Let’s give the NBA this much: The league has a certain flair for the dramatic. I mean seriously, did anyone think the New Jersey Nets and their new Russian multi-billionaire owner were going to get the first pick in the draft lottery last night?
Did anyone really think the league was going to turn away Irene Pollin, the widow of long-time Washington Bullets/Wizards Abe Pollin as she stood there wearing her husband’s 1978 NBA championship ring and give the top pick to the towering, scowling Mikhail Prokhorov? No way. Maybe if Prokhorov had sent one of the Russian tennis players/super models to represent him he might have had a shot.
No, I’m not one of those conspiracy nut jobs who thinks the first lottery in 1985 was fixed so that the Knicks would get Patrick Ewing. (It was awfully convenient for the league though wasn’t it?). And no, I don’t think David Stern ordered that the ping-pong balls bounce the Wizards way on Tuesday night. I just knew the Nets and Prokhorov weren’t getting the pick. Maybe it was just the odds—which were three-to-one against the Nets in spite of their 12-70 record. Forget about checking the ping pong balls, re-check the system.
All that said, what exactly did the Wizards win? According to ESPN, they won John Wall—no ifs, ands or buts. Within seconds of the Wizards being awarded the top pick, ESPN was on a satellite hook-up with Wall asking him what he was going to do next season to fit in with Washington.
Does ESPN now do the actual drafting for teams? Has the network informed Ted Leonsis, the new owner and Ernie Grunfeld, the current general manager, that the team is taking Wall? The interview with Wall was conducted from his home in California—at least that’s what I thought Mark Jones said—so I guess he’s taking a break from his post-graduate studies at Kentucky (if you listen to John Calipari talk Wall must be on the verge of getting his Masters and his PhD).
Here’s my question: Do the Wizards really want to draft Wall—ESPN’s expertise notwithstanding? Gilbert Arenas is still on the roster and he’s still owed $80 million by the team. IF the Wizards can convince someone to take Arenas, his contract, his guns and his baggage, then I would absolutely take Wall, who has unlimited potential at what I still think is the most important position in the game—even at the NBA level.
But Wall and Arenas together? Is the NBA going to pass a rule allowing teams to use two basketballs? There are some people who think Arenas can play the two-guard spot fulltime because he shoots the ball well enough to play there. Really? Have you been around the guy the last few years? Do you think he’s going to move without the basketball and hope the guy with the ball (Wall) decides to find him? I don’t think so. And who is he going to guard?
Time will tell of course. The Wizards have options now, thanks to Mrs. Pollin and the anti-Prokhorov karma that went on last night. Maybe they can trade down, get a starter from someone AND a high pick. They gutted their roster after the whole Arenas guns debacle this past season so there shouldn’t be anyone on the team who is untouchable. Leonsis has to decide whether he wants to keep Grunfeld around and then let him go to work. If he’s going to fire Grunfeld he needs to do it NOW, not after the draft. This is a critical time for a long woebegone franchise and, now that they have won the lottery, they can’t afford to go down the Kwame Brown road they went down nine years ago.
On the subject of the playoffs: You have to be impressed with the Celtics and, to be honest, unimpressed with the Magic. Orlando handled the end-game last night like a team that had never been in a close game. There were too many mistakes to count, topped by J.J. Redick’s mind-block with the basketball on the last possession. I can hear the, ‘not very smart for a Duke guy,’ jokes coming out of Chapel Hill and College Park right now.
Those jokes would be accurate.
The only thing that would come close to a LeBron-Kobe Finals for the league would be Celtics-Lakers, maybe the only NBA matchup left in which the TEAMS are as significant to the plot as the superstars. The Celtics don’t have a superstar, just four very good players, which may be why they’ve become so tough to beat. That and the fact that they’re all smart enough to know that this is probably the last roundup, that they aren’t likely to be this healthy this late in the season again anytime soon.
The Lakers of course, have Kobe Bryant and I keep hearing people ask if he belongs in the same sentence as Michael Jordan if the Lakers win and he gets a fifth championship ring. The answer is simple: NO. Bryant’s a great player, certainly a better, tougher and more clutch player right now than LeBron James, but let’s not get carried away. I will say this one more time: There was ONE Jordan. All these comparisons get out of hand. I still remember years ago hearing a TV announcer who will go un-named (but you can look at him live) compare North Carolina freshman guard Jeff Lebo to Jerry West. Seriously.
Let’s get over that. Championship rings ARE important in terms of measuring a superstar but they aren’t the be all and end all. If they were, Robert Horry and Steve Kerr would be Hall-of-Famers. So, if Kobe does win a fifth ring, more power to him and let’s move him up another notch in the category of special players.
But in the same sentence with Jordan? No.
Here’s the list of players who can be put in the same sentence with Jordan, regardless of position: Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Oscar Robertson. I’m not saying any are better, I’m just saying you can put them in the same breath with Jordan and maybe—MAYBE—make the argument they were as valuable or more valuable at the peak of their skills.
And, in case you’re interested, there’s NO ONE in this year’s draft who is going to end up in that sentence. That doesn’t mean there aren’t very good players but those guys are once-in-a-generation, not once a year.
One thing about yesterday’s blog: I didn’t want to imply there is NO good sports talk anywhere in the country. Someone mentioned Ralph Barbieri and Tom Tolbert in San Francisco—yup, good radio guys and good interviewers. My pal Mike Gastineau in Seattle is also very good and, yes, his colleague Mitch Levy who is on mornings on KJR is a very good interviewer. Mitch just happens to have an ego that makes mine look non-existent and doesn’t know the difference between funny and insulting. Tony Kornheiser is obviously unique and also my friend as everyone knows. And Mark Patrick in Indianapolis, whose son happens to be new Nationals relief pitcher Drew Storen, also does very good and very smart work. Chris Myers does a long-form interview show on Fox sports radio that’s also an excellent listen. There are others I know I’m leaving out but those guys come to mind quickly.
John's new book: "Moment of Glory--The Year Underdogs Ruled The Majors,"--is now available online and in bookstores nationwide. Visit your favorite retailer, or click here for online purchases
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