- Sam Smith
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Get a great player in the NBA draft and a team can build a champion.
The Cleveland Cavaliers are hoping that's true with LeBron James, who'll be the No. 1 pick by the Cavs in next Thursday's draft. Get a Shaquille O'Neal -- and keep him -- Bill Russell, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon or Tim Duncan and you're on your way.
But the draft often provides the means for a team to build through a trade.
One of the most famous ones was perhaps Red Auerbach's last great coup when he traded the No. 1 and 13 picks in the 1980 draft to Golden State fotr Robert Parish and the No. 3 selection, which the Celtics used to take Kevin McHale to finish off in one night arguably the greatest frontline in NBA history. The Warriors selected Joe Barry Carroll with the No. 1 pick.
It didn't lead to a championship, but Cleveland got the No. 1 overall pick in 1986 for Roy Hinson. The Cavaliers drafted Brad Daugherty, who went on to an All-Star career that was cut short. In earlier years, it was common to trade future first-round choices, which could turn into the top overall pick, like in 1982 when the Lakers got James Worthy from a previous trade.
Two years ago, the Memphis Grizzlies got the No. 3 overall pick from the Atlanta Hawks to select Pau Gasol, who went on to become Rookie of the Year. There was the famous draft day flip-flop of picks in 1987 when the Chicago Bulls got Scottie Pippen from Seattle when Reggie Williams wasn't available any longer. The Sonics got Olden Polynice and future considerations.
Chris Webber was the first overall pick in the 1993 draft and was immediately traded to the Warriors for the rights to the No. 3, which turned out to be Penny Haradway and three future No. 1 picks. It looked like a great deal for the Magic while they had O'Neal.
Kobe Bryant's draft rights were traded by the Hornets for Vlade Divac, which didn't seem that bad for Charlotte at the time. Last year, of course, the Knicks gave up their first round pick, No. 7 overall, for Antonio McDyess, who has been injured since. And two years ago, the Nets went a long way toward building their two-time Finals team with the draft-day deal of their No. 5 overall pick (Eddie Griffin) for three draft picks that the Nets used, in part, for Richard Jefferson and Jason Collins.
This year, perhaps more than any, trades could be the theme of the draft. That's because the 2003 draft is the ski slope of drafts -- it drops off quickly and is tough to get a hold of.
James goes No. 1 to Cleveland, then Serbian power forward Darko Milicic to Detroit and Carmelo Anthony to Denver. Or whomever they trade him to. Probably no one. Anthony projects as a nice NBA forward. But as the draft gets closer, prospects tend to become overrated. Denver is asking too much.
Prospects work out against one another, not against actual NBA players. So they look very good for now. There are few great ones, and few that can make much impact on an NBA team immediately. But after the representatives from 27 teams watched the Spurs-Nets NBA Finals, the feeling has to be "We can't compete with them?"
So, teams will be looking for that one part to fit in, and he's not about to be found in this draft.
So here are five trades that make some sense (at least to me):
1. Chicago's No. 7 overall pick and Dalibor Bagaric to Sacramento for Hedo Turkoglu and a future protected No. 1 pick. The Kings need to begin preparing for the end of Vlade Divac. They need a young big man they can nurture, like Chris Kaman or Maciej Lampe. They were hurt when Pavel Podkolzine pulled out of the draft since they could have given him three years to develop with all of their depth. The Bulls need a small forward who's ready to play, and while Turkoglu is not their idea of a defender, they don't want any more rookies. The Kings are so far into the luxury tax they cannot afford to give Turkoglu an extension and need to deal him. Also, Jim Jackson beat him out of a rotation spot last season, which is not good news to the Bulls or anyone seeking Turkoglu.
2. Terrell Brandon, Anthony Peeler and Minnesota's No. 1 pick to Portland for Rasheed Wallace. Hey, the Timberwolves haven't had a No. 1 pick in so long they wouldn't know what to do with it, anyway. One small contract might need to be added to equalize the deal. Priority No. 1 in Portland is saving some money and cleaning up the team's image. Priority No. 1 in Minnesota is keeping Kevin Garnett, which means getting out of the first round of the playoffs. Wallace is difficult (OK, more than that), but the Wolves are desperate. Wallace also is a great talent who doesn't want to be the No. 1 guy. Teamed with Garnett, they could be a fearsome front line. Portland gets oodles of savings in the luxury tax with Brandon's $11.15 million salary coming off the books in January, thus saving Portland virtually double that with luxury tax. The Blazers also are ready to hand the power forward job to Zach Randolph, so it's time to send Wallace on his way. And only the desperate will put up with him.
3. Eddie Jones and Miami's fifth overall pick to Memphis for Stromile Swift and Wesley Person. Pat Riley doesn't want any more rookies! The Heat get Swift (a young, athletic forward) and a veteran shooter in Person, who also has just one year left on his deal. It gives the Heat a chance to dip deep into free agency after next season (when Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Elton Brand hit the market) with Jones off the books. The Grizzlies are desperate to make some noise. General manager Jerry West always has liked Jones, whom he had in Los Angeles. Plus West, who has been a master of pulling talent out of an empty draft hat over the years, gets the No. 5 pick. He has liked Frenchman Mickael Pietrus, who has been described as having Michael Jordan-like athletic ability and is considered an NBA class defender now. Paired with Jones, Mike Miller and Gasol, the Grizzlies could make some noise in the West.
4. Allan Houston for Eddie Griffin, Cuttino Mobley and Glen Rice. The Rockets get Houston, who is the shooter and the veteran to complement Steve Francis and open the floor for Yao Ming. It gives them three potential All-Stars to make a run in the West and Houston will be a locker room presence for new coach Jeff Van Gundy. Houston in Houston. Is that perfect, or what? The Knicks need an infusion of young talent and get Griffin, Mobley and Rice. Rice is going into the final year of his contract, so the Knicks save millions in the luxury tax after next season. Mobley and the 6-foot-10 Griffin are two youngsters who they can begin building with along with the No. 9 overall pick in this draft, which they could now use for a young point guard to go with shooting guard Mobley.
5. Antonio Davis, Morris Peterson and Toronto's fourth overall pick to Dallas for Steve Nash and Raef LaFrentz. The Mavericks get Davis, the tough guy and post presence they need. He's a little small for the Western Conference, but he's rugged and can battle the bigger forwards in the West. The Mavs also get the Raptors' No. 4 overall pick to get a project big guy they can wait for, like Chris Kaman. The key in the deal is Steve Nash, the British Columbia native, returning to Canada. Nick Van Exel was on the court at the end of all the Mavs' big playoff games, and Nash comes up for a new deal after the 2004-05 season. Better to trade Nash a year soon. The Raptors also get Raef LaFrentz, who'll fit better in the East away from the Mavs' frenetic game. Toronto would be so thrilled to get Nash, a potential franchise savior, it would probably throw in whomever the Mavs wanted, perhaps Peterson or to expand the deal if the Mavs want Alvin Williams and would send back someone like Evan Eschmeyer.
Sam Smith, who covers the NBA for the Chicago Tribune, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.
If help can't be found in the draft, it can be found in these five draft-day trades.