How the Draft Was Won: A 2010 Manifesto
Virginia is for lovers and the NBA draft is for dreamers. It's not just the teams picking near the top, hoping to snag a player who will deliver them from the depths of failure and infamy. If your profit-maximizing entity of choice hasn't seen the light of broadcast since April, last season is a distant memory and hope is marching in. That pick in the twenties could turn out to be Rajon Rondo. Or Kendrick Perkins. Or Glen Davis.
(Danny Ainge is really underrated as a judge of young talent, now isn't he? It's funny that his Executive of the Year award is kind of a joke, but if he had it for this season, it would be a well-deserved honor.)
Top-to-bottom, hope springs eternal from the draft process. Last year alone, with its sprawling army of point guards, proves that great things come to those who scout well, believe, or get really lucky. Anything is possible; everyone's a winner until the season starts. Then there's the intrigue and aura of the first few slots. Way up there, we have whole worlds of life being born, moments we're bound to look back at in years to come as snapshots from when it all began.
Except this year the draft doesn't have that usual sparkle surrounding it, and not just because DeMarcus Cousins is a stenchful fraud.
Instead, it's been overshadowed by something at once more realistic and more fantastic. If the draft plays with the fantasy of franchise renewal, then Free Agency 2010 throws aside the dolls and chew toys and says LET'S DO THIS. This is not a drill; LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh are not decoys. By comparison, the draft is an afterthought -- at least as any kind of exercise in idealism.
That's not to say that stars won't come out of this draft. I've already suggested that, as the summer unfolds, we'll see John Wall considered nearly as an equal. Some very good players, even stars, could find their way to teams in need -- or teams smart enough to spot them late. Still, with all due respect to Evan Turner, who would you rather root for: The Sixers, or any team with the cap space to go after notable free agents in July?
There's always the thrill of discovery that comes with getting a fresh face, but come on -- it's a new beginning for the team in a grand sense, not just new blood, that's the real prize. And that's what Free Agency 2010 is all about.
Certainly, this takes some of the fun out of the draft. This might not be such a bad thing, though. The draft is at once the site of some of the most far-fetched thinking about the NBA, and the most exacting, granular analysis imaginable. This paradox usually resigns itself to sit quietly and enjoy the attention, but this year, it shall be no more.
If you want thrills, follow free agency. If you're after the hard stuff, with a healthy dose of rationality, the 2010 NBA draft is for you. It's not where dreams go to die, but a place where dreams can for once be sent to daycare. It's not about a superstar lurking in the late first round just waiting for your team -- it's trying to find a rotation player there. So sexy, I know. But at least it's honest. As, in its own way, is spending all summer wondering where LeBron James will build his new kingdom on Earth.
Admittedly, some fans of teams who don't have cap space are going to fall back on the old ways. They need something to get them through the next few months, after all, and watching other franchises blast off into the stratosphere just won't do it.
However, they will be a marginal population. The draft can be returned to those who truly delight in minor characters and finer points, not finding the Next Big Thing. Because for once, there are enough offseason fireworks that the NBA draft doesn't have to be anything but itself. And with all the advances in scouting -- better information, more boots on the ground, less uncertainty to contend with in the form of underage prospects -- now's the perfect time for it to get back to approximating science.
After all, while handing out party favors and learning how to pronounce funny names is a great exercise in team spirit, the draft exists for front offices to cull new labor. It's good public relations to make a big deal out of it, but in the long run, encouraging magical thinking is probably bad for fan expectations. Besides, this year, that's where LeBron James and Dwyane Wade step in.