Friday was the day most NBA teams returned to their headquarters, pleased with their winnings in the draft. There are very few teams that will truly admit disappointment with their results, but there should be.
It was a difficult evening for some teams, such as the Toronto Raptors, who failed to get their desired point guard to replace Kyle Lowry in Canadian Tyler Ennis. And then they drafted a kid named Bruno Caboclo, who was considered a mid-second-round pick at best.
And the Philadelphia 76ers, who selected seven of the 60 players drafted. Three will report to camp ready to contribute to the club. Joel Embiid, who could be the best player in this draft in coming years, and Dario Saric because of his contract in Turkey, likely won’t play this season.
Two of the 76ers’ five second-round picks — Vasilije Micic and Nemanja Dangubic — are unlikely to join the team, either. So the 76ers are going to enter another transition season that could be just as ghastly as the previous campaign that included a 26-game losing streak.
“Our fans see that we have been remarkably consistent about trying to add talent to our team — the best talent we can find,” 76ers general manager Sam Hinkie said. “We felt very fortunate to have had the set of circumstances happen that would allow a player like Joel to be in our position. We will continue to be very aggressive to find the best players we can for our team.”
There seems to be two separate factions in the current NBA, teams such as the Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks, who are scraping up as much salary-cap space as possible to chase premium free agents to compete, and those teams who are compiling assets for future playoff runs but appear content to make annual lottery appearances until that occurs.
The Celtics are in the latter category, having taken two players (Marcus Smart, James Young) who could be building blocks but will take time to develop. Young is, well, young, at 18 years old, and has just one year of college experience.
The Rockets used the draft to select a player they could stash — Clint Capela — who will not count against their cap if he remains overseas. The Heat traded up to get Shabazz Napier. The Spurs stayed put at No. 30 and grabbed versatile Kyle Anderson of UCLA, while Doc Rivers and the Clippers used their pick on long-range shooter C.J. Wilcox of Washington.
With the new collective bargaining agreement that heavily penalizes teams that repeatedly exceed the luxury tax, first-round picks have become valuable. But it’s stunning how quickly teams who spend considerable efforts scouting throughout the season regret recent picks.
The Kings don’t seem content with Ben McLemore. Shane Larkin already has been traded by the Mavericks. The Utah Jazz may have drafted Trey Burke’s replacement [Dante Exum] after one season. Other 2013 first-rounders, such as Solomon Hill, Archie Goodwin, Shabazz Muhammad, and No. 1 overall Anthony Bennett are major question marks entering their second seasons. It’s unrealistic to expect even half of these current first-rounders to make an impact next season.
But there was a reason why Embiid fell to the third pick after foot surgery. The Cleveland Cavaliers and Milwaukee Bucks couldn’t afford to miss in this draft, for different reasons. The Cavaliers couldn’t falter on their third top pick in the past four years, especially after the Bennett fiasco. The Bucks desperately need star power to generate momentum for a new arena, and Jabari Parker, who is from nearby Chicago, displayed a willingness to play there.
“They really did have a lot of success, especially in the days with Lew Alcindor,” said the 19-year-old Parker, showing his knowledge of NBA history. “In the ’90s when they made the playoffs with Sam Cassell. I just want to be remembered as one of them, too, since I’m going to the Bucks.”
The Cavaliers had to take the sure thing in Andrew Wiggins. Cleveland really couldn’t miss with the No. 1 pick if it decided on Wiggins or Parker because both are expected to be franchise cornerstones. But other teams had more difficult choices. The Celtics chose Smart over NoahVonleh and Julius Randle. The Kings took Nik Stauskas over Doug McDermott. The Hornets shelved all of their previous plans when Vonleh was available and were ecstatic with the selection. Some of those decisions could eventually be regrettable, but for now all 30 teams are selling optimism to their fanbases.
HOME SWEET HOME
Free agent Nowitzki will stay put in Dallas
Dirk Nowitzki is a free agent on July 1 but there won’t be any suspense or intrigue regarding his decision. He fully intends to return to Dallas on a deal that will last for the remainder of his career. The Mavericks are expected to be active in the free agent market and cleared some cap space by acquiring Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton from the New York Knicks for JoseCalderon, Shane Larkin, Samuel Dalembert, and two second-round draft picks.
“Yeah, obviously I don’t want to go anywhere,” said Nowitzki. “[Owner Mark Cuban] doesn’t want me to go anywhere. So hopefully it will be a short and quick meeting and we’ll get it over with and then we can get better as a franchise again. I’ve been in Dallas so long, it wouldn’t even feel right to go somewhere else, wear a different jersey, live somewhere else. I never saw that happening in 2010 the last time I was a free agent, and I’m not going to see it now.”
The Mavericks are going to make a run for LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. ShawnMarion, Vince Carter, and Devin Harris are free agents and there is money to sign a premium free agent if Nowitzki accepts a contract for less than the $22 million he earned last season.
“Mark and I are going to find a deal that’s respectable for both sides, I think, and hopefully get better again,” said Nowitzki. “I like what we did last summer and we have to build on it.”
“I was active [in recruiting free agents] the last couple of years but it didn’t do anything. I was active with [Deron Williams], he stayed [in Brooklyn]. I flew to LA last year to meet with Dwight [Howard] and he went to Houston, so I guess they don’t like me much.”
Asked about Anthony, Nowitzki said, “For sure, if Dallas is on his radar. He can score with the best of them and if that’s a possibility, we’d love to have him.”
Nowitzki added the Mavericks should pursue James. “It doesn’t happen very often where the best player in the league is a free agent, you’ve got to obviously go for it,” said Nowitzki. “I’m not sure what our chances are, but at least you have to try.”
League gives Austin his moment in the sun
When Isaiah Austin and his family walked down an aisle Thursday at the Barclays Center to occupy a green room table after commissioner Adam Silver had announced Adreian Payne as the 15th pick in the NBA Draft, it was apparent something special was about to occur. Was Austin, a draft prospect until being diagnosed with Marfan syndrome, ending his playing career, going to sit there and witness the rest of the picks?
The NBA did one better. Silver announced that Austin had been drafted by the NBA, bringing him onto the stage to a standing ovation and presenting him with an NBA logo cap. It was a fitting tribute after a trying week for the 20-year-old center from Baylor, who found out last week that he tested positive for Marfan.
Austin participated in the draft combine last month, and talked with the media about attempting to make the league despite being blind in one eye. During his medical examination, doctors told Austin that there was a possibility he had Marfan, a genetic disorder that can cause aortic enlargement, among other health issues. Austin tested positive.
“My parents originally found out the information the night before,” said Austin, when describing the day he learned the news. “As soon as they heard, they picked up their bags and my family drove nine hours from Kansas City to Dallas, where I was at.
“I remember that morning I woke up early [and went to] the gym. I remember I was driving home with my high school coach, coach Ray [Forsett], and we were doing the same thing we do all the time, laughing and joking around. As soon as we pulled up to my house, I just noticed a variety of cars and I noticed a couple of them that I recognized. I remember asking him what was up, and he couldn’t even look at me.”
Austin said there was a gathering of people at his house, including the Baylor coaching staff and his pastor. He knew something was wrong.
“The first person’s face who I saw was my mother’s,” he said. “She was all the way in the back. I just remember seeing tears falling down her eyes. My dad’s arms around her. I knew then exactly what it was because I remember in Chicago they said I could have had this syndrome. I wanted to break down and cry, but I didn’t because my little brother and sister were in the room. I wanted to show them that I could be strong for them and for my family because they looked up to me.”
As he spoke with the media, Austin became more reflective. He moved the audience with this statement: “God has truly blessed me because he could have continued to let me play basketball. But instead he saved my life.”
Baylor has offered Austin a coaching position as he completes his degree, and the NBA has also offered him a yet-to-be-determined position.
“These past couple of days have really taught me a lot about myself,” he said. “They’ve really shown me no matter what obstacle you’re thrown in life, there’s always a way around it. There’s no reason somebody should hang their head or not have the confidence in themselves in doing something.”
Austin won’t ever play in the NBA, but on Thursday, he was a champion.
“It has been a dream come true,” he said. “I’ve met so many people that are supporting me and they don’t even know me on a personal level. Just being around all the draftees and seeing all my friends get drafted, it just brings joy in my heart because I know how hard we work to get to this point. I’ve been through it. Everything, the late nights in the gym, the early mornings in the gym, the injuries, the tears, the sweat, the blood. Everything.”
Miami appears perfect destination for Napier
One of the interesting aspects of Roxbury native Napier heading to the Heat to perhaps join LeBron James is his Hispanic background in a Latino-dominated region.
“I was raised by my mom, and my mom’s full Puerto Rican, I kind of think I’m 75 percent,” Napier said. “I actually went out there my sophomore year and actually trained with the Puerto Rican team. It’s definitely something special. It’s super special definitely because my grandmother and my grandfather, they love it down there [in Puerto Rico]. If I get a chance down there to go play for them, best bet I’m going to bring them with me.
“It’s just a special moment, and knowing that there’s a lot of Hispanics down in the Miami area, that’s going to bring a lot more people, it’s super special, man. My mind right now is twirling. I’m going to be honest with you. I’m just super happy right now.”
Napier was considering leaving school following his junior season but made the astute move to remain for his final season. And that season eventually became legendary, as he led seventh-seeded UConn to the national championship. Napier’s stock rose and he gained an admirer in James, who said repeatedly that Napier was his favorite player entering the draft.
The Heat swapped picks with the Hornets to get Napier at 24th overall, hoping that his presence will help retain James, who opted out of his contract last week. Napier’s meteoric rise from Charlestown High School to the NBA is a journey that he has cherished.
“Yeah, I didn’t do it on my own, I can tell you that much,” he said. “I got about a handful of guys that pushed me to get to where I am now. I’m just so happy that they were able to do that.
“I mean, it was tough. Just like any other neighborhood, there’s always people that are going to compete with you. But they allowed me to understand and see what I can be from when I was young, 8 years old — a little kid running on the court during halftime shooting basketballs, to me right now in front of you guys who continue to push me. Like I said, it’s a special feeling.”
Surprisingly, given the depth of the draft, there were more underclassmen that declared than last year, and there were some definite losers who will now have to chase their NBA dreams as undrafted free agents. Most notable were Louisville’s Chane Behanan, Ohio State’s LaQuinton Ross, UNLV’s Khem Birch, Missouri’s Jabari Brown, New Mexico’s Alex Kirk, North Carolina’s James Michael McAdoo, Oregon State’s Eric Moreland, UNLV’s Roscoe Smith, and JaKarr Sampson of St. John’s. Most of those players either weren’t ready for the NBA (Ross, Kirk, McAdoo) or entered the draft with red flags (Moreland, Behanan), but there will likely be a market for all of these players. Remember, Celtics reserve point guard Phil Pressey signed a three-year deal as an undrafted free agent . . . The 76ers attempted to work out prospects Julius Randle and Noah Vonleh in the days before the draft but each turned down the invitation. The 76ers, who eventually took Joel Embiid, were considering both with their third overall pick . . . The Nets are convinced Kevin Garnett will return to the team for his 20th NBA season, which will be the final year of his contract and likely his final NBA season. There was speculation Garnett would retire after a difficult ending to his first season in Brooklyn, but he has already begun preparing for 2014-15. The Nets are likely to pursue re-signing Paul Pierce, who wants to play two or three more seasons . . . Former Orlando Magic point guard Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway will be inducted into the National High School Hall of Fame on Tuesday at a ceremony in Boston. Hardaway was a standout at Treadwell High in Memphis . . . “Gone In An Instant,” the documentary detailing the financial rise and fall of former Celtic Antoine Walker, was shown last week in a private screening to positive reviews. Walker is hoping to distribute the film for mainstream screenings later this year. Former Celtics coaches M.L. Carr and Rick Pitino are featured in the film . . . An intriguing player who could be available by trade is Knicks guard Shane Larkin, who spent an injury-prone first year with the Mavericks. Larkin is a whiz at running the pick-and-roll and could become a starter. He lost playing time this past season when Devin Harris returned from a foot injury.