Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Draft Lottery

From the commercials on TV, it would seem it's a somber time to be a Wizards fan. Those reading this from outside the DC area don't know what I'm talking about, but about two times a day the past few weeks a funeral-like commercial featuring either Caron Butler or Antawn Jamison with a black background comes on screen and they begin lamenting about what a horrible season the Wiz kids had this year, but how things are gonna change, how they're on a mission to succeed next season. Then the real reason for the ad comes up and it reads "Determined to Deliver" with a "get your season tickets" thingy for good measure. See, in this economy you gotta do what you gotta do to put butts in the seats (apparently even if that means signing an injured point guard to a ridiculously expensive contract).

Well, I don't know if you're aware of this or not (and chances are if you have a team in the NBA playoffs, you aren't), but the NBA Draft lottery is a mere five days away. Why is this important? Well, if you ask me the very fabric of the Eastern Conference could be decided by it.

That's right, I'm referencing the Wizards in regard to Eastern Conference supremacy. Because if these NBA playoffs have taught me anything, it's that everyone in the Eastern Conference outside of the LeBrons are entirely beatable. Especially if someone like Blake Griffin is brought into the fold. And that's why five days from now is so important for my Wiz kids.

I hope this was his response when someone went: "Raise your hand if you'd like to become Agent Zero's new sidekick."

Right now they have the second-best chance to land the coveted Blake Griffin spot i.e. the top pick. But if that doesn't fall their way, the Wiz are gonna have to get creative. The Wiz can only land as low as the No. 5 spot, but to be honest, the top prospects after Griffin are not only a notch below in terms of talent, they don't really fit the Wiz's needs.

What are their needs? Well, to me it's obvious the Big Three of Gilbert, Caron, and Antawn need a fourth cog to help out. Will Ricky Rubio, Hasheem Thabeet, or James Harden fill that role. Not immediately, at least. Rubio is a point guard who will take time to develop and considering the Wiz already have $100+ million invested in another point guard, he just doesn't make sense. Hasheem Thabeet is a developing defensive-minded center, but does he make much sense for a team that already has Brendan "even though I'm markedly improved, I still sit down to pee" Haywood, Etan Thomas, and youngster JaVale McGee patrolling the middle? And then Harden, I mean, he would be a nice role player off the bench and someone who could limit Caron's minutes a bit, but is that what you want to use a top-5 pick on?

So what do you do if you're the Wiz and you've got a draft pick you don't really wanna make? You trade down, NFL style. Throw in the fact that the Wiz have some nice expiring contracts like that of Etan Thomas and Mike James, something trade partners covet, and the potential for a mini-blockbuster deal along the lines of the Devin Harris and Jerry Stackhouse for Antawn Jamison deal of four or five years ago is there.

The Washington Post blog about the Wiz kids, Wizards Insider, has been running "What to do with the No. X pick" posts for the past few days and what I found most interesting were some of the trades being thrown around. For instance, if the Wiz get the No. 3 pick with Sacramento picking Griffin with the No. 1 pick and the Clippers taking Thabeet at No. 2 (because they, too, have lots of money rolled into an oft-injured point guard who happens to be my second-favorite player in the NBA — Baron Davis — so Rubio is kinda out of the question), here's a potential trade that excites me beyond belief:

If the Wizards pick 3rd, they should: Draft Ricky Rubio. Then trade him.

Here is the blockbuster trade of the summer:
Wizards get: Amare Stoudemire
Suns get: Ricky Rubio, Andray Blatche, Mike James, Etan Thomas, and Chris Bosh
Raptors get: Suns' first-round pick in 2009 draft, Steve Nash

Just looking at this picture makes me excited.

Now while I can't say yes to that trade fast enough, the chances of it happening seem slim to me. I just don't think Phoenix would implode its team that much just to get Chris Bosh on a one-year rental. At the same time, that's just one example of what the Wiz could pull off. Say they end up in the No. 4 slot, imagine the possibilities:

What specific trades would work? Obviously, I'd talk to the Toronto Raptors and see if they would be willing to trade Chris Bosh. I'd talk to Milwaukee about Michael Redd, Charlotte about Gerald Wallace, Detroit about Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince, Phoenix about Jason Richardson, Atlanta about Joe Johnson, and others.

One hypothetical trade I particularly like is swapping the fourth pick, Mike James' expiring contract and Nick Young for Hamilton/Prince and the 15th pick. Detroit could then draft Harden to replace Rip, for example, and the Wizards could upgrade their wing by adding an ace catch-and-shoot player like Hamilton or a premier perimeter defender like Prince. Then, with the 15th pick, the Wizards could draft Blair, Henderson or someone else that could fill a role. The Wizards could offer a similar package for Wallace or Richardson or step up their offer for Johnson or Bosh (Young, Andray Blatche, Etan Thomas and the fourth pick for Johnson and the 19th pick, for example).

Will any of this actually happen? Maybe not, because as we all know pre-draft water cooler talk is just that: talk. Hundreds of deals are thrown out on the table and maybe one or two come to fruition. But the fact that the Wiz have a huge stake in this draft excites me, and it's got me waiting in anticipation for this draft lottery. Because before all the wheeling and dealing can get going, we gotta know what the pick is gonna be. And quite frankly, all of this is a welcome diversion from thinking about the Wiz's dreadful season.

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