I made an appearance tonight on a "Southwest Division" edition of the NBA Draft Day Countdown podcast. I was interviewed during the first 20 minutes of the roughly 70 minute podcast, touching on everything from options for the #2 pick to the make-up of the team's frontcourt to the team's decision-making structure. I just listened to it and don't think I embarrassed myself, so check it out.
The podcast is available for free on iTunes — search "nbadraftday" in the podcast section. You can check out the NBA Draft Day Countdown main site here.
Back from a week-long vacation with limited internet time and access, I'm going to set the table with a bunch of Griz-related links before I wade back in with my own stuff:
On Ricky Rubio: This awesome, lengthy True Hoop post on Ricky Rubio is a must-read. Henry Abbott lays out all the issues surrounding Rubio, especially with an informed, even-handed examination of both the upside and downside of Rubio's game.
Draft Express earlier last week brought some clarity to Rubio question with probably the best piece anyone's written about Rubio's posturing in relationship to the Grizzlies.
Trade Rumors: ESPN.com's Chad Ford, reporting from the Chicago pre-draft camp, leads with a Clippers-Thunder rumor. This, of course, is unacceptable from a Grizzlies perspective. There's no way the Grizzlies can let the Clippers and OKC pull off an homage to the old Chris Webber-Penny Hardaway deal, with Hasheem Thabeet as the Shawn Bradley of the scenario. (Yes, I think Thabeet will be a better pro than Bradley, but you get the point.) The Thunder coming away with Blake Griffin simply cannot happen. Also of interest is some not-for-attribution commentary from some NBA front-office people questioning Rubio's NBA future.
I've recovered from Lebron James' historic shot long enough to put up one last post before I nod off. If anyone in Griz Land hasn't seen SI.com's Ian Thomsen's long draft piece today. Thomsen has some great material on the issues surrounding Ricky Rubio's buyout and includes this must-read stretch:
The questions then become whether the Grizzlies will take him at No. 2, and whether Rubio will want to go there. Dealing with the latter issue, one has only to recall Fegan's attempts to steer Chinese power forward Yi Jianlian away from the Bucks after they picked Yi sixth in 2007. When he was unable to force an immediate trade from Milwaukee, Fegan negotiated promises of playing time from owner Herb Kohl. My understanding is that Fegan doesn't necessarily view Memphis as a bad franchise for Rubio as long as the Grizzlies aren't committed to Mike Conley Jr. as their point guard at Rubio's expense.
Let's be realistic about the Grizzlies. They've rid themselves of most of their older, expensive players, going into next season with no one making as much as $8 million. They surely aren't going to be a contender anytime soon, and drafting Thabeet won't change that dynamic. But drafting Rubio and giving him the keys to the car will make them suddenly and surprisingly attractive. He'll create easy baskets for Rudy Gay and O.J. Mayo and increase their value and the value of the franchise, because with Rubio running the team, the Grizzlies can become one of the hot, fun teams to watch next season. Rubio will make them relevant in an entertaining way, whereas no one else in this draft can make them relevant in any kind of way.
Does Memphis really want to see Rubio become an instant open-floor phenom for Sacramento next season, while the Grizzlies invest years in developing Thabeet in front of small crowds?
I'll be on the road again tomorrow, so don't expect any new posts until at least tomorrow night and probably not until Sunday.
I've been on the road all day and am checking in on the latest draft intrigue from a hotel room in Rockford, Illinois.
The order of the day, as I play catch-up, is fallout from Chad Ford's report that Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley is pushing to take Hasheem Thabeet #2 over the dissent of his basketball staff.
Before I split town this morning, I heard Commercial Appeal Grizzlies beat writer Ron Tillery — who is certainly closer to Heisley than any other NBA media person — shoot this down on his radio show, saying that Heisley wasn't particularly enamored with Thabeet and also saying that Heisley told him directly that the Grizzlies are going to make a hard push to get up to #1 and take Blake Griffin.
The happiness over the Grizzlies' lottery good fortune was dealt a couple of body blows on Day 2 of the draft countdown.
First came a report from DraftExpress.com's Jonathan Givony that Ricky Rubio's "camp" is making noises about trying to maneuver the phenom point guard to the West Coast:
Rubio doesn’t want to go to Memphis, and he especially does not want to pay money out of his own pocket with that huge buyout for the honor of doing so. Fegan [Rubio’s agent] wants him in L.A., and if he can’t have him there, he wants him in Sacramento. Definitely not Oklahoma City. “
Unlike Griffin or Hasheem Thabeet, who don’t really have any choice where they will play next season if a team decides to play hardball, Rubio has a reasonably attractive alternative option at his disposal—returning to Spain.
“He’ll pull out if he doesn’t like what he’s hearing,” the NBA source tells us. “Or he can stay in and force the Grizzlies to call his bluff—would they really take him knowing that he may never come over? That’s one way to get him to fall to three.”
Then, later in the day, we get this dispiriting nugget from ESPN.com's Chad Ford:
On the "Keeping Rubio" post, one commenter questioned my sobriety for suggesting the Grizzlies might be able to deal Mike Conley in a package that nets a lottery pick in this year's draft. I started to respond in the comments but realized it would be comically long for that space, so instead I'll respond in a separate post here:
It remains to be seen whether a team would deal a lottery pick for Conley, but it would be stupid if no-one would. Last season, after the coaching change, when the reins were lifted and Conley was allowed to really play, he closed the season on a three-month run in which he essentially averaged 15 points, 4 boards, 6 assists, and close to 2 steals a game while shooting 44/40/80. This was as a 20-year-old, second-year point guard who'd missed half his rookie year. That's really good production from someone of Conley's experience level and position. This is also someone who was a #4 pick just two years ago and one of the two best players on a team that went to the national title game in a good year for college basketball.
Taking a quick spin around the web on the day after:
UPDATE #2: Some really great stuff in this writer's roundtable on CNN/SI.
UPDATE: John Hollinger has some notes about potential post-lottery trade scenarios. One interesting bit is the suggestion that the Clippers will be desperate to give Zach Randolph away to clear room for Blake Griffin and would take a Marko Jaric/Darko Milicic deal. I still wouldn't do that from the Griz perspective because I wouldn't want Randolph anywhere near my team. Hollinger's other notes on the Grizzlies aren't as compelling because they seem to be based primarily on Chad Ford's highly questionable suggestion that Thabeet is the most likely pick at #2.
Chad Ford's mock has Hasheem Thabeet at #2, Chase Budinger at #27.
Kevin Arnovitz wants the Clippers to take Griffin.
Jonathan Givony has thoughts on the #2 pick.
Draft Express' mock has the Griz taking Ricky Rubio (#2), Tyler Hansbrough (#27), and Danny Green (#35).
NBADraft.net has it Rubio, Derrick Brown, Dionte Christmas
Zac from Three Shades of Blue has a sharp, funny post about the Grizzlies' endless point-guard dilemmas. To answer Zac's personal question thrown my way: I'm still sorting it all out, but barring a chance to move up for Griffin, I'm leaning toward the kind of scenario you settled on.
MemphisX at Three Shades throws out a mock with the Griz taking Rubio and Danny Green.
Ian Thomsen at CNN/SI has the Griz taking Rubio and Terrence Williams
Ball Don't Lie has Rubio going to Griz.
If the Grizzlies are content with what they have in the starting backcourt right now and don’t want to take on an 18-year-old point guard, no matter how immense his potential, then there should be no shortage of suitors for the #2 and the rights to Ricky Rubio.
The question is similar to the one about Mike Conley — who needs a point guard and what do that have to offer — except that Rubio have more trade value and could command better deals in return, which is one argument for keeping Conley and marketing the pick.
Let's start with the same set of teams we looked at for potential Conley deals and speculate about better packages those teams might offer for Rubio:
Of the four potential paths the Grizzlies could take with the #2 pick, standing pat and taking anyone other than Ricky Rubio (or Blake Griffin on the off chance the Clippers took Rubio #1) seems like the least likely scenario.
If that were to happen, the pick would likely be UCONN shotblocker Hasheem Thabeet, whom both Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress.com and Chad Ford of ESPN.com are talking up in connection with the Grizzlies.
If the Grizzlies are convinced — and I am not — that Thabeet is going to be a game-changing defensive force at the NBA level, then you could justify that pick. But, with doubts about Thabeet and the presence of a quality young starting center in Marc Gasol, I think taking Thabeet at # 2 is just too big of a gamble to make. (One other consideration, I suppose, is the suggestion that Darko Milicic could try to opt out of the last year of his deal and head back to Europe next season. One Grizzlies employee I spoke to last night said he thought that was likely, though I'm not so sure myself.)
Beyond Thabeet, there are plenty of other players in this draft someone could reasonably think has as much star potential as Rubio — Brandon Jennings, James Harden, Tyreke Evans, DeMar Derozan, Stephen Curry. But I can't imagine taking any of these players second overall. If you really want one of those players, you trade down, which is something I'll look at in the next post.
If the Grizzlies stay put at #2, I think Ricky Rubio is the obvious pick. But it's one that comes with lots of complications.
With Mike Conley emerging in the second half last season and O.J. Mayo's size and playmaking ability suggesting he needs to spend a lot of time on the ball to thrive, the Griz don’t need a ball-handling guard.
Also, after three straight sub-25-win seasons and with one of the league's youngest rosters, going through the inevitable growing pains with an 18-year-old point guard is not exactly an enticing proposition.
But ultimately it comes down to this: Rubio is a special talent, and those are hard to come by.
But if the Grizzlies take Rubio, what other potential moves would that set in motion?
In order to avoid a single 2500 word tome of a post, I'm going to break up my initial post-lottery analysis into multiple entries that will go up throughout the morning.
With the ocean of possibility that is the second overall pick, there appear to be four main rivers the Grizzlies could take, each with many tributaries heading toward myriad draft-day scenarios.
The first thing the Grizzlies should do is put in a call to the Clippers about snagging that top pick and getting Blake Griffin.
The Clippers are one of the few teams I thought were a candidate to move off the top pick. (Minnesota was another.) The Clippers are on the hook for $33 million over the next two seasons for Zach Randolph and $33 million over the next three seasons for Chris Kaman, so the frontcourt is a little clogged up for Griffin. Also, the Clippers desperately need a player that can change the tone on the court and encourage more team basketball — and the pass-happy Ricky Rubio would fit the bill. Further, if the team were able to move Baron Davis, a Rubio-Eric Gordon backcourt would be one of the best young guard combos in the league.
So, let's entertain, for a moment the possibility that the Clippers might be willing to move the pick. What would it take?
I'm a little late checking in on an exciting draft lottery tonight as the Grizzlies moved up from sixth to second, just missing securing consensus top pick Blake Griffin but getting a pretty good consolation prize.
After hashing things out with a post-lottery dinner with friends, I'll have expansive thoughts coming up sometime Wednesday morning, but to get on the record now, my initial impressions are these:
1. There are many possible routes this team can take to get where it wants to go. Getting the top pick and taking Griffin would have been the clearest and easiest path. Getting the second pick in this draft is perhaps more interesting, though, as it sets up dozens of potential gameplans for this off-season, some of which I'll get into in the next post.
2. If the Grizzlies weren't going to get the top pick, the Clippers are a pretty good outcome. That team's a mess and could potentially move off the pick if the Grizzlies want to try to move up. The Thunder, who would have been the worst team to get the top pick from a Griz perspective, would surely like to move up from third, but I can't see the Clippers trading down to three in a draft with a clear-cut Top Two.
3. I do agree with the consensus that Ricky Rubio is the clear-cut second best player in the draft. He's been considered a potential number-one-overall pick for several years now, is still only 18, and has been a big-time producer at the highest levels of basketball outside the NBA, both in Spanish ACB and Euroleague play and at the Olympics. He's a sixth-sense playmaker with flair. Imagine Jason Williams except three inches taller, with a defensive mindset, and not a knucklehead. As much as I like Mike Conley, Rubio is the more significant talent. More on all this coming up, but here's a quick taste of Rubio:
The NBA Draft Lottery is tonight at roughly 7:30 p.m. I'll be at the official watch party at Buffalo Wild Wings at Poplar and Highland tonight, starting roughly at 4 p.m., where The Chris Vernon Show will be broadcasting live.
Come out, watch the Griz hit that # 7 pick, and stick around to watch Nuggets-Lakers game one. To get you ready, check out this awesome State of the Team anthem from Vernon Show producer Jon Roser (based on Jadakiss' "Why"):
Also, on the lottery, I endorse this excellent True Hoop post.
Check back tonight for a react to the lottery and a mock draft of sorts through the Grizzlies' pick.
The Grizzlies offseason gets rolling next Tuesday with the NBA's rookie draft lottery. The Grizzlies are slotted 6th right now, with a 7.5% chance of winning the lottery. Until then, a quick wrap-up of various news items surrounding the team:
Lottery Watch Party: I don't make it a habit of using this space to publicize the team's marketing events, but I'll promote Tuesday's lottery watch party a the Poplar & Highland location of Buffalo Wild Wings for a very good reason: I'll be there. The Chris Vernon Show will be broadcasting live from Buffalo Wild Wings from 3 to 6 p.m. My normal appearance slot on the show is in the 5 p.m. hour, but I'll probably be hanging around for most of the show, on-air or off. After the show, the whole crew, myself included, will be hanging out to watch the lottery and then commiserate afterwards when the Griz end up sliding down the 7th pick. We've all seen this movie before — we know how it ends.
Though all the focus is on the lottery, the Grizzlies will have two other picks in this years draft — at 27 and 35 — and plenty of open roster spots to play with, so those picks will be important.
I'm not going to do rankings for late-first/early-second prospects, but instead list players I've seen that are likely to be in that range in rough order of preference.
I'm leaving off a handful of players projected to go late lottery/mid-first round and who I don't think have a chance to last to #27, such as: Patrick Patterson, Gerald Henderson, Jonny Flynn, Jrue Holiday, Eric Maynor, Tywon Lawson, etc.
Guys I've Seen:
Sam Young/Danny Green: Here are two players who project similarly at the next level, and I'd really like to see the Grizzlies come away with one of them. NBA teams can always use those classic Bruce Bowen/James Posey/Raja Bell-style role players — lockdown wing defenders who can hit the open shot. The Grizzlies brought in Quinton Ross to play that role last season, but Ross was too slim to take on all comers on the defensive end and his shot was too shaky to be reliable. Young and Green both have a chance to be that kind of player at the pro level.
Young was a star at Pittsburgh, but at age 24 coming into the draft, he seems to lack the athleticism and upside to be a primary player in the league. His size and toughness suggests he can make his living on the defensive end while contributing on the boards and as a secondary offensive option (37% and 38% from three the past two seasons).
Unlike Young, Green was a secondary player in college on packed UNC teams and is a consensus second-round pick in the mocks, but I think I might like him even better and would be very content to take him at #27. Green is a range-y defensive specialist with a high hoops IQ and a rapidly improving three-point shot (42% last season). He got lost in the shuffle a little bit at UNC, but I think he profiles as a terrific role player in the NBA.