In one of the craziest drafts I’ve ever seen, the craziest move of the night belonged to – who else? – Isiah Thomas. I’ve given the numbers before to demonstrate Thomas’ world class incompetence as an executive, but let’s recap: 3 years ago he took over a 35 win team that was $40 million over the salary cap and had long term contracts with stiffs from one end of the bench to the other He’s traded away 25 players and traded for 18 players in 3 years. And he now has a 20 win team that’s $85 million over the salary cap and long term contracts with a different set of stiffs from one end of the bench to the other.
And with the 20th pick in the draft last night he actually managed to pick a player that I – a college basketball fanatic, a guy who can tell you who the top rated players in the junior class in high school are, a guy who can tell you which teams are recruiting the top 10 players in the class of 2011 – has never heard of. Renaldo Balkman? Who the hell is Renaldo Balkman? No, not Rolando Blackman, the all-star player for the Dallas Mavericks in the 80s. Renaldo Balkman. I had to look him up. He’s a 6’6 forward who was the #3 scorer for South Carolina, an NIT team, averaging less than 10 points a game. Try and find him on anyone’s mock draft for the first round, I dare you. Just when you think Isiah couldn’t possibly get worse, he still manages to surprise you.
Okay, I have to give Thomas a little bit of credit. With their 2nd pick in the first round, he made a very good pick in Mardy Collins, a guy I mentioned yesterday as a real sleeper. The Knicks have 3 point guards on their roster – Steve Francis, Stephon Marbury and Nate Robinson – but they’re all shoot first point guards. Mardy Collins is a point guard who can shoot, and that’s a very different thing. He’ll also do something that none of the other three point guards will do – guard someone. That’s a good pick. It’s a very good pick.
Other things that stick out. Shannon Brown going to the Cavs at #24 is a great pick. He’s a great defensive player and a spectacular finisher on the break, and he’ll be playing with the best passer in the game in Lebron James. Let’s just say there will be an alley oop play or two in the Cavaliers playbook next year. Brown was the #2 player in his high school class, behind Lebron James, and he may actually be a better pure athlete than James is. In the McDonald’s game 3 years ago, he should have won the slam dunk contest over James. At barely 6’3, this guy can dunk from the free throw line. Even in a league full of great athletes, this guy is a freak; his vertical leap from a standstill tops 4 freakin’ feet. He’s got huge hands for a guy his size and can easily palm a basketball and his body is chiseled like a linebacker. But he’s not just an athlete. No one coached by Tom Izzo is just an athlete. He’s tough as nails and he loves to play defense.
The knock on a guy like Shannon Brown is that he’s too short to play shooting guard, but he’s not a point guard. But on a team like Cleveland, where Lebron is really the point guard, that’s not a problem at all. Brown can guard the opposing team’s point guard or shooting guard and Lebron can guard their 2 or 3, depending on the matchups. And since the other team has to play a bigger man on Lebron on the perimeter, Brown will be guarded most times by the opposing team’s point guard, which means rather than having a size disadvantage on both ends, he has a size advantage on both ends. It’s an absolutely perfect fit for Brown. Now if he’s smart, his entire offseason will be spent shooting 3 pointers (though he already shoots over 40% from there).
I was very surprised when Houston drafted Rudy Gay, then traded him to Memphis for Shane Battier. It’s a great trade for Houston and a lousy one for Memphis. Houston gets an outside shooter, great defender and real team leader. Memphis gets an underachieving, half-hearted but talented small forward when they’ve already got Mike Miller at that position. I know Jerry West is supposed to be a genius, but I don’t get that trade at all. And you know Mike Fratello isn’t happy about giving up his team leader and glue guy. And to top it off, Houston threw in Stromile Swift in the deal to make it work with the salary cap, so Memphis just got back the undersized, unmotivated player they managed to pawn off to Houston last year. I don’t get it.
First round picks I like: Jordan Farmar to the Lakers at #26 (best point guard available, local kid, very coachable); Randy Foye somehow ending up in Minnesota (he’ll be electric with Kevin Garnett, playing either guard position); JJ Redick to Orlando (best place for him outside of Houston; playing with Jameer Nelson and Dwight Howard will lead to open shots for him); Brandon Roy and Lamarcus Aldridge to Portland (they traded with about every team in the league, but ended up with two quality starters out of it); Adam Morrison to Charlotte (who wisely avoided picking Gay).
Picks I don’t like: Rudy Gay to Memphis, as I said; Shelden Williams to Atlanta at #5 (love the player, but the Hawks needed a point guard really bad and passed up on one for the second straight season); Shawne Williams to the Pacers at #17 (redundant with Danny Granger, last year’s #1 pick, and very, very raw).
In many ways, the second round was more interesting than the first. The first several picks were all potentially good – James White to Portland (another freak athlete, but also a great defender), Steve Novak to Houston (they need outside shooting and got a 6’10 player who can shoot the lights out; could be a great player coming off the bench to provide instant offense for them), Paul Davis to the Clippers (should be a good backup to Kaman, runs the court well, good shooter), PJ Tucker to Toronto and Craig Smith to Minnesota (a real banger on the inside).
Like all drafts, it will be 3 years before we can really evaluate who got the best of it. You can make a case for almost every player in the first round having the potential to be great (other than Balkman – if the Knicks hadn’t taken him, they might well have been able to sign him as a free agent because no other team was even going to consider drafting him until at least the middle of the second round – that was truly a “what are they smoking in that war room” pick). But overall, I think the winners were Portland (ended up with at least two starters out of the draft), New Orleans (got two skilled big men in the first round, exactly what they needed) and Houston (traded two stiffs to fill their biggest hole with a solid veteran). And yes, the Sports Guy’s running diary is hysterical. Here’s his take on Isiah’s pick:
9:36 — There are those moments in sports when you expect something great, and then it actually happens. And then there are those rare moments in sports when you expect something great, and something even greater happens. This was one of those moments: The Knicks on the clock, the crowd pushing for Marcus Williams, and then …
–Stern: “With the 20th pick, the New York Knicks select … Renaldo Balkman.”
(Crowd explodes in horror.)
–Stern (over the boos): “Renaldo is not here.”
–Patrick (without missing a beat): “And it’s probably a good thing.”
(Shot of a beaten-down Spike Lee laughing hysterically.)
9:36 — That was fantastic. Everyone kept e-mailing me to write about Isiah and the Knicks last week … what else was there to say? OF COURSE Isiah was meant to coach this team as his final job in the NBA before retiring to a life of greeting people at casinos and doing informercials. If somebody clogs your toilet, you ask him to clean up the mess. That’s just the way life works. I’m telling you, we’re going to remember the Isiah/Knicks Era the same way we remember things like Enron, the Hindenberg and the Bay of Pigs. It’s reached that level. I don’t know what else to say. Honestly. I have Knicks fans e-mailing me every day asking me if it’s OK to root against their own team. What else can you say at this point?
(Wait, I know … Renaldo Balkman!)
Personally, I’m waiting to open the paper and see the headline “Spike Lee stabs Isiah Thomas in Madison Square Garden parking lot”.