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Thursday, June 27
Updated: Thursday, June 27, 2:44 PM ET
 
The good, the bad and the ugly of draft night
By David Aldridge
Special to ESPN.com

NEW YORK -- Caron Butler wept.

So did Juan Dixon.

For different reasons, but the tears flowed all the same.

Bostjan Nachbar
Rockets forward Bostjan Nachbar, right, has game -- and talks a good one, too.
This is what I love about draft night. It's the culmination of years of sacrifice and obstacles overcome. Think of Butler as a teen, incarcerated. Could he have forseen, in those days, how he would turn his life around, and become a role model for kids not much younger than he? Think of the 5-foot-10 Dixon in his youth, watching both of his parents battle, and ultimately succumb, to drug abuse. Did he ever dream that in a few years, with loving siblings helping shape a new reality for him, that he would get to play basketball alongside Michael Jordan?

Think of Nikoloz Tskitishvili and Jiri Welsch and Bostjan Nachbar, Euros following in the footsteps of Petrovic and Sabonis, Stojakovic and Nowitzki. Were they bold enough to dream, as their states and people were torn apart by civil strife and governmental upheaval, that they had enough game to cross an ocean and shake the Commish's hand? (Gotta tell you, I like Nachbar already. I asked him on Tuesday whose game his game would remind me of, and he said, "You know, I love Peja. But I want to be the first Nachbar, not the second Stojakovic.")

This was somewhat reminiscent of the 1994 draft, where the top choice wasn't a dominant player, but developed into a solid contributor; the second pick a quicksilver point guard named Jason and the third choice a smooth forward from Duke. Then, it was Glenn Robinson, Jason Kidd and Grant Hill; Wednesday it was Yao Ming, Jason (Jay) Williams and Mike Dunleavy, Jr. And just as in '94, when the second round yielded good pros like Howard Eisley, Voshon Lenard, Lawrence Funderburke and Zeljko Rebraca, Wednesday's second round produced several potential gems: Steve Logan to Golden State, Roger Mason, Jr., to Chicago, Vince Yarbrough to Denver and Luis Scola to San Antonio.

As you know, I don't do things as pedestrian as "winners" and "losers" when assessing a draft. Not possessing the gift of clairvoyance, I don't know which teams got the most out of Wednesday's proceedings. I can only tell you what I think. So, let's.

Who I think did well
Chicago. Last year, Jerry Krause went for the bigs, drafting Eddy Curry and trading for Tyson Chandler. The jury's still out, but they at least showed signs of growth the second half of last season. This time, he bolstered the backcourt. Williams is a stud; anyone still carping about the missed free throw in the Indiana game conveniently forgets that it was Williams's gutsy three as he was getting fouled that gave Duke a chance to win the game in the first place. As I said above, Mason could be a steal; he reminds scouts of Aaron McKie, and the Pacers thought long and hard about taking him at 14 in the first round. Maryland's Lonny Baxter, a shorter version of Coach Bill Cartwright, could make the team out of the second round. Most importantly, I think Williams could be a sea change for Chicago; the kid actually wants to play for the Bulls. And with the players amassed in the last two drafts to go along with young vets like Jalen Rose and Eddie Robinson, the Bulls may have finally turned the talent corner.

Miami. If you get the best player in the draft, you had a good draft. So it is with the Heat and Caron Butler, who'll step right in at small forward. Riles told us on ESPN Radio Wednesday that he'll have no problem throwing Butler in, as he did with rookies James Worthy and Byron Scott in his Laker days. The Heat lost 16 games in which they led in the fourth quarter last season; a lot of those Ls came because nobody could get to the basket in crunch time. That's when Butler shone brightest for Connecticut last season. Miami took another Butler, LaSalle's Rasual, in the second round. I'm rooting for him; he worked out with Qyntel Woods in Washington on Monday and more than held his own. He said afterward he just hoped somebody would give him a chance. He's got one.

Houston. Relative to their position, I like the Rockets' other first-round pick, Nachbar, more than Yao. This kid can get to the rim. He wants to dunk on you. He talks a little junk, which I like. And he will fit right in with the draw-and-pitch game Rudy Tomjanovich loves to play. We will not know about Yao for several years, but I know this: he wants to be good, and he'll work at what he can't do. He'll score some, but more importantly, he'll pass. And even when he doesn't have position under the boards, he's seven freaking five. The ball will find him. Also, let's stop this unfair diminishing of Yao because he'll have trouble dealing with Shaq. Everyone has trouble with the Big Fella. Final thought: take Shaq out of the mix in the Western Conference for a second. The conference's other starting centers, at the moment, are Raef LaFrentz, Nene Hilario (or Scott Williams, if the free agent re-signs with Denver), Erick Dampier, Michael Olowokandi, Lorenzen Wright, Rasho Nesterovic, Jake Tsakalidis, Dale Davis, Vlade Divac, David Robinson, Jerome James and Greg Ostertag or Jarron Collins, depending on Jerry Sloan's mood. Who, of that group, is going to dominate Yao?

Lakers. It was cold to dump Lindsey Hunter four days after he agreed not to test free agency and stay with you, but the bottom line is the bottom line, and the Lake Show got a player in the last year of his deal (Tracy Murray) for one who had two years and $8.1 million total remaining on his. The bigger get is Missouri's Kareem Rush, who'll provide precious offense off the bench for a squad whose starters were running on fumes by the end of the playoffs.

Who I'm not sure about
Phoenix. I know the Suns liked Amare Stoudemire for a long time, but they wanted Hilario. I'm not sure I would have gone for the high schooler with Jared Jeffries still on the board. If the Suns are able to move Tom Gugliotta to Portland, as sources say they're working on, it makes a little more sense. I'm a little surprised also at Casey Jacobsen at 23 ahead of Tayshaun Prince or John Salmons. But the Suns are trying to rebuild on the fly and they need people who can score the ball. Jacobsen can do that. Phoenix is still behind the salary cap eight ball, but the Suns are piecing together some young talent.

Dealing Dice finalizes the certainty that the Nuggets could be one of the worst teams in league history next season.

Denver. What I like: Dealing with the Antonio McDyess situation before it became toxic. He made it clear to the Nuggets' brass that he would opt out after next season. "I've been a Nuggets fan for a long time. I was watching when Dikembe Mutombo became a free agent, and the Nuggets got nothing for him," GM Kiki Vandeweghe said late Wednesday. "I didn't want that to happen again." Adding Marcus Camby at relative bargain prices ($24.9 million over the last three years of his contract) won't take away from Denver's prolific cap room after the 2002-03 season; unless my math is wrong, the Nuggets only have $21.4 million (excluding bonus money for their two rookies, Tskitishvili and Hilario) committed at the moment for the 2003-04 season. And Vince Yarbrough was a good second-round pickup. But creating cap room provides no guarantee that you'll be able to use it. And make no mistake. Dealing Dice finalizes the certainty that the Nuggets could be one of the worst teams in league history next season.

Cleveland. I know Dajuan Wagner has the potential to be an electric, seat-filling kind of player, but as a stand-alone pick, it seems odd. Caron Butler is more polished; Chris Wilcox is taller; Hilario is bigger and has real low-post potential. I can't help but imagine two things: 1) The Cavs' decision-making apparatus is paralyzed by the team's impeding sale, and 2) the Cavs still have plans to move Andre Miller, whether it's to the Clippers or Knicks or somewhere else, bring in a combo guard to bring the ball up and give Wagner an Iversonian green light.

Philadelphia. Trading Welsch to Golden State for two future firsts was a pure luxury-tax avoidance move. The Sixers are right on the brink of having to pay it, and dealing the 16th pick saves $1.02 million on the cap. That could be the difference between paying the tax after next season or not. What I'm not convinced about is dealing Speedy Claxton, whom Larry Brown and Billy King raved about last year. Not that John Salmons isn't the quintessential LB player: great effort guy, terrific defender, questionable shot. But moving Claxton further diminishes Philly's offensive capabilities. Plus, he adds to the list of talented guys (Stackhouse, Hughes, Kukoc) moved because -- all together now -- they couldn't play with AI.

Who has confused me
Orlando. The Magic wanted a point guard to lessen Darrell Armstrong's minutes (they were hoping Welsch would slide to them at 18). In desperate need of size, they coveted a young big who could give them defense and blocked shots. So they draft Stanford center Curtis Borchardt, but then traded him to Utah for Notre Dame's Ryan Humprhey, an undersized power forward. Now, I know Humphrey may be able to play the three in the pros, and I know the Magic will almost certainly deal Mike Miller by summer's end. But does a team with Tracy McGrady, Grant Hill, Pat Garrity and Monty Williams really need another 6-7 guy on the roster?

Clippers. This isn't about Wilcox or Fresno State's Melvin Ely, the Clips' second first-rounder. They both can play, and Ely may be the best post-up guy in the draft. But L.A. already has a post-up guy at power forward named Elton Brand. It already has two wildly precocious small forwards in Lamar Odom and Darius Miles. When, exactly, are Wilcox and Ely going to play? I know that Ely could be insurance, with Brand's future in L.A. uncertain -- David Falk is going to Tinseltown next week for the come-to-David meeting about whether the Clips are going to give Brand his max extension or not -- but the Clips' draft still has the smell of a deal-not-yet-announced to it. Or is it possible that the Clips, on the verge of dealing with Cleveland for Miller, got cold feet or otherwise messed things up, and had no time left on the draft clock?

David Aldridge is an NBA reporter for ESPN.






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