Barring some unforeseen circumstance, it appears Kentucky freshman point guard JohnWall will become the NBA's next No. 1 draft pick.
But Wall will be entering the NBA a season after many of the 12 point guards taken in the first round of the 2009 draft have already made an impact. Tyreke Evans, Brandon Jennings and Stephen Curry are the top players in the class, and Ty Lawson, JonnyFlynn and Darren Collison, among others, are also getting high marks.
Combine that with a look at the projected lottery teams, and, with a few exceptions, a personnel shuffling will be needed no matter where Wall goes.
"You are getting a very valuable asset," one NBA executive said of Wall. "So regardless of what happens, you are going to come out ahead. Either you keep Wall and trade your existing point guard, or you keep what you have and you fill in your roster with what you can get by trading Wall."
Sure, a team could do that. But since the draft lottery began in 1985, only twice has a team traded away the top pick. (Cleveland chose Brad Daugherty No. 1 in 1986 after acquiring the pick from Philadelphia for Roy Hinson and cash. In 1993, the Magic selected Chris Webber first, then immediately traded him to the Warriors for Anfernee Hardaway and three future first-rounders.)
Holding the top pick in the draft brings an emotional attachment, for both the organization and its fans. For teams whose previous season was bad enough to land them in the lottery, the draft is their hope for the future. Their selections do not always turn out to be the saviors they had hoped for, but the draft is nonetheless a transformative moment, when the thought of acquiring one talented player is enough to rejuvenate a team's outlook and eventual climb back to respectability. (Think LeBron James.) Besides, the last thing a fan wants to hear is that a team is acquiring an asset that can be used to obtain other assets.
In Wall's situation, however, there likely will have to be some sort of maneuvering by the team that drafts him in order to make things work.
Start at the top, or as the case may be, the bottom of the standings: the Nets. Forget the fact that the worst team in the league rarely gets the top pick. (In the 25-year history of the draft lottery, the worst team has received the top pick only four times, the last coming in 2004, when Orlando took Dwight Howard.) If the Nets (7-55) win the lottery and keep the pick, they would have to figure out what to do with DevinHarris, their 26-year-old point guard who was an All-Star last season. Sure, New Jersey is threatening to become the worst team in history and any infusion of talent is welcome at this point. But drafting Wall would hasten the departure of Harris, whose disappointing season means the Nets likely wouldn't get equal value in return. You see where this is going: Even the positive of having the top pick brings some sort of negative.
Across the river, the Knicks could use Wall, but they sent their first-round pick to Utah. If the Jazz get No. 1, would they select Wall to play ahead of Deron Williams, arguably the most complete point guard in the league? Hardly.
Minnesota (14-49), the worst team in the Western Conference, will have a good chance to land the top pick. However, the Timberwolves took Ricky Rubio and Flynn with back-to-back picks in the 2009 draft, and bringing on a third point guard would create even more of a logjam (Rubio is currently playing in Spain) and necessitate a trade. That's not exactly a ringing endorsement for the beginning of David Kahn's stewardship of that organization.
At Golden State (17-45), Curry has earned the adulation of fans and management -- and for good reason -- while playing alongside the high-scoring Monta Ellis. Should the Warriors get the top pick, their options are to move Curry and use Wall at the point; deal Ellis and turn Wall into a shooting guard; or unload Ellis and shift Curry to shooting guard, where, like Wall, he'd be matched up against bigger players. Don't count on any of those happening.
The Kings (21-42) have Evans, the likely Rookie of the Year, playing the point. At 6-6, Evans could conceivably play shooting guard, except for one small problem: He can't shoot from outside effectively. Plus, he has made a name for himself this year playing with the ball in his hands at point, which is why the Kings just dealt Kevin Martin to Houston. Coach Paul Westphal has hitched his horse to Evans' wagon, and that does not seem likely to change.
Detroit (22-41) seems enamored with Rodney Stuckey and it has shooting guard Richard Hamilton signed for three more years and $38 million. Washington (21-39) still has to resolve the Gilbert Arenas situation, but it seems general manager Ernie Grunfeld may have a tough time getting rid of him, thereby posing an issue if the Wizards wanted Wall at the point.
Philadelphia (23-39) has two young prospects at point in Lou Williams (whom management is high on) and rookie Jrue Holiday. While Wall could earn a spot in front of either, Philly would then have trouble finding time for Williams because swingman AndreIguodala plays a lot of shooting guard.
The Clippers (25-38) have point guard Baron Davis on the books for three more years and $42 million, and his trade value has plummeted now that teams have seen his work ethic and health history. They also have second-year shooting guard Eric Gordon, who is averaging 17.2 points.
The Hornets (31-32) have a guy named Chris Paul, who has two more years (plus a player option) on his lucrative extension. His backup, the rookie Collison, has been a surprise, averaging 19.0 points and 8.3 assists in his 24 starts while filling in for the injured Paul.
The Rockets (31-31) have Aaron Brooks, who earned All-Star consideration this season and is averaging 19.9 points and 5.2 assists in his first year as a full-time starter. And newly acquired Martin, who is averaging 20.8 points, is tied up for three more years at shooting guard.
Charlotte could be a match for Wall because Raymond Felton will become an unrestricted free agent. However, like the Hornets and Rockets, the Bobcats (30-31) are on track to win about 40 games without the postseason, making them extreme longshots to secure the top pick in the weighted lottery. Same with the Bulls (31-31), yet another team that would have duplication in the backcourt if it slipped into the lottery and won the whole thing. Chicago overcame long odds to win the 2008 lottery and earn the right to select Derrick Rose, the Rookie of the Year last season and an All-Star this season.
As of now, it seems the best fit for Wall would be the free-falling Pacers (20-43), though coach Jim O'Brien isn't known for developing younger players. Of course, if O'Brien were to be dismissed, that could create a better environment for someone like Wall.
It's not that Wall would not be a great addition to any of the teams in the lottery -- there is a reason they are there, after all -- but because of a variety of factors, some GM will have to make serious decisions about where exactly Wall will fit in or what that team can get in return for the top pick in the draft.
1. There has been a great deal of talk about what type of owner Michael Jordan is going to be, primarily because, as an executive, Jordan has never been fond of doing the day-to-day grunt work that often is required to make an organization successful.
As a player, Jordan tended to shy away from the masses. He would rather take a large fine from the league than participate in media day at All-Star weekend. But a man who tends to be above the fray is not one who can run an organization.
Yes, there are owners who are not hands-on. But that is because their expertise lies elsewhere. Let's face it: Jordan's expertise is basketball and being the face of his namesake brand. And if he is not willing to invest time in one of those activities because the other is more important, that is a recipe for disaster.
But there is another aspect of Jordan's personality that could make his new role difficult: He is legendarily frugal, somebody who would rather capitalize on his name and popularity than pay for anything, whether that is a round of golf or purchasing an NBA team.
It is not yet known what percentage of the reported $260 million Jordan's group paid Bob Johnson for the rights to own the franchise. But only a 15 percent stake is needed for controlling interest, meaning Jordan likely shelled out $40 million.
But how is a guy who does not like paying for anything going to handle having to cut a check for several million dollars when the team has its first cash call? Or second? Or third?
Johnson reportedly was losing upwards of $30 million a year, and sold the organization to Jordan's group for a $40 million loss. In that market, regardless of how many times Jordan sits courtside, it won't be easy to make the Bobcats profitable.
Yes, David Stern has an alliance with Jordan that goes back a long way. From Stern's perspective, it can only be a positive to have Jordan's iconic stature still associated with the league. But will Jordan be willing to suffer the financial hardship that comes with owning a team in a difficult market? Most insiders say no.
2. Speaking of Charlotte, multiple NBA sources said coach Larry Brown has made preliminary calls to the Clippers to try to line up a position with that organization in case things with Jordan go sideways.
Brown, according to sources, was concerned that George Postolos, Charlotte's would-be owner if Jordan's group hadn't raised the necessary capital, was prepared to clean house, which meant that Brown would have been out. To preserve his position as an NBA coach, Brown reached out to Clippers owner Donald Sterling to let him know that he is open to returning to L.A.
Brown did not return several calls seeking comment.
One source indicated Brown was seeking complete control, including the ability to make personnel decisions. Sterling is said to still be enamored with the idea of getting Brown, who coached the Clippers to the playoffs in 1992 and '93. Brown also has a home in Malibu and his wife is said to want to move back there. GM Mike Dunleavy stepped down as coach in early February, and it's possible that Sterling will revamp the front office in the offseason.
If that is the case, expect Sterling to have at least one substantive conversation with Brown.
3. The Philadelphia Inquirer's Stephen A. Smith wrote an interesting piece on Allen Iverson on Sunday, describing Iverson as an alcoholic and a gambling addict.
Smith also wrote that Iverson is in no shape to deal with a world that does not involve him being a star player in the NBA, particularly now that his wife has filed for divorce, has custody of their five kids and is seeking both alimony and child support.
It is no secret in NBA circles that Smith and Iverson are close, a result of their time together when Smith covered the Sixers as a beat writer. This may have felt like a public intervention on Iverson's behalf, but it also paints a bleak future for the former MVP.
4. Ron Artest had the word "defense" carved into his hair in three different languages, and in two different colors. The bigger question: How does Artest's hairstylist, Boogie, know how to read Japanese, Hebrew and Hindi?
And do the professional basketball leagues in those countries play a lot of defense?
5. If you happened to catch the Lakers' loss to the Magic in an intense game in Orlando on Sunday, you get the distinct feeling teams are beginning to gear up for the postseason. Kudos to the feisty Matt Barnes for recognizing the time has come.