Friday, June 29, 2012
NBA draft keeps Hornets on roll
By Andy Katz ESPN.com
NEWARK, N.J. -- New Orleans was destined to be the winner of the NBA draft the moment the Hornets won the lottery late last month.
Getting Anthony Davis of Kentucky with the top pick guaranteed the Hornets the best player in the draft, the one destined to be a star.
But the Hornets weren't done. They didn't take any bait for the No. 10 pick. The draft unfolded almost too perfectly for them.
Charlotte tirelessly worked trying to deal its No. 2 pick and was on the phone with Cleveland quite a bit Thursday. The deal would have been to select Bradley Beal at No. 2, while Cleveland then took Thomas Robinson for the Bobcats at No. 4.
But the deal fell through and allowed the Bobcats to take Michael Kidd-Gilchrist at No. 2. That meant Beal would go to Washington. Cleveland then ultimately helped New Orleans by getting Syracuse's Dion Waiters at No. 4.
Austin Rivers was just what the Hornets were looking for at No. 10.
Pulling Waiters off the board meant Portland would grab Weber State's Damian Lillard. Duke's Austin Rivers was the next lead guard on the list and he was destined to slide to the Hornets unless Toronto went with a lead guard and grabbed him.
But the Raptors opted to go off the grid a bit and select Washington's Terrence Ross. Detroit was going big (Andre Drummond). Rivers was set for New Orleans.
Getting Davis and Rivers, two heralded one-and-done players, made the Hornets one of the most intriguing teams to watch. Davis was the consensus player of the year, the most outstanding player in the Final Four and a national champion. Rivers hit one of the shots of the season by beating archrival North Carolina with a 3-pointer over Tyler Zeller at the buzzer.
Now they look for success at the next level. But Oklahoma City's model of getting elite first-round picks was more a case of good fortune than a plan to follow. The then-Sonics got Kevin Durant when Portland went with Greg Oden in 2007. They tabbed Russell Westbrook early and no one could have projected that he would turn out to be a star. James Harden was another gem.
Davis and Rivers now join a roster that will have a potential All-Star with a healthy Eric Gordon. The Hornets have a chance to create their own big three.
Rivers said Wednesday that he wanted to be in New Orleans. He knew Hornets coach Monty Williams and general manager Dell Demps through his father, Doc Rivers. He said he had struck up quite a friendship with Davis.
The two wanted to play together and start something fresh in the league. The players know that the OKC plan of having terrific young talent maturing together isn't far-fetched if it's the right group.
No one should expect the Hornets to ultimately be a Finals team like OKC. But Davis is a can't-miss star with his defensive presence, shot-blocking and shot-altering ability, as well as his still developing offensive game. Austin Rivers is a creator and won't shy away from any challenge.
And both players want to be in New Orleans. This isn't a case in which any of the players are wondering if they can win or are unhappy with the destination. This is a franchise with new ownership -- the Saints' Tom Benson -- and now an injection of the most heralded talent and biggest names in the first round.
Rivers went 10th because he wasn't rated as highly as Waiters and Lillard. But he is just as solid a fit for New Orleans based on the timing and his built-in relationships with Williams, Demps and now Davis.
The Wizards got their shooting guard in Beal to pair with John Wall. Cleveland can have Waiters next to Kyrie Irving and has Tyler Zeller running the floor.
Boston and Oklahoma City didn't mind taking gambles on injured top-10 talent in Jared Sullinger (back) and Perry Jones III (knee) late in the first.
Houston made multiple trades to collect picks but never got high enough to land Drummond, so the Rockets had to settle for Jeremy Lamb of Connecticut, Terrence Jones of Kentucky and Royce White of Iowa State. All three are significant talents who could be solid rotation players for years and movable assets at some point.
Dallas even had a substantial draft in collecting experienced players in Jared Cunningham (Oregon State), Jae Crowder (Marquette) and Bernard James (Florida State), who received a tremendously warm reception from the Newark crowd with a chant of "USA! USA!" for his military service in Iraq, Kuwait and Qatar.
But New Orleans will be the team of record for 2012. If this draft is deemed to be a success, it will be because the Hornets pulled off getting Davis and Rivers. The second-round pick of Kentucky's Darius Miller gives the Hornets an experienced player who has already been a tremendous locker-room player, willing to sacrifice time and minutes for the greater good of a championship.
Those qualities are needed in reshaping a franchise. New Orleans needed a good vibe out of Thursday night with the more beloved Saints being hounded by suspensions due to a bounty program and by a Drew Brees contract squabble. Even historic newspaper the Times-Picayune, which did heroic work on Hurricane Katrina, was dealt a deathly blow by recently going to three days a week of printed publication.
The franchise was owned by the NBA. A trade of Chris Paul was yanked (Lakers) before being approved (Clippers) back in December. The lockout-shortened season was marred by Gordon's injury and a 21-45 record.
Something good had to occur for the life to be infused back into New Orleans Arena, which sits behind the Superdome as if it's a practice bubble.
The Hornets missed the playoffs two of the past three seasons and didn't have a 2011 first-round pick.
Now the Hornets have two of the most important picks in 2012. Davis and Rivers have a shot to make this franchise relevant again, so soon after Paul gave them meaning.
The onus is on Williams and Demps to keep it together and on Davis and Rivers to deliver on what they believe will be a prosperous future in a potentially thunderous way.