Recapping the Madison Square madness

June, 27, 2008

NEW YORK -- I was there Thursday night at Madison Square Garden, which has got to be the best place on Earth to hold the NBA draft. The crowd is always electric, with young New Yorkers cheering, booing and carrying signs, despite the fact that the Knicks have been horrible for the better part of this decade.

Anyway, here are some observations. I won't comment on every team because some situations were cut-and-dried. For instance, the top selections by the Bulls (Derrick Rose) and Heat (Michael Beasley) were no-brainers, as I think they got the only two players guaranteed to be stars in the league.

• I seem to find myself praising Portland every year. Last year, of course, was easy, as the Blazers snagged Greg Oden with the top pick. But remember, the year before, they got Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge. This year, they did another wonderful job, parlaying the 13th pick into point guard Jerryd Bayless. While Bayless is more of a scorer who needs to learn to be a better distributor, having him share the backcourt with another combo guard like Roy (who can also run the offense and pass the ball) will take pressure off him. Now with Oden, Aldridge, Roy, Bayless and small forwards Travis Outlaw and Martell Webster, the Blazers are set. I would have lavished more love on them if they hadn't sent Darrell Arthur and tough man Joey Dorsey to Houston. I really like Dorsey as a strong, energetic role player in the league. We saw the importance of toughness in the Finals, and Dorsey would've given the Blazers plenty. Even so, they still had a good night.

• Danilo Gallinari may one day prove to be a great player. Scouts say he's better than Andrea Bargnani and -- this is key -- tougher than most Europeans. But I have reservations about bringing a 19-year-old (he turns 20 in August) foreign player to New York, where many will expect him to be some sort of savior. The transition to a new country and a new, better league is tough enough without having the pressure that New York's fans and media will put on him. They already booed him lustily and they haven't so much as seen him take a dribble. That's not to mention the dysfunctional group of veterans he'll be playing with. You want this kid to learn from true, polished professionals, not the bunch of characters the Knicks have assembled. Gallinari better be as tough as they say he is -- physically and mentally -- to survive this. My gut tells me that if he ever becomes a great player, he'll do so in another uniform.

• I like the Pacers' trading of Jermaine O'Neal for T.J. Ford. They weren't going anywhere with O'Neal, and Ford's contract protects them from getting hammered financially if he suffers a debilitating spinal injury. I also like Brandon Rush a lot and think he'll be a productive player in the league. But at best, Rush is probably a smaller version of Danny Granger. Plus, they already have Mike Dunleavy. I also don't expect the Pacers to get much help from Roy Hibbert.

• Minnesota continues to sputter. Kevin Love will be a solid role player and nothing more. I'm not sure O.J. Mayo will be a star either, but he has a better chance of being one than Love, so why the trade? Mike Miller is a good shooter, but he's also a role player. The Wolves better hope Randy Foye becomes a star because if he doesn't, they'll remain weak.

• Mayo didn't look too happy to be going to Minnesota, but I'm not sure being shipped to Memphis will put a smile on his face. A year ago, Mayo handpicked USC to get publicity, and now he winds up going to a team hardly anyone cares about. Wow. He should be able to play shooting guard next to Mike Conley at point, and with Rudy Gay at small forward, that's not a bad young perimeter. Still, it's going to be a long season for Mayo and Memphis.

• If Russell Westbrook pans out, watch out for the Sonics. Not next year, of course, but in the future. Westbrook, Durant and Jeff Green could be a threesome of consequence a few years from now. I also like D.J. White, who can provide the Sonics with some much needed bulk.

• I like the Bucks' trade of Yi Jianlian and Bobby Simmons for Richard Jefferson. In Jefferson, Mo Williams and Michael Redd, the Bucks have one of the most offensively productive perimeters in the league. They still need to upgrade at power forward, but this was a step in the right direction. I like Joe Alexander, though I'm not sure he'll be a star, and playing behind Jefferson will allow him to learn and grow. I also like Luc Richard Mbah a Moute out of UCLA. With Scott Skiles calling the shots, the Bucks should be able to make a run at the playoffs.

• The Nets' trade was all about clearing salary cap space for the summer of 2010, when LeBron, D-Wade and Chris Bosh are free agents. This move puts them in position to do that, and since they're not going to win big now, that was a good deal. But their draft was solid too, as Brook Lopez gives them a strong big man who can play in the post on both ends of the floor. He won't be great, but with Josh Boone, Sean Williams and (perhaps) Nenad Krstic, the Nets are getting bigger and stronger up front. Ryan Anderson's a big who can shoot, and getting Chris Douglas-Roberts at 40 was definitely a boon.

• I like Phoenix's pick of Robin Lopez. A bouncy, athletic, high-energy defender, he'll fit in well with the Suns. I also like Cleveland's selection of J.J. Hickson. Hickson, one of the 10 freshmen drafted, might have been a lottery pick had he stayed in school one more year. A 6-9 power forward with nice strength and athleticism, he averaged 15 points and 8.5 boards at NC State. This was a great pick at 19.

• When it's all said and done, I think Anthony Randolph can be one of the top players in this draft, but Golden State has an almost identical player in last year's rookie, Brandan Wright. So I don't know how that's going to work.

• I must confess. The first time I ever heard the name "George Hill" was when David Stern announced him as San Antonio's pick at 26. A 6-2 point guard out of IUPUI doesn't get much hype. But I have to give the Spurs the benefit of the doubt. They got Tony Parker with the 28th pick in 2001 and Manu Ginobili with the 57th pick in 1999, so I'm going to assume the dude can play.

• With all the questions surrounding DeAndre Jordan, who dropped all the way to No. 35, the Clippers aren't the place for him. Some say he's kind of lost right now, and it's hard to see him finding his way with one of the league's most futile franchises.

• Mayo's suit was downright fly. Cream-colored three piece with a healthy knot on his tie and some two-toned wing tips. But I give the "Best Suit of the Night" Award to Bayless. Also cream-colored, with a cream-colored shirt and tie. That junk was fresh. If he can play as well as he dressed, Portland's going to be The Bomb.

Oh, by the way, I like what Toronto did in getting Jermaine O'Neal. At first, I didn't, thinking O'Neal was just an older, more broken-down version of Chris Bosh. Well, he is that. But I still think the duo can be effective together. With Jose Calderon running the show by himself, the Raptors should be a factor in the East next year. They'll be more of a half-court team, but they'll be tough.


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