No Predictions Here 

The NBA draft is a puzzle this year -- especially for the Grizzlies.

By the time you read this the Vancouver/Memphis Grizzlies may have already made their draft choices. So you'll find no predictions here. Drafts are wily and cunning beasties anyway, prone to unpredictability. This draft is particularly full of question marks with no certain number-one pick, all top six teams open to trading for more established NBA talent, and five high-schoolers looking to go among the top slots.

And even if there were easy choices for the Grizzlies, getting that information would be impossible. Talking to Grizzlies GM Billy Knight about the draft is like playing poker where only he has a hand of cards. You don't stand a chance of winning and you are certainly not having fun.

Here's what he has to say: "There are a lot of scenarios. There's a lot of talk. Most of it just plays itself out to be just talk. You have to go through the exercise [i.e., the draft] to make sure it's just talk."

Okay. That was confusing and not particularly enlightening. So does Knight have any idea about his team's strategy? He answers, "We would ultimately like to make the team better and that's what we are going to try to do." Oh. Take that to the stockholders' meeting as your next business plan.

Of course the Grizzlies do have a plan. It's just that they won't talk about it. Coaches, GMs, and owners around the league all say what they feel is appropriate. But more than anything, everyone just keeps quiet.

That's all just part of this game. "We don't have an answer today because we don't have to have an answer today," says Knight. "Why should we come to a decision when we don't need to?" That's a fine question and Knight is right in asking it. There's nothing certain until the season starts. The rest is just potential.

That doesn't mean there is nothing to say about the process. This year's draft, with its youth, is all about potential. There are no true game-breakers that will be able to come in and immediately galvanize a team. Even Duke senior Shane Battier, assuredly a contributor from the start, won't make a team an instant contender.

So what's the big deal? Why the hype and hoopla over some youngsters coming to play? A lot of it has to do with the rather unfortunate mathematics of getting draft picks. When your team has a top-10 pick (which is good), that means your team is pretty awful (which is bad). The Grizzlies are certainly not good. With a 23-59 record last season, they need help. They can't look to free agency since they have no room under the salary cap. They do have one exception (a modified version of the Larry Bird rule, giving some salary money that doesn't count toward the cap) but mostly they have only their own players to wheel and deal. That means, barring trades, the Grizzlies need their draft picks to make an impact.

You'd think there would be a better way. Here's a team worth a quarter billion dollars coming to a new city that's going to build it a facility worth more than a quarter billion dollars. And they're forced to hang their future on the unpredictability of a draft.

Perhaps the problem with getting such a high draft pick is that it fosters hope and hype about the great unknown. No one criticizes the 76ers for picking Allen Iverson number one in 1996. Iverson is potential realized. But there are plenty of other high draft picks who didn't make it and lots of lower draft picks who have done quite well.

The Grizzlies need a lot: better depth, development from the team's floor leaders, and improved leadership from its coaches and administrative staff. The players on this team -- whoever they may be -- need to win a lot more games this year to bury forever that long sojourn in Vancouver, where only humiliation and mediocrity bloomed.

If that happens, everything is just going to be fine, no matter who the Grizzlies get in the draft. That's not a prediction. That's a promise.

Past first-round picks by the Grizzlies:

2000 - Stromile Swift, LSU

1999 - Steve Francis, Maryland

1998 - Mike Bibby, Arizona

1997 - Antonio Daniels, Bowling Green

1996 - Shareef Abdur-Rahim, California

1995 - Bryant Reeves, Oklahoma State

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