Anticipation of Free Agency Looms Over NBA Draft
"I was emotional," Wall said after he was picked at No. 1 by the Washington Wizards. "Almost brought tears to my eyes."
As it should. Celebrate this night. Live it up with your family and fellow draftees such as Al-Farouq Aminu and his MC Hammer glasses. Tell him, "best of luck with the Clippers." And you, Wesley Johnson, your plaid pants and double-breasted suit truly stood out. Let's hope your game is as slick as your threads.
Your night was a smashing success as Draft night usually is for you and your families. The possibilities for you -- personally, professionally, fiscally -- are endless.
The future is yours.
But as soon as the last table in the MSG Theater has been folded and the last hi-def TV is packed and sent back to Secaucus, N.J., the present will belong to another group.
It's no slight against this "Group of Now," of course. It's not as if Wall isn't ready-made to be a shimmering star for the Wizards or that DeMarcus Cousins isn't a tantalizing talent, who can show the world that the Kings don't need to win the No. 1 overall pick to win the Lottery.
Still, sorry guys, you just had horrible timing. You're the last act before the main event we've all been waiting for: Free Agency, 2010.
There was a time when the Draft was the defining personnel event of the NBA season and free agency something GMs did for a few weeks in July before front offices went golfing for the month of August. The Draft was the way to build, free agency was the way to shape a team or fill a need.
That's all changed. Most years, NBA fans and cognoscenti would be geeked to talk about Wall running the floor in the Vegas Summer League with various other free agents and first-year players. This year, few will be able to tear themselves away from the unfolding free agent drama.
This year, unlike any other in NBA history, some lucky team will hit the free agent mother lode. The NBA landscape will change for the next decade when LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Amar'e Stoudemire hit the free agent market on July 1.
One could say the frenzy has already started as the Cleveland Plain-Dealer reported that the Knicks plan to meet with LeBron just after the stroke of midnight.
The frenzy, however, began long ago as GMs and front office personnel have had this date marked on their calendars for what seemed like centuries. Four teams -- New York, New Jersey, Miami and Chicago -- have enough reported cap space to entice two big time free agents into the fold. While the Knicks and Nets have been paring their rosters to the bone the past two seasons in the hopes of landing James and a sidekick, the Heat and the Bulls are examples of teams using the Draft to clear cap space for this summer.
On June 24, Miami sent the No. 18 pick and Daequan Cook to Oklahoma City for $3 million in cap relief.
On Thursday, the Bulls reportedly sent Kirk Hinrich and his $17 million over the next two years along with the No. 17 pick to Washington. The moves the Heat and Bulls made in the last week make them even more serious players in the free agent market.
That was just the beginning to a wild night at the Garden. If this summer is anything like the 2010 Draft, fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy ride. It's not every draft that a team fires its general manager, as the Portland Trail Blazers did to Kevin Pritchard on draft night.
Scratch that, that's never happened before. Still, it was reported that Pritchard made the Blazers' selection Elliot Williams at No. 22 and shipped Martell Webster to Minnesota for Ryan Gomes and No. 16 pick Luke Babbitt. Then again, Williams was one of the only picks between selections No. 21 and 27 not to be swapped. It's nice to know that Pritchard didn't leave everything he collected in Portland with the trash on the curb.
As for the GMs who still have nameplates on the door and parking spaces behind the arena, they apparently like two things: making trades and drafting players from the University of Kentucky. Five Wildcats, including Wall, the first Kentucky player selected No. 1 overall, were taken in the first round, a record. Wildcats coach John Calipari, who was in attendance, nearly got more face time than commissioner David Stern.
Then there were GMs who made this their night either through their acuity or their activity. In Sacramento, general manager Geoff Petrie did very well as he addressed the Kings need in the post as he tabbed Cousins at No. 5 while center Hassan Whiteside fell into his team's lap at No. 33. That gives the Kings 14 feet of youth in the post that can be developed with 2009-10 Rookie of the Year, Tyreke Evans.
Meanwhile, Oklahoma City's Sam Presti, whose Thunder rattled the Lakers early in the 2010 postseason, made a bevy of deals, all of which resulted in the Thunder getting a tough center they need in Cole Aldrich in exchange for the rights to Craig Brackins and Quincy Pondexter, who will now play in New Orleans.
Despite the various dealings, the top of the draft board held form. Evan Turner, the Naismith Award winner, went to Philly at No. 2 and the Nets found a power forward to pair with Brook Lopez in Derrick Favors at No. 3. The first true surprise came courtesy of the always puzzling Golden State Warriors when they selected Epke Udoh at No. 6. It's not that Udoh isn't worthy of such a high selection, it's that the Warriors have a stockpile of guys like Udoh -- long, rangy and not necessarily excellent at one basketball skill.
The other first-round reach belonged to the Utah Jazz, who selected Butler forward Gordon Hayward at No. 9. Although Hayward will fit with the Jazz, one's left to wonder if the specter of former Knicks GM Isiah Thomas, who initially traded this pick to Phoenix (which later sent it to Utah), hovered over this selection.
Yet, in reality, the ghost of the free agent class of 2010 (remember LeBron in his white suit in 2003) haunted the draft class of 2010 all night. It's somewhat appropriate considering teams can approach free agents on July 1 at 12:01 a.m. ET -- the witching hour.