soph., Oklahoma
Hours after winning the lottery on May 19, Los Angeles committed to Griffin(below), the surest thing in a shaky draft: He is raw offensively and needs todevelop a low-post game, but Griffin has the size, athleticism and work ethicto become a go-to frontcourt starter on a good team. "I don't know if he'llbe an All-Star," says an Eastern Conference general manager, "but Ilook at all of the things he has going for him, and I don't think he canfail."

Tyreke Evans
6'5" PG, Fr., Memphis
The Grizzlies face several options: Deal the pick to any number of teams thatcovet Rubio; call Rubio's bluff that he doesn't want to play for Memphis andpick him anyway; fill their need for size with the 7'2" Thabeet; or, mostlikely, use the pick on Evans, who, in addition to being a star from the localcollege, has the makings of a potentially dominant point guard. They could alsoswap picks with Oklahoma City or Sacramento and probably still get Evans."No one knows what they're going to do," says a rival G.M. with alottery pick behind Memphis's.

Ricky Rubio
6'4" PG, DKV Joventut
The up-tempo point guard would create shots in transition for Kevin Durant andothers. And because Rubio often played off the ball in Spain, he could pairwith the more athletic Russell Westbrook to have two playmakers on the court atthe same time. Another possibility: Trade down with the Kings, Knicks orRaptors, who all want Rubio.

Jonny Flynn
6'1" PG, Soph., Syracuse
Most other G.M.'s wouldn't risk so high a pick on Flynn, who was viewed as alottery outsider two months ago. But iconoclastic Geoff Petrie needs a pointguard (assuming he can't get Rubio), and Flynn has the playmaking ability andvision needed to create offense for shooting guard Kevin Martin and youngfrontcourters Spencer Hawes and Jason Thompson.

James Harden
6'5" SG, Soph., Arizona State
The Wizards would like to deal this pick for an NBA veteran who can complementtheir core of Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler and help thembounce back to the playoffs next season under new coach Flip Saunders. IfWashington can't find the right trading partner, then Harden is a strongoption—a versatile talent who would fill up the box score as a rookie.

Hasheem Thabeet
7'2" C, Jr., Connecticut
How often can you find a shot blocker with his kind of potential impact?Thabeet would enable Al Jefferson to move over to his natural position at powerforward, and Kevin McHale—if he returns as Minnesota's coach—could teachThabeet (above) a few moves on offense.

DeMar DeRozan
6'6" SG, Fr., USC
Golden State needs help at point guard, but Don Nelson won't be able to pass ona player with this size and athleticism. DeRozan needs to extend his shootingrange, but he would still instantly enhance the Warriors' zero-to-60offense.

Stephen Curry
6'3" PG, Jr., Davidson
Is it too good to be true that Curry is still available here? He would be thepoint guard of their new era, a mature rookie with the shooting andball-handling skills to thrive in coach Mike D'Antoni's wide-open offense.

Jordan Hill
6'10" PF, Jr., Arizona
Toronto needs toughness, and Hill is a bruiser capable of doing the dirty workinside and liberating big men Chris Bosh and Andrea Bargnani. Also, Hill hasthe offensive skills to contribute as a rookie; the Raptors would love to seehim drop this far.

DeJuan Blair
6'6" PF, Soph., Pittsburgh
Because he had ACL surgery on each knee in high school, teams are taking acautious approach. But if Blair checks out physically, he would give Milwaukeethe toughness and grit valued by coach Scott Skiles.

11. NETS
Jrue Holiday
6'4" PG, Fr., UCLA
He is not fully developed as a shooter or as a playmaker, but Holiday's upsideis enormous. He could be like Westbrook—another Bruin—with the ability to playeither guard position, complementing Devin Harris.

Gerald Henderson
6'5" SG, Jr., Duke
He's an in-state star and a versatile talent who can defend three positions.That's all Larry Brown needs to hear.

Brandon Jennings
6'2" PG, Virtus Roma
The Pacers have two strong point guards in T.J. Ford and Jarrett Jack, but theycan't afford to pass on a talent like Jennings, a California native whobypassed college to play one season professionally in Italy. He is perfectlysuited to push the ball for coach Jim O'Brien.

14. SUNS
Jeff Teague
6'1" PG, Soph., Wake Forest
Talented but raw, Teague has the speed and scoring instincts to serve as aneventual replacement for Steve Nash.