FreeDrafto Vol. 2, Issue 1: The Faithless Journey
Call it the burden of airlines; a year ago, FreeDarko couldn't wait to leave the Finals behind and start itching ourselves over the draft. This time around, however, we're seemingly bound to the notion of non-stop playoff repartee, responsibly setting the off-season aside until, well, the season ends.
Yet I couldn't help notice the profusion of teams that Inside Hoops reports might want to move up. Last I checked, this was supposed to be the most wan draft in recent memory, with no clear #1 and few players considered sure things. Why, then, would Portland, Orlando, Golden State, Boston, and Houston all be looking to jump up a few places in the wrought-iron order of things? Is the logic that, with "best available" all but meaningless, teams have no choice but to grab and claw at the one guy that suits their needs? Although targeting players is a key part of the scouting process, I'd always assumed it had something to do with acquiring an unborn genius, not simply not shooting your team in the foot. Hot pursuit in a rainy season can only mean one thing: executives are so insecure in their sixth senses that they're only willing to endorse one or two players even in a resoundingly mediocre draft.
You could also correlate it with the “win now” hysteria that forces teams to overspend on free agents and think of the draft as an occasion that welcomes the future, rather than just a day to pick up some extra players. Last I checked, the NBA was not a race against time; while some coaches or execs might be on a deadline, there is nothing inherently wrong with lowering the expectations for off-season improvements. That opens up the possibility of teams taking low-risk, high reward gambles (see Suns, Phoenix), or at very least accepting that the bench means something, too. Draft picks are not like free agents in that one doesn’t have the option of just standing pat still next year. But if a draft doesn’t seem to be offering much, why not trade down for future picks, or veteran help?
This will probably end up being one of those rich get richer drafts. Granted, with no instant franchises coming out a dramatic turnaround is out of the question. That won’t, however, prevent the brigade of the hopeless from sharpening their talons as if there were, going for broke when it couldn’t hurt to for once clutch solids. If anyone benefits, it will be playoff teams in need of depth, or teams that almost were who in search of a certain caste of role player. Yes, both of these approaches are consistent with wanting and needing, maybe even dealing to get in the right spot—at the last minute in the middle of the first round. With a high pick that’s cost extra, there’s just too much at stake to justify it as tinkering or a chore.
The whopping caveat atop all this is that I probably said something similar last summer, when heading into June the incoming class looked to be devoid of a clear #1 or any definite hierarchy of lottery picks. To my mind, Paul, Felton, Villanueva, Frye, Granger, Marvin, and Garcia are all looking quite obviously like key starters, Bogut is tall enough to stick, Deron has found a home that will never leave him, and hs’ers Tell Tell, Bynum, and Gerald Green have shown serious promise. The second round even yielded an unusually high number of useful figures: Salim Stoudamire, Ronny Turiaf, Monta Ellis, and Ryan Gomes should be around for a while, with a few more on the brink.
I can only guess that the 2003 has done so much for the world’s conception of what the draft can do that anything short of that will, on some level, be thought of as failed by draft dorks and team boosters alike. This may be a less than stunning crop of prospects, and the inconclusive nature of many of them may prevent us from casting a wide net of prophecy. I would even suggest that any fool can tell that 2005’s group, while similarly confounding, was as a whole still more talented. Yet 2003 was a once-in-a-generation windfall, and clear-cut number ones often turn out to be mirages. In truth, this is a draft like any other: plenty of question marks, some unfounded assumptions, and success dependant on some combination of astuteness, flexibility and dumb luck. And in all but the rarest cases, draft position is more a hindrance, a false god, than it is an advantage.