HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — We waited all night on that blockbuster deal, only to walk away from another Draft night without any of the rumored mega deals taking place.
(Houston, we have a problem … and it includes that red and white No. 12 Dwight Howard jersey that won’t get worn this season)
That’s fine, we’re just hours away from the start of free agency. And the Draft class of 2012 offered up plenty of mild surprises (Dion Waiters to Cleveland with the fourth overall pick, Jared Sullinger and Perry Jones III lasting until near the end of the first round, etc.), as always.
Ah, the joy of the Draft night drama that was …
BERNARD JAMES, AMERICAN HERO!
It’s not often the 33rd pick in any draft absolutely steals the show from the other 59 guys selected. But Florida State’s Bernard James got the loudest roar from the crowd in Newark last night.
James, 27, spent six years in the United States Air Force before chasing his NBA hoop dreams at Florida State. James was drafted by the Cavaliers and then traded to the Mavericks. But he was the man in New Jersey, with the Prudential Center crowd showering him with the sort of patriotic love you might expect:
Mavericks owner Mark Cuban then tweeted: “I love that kid !! USA !!”
James also delivered an impressive interview answer when he was asked about teams being concerned about drafting a 27-year-old rookie.
“I’ve been playing a lot less years than most of the guys in the draft, so my body is still fresh, my knees are good, everything,” he responded. “And the fact that I’m 27, I’ve had a career before, I know what it is to be a professional. I’m going to come to work every day and make the best of this opportunity.”
James [6-10, 230 pounds] played two years at Florida State, averaging 10.8 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.3 blocks last season.
ROCKETS COME UP EMPTY IN BLOCKBUSTER CHASE
So after all of that chatter about the Rockets making big moves to trade up in the Draft and get their hands on a superstar like Howard or someone else, all they did was use those picks they acquired on what owner Les Alexander called “steals” in Jeremy Lamb, Royce White and Terrence Jones?:
“It’s both,” Alexander said of the ambivalent feelings after the way the day unfolded and the ways it did not. “It’s a disappointment. You want to move up. But you’re happy you got three great guys. They’re big. Lamb is a real big two. Royce, all our guys love him. They think he will be a real star in this league. (Jones) is huge and he’s young.
“We stole them. We had Lamb as the fifth-best player. We got him. Everybody wanted Royce. I thought at 18, we might not get somebody that terrific, but we did.”
Alexander acknowledged that the long-term – and longtime – goal has been to build around a star, a lesson he learned as soon as he bought the Rockets almost 19 years ago when the Rockets were built around Hakeem Olajuwon.
“I started with the Dream,” he said. “It’s always been important. I traded for Clyde Drexler. I traded for Charles Barkley. I traded for Scottie Pippen. I traded for Steve Francis. I traded for Tracy McGrady.”
Those last two names don’t elicit the same sort of memories as the first three. And for the record, Lamb, White and Jones are all players we identified here at the hangout as college stars whose skills will translate better to the NBA than their Draft night stock might suggest.
But not everyone in Houston shares Alexander’s perspective. Fingers are being pointed at Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, who is perhaps too forthcoming about his desired outcomes around this time of year. Jerome Solomon of the Houston Chronicle unleashed on Morey and the Rockets:
After weeks of rumors about recent trades being made to set the Rockets up to acquire a top-10 pick or trade for Dwight Howard, the best big man in the league, Thursday’s outcome was a huge letdown.
One wisecracker on Twitter joked that with the incoming draftees the Rockets don’t have enough to trade for 39-year-old Juwan Howard, let alone Dwight Howard.
Where are prime cuts?
Perhaps the pressure to land that star wouldn’t be so intense if Morey didn’t talk about it so much or if the Rockets hadn’t failed to make the playoffs for three consecutive seasons. But he can’t run from the team’s record.
It doesn’t matter how close you are to making the playoffs. Out isn’t in.
Similarly, it doesn’t matter how close you are to trading for a superstar. Second place is last place.
In his tenure, Morey has made as many trades as any GM in the league, but he has been trading broccoli for asparagus, green beans for corn. It takes a couple of prime cuts to be a contender.
A third of the players who played in this past season’s All-Star Game have been traded since Morey started working for the Rockets in 2006, but he has yet to trade for an All-Star.
And while his draft record has been superb, which should give fans hope that this trio will work out better than the last first-round trio of Rockets picks (Michael Dickerson, Bryce Drew and Mirsad Turkcan in 1998), Morey has yet to draft an All-Star, either.
JARED CUNNINGHAM = RUSSELL WESTBROOK 2.0?
Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle isn’t given to much hyperbole.
But he stepped outside of his normal lane in assessing Jared Cunningham, comparing the former Oregon State star to Thunder All-Star Russell Westbrook … that’s right:
“The way the game is being played now, I thought Dirk addressed it after Game 4 (against Oklahoma City), you got to have dynamic playmakers,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “Cunningham was up at Oregon State. The Pac-12 doesn’t get a lot of coverage in the central and eastern time zones. We feel he’s good and has a chance to be exceptionally good. He plays above the rim and is an athletic defender. He was one of the guys we liked from about a month ago on.’’
Carlisle doesn’t like to compare players, but he came up with a doozy when analyzing Cunningham, who is 6-4 and 195 pounds.
“Athletically, he’s similar to a (Russell) Westbrook,” he said. “That’s a lot to put on a kid, but you got to have guys with that kind of speed and quickness to compete with the perimeter players in this league. We’re excited about it.”
Donnie Nelson and [Mark] Cuban engineered the night’s maneuverings. As Carlisle said, sitting next to them in the draft room, “you put your seat belt on.”
Said Nelson about trading down: “Cunningham was in the mix at 17. We felt there was a good likelihood based on teams below us drafting for needs, so we rolled the bones a little with that and we’re really excited to pick up two extra guys.”
The “extra guys” are one thing. But if Cunningham is anything like Westbrook, on his best days, the Mavericks might have gotten the steal of the draft.
LAKERS LOOKING FOR “HOME RUN” IN FREE AGENCY
Forget the draft Lakers fans, free agency is where Mitch Kupchak and his staff are focusing their efforts (sorry Pau Gasol, it’s not over yet).
The Lakers GM said as much when explaining their draft activity, or lack thereof, to The Los Angeles Times:
Gasol shouldn’t breathe a sigh of relief yet. All things considered, no one outside of Kobe Bryant should really feel settled. Kupchak said the front office will continue trade discussions in what he said was “the beginning phase of when teams look to improve their team.” Considering the Lakers only have an $8.9 million trade exception and a mid-level slot worth $3 million, a trade could serve as the only way to bolster the lineup.
The Lakers will do that throughout the free-agency period. But the NBA has a so-called “Moratorium Period” from July 1-10 during which teams may hold negotiations but cannot sign contracts.
… Kupchak believes the Lakers can win a championship even if they don’t make a major move.
Both Kupchak and executive Jim Buss have publicly expressed optimism that the Lakers can still win another championship under the current roster. Kupchak admitted those sentiments both reflect their confidence in a core that features Bryant, Bynum and Gasol as well as highlights the reality that the Lakers may not see any future deals that would necessitate breaking up the team.
“I think if this group is kept intact — we got some work to do with existing free agents and the free-agent market in general — I don’t see why we couldn’t be in the hunt next year,” Kupchak said. “We may be nipping at the heels of a couple of teams in the West, but we know that the team in the NBA that had the best record this year didn’t advance to the Finals.”
There’s never a boring NBA summer in Los Angeles!