NBA Draft Preview: Texas Teams Prove That Shrewd Drafting Matters

Robert Kleeman@@RobertKleemanSenior Analyst IJune 24, 2010

SAN ANTONIO - APRIL 29:  George Hill #3 of the San Antonio Spurs in Game Six of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2010 NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center on April 29, 2010 in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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When David Stern approaches the podium to announce the Washington Wizards’ selection, the first of the 2010 NBA Draft, no one expects a name other than “John Wall” to come out of his mouth.

When the Philadelphia 76ers pick next, Stern will say “Evan Turner from Ohio State.”

After the second spot, things get murky, as they are wont to do on draft night. Will the New Jersey Nets bluff everyone and pass on their presumptive favorites—Derrick Favors and Wesley Johnson—in favor of mercurial Kentucky center DeMarcus Cousins?

Minnesota Timberwolves GM David Kahn says of the fourth pick, “I really don’t think I can screw this up.” Oh, ye of little faith. If anyone can botch a high draft pick, it’s him. What will Kahn do when he discovers after all of these weeks that Favors, Cousins, Johnson, and the other lottery prospects after Wall, are not point guards?

Will Larry Bird find a taker for the 10th selection willing to surrender something he covets? If the Indiana Pacers stay at No. 10, will Bird add another good-natured but flimsy player to his bad team?

The Utah Jazz, an anti-lottery fixture under Jerry Sloan, can keep the ninth pick or try to trade up, given the rare nature of their chance to select a player from the green room. They landed this pick in a deal a few years ago with the New York Knicks.

Perhaps no three teams, however, have more of a reason to attack than the ones stationed in Texas. The Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs, and Dallas Mavericks have added key rotation pieces to championship-caliber rosters via the draft.

With a number of teams looking to shed a pick or two to free up more cap space to entice primo free agents and others just looking to slash salary to cut costs, the Texas triad should enter full predatory mode.

Analysts project this draft as deeper than most, with quality ballers who could play minutes in an NBA game available in the 20s. Those who opine that teams need a lottery pick and a no-brainer prospect or athletic freak like Wall to snag a winner from the sweaty confines of a war room should pay more attention to what happens in Texas.

The Spurs, after a string of unfruitful drafts, selected three straight players who could play a role in getting Tim Duncan his fifth ring. They grabbed Brazilian center Tiago Splitter, considered the top big man in Europe, with the 27th pick in 2007. They snatched up little-known IUPUI combo guard George Hill with the 26th pick in 2008. He scored 29 points in a pivotal playoff game this year and established himself as a capable starter at two guard and an explosive backup for Tony Parker. Dejuan Blair fell to the Spurs at No. 37 in 2009.

The Rockets did not own any picks in last year’s draft (thanks in part to the Kings trade that netted them Ron Artest), so Owner Leslie Alexander bought three second-rounders from teams looking to pocket some dough. Two of those players—Jermaine Taylor and Chase Budinger—could become rotation fixtures for the next decade, or sign-and-trade bait, if the Toronto Raptors agree to a Chris Bosh deal that includes one or both guards.

I will write more on that long shot in a later column (What, you didn’t know that Bosh was the Rockets’ No. 1 offseason target? You have been hiding underneath a rock bigger than a colony populated with Yao Ming clones).

Daryl Morey also found Aaron Brooks at No. 26 and Carl Landry, now with the Kings, at No. 31.

The Mavericks ceded a handful of first-round picks to the Nets as part of the Jason Kidd-for-Devin Harris swap. That does not mean Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson cannot trade or buy their way into a top-30 selection. The Mavs and Oklahoma City Thunder exchanged the 24th and 25th picks last year. Dallas’ prize: Meteoric scoring guard Rodrigue Beaubois. He has the talent and the sheer speed to take over for Kidd when he retires.

The teams’ previous draft selections remain legendary—Dirk Nowitzki (picked ninth in 1998, sent to Dallas via a draft-night trade), Yao Ming (picked first in 2002), Manu Ginobili (picked 58th in 1999!), Tony Parker (picked 26th in 2001), and Josh Howard (picked 29th in 2003, now with the Wizards).

The Miami Heat have reportedly been shopping the 18th pick. They need all the cap space they can create to re-sign Dwyane Wade and another max player. Others will become available as the night unfolds.

The Spurs won four championships in a span of nine years, the Mavs share the record for most consecutive 50-win seasons, and the Rockets have tried to right the ship since admitting with an eventual trade that the Yao-Tracy McGrady pairing expected to produce a title was a failure.

With that, here are some things to expect from the Rockets, Spurs, and Mavericks tonight.

Houston Rockets

The Rockets motto for this draft, if they had one, would be, “let’s not do this again.” A lottery pick inspires excitement and intrigue. It also means, unless you acquired one in a transaction, that you missed the playoffs.

The team’s goal, no matter what happens tonight:

Avoid the lottery again for as many years as possible. The front office prefers the best talent on the board more than the one that best fills a need. In the dream scenario, they get both in the same player.

Team’s ideal draft scenario: Trade up to get DeMarcus Cousins.

Why it could happen: Daryl Morey can dangle two first-round picks and talented youngsters galore.

Why it won’t happen: It will take more than picks and prospects to move up to the five spot, where Cousins might still be available. The Nets could grab him at third, or the Wolves could fetch him at four. The Rockets will jump from No. 14 to the top four when Susan Boyle releases a gangster rap album.

Five players the Rockets could target if they stay at No. 14:

  • Cole Aldrich, Kansas—With a 7’4” wingspan and a constant motor, he can step right in as a reserve and provide long-armed defense and adequate shot blocking. His back-to-the basket game has potential, too.
  • Xavier Henry, Kansas—He shot better than 40 percent from three in his freshman season and possesses above average athleticism.
  • Luke Babbit, Nevada—He shot 50 percent overall and 40 percent from distance last season at Nevada. The Rockets, with Yao in the middle, cannot employ too many accurate shooters.
  • Ekpe Udoh, Baylor—If he falls this far, which seems unlikely, his shot blocking and athleticism would be a boon next to Yao. He doesn’t have much upside, and again, figures to go earlier.
  • Hassan Whiteside, Marshall—another shot blocker with a long wingspan who could grow into a reliable, energetic defensive option at center.

Restricted free agents: Luis Scola and Kyle Lowry

Unrestricted free agents: Chuck Hayes (team option), Yao Ming (early termination option), and Jared Jefferies (early termination option).

San Antonio Spurs

Tim Duncan’s contract expires in 2012, and most expect him to retire that summer. The Spurs, then, want to do everything possible in these next two seasons to help him win a fifth ring, if not a sixth.

San Antonio needs to win now, but prospects who could become future rotation fixtures would not hurt the winning cause.

Roster needs: Taller, more athletic front line assistance to supplement Duncan, Antonio McDyess, Dejuan Blair, and perhaps a re-signed Matt Bonner.

Chief offseason goal: Convince Tiago Splitter to leave Spain, join the Spurs, and fill the above need.

Another athletic big man acquired via the draft could prove a useful roster reinforcement and a wise investment. The title-winning Lakers, after all, boasted three seven footers who played major minutes.

A note on Tony Parker: I have written many times on this site that trading him would be moronic. I still maintain that stance. If the Spurs deal Parker, one of the five-best point guards in the league, they can kiss dreams of a fifth title goodbye. They should also plan to lose this writer as a fan.

Five forwards or centers the Spurs could select if they stay at No. 20:

  • Craig Brackins, Iowa State
  • Kevin Seraphin, Cholet (France)
  • Larry Sanders, VCU
  • Tibor Pleiss, Brose Baskets Bamberg (Germany)
  • Patrick Patterson, Kentucky

Restricted free agents: None

Unrestricted free agents: Keith Bogans, Matt Bonner, Ian Mahinmi, Roger Mason Jr., and Richard Jefferson (early termination option—he won’t exercise it).

The Dallas Mavericks

Cuban cares more about where Dirk Nowitzki plays next season than any player he gets with the 50th pick.

Nowitzki can opt out of his contract July 1 and become a free agent. Cuban’s obvious priority: Make sure the Dirkster doesn’t play anywhere else come opening night.

The German forward has indicated he will opt out, but that does not mean he will exit the ‘Big D.’ An opt out allows him to sign another long-term deal, perhaps his last one, and become just the second NBA player with a no-trade clause in his contract. The lone star with one now is Kobe Bryant.

The Mavs are the league’s oldest team in average age, so cultivating more young talent to pair with Beaubois is a must.

Like the Spurs, the Mavs need to win now, and any youngster that can step in immediately and contribute would provide a boost bigger than the American Airlines Center.

Roster needs: Shooting guard with some size, and a center, given that Erick Dampier and Brendan Haywood might get the heave-ho, especially if Cuban and Nelson can package them in a trade for better help

Restricted free agents: None

Unrestricted free agents: Brendan Haywood, Tim Thomas, and Dirk Nowitzki (early termination option)


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