Thursday, June 8, 2006
Updated: June 29, 9:00 AM ET
Page 2 Quickie: June 28, 2006
The Lead Item
Two Words For You:
"The Greg Oden Draft": That's what tonight should have been, if not for the NBA's earnest (but ultimately misguided) new rule enforcing a 19-year-old age limit.
Someone has yet to explain to me how an 18-year-old player (like Oden) could be deemed unworthy of the NBA, yet would be this year's consensus No. 1 overall pick if he were eligible.
It's very simple: If that many GMs are ready to draft a player, he is qualified to be in the NBA. And if a player is drafted, he is by definition "draft-worthy." Age has nothing to do with it.
But the NBA went ahead with its new rule, excluding at least two prep talents (Oden and Kevin Durant) GMs would be ready to draft over anyone in this year's draft class. (In fact, in Chad Ford's "What If" mock draft, 6 of the first 20 '06 picks would be high schoolers, if they were eligible.)
But, in reality, we're left with the current lottery crop:
Several very solid, NBA-ready talents (like Brandon Roy and Randy Foye); several with high-risk/high-reward upside (Adam Morrison and Rudy Gay); several there simply because you can't teach size (Tyrus Thomas and LaMarcus Aldridge); and the obligatory mystery Euro (Andrea Bargnani).
No talent to save a franchise or explode into instant stardom. Maybe that's why so many teams seem to be trying to trade down -- the player picked in the teens or 20s could be as effective as the one picked in the top 5.
At least until next year, when we'll see what the new age-minimum rule hath wrought:
At least a dozen college freshmen bolting for the NBA -- some because they could have done it this year, some simply because they can next year.
And the GMs will be breathlessly waiting to take them, triggering an outcry that the new NBA rules created an unprecedented level of mercenary behavior in college hoops. (And that's saying something, given the sport.)
The unintended consequence of this year's artificially shallow talent pool is that next year, the NBA will drown in its own self-righteousness. The irony: NBA GMs can't wait for 2007 to get here.
With the first pick in the 2006 NBA draft, the Toronto Raptors should be selecting Greg Oden. Instead, it's the talent trickle before the flood.
Draft Rumor Roundup
Bargnani No. 1? That's where the Raptors are leaning, according to both Andy Katz and Chad Ford. That sets up a wild ride through the top 3 picks:
No. 2: Aldridge or Thomas? Don't cry for the Bulls, who got this pick as a gift from the Knicks. Don't forget: Next year, Chicago gets to swap picks with the Knicks, which could net center Oden to pair with their choice of power forwards this year.
No. 3: Morrison or Gay? The Bobcats have a choice: Morrison's fire (with limited athleticism) or Gay's athleticism (with limited fire). I'd take Gay's gifts and hope that playing for Michael Jordan could inspire the passion. (Morrison's top-of-class marketing appeal notwithstanding.)
Tomorrow's Headlines Today:
"Jazz Draft Redick: 'Come On, You Didn't See This Coming a Mile Away?' Sez GM"
"6 UConn Players Drafted: Makes Loss to George Mason Even More Humiliating."
"Celtics Trade for Telfair: If He Was a College Sophomore This Year, He Would Have Been the No. 1 Overall Pick, Ainge Justifies"
"Garden Fans Jeer Knicks Pix: Profanity-Laced Booing of Isiah Thomas Audible Through ESPN's Live Draft Telecast"
'86 Red Sox: Awww
Forgiven, if not forgotten: The Red Sox held a tribute for the '86 team last night, and the biggest ovation went to Bill Buckner, who wasn't even in attendance. What a difference a broken curse makes...
Meanwhile, speaking of tributes, the fans also paid homage to Pedro Martinez, who probably ranks behind only Roger Clemens on the "Prodigal Son" Scale of Returns to Fenway.
(Interesting how both Pedro and Johnny Damon bolted for New York, but since Petey went to the benign Mets and Damon went to the hated Yankees, they are treated completely differently by fans in Boston.)
We'll see how nostalgic Red Sox Nation is tonight when Pedro actually takes the mound to try to even up the series Boston began with a 9-4 win over the Mets last night (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2).
AL Central Mania
Anything you can do: The Twins pounded the Dodgers for their 6th straight win (16 of 18). Super Joe Mauer had a career-high 5 hits to raise his average to an MLB-leading .389.
(There's no question: Mauer should be the starting catcher for the AL All-Star squad. He has climbed to 3rd place with mere days to go in the voting, but he's still 250K votes behind popular-but-unworthy Jason Varitek.)
They can do better: The Tigers won their 5th straight (15 of 17), the latest by beating Roger Clemens, who pitched well (1 ER, 3 H, 6.1 IP), but -- surprise! -- got zero runs in support.
On June 1, the Twins were 24-29 and 11½ games behind the division-leading Tigers. After as hot of a month as you could ask for, the Twins are now 41-35 and still 11 games behind the Tigers.
Not to be outdone, the White Sox have won 10 of their last 11 and still sit between Minnesota and Detroit, 2 games behind the Tigers despite a .658 winning percentage this season.
(The upshot? The AL East's stranglehold on the AL wild card spot is o-v-e-r, and the Red Sox and Yankees better be playing to win that division.)
Cuban Wants Pens?
If any single move can help the NHL, it would be the purchase of the Penguins by my "Best Owner in Sports": Mark Cuban.
Cuban reportedly may join a group, along with Pittsburgh native Dan Marino, to buy the team from Mario Lemieux's ownership group.
It goes without saying that: This. Must. Happen. Cuban's marketing savvy could turn the Pens into ambivalent NHL fans' favorite team.
He would also undoubtedly inject an increased vitality into the NHL's fledgling efforts to rebuild (and re-brand) the league.
NFL Greenies Ban
I wonder how many NFL rookies at this week's annual behavior symposium got a little nervous when they heard that the NFL was toughening its stance on amphetamines, classifying them as performance enhancers and delivering an instant 4-game suspension for a positive test, starting in 2007?
Brazil: Get Even?
Quarterfinals set! If you haven't started a mini-office pool now that the World Cup is in its "knockout" stage, this is the time.
Meanwhile, yesterday's results yielded the most intriguing pairing of the quarterfinals: Brazil vs. France.
Brazil has been commonly criticized for resembling an all-star squad more than a championship team. But no opponent could bring this group together more than France, in a rematch of the 1998 World Cup finals, when France stunned Brazil in front of a frenzied Paris home crowd.
Think this aging Brazil team doesn't want a little payback? In the 1998 final, Ronaldo was plagued by headaches; yesterday, he set the career World Cup scoring record.
If anything can get the Brazilians to drop the outsized egos, it's their outsized sense of vengeance.
In Monday's Quickie, I identified the Knicks fan protest at Madison Square Garden planned for Wednesday as the top subplot of this year's NBA draft.
Why should you care (and even support their cause), even if you're not a Knicks fan? It's a theory I like to call:
"We're all Knicks fans!"
Every NBA fan, at one point or another, has been:
• Frustrated by ownership
• Baffled by personnel moves
• Sickened by endless losing
• Desperate for any hope
If you've ever had any of those emotions about your NBA team, you can feel empathy for your peers in New York.
You may hate the Knicks or New Yorkers or perhaps love to mock Isiah Thomas' ineptitude, but -- at some level -- you can relate.
Solidarity with Knicks fans!
"The Next" Game
What are the best-case (and worst-case) comparables for the top players in tonight's draft? A selection of the most notable names:
(And to make it more challenging, let's not use race as the determining factor, which so often makes these comps only skin-deep.)
The next: Glen Rice
Or the next: Rasual Butler
The next: Pau Gasol
Or the next: Jared Jeffries
The next: Larry Hughes
Or the next: Marco Jaric
The next: Andrei Kirilenko
Or the next: Tyson Chandler
The next: Rashard Lewis
Or the next: Maciej Lampe
NBA Draft Viewing Game
Back by popular demand! What to do during the rapid-fire 5-minute wait between picks? As you sift through the TV analysis, try this game (soda for the kids, please):
Cliche (No. of sips)
"The next..." (1)
"Best player available" (1)
"Need pick" (1)
"On the clock" (1)
"On the board" (1)
"Should've stayed at..." (3)
"Needs to hit weights" (2)
"Weight problem" (3)
"Good character" (3)
"Questionable character" (-3)
Any Euro-bashing (5)
Any Duke-bashing (8)
"But I could be wrong" (10)