Derrick Rose or Michael Beasley?
The answer to that question, debated endlessly the past few weeks in Chicago and just about everywhere else on the NBA map, finally will be answered Thursday night.
The Bulls hold the No. 1 pick in the draft, giving them the choice between two potential franchise players.
"We're probably leaning a certain way," Bulls general manager John Paxson said, declining to tip his hand any further. "[But] we can't go wrong either way."
Most NBA observers expect the Bulls to take Rose, a Chicago native who has been compared to Deron Williams. Then again, Paxson has been known to do the unexpected. Who would have guessed Vinny Del Negro would be Chicago's coach?
But the Rose-Beasley debate at No. 1 is far from the only intrigue as David Stern gets ready for another night of handshakes, $1,000 suits and team caps. Here's a look at the other big storylines to follow Thursday night:
For weeks it has been assumed the Heat would take Beasley if the Bulls, as expected, opt for Rose. But Miami is in a win-now mode and already has a pretty decent power forward in Udonis Haslem. It's no secret Heat president Pat Riley likes O.J. Mayo and has been exploring ways to trade down (see below) for the rights to the USC star -- if another team was willing to throw in a veteran player who could help Miami immediately.
But if Riley can't swing a deal, it is possible he could shock the world and take Mayo at No. 2 anyway. Keep in mind, Riley is one of the few team presidents with the standing and authority to make such a bold decision. Besides, as one Western Conference player-personnel director said: "It really shouldn't matter where a guy is ranked on everybody else's [draft] board. If you really think he's the better player, you grab him when you get the chance."
The draft could feature a lot of trades. The Raptors and Pacers made a big move Wednesday, reaching agreement to send five-time All-Star power forward Jermaine O'Neal from Indiana to Toronto in exchange for point guard T.J. Ford, center Rasho Nesterovic and the No. 17 pick. Earlier Wednesday, the Trail Blazers acquired the Hornets' first-round pick (No. 27) for cash, and the Bobcats picked up the Nuggets' first-rounder (No. 20) for future considerations.
The Heat are the team to watch at the top. They have talked to the Timberwolves (No. 3), Sonics (No. 4) and Grizzlies (No. 5) about trading places. But if Miami does make a trade, it won't be announced until after they pick Beasley at No. 2, since NBA rules require teams to make their designated picks on draft night. In other words, Beasley might actually don a Heat cap and then have to switch to another one later.
The Knicks (No. 6), Bobcats (Nos. 9 and 20) and Clippers (No. 7) are among the other teams considered most likely to deal. The Knicks are reportedly dangling David Lee in an effort to acquire another first-round selection. The Bobcats, meanwhile, are said to be looking to move up in order to nab UCLA big man Kevin Love.
Paxson isn't the only personnel boss who must make a tough decision. Minnesota's Kevin McHale, Memphis' Chris Wallace and New York's Donnie Walsh head the list of other top decision-makers who will be under a white-hot spotlight. For varying reasons, each can ill afford to screw up.
McHale is still trying to win back Minnesota fans after trading Kevin Garnett last summer and dealing the rights to Brandon Roy (for Randy Foye) on the night of the 2006 draft. Wallace has been pilloried in Memphis for the Pau Gasol trade. Walsh just arrived in New York amid great fanfare to clean up the mess left over by the Isiah Thomas regime, so Knicks fans are going to want to see signs of progress.
The interesting thing will be to see how those particular situations might come into play Thursday night. For example, will McHale be more likely to go with the safer and more popular pick of Mayo at No. 3, instead of taking a bigger risk on Brook Lopez or Love? Will Wallace be inclined to try to hit a home run with a deal for Beasley? Will Walsh come out aggressively and maybe try to move up?
The draft is one of the youngest ever at the top, with six top prospects (Rose, Beasley, Mayo, Love, Jerryd Bayless, Eric Gordon) having played just one year of college ball. Two other top prospects (Lopez, Russell Westbrook) played only two years. Only a handful of players who stayed four years in college, including Georgetown center Roy Hibbert, Rider forward Jason Thompson and Western Kentucky guard Courtney Lee, are considered potential first-round picks.
The freshman flood can be traced to the NBA's age-limit rule, which basically requires players to attend at least one year of college before entering the draft. The rule, which went into effect three years ago, was designed to stem the flow of high school kids into the NBA ranks. It has clearly worked for the NBA from a marketing standpoint, creating more established "name players" to generate fan interest, but many wonder if it has done much good for the colleges that saw those players pass through on such a brief stay.
It is always compelling theater to see which players in the green room are left to squirm while waiting to hear their name called. At times it can be downright uncomfortable to watch. The most famous example might have been in 1998, when Houston high school star Rashard Lewis cried after being passed over completely in the first round -- including twice by his hometown Rockets. (Lewis used the snub as motivation and has since gone on to become an All-Star.)
Who are the most likely candidates among this year's 16 green-room invitees to experience a red-faced moment? The NBA has done a better job in recent years doing its homework to make sure no player gets embarrassed like that again. But let's just say Darrell Arthur (Kansas), DeAndre Jordan (Texas A&M), Anthony Randolph (LSU) and/or Robin Lopez (Stanford) could be sweating at some point.