How the Grinch (Kupchak) Stole Draftmas & Other Draft Thoughts

Ah, the morning after the NBA draft.  It’s like Christmas for many an NBA fan.  In Dallas,  if you hadn’t quite talked yourself into Shane Larkin changing the game by the 2nd round, well, you’d surely done so before Chad Ford’s draft grades bursted your bubble with a B-.  The nerve of this guy.   Or maybe you’re one of the particularly privileged few.   It’s okay, you deserve it.   After the Bynum ordeal stacked upon years of muddling mediocrity and a roster glutted with seven small forwards, 76ers fans needed that Lexus wrapped in a bow (where does this happen, and how do I get involved?) sitting in their driveway.   Just after the draft, hope springs eternal throughout the NBA.lebronwitness

Unless you just happen to be a Lakers fan.  In that case, it’s like being a Jahova’s Witness (is this Lebron’s chosen denomination?), watching your  neighbor play with his new remote controlled car.  You could totally drive it better .

I know, I know. It seems harsh.  Laker fans aren’t the only ones who awoke to an empty stalking.  Toronto walked away with literally nothing.  Yet, somehow Charlotte and Phoenix out-depressed fans by landing the back to back gut punches of Cody Zeller (should we assume Jordan unreachable on a golf course when the call came to tell him both Noel and McLemore were still available?) and Alex Len at #4 and #5 respectively.   So it could be worse.

Nonetheless, this sucks.  It’s my sixth consecutive empty Draftmas.  I love the NBA draft.  But 2007 was the last time I had the opportunity to be irrationally excited about a draft pick , when the Lakers took Javaris Crittenton at #19.  (Don’t think for a minute I didn’t expect amazing things from him. That one didn’t work out so well.) Yeah, I did expect big things from 2nd rounders like Ebanks, Caracter, and DJO.  But it’s not only a step removed from irrational enthusiasm.   It’s just not the same as anxiously awaiting your team’s pick, hoping someone like Danny Granger or Kawhi Leonard unexpectedly slides all the way to your team.  By the 2nd round, the draft’s TV team needs reinforcements, and the pickings are slim.  And so I find some camaraderie with the witnesses, whom I expect grow somewhat numb in good time to whole Christmas experience.

Such is the plight of the Lakers fan.  Let’s take a brief – okay it won’t be brief –  detour to observe how the Lakers front office has managed to deprive Lakers fans everywhere of the Draftmas experience for six years running. (If you’re uninterested in a thorough rehashing of the Lakers’ last 6 drafts: (1) congratulations — you’re normal; and (2) scroll down below the bullet points.)

  • It all began in 2008.  LA sent Memphis its 2008 and 2010 1st rounders in the Pau Gasol deal.  So, I can’t really complain about this one.   But that trade set the wheels in motion for the great six year draft pick drought.  Fresh off a “we were playing with house money but that was nevertheless humiliating” defeat to Boston in the Finals, the Lakers appeared to have dynasty potential.  Bynum missed the entire series (funny how neither Doc Rivers nor any Celtic fan mentions this when they lapse into their “our best five never lost” delusion about Kendrick Perkins’ transformative powers), and Trevor Ariza barely played after having just returned from a broken foot. LA lost convincingly to Boston: They were pushed around up front and had Luke Walton and Vlad Rad as primary defenders on Pierce, who slaughtered them like sacrificial lambs.  Seemingly, however, the return of Big Bynum and Ariza (who’d been somewhat of a revelation) would solve those problems and put LA over the top.
  • In 2009, the Lakers seemed stacked at every position.  Behind Kobe and Fish sat  Jordan Farmar, the newly acquired Shannon Brown, and a personal favorite, Sasha “The Machine” Vujacic.  Ariza turned in an incredible performance during the playoffs – this would prove to be the seed of his demise, as his clutch play incited outsized contract expectations that no team met, but cost Ariza a perfect fit with LA, and cost Lakers’ fans four (not five…pretty sure Metta’s a goner this summer) excruciating years watching Metta bungle the offense – and appeared to have the wing-stopper/3 role locked up for years to come.  He didn’t really have a backup (unless you count Luke Walton or Adam Morrison), but Kobe could slide over to the 3.  Up front, Bynum continued to struggle with injuries, but when healthy, he, Pau, and Odom each could’ve handled more minutes.  Josh Powell and DJ Mbenga provided solidish mop-up minutes  Then, the shark quit swimming.  LA sold its #29 pick to the Knicks, who drafted Tony Douglass.  I specifically recall a quote from Kupchak to the effect that no player they could’ve drafted would’ve made the 12 man Laker roster.  Never mind that undervalued point guards like Ty Lawson, J’Rue Holiday, Jeff Teague, Eric Maynor, and Darren Collison were within striking distance with a little trade fodder, Kupchak apparently concluded that none among Douglass, Dante Cunningham, Chase Budinger, Marcus Thornton, and Danny Green could make his roster.   Why don’t the Lakers have any young talent on cheap contracts these days?  Exhibit A:  How championship rosters decay more often from complacency and poor decision making than from natural decline.
  • 2010. To Memphis from Gasol trade.  Still can’t complain about his, but that trade – so throughly skewered as one-sided at the time – just keeps looking better and better for Memphis as Marc Gasol has now outplayed his brother for two straight seasons, with no reversal of fortunes in sight.  An absurd notion in 2008, Memphis just might come out ahead in the Pau Gasol trade.
  • 2011. If 2009 was frustrating, 2011 was infuriating.  Shannon Brown had squeezed Sasha out of Lakers lineup.  Sasha wasn’t useless, but also didn’t  merit the $5.1 coming to him.  For reasons that have yet to be remotely explained in any sort logical fashion, LA was in cost cutting mode.  So they flipped Sasha AND their 2011 1st rounder  to New Jersey for Joe Smith’s corpse.  That pick turned out to be JaJuan Johnson at #27.  Norris Cole, Jimmy Butler, Chandler Parsons, and Isaiah Thomas were all taken after that pick, while Kenneth Faried went just four picks earlier.   Those guys probably couldn’t have made the Lakers’ roster anyway.
  • 2012.  LA actually had two picks, its own, and Dallas’s (conditionally).  They flipped theirs to Cleveland for Ramon Sessions — which became #24 overall.  That same day, they paid the Rockets with the Dallas pick to take Fisher off of their hands so that Ramon wouldn’t feel uncomfortable taking his starting gig. (What!?? Isn’t Fisher the consummate pro? Months later, didn’t he come off the bench and perform effectively for OKC?) LA also received Jordan Hill as a throw-in, who would later prove to be the unexpected silver-lining in an otherwise pure salary dump (much like Shannon Brown in the Radmo-Morrison exchange).  The Dallas pick was top 20 protected, and thus didn’t vest when it turned out to be #17.  Jared Cunningham went #24, while Tony Wroten, Jae Crowder, Perry Jones III, Marquis Teague, and Robert Sacre remained on the board.

So after six years passed without an influx of talent to the roster, it should come as no surprise that the Lakers find themselves short on promising prospects. Of course, I’m cherry picking the evidence here.  In 2009, LA could’ve just as easily selected John Brockman as Marcus Thornton, and in 2010, it could have been Kyle Singler (didn’t LA draft his clone this year?), and not Jimmy Butler.  But none of that is really the point.  The crucial consideration here is me.  And Mitch Kupchak (or the Buss behind the curtain) has ruined my past 6 Draftmases.

***

Had to to vent that rage.  Now a few takeaways from the draft:

5 Best Drafts

1.  Philadelphia.  Hands down — coming away with two blue chip prospects (say what you will about their red-flags, they are legit prospects) is a coup.  Getting the guy (myself included) rated as the best prospect in the draft at #6 is unheard of.   That they did so by shipping out J’Rue Holiday is tough to swallow, but it was the right move.  With Holiday, Philadelphia was going nowhere beyond the 6-8 seed in the East.  That’s NBA purgatory — you don’t want to be there.   Now, the 76ers wiped the slate clean, presumably have turned the page on Bynum, and one can only hope have also tethered closer to Earth their projections for Evan Turner.  Glen Rice Jr. in the 2nd is icing on the cake.  Philly should be primed to add another top prospect from the loaded draft of 2014 too.  Tip of the cap fellas.

2. Cleveland.  This ranking is partially based on my expectation that Anthony Bennett will become an all-star, but owes more to Cleveland’s admirable resistance to taking a player whom others rated higher, but didn’t fit its trajectory or roster.   Cleveland’s now set with a nice young core at all five positions, and abundant cap space forthcoming next year.

3. Sacramento.  Sacto has to feel good after snagging at #7 a guy whom many opined had the highest ceiling of any player in the draft.  One little problem — he doesn’t fit very well on their roster.  In most instances that flaw would be enough to push them out of a top 5 grade.   Here, however, nobody fit Sacramento’s roster, which speaks to the degree of its flawed management.   I’d expect to see at least one among Evans, Thornton, and Fredette gone by November.

4. Utah.  Trey Burke gives them the type of heady, aggressive point guard that they’ve lacked since DWill departed.  Mo Williams can shoot-it, but expect Burke to immediately grab the reigns of this team and have Favors, Cantors, and Milsap playing at a higher level than ever before by mid-season.  Props to Utah for moving up to get their guy.

5. Portland.  When speaking about C.J. McCollum, the first comp. most analysts threw out was Damian Lillard.  That made some sense, given each’s small school pedigree and combo guard skills.   The two will duplicate each other to some extent,, but I’d rate McCullum as the better shooter at this point.   I expect that they’ll be paired early and often in the backcourt, and will make life extremely difficult for most defenses.   The question then becomes, can they defend?   I’m not sure, but if they can, Portland’s suddenly one of the more intriguing rosters out there.  Adding Crabbe in the 2nd shores up an already dangerous three point shooting squad, and Withey will be a nice shot-blocking presence for 20 minutes a night for years to come.

5 Worst Drafts

1. Charlotte.  Look, it’s not that I hate Cody Zeller.  It’s just that I watched him play in the NCAA Tournament.  He consistently struggled to finish over Syracuse’s front line. That’s not a bad game; it’s a bad omen. Vaunted as it was in the college game, the Cuse front line usually consisted of  Keita (6’10″), Southerland (6’8″) and Fair (6’5″), with Christmas (6’10″) occasionally subbing for Keita. What happens when he faces a frontcourt like New Orleans’, which features Davis (6’11″), Lopez (7’0), and Aminu (6’8)?  I’ve heard the analysis that he’s both a much better athlete and shooter than he showed at Indiana,  and therefore won’t need to finish down low amongst the trees in the NBA.  So we’re saying he’s a more athletic Byron Mullens?  Doesn’t Mullens already play for the Hornets?  Even if he didn’t, the construction of this roster continues to baffle.  I liked the MKG pick last year, and ultimately, I think he’s a guy who’ll develop well.   Kemba Walker’s a nice sixth man, but he can’t be your point guard of the future (ditto Ramon Sessions).   I’m not totally sure what, or how old Bismack Biyombo is, but after three years, I state with a good measure of confidence that he’s no building block.   This all a long way of saying that I don’t get how MJ didn’t take the best player available here ,or if he thinks he did, how in the hell he concluded that player was Cody Zeller.

2. Phoenix. Just slightly worse than Charlotte’s pick, Phoenix’s selection of Len is equally mind-boggling.  This is a team that has precisely no perimeter talent, no charisma, and no budding stars of any sort.   The Len pick addresses none of those issues.  He’s a less heralded Chris Mihm. Putting to one side his Chris Mihmesque foot history, what’s the best case scenario for Len.  Is it Gortat?  They have him, but don’t want him.   Is it Brook Lopez, another big guy with foot issues?  If it’s the latter, obviously this pick looks better (at least until Lopez either injures his foot or decides not to rebound at all again).  Here’s the point:  Phoenix has nothing, and when you have nothing, you have nothing to lose by swinging for the fences.  So take McLemore.  Take Noel.  Hell, take MCW or C.J. McCollum.  But don’t take a big guy with no charisma and no chance at becoming an all-star.

3.  Oklahoma City.  We may soon need to revisit the widespread acclaim held for Presti.  Forget about trading Harden for Martin, Lamb, and now Steven Adams, looking back at some of his drafts, Presti’s made some fairly questionable decisions.   (Clearly, losing a player like Westbrook exposes all sorts of flaws that might never have otherwise come to light.)   He’s been chasing a big guy for some time now, but he just keeps missing.  In 2010, he took Cole Aldrich over Larry Sanders, Patrick Patterson, and Ed Davis, not to mention Eric Bledsoe and Avery Bradley.  None of this bigs has been out of this world (although Sanders has been lights out defensively), but each has been considerably better than Aldrich, who’s a stiff if there ever was one.  Just a year earlier, they traded for Byron Mullens, whose name has appeared far too frequently i this space, when Taj Gibson and Dante Cuningham remained on the board.  Again, it’s not that those guys are so great.  It’s a pattern of poorly evaluating big men.  That continued with Kendrick Perkins, and, to a far lesser extent, choosing Ibaka over Harden.   This is a long way of saying that I have zero confidence that Steven Adams will be good.  I lived in New Zealand for year, and thus would wager that he’d be a fun teammate and can drink his share of Speights.  But given the holes in OKC’s roster exposed by Westbrook’s injury, coupled with Presti’s bad track record with bigs, they’d have been better off adding some scoring punch off the bench with guys like Mohammed, Larkin, Snell, Bullock, or Hardaway Jr.  Andre Roberson will help, but he’s more in the mold of a defensive ace — perhaps a Thefalosha replacement down the road.

4. Boston. Kelly Olynyk? Really? After clearing house, Boston needs talent.   With Mohammed, Schroeder, Larkin, Bullock, Snell, and even Isaiah Canaan and Glen Rice Jr. (Boston probably could’ve landed two of them by moving back) still on the board?  Color me confounded.  Colton Iverson adds insult to injury.

5.  New Orleans.  At first, I thought Noel for Holiday was a rare win-win.  Holiday’s an upper echelon starting point, which is hard to come by.  He’s a good defender, and a pretty good shooter too.  Holiday will definitely make them better next year than anyone that they could’ve drafted.  Here’s the problem: New Orleans cashed out of the lottery too soon.  I think Holiday takes them to the playoffs.  That means New Orleans core’s been set: you’re looking at Davis, Holiday, Gordon, Ryan Anderson, and possibly (and very reluctantly) Austin Rivers.  Okay, that’s not bad.  That’s a tough backcourt with Holiday and Gordon.  Both are hard-nosed defenders.  But for this to be a contender, Davis will need to become Tim Duncan.  I’m not saying he can’t reach that level, but I’d certainly rather acquire one more blue chipper before trying to find out.

4 responses

  1. I forgot all about the first rounder for Joe Smith in 2011. Definitely not worth it. Not even if Smith had played solid minutes.

    • Couldn’t agree more. It wasn’t just that Smith was virtually worthless (not even the player that Sasha was at that point), it was that LA moved that first rounder essentially for cash. What drives me crazy about this is that 1st rounders’ contracts are cheap for a full 4 yr. period, and teams must fill out at least 12 roster spots. Since teams will need to sign someone else to fill that 1st rounder’s spot, the only way to save money by selling a pick is to sign a player to a minimum contract for four consecutive years. In practice, teams often fill those w/slightly more expensive players (think Jason Kapono, Josh McRoberts, and Jodie Meeks). So moving 1st rounders for cash is actually quite likely to cost a team money over time.

  2. Pingback: A Long Strange Trip: From Dwight to Wes Johnson « leaguebeats.com

  3. Pingback: The Mismanagement of The Lakers « leaguebeats.com

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