Catch a draft? For NBA teams, truth windblown


A friend called on the phone and asked what I was doing.

"Nothing," I lied.

I could have said I was busy digging up Zachary Taylor, and that would have beaten the truth, which was this: I was watching the NBA draft on TV.

Yeah, I know. What kind of person tunes in the draft when he could have been watching "Jake and the Fatman"? Is that not the very definition of a life of quiet desperation? I mean, would you invite your friends over to watch NBA commissioner David Stern intone, "Minnesota picks Luc Longley"?

It's embarrassing, but it wasn't entirely my fault. I started out watching the Orioles, but when it was 9-0 after an inning (in a game you wanted to bury), I started grazing. That's when you pick up the remote control and run through the channels. I've seen it written that men do this in the hope of seeing naked women. Lucky me, I found Hubie Brown instead. I found Hubie Brown discussing the relative merits of Chris Gatling and Victor Alexander, who, it turns out, are basketball players.

You know a league has arrived when they put the college draft on live TV, like it's the Oscars or something. But instead of Billy Crystal, the NBA gives us David Stern and his Pete Rozelle-like tan. No wonder he wanted a franchise in Miami. But if you think there's no drama to a draft, you weren't one of the 10,000 folks who got tickets to watch the event live at Madison Square Garden. Yes, the tickets were free. Yes, enterprising New Yorkers were actually scalping the free tickets.

For those of us reduced to watching on TV, Hubie Brown and Doug Collins provided expert analysis of the experts who were doing the drafting. But, despite all the experts, the most important thing to know about the NBA draft is that no one knows anything.

I'll give you two examples. The most egregious would be thaMichael Jordan, the greatest player in history, was picked third in the draft. And then there was the other greatest player in history -- Magic Johnson. He was picked first, but only because the ownership insisted. The owner wanted Magic for his marquee value, while the basketball people thought it would be wiser to draft Sidney Moncrief.

This year's draft was particularly confusing, since there were nobvious "franchise" players, "franchise" meaning the kind of player who demands the European rights to McDonald's before signing. The Charlotte Hornets had the first pick, and their coach wanted one player, the general manager another and the ball boy yet a third. The owner, still relatively new to the game, wanted to know why they couldn't draft Michael Jordan.

As it turned out, the Hornets chose UNLV's Larry Johnson, but they used the five full minutes allowed to make the choice. Were they still debating? Were they waiting for the Zachary Taylor autopsy results to come in? And, while we're on the subject, who are they going to dig up next -- Elvis? While we weren't looking, has life turned into a "Geraldo" episode?

The next selection in the draft held a surprise, and not that it was Kenny Anderson instead of Billy Owens. The surprise was that Anderson, an apparently bright person, seemed genuinely happy with the idea of playing for the New Jersey Nets.

The next surprise came when Dikembe Mutombo, the fourth pick, said that his new team, the Denver Nuggets, was a good basketball team. Compared with Seton Hall, maybe, but not compared with anyone in the NBA. Not even the Bullets.

Have I mentioned the Bullets? They were supposed to pick eighth, but they had traded the pick to the Nuggets, who took Mark Macon, Temple's wonderfully talented shooting guard who does almost everything well except shoot. But, he may well end up being a very good pro. And if he is, the Bullets may end up looking pretty bad.

AIn desperate need of a point guard, they traded for former Bullet Michael Adams, a legitimate penetrator and three-point shooter. They complemented him with the 19th pick, a shooting guard in Louisville'sLaBradford Smith, although many Bullets fans were hoping for Rodney Monroe, who was judged, at 6 feet 2, to be too small for the position.

Bullets GM John Nash likes Smith. He likes him about as well as he likes Macon, which is why he could afford to make the Adams trade. The problem with Adams is that at his age -- he's 28 -- Adams is only a stopgap solution on a team that needs some major restructuring. But if Smith is as good as Macon, and if Greg Anthony doesn't become a top point guard, then it would have been a very good deal.

We won't know for a while, which is another thing about the draft. You don't know much ahead of time, and it can take years before you've figured anything out. And although the draft is on TV, there still aren't any reruns.

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