June 26, 2009

If you really wanted to, you could write a list longer than Santa's, identifying every uncomfortable situation during Thursday night's NBA draft. There was James Harden's horribly mismatched suit. There was the long, awkward pause preceding every foreign player whose name David Stern was forced to pronounce. And, of course, there was the video conference with Mike Dunleavy, who looked as though he was staring directly into the sun or coming off a 48-hour poker binge in Las Vegas. Maybe even both.

But nothing -- NOTHING -- was more unsettling than the Brandon Jennings Experiment coming to fruition before Stern's very eyes. Jennings, you might remember, decided to circumvent the NBA's age-restriction rules by forgoing college and playing a year of professional ball in Italy. The plan was risky, but paid dividends when Jennings was taken 10th overall by the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday.

However, since no team could assure Jennings that he would be a lottery pick, he elected to watch the draft from his hotel in New York with his family. Naturally, Jennings made his way to the draft after getting the news and, in a fashionably late manner, missing only WWE-style entrance music, he moseyed onto the stage, smiling ear-to-ear.

For Stern, it was a moment in which he'd been defeated. For Jennings, well, it was the good, old-fashioned joy that comes along with bucking the system. If only body language could be translated into words. Sigh.

Hey, while we're at it, let's give out a few other non-conventional awards...

The Christopher Columbus "New World" Award

To Syracuse standout Jonny Flynn, whose usage of the term "mid coast" might have been most startling moment in the 153-year history of the Rand McNally publishing group. Ah, the white, sandy beaches of the ... "Mid Coast?" Yeah, where's that again?

Good question. After his selection at No. 7 by Minnesota, Flynn responded to a question about his performance in Syracuse's six-overtime win over Connecticut earlier this year, and how it thrust him into the national spotlight: "... People on the West Coast [and] Mid Coast got to see me play." Exactly. In related news, we'll have to get back to you on the rumors that Flynn has also found El Dorado and the lost city of Atlantis.

The George Lucas "Phantom Menace" Award

To DeJuan Blair's knees, which begrudgingly accept this award from Darrell Arthur's kidney in last year's draft, and apparently negate the fact that he dominated the entire Big East for most of last season. No, folks, that double-double he averaged at Pitt was clearly not worth one of the draft's first 36 picks. Definitely a smarter move to let him slip to San Antonio, where he'll contribute a ferocious 20 minutes a game and bolster an already loaded roster. Definitely. At what point do we just start blaming other teams for the Spurs' success and stop giving them all the credit?

The Perez Hilton "Beaten Like A Rented Mule" Award

To the word "wingspan," which entered Thursday night as a noun, but came away a dangling participle as ESPN's announcing team used it in every possible context for every single prospect, even when it didn't really apply. At one point, I was even inclined to measure my own wingspan out of sheer curiosity. You have to wonder what the shelf-life is for something like wingspan, and if ESPN will need to do some sort of crop rotation in 2010 to preserve its relevance for future broadcasts.

But with that said, there were a few other gems mixed into the night's commentary, including Tyreke Evans being "ball-dominant," Sam Young's shot-fake being "almost cartoonish" and the fact that James Johnson was a "martial arts champion in Wyoming." Gold star to Jay Bilas for making each minute detail sound so ever-important in the drafting process.

The Brett Favre "Recurring Storyline" Award

To the Minnesota Timberwolves, who didn't have anyone come out of retirement, but added their own element of comedy to the draft in addressing their needs at guard ... by drafting five of them (Ricky Rubio, Jonny Flynn, Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington and Nick Calathes). Granted, Lawson and Calathes were traded, but you can't help but be amused by the novelty of new GM David Kahn expecting Rubio and Flynn to play in the same backcourt. How exactly will that work? Perhaps Kahn's first order of business will be to banish the three-point line to eliminate shooting woes from beyond the arc? Seems logical.

(Side note: Anyone else catch Mark Jones asking Rubio which current NBA player he most resembles? Obviously, Rubio answered by saying Steve Nash. My question: How else could he possibly have answered? Maybe Kirk Hinrich? What were his options in that situation?)

The Isiah Thomas "Master Plan" Award

To the people running the Charlotte Bobcats, if only because their plan of attack for building a winning franchise seems destined to fail. And by "plan of attack," I'm, of course, referring to the strategy of drafting a Naismith Award finalist in every single draft and hoping that things will eventually fall into place. In practice, this theory only works well in the world of video games -- you know, when you can export your NCAA '09 rosters into Madden and build an unstoppable dynasty. In real life, though, it doesn't usually work that way. Even though Dick Vitale clearly approves, it's not necessarily the best move going forward. Just sayin' ...

The Jon Brockman "Walking Oxymoron" Award

To Washington's Jon Brockman, who was described by Bilas as a "burly power forward" and also a "limited defender," but not as a "future 10th man." Go figure. Moving on ...

The Jon and Kate Gosselin "Surprise Announcement" Award

To the fan who took it upon himself to interrupt Stuart Scott's interview with Nets executive Rod Thorn at the absolute perfect time so that his comments would be heard before a national television audience. After Scott asked Thorn why the Nets dealt Vince Carter, "one of the most electrifying players in the league," the fan blurted out "because he sucks!" before Thorn could respond or the censors could react. Ah, the beauty of live television in New York City. In what kind of sick world do we live where Vince Carter "sucks" and Knicks fans cheer at the news of trading FOR Darko Milicic?

The NBA Draft: Where Amazing Happens!

Ty Hildenbrandt writes for SI.com and co-hosts The Solid Verbal podcast. He can be reached at tyhildenbrandt@gmail.com or on Twitter.

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