Winners and Losers
While the cheers from the crowd at the June 26 NBA draft in Madison Square Garden still echo in his memory, UNLV star Greg Anthony—he of the charming smile, the quick wit and the politician's rap—would be wise to consider the lessons of recent history. Four years ago, thousands of New York Knick fans cheered and stomped just as wildly for another young and confident point guard as they did last week for Anthony, whom the Knicks nabbed with the 12th pick. Today, Mark Jackson, the onetime darling of the fans and the 1988 Rookie of the Year, is little more than trade bait.
Nevertheless, Anthony is one of the winners in SI's assessment of the 1991 draft. Here are others, along with some losers.
WINNER—Kenny Anderson of Georgia Tech, chosen No. 2, by the Nets. The flashy point guard would have fit in with either New Jersey or Sacramento, but he's better off close to his New York City roots. Anderson plans to buy a house in New Jersey for his mother, Joan, and says that if he gets out of line, "she can smack me around a little bit." The same can be said, Kenny, of your hard-nosed coach, Bill Fitch.
July 7, 1991
LOSER—Billy Owens, chosen No. 3, by the Kings. The versatile All-America forward from Syracuse did a fairly good job of disguising his displeasure after being selected by Sacramento (yes, Owens looked as if he were going to the dentist, but only for a filling, not a root canal). Owens had wanted to be reunited in New Jersey with former Syracuse teammate Derrick Coleman; now he faces a more uncertain future with the Kings, whose best player, second-year man Lionel Simmons, is also a small forward.
WINNER—Mark Macon, picked No. 8, by the Nuggets. Think back to last year: Macon, the Temple shooting guard, had, by some accounts, fallen out of the first round because of inconsistent play. Now, having redeemed himself in the '91 NCAA tournament, he's a lottery pick and will probably get a chance to start immediately in the backcourt with Chris Jackson.
LOSER—Stanley Roberts, No. 23, by the Magic. Look at the No. 7 pick, 7'2" center Luc Longley, who was chosen by the Timberwolves. That could've been you, Stanley, if you hadn't let your weight balloon to more than 300 pounds after returning from Spain in May. The NBA is increasingly intolerant of overweight, out-of-shape players, even ones with talent.
WINNER—Jerry Tarkanian, the UNLV coach. In one week, Tark got to publicly blast his nemesis, the NCAA, in a U.S. House subcommittee hearing, then showed up at the draft to hug and mug with his three Runnin' Rebel first-round picks: Larry Johnson (No. 1), who went to the Hornets; Stacey Augmon (No. 9), to the Hawks; and Anthony. One question, Tark: With that kind of talent—plus UNLV center George Ackles, who was chosen early in the second round by the Heat—why didn't you beat Duke?
LOSER—Don Nelson, the Warrior coach. Nellie was unable to use the team's three first-round picks to trade up and snare Longley, the player he wanted. The Warriors would have chosen Roberts had his predraft workout in Oakland not been a joke. (Roberts made calls from a cellular phone while he worked out.) Instead, they landed two 6'10" players, Chris Gatling of Old Dominion and Shaun Vandiver of Colorado; they also got 6'9" Victor Alexander of Iowa State. The Warriors still want to deal for a center, but they will have to part with shooting guard Mitch Richmond to get a player of significance.
WINNER—Guard Terrell Brandon of Oregon, chosen No. 11, by the Cavaliers. Sitting together at the draft, Brandon and Anthony conferred after Arizona power forward Brian Williams was picked No. 10, by the Magic. "I'd like to go next to the Cavs," said Brandon. To which Anthony added, "And I'd like to be there for the Knicks." And that's exactly what happened. A New York audience is perfect for the bold and brassy Anthony, while the quieter Brandon, who had bought a Cavalier cap weeks ago because he so respected coach Lenny Wilkens, said he would be happiest in Cleveland, even if he will be sitting behind Mark Price.
LOSER—Rich King, No. 14, by the SuperSonics. There was a chance that the 7'2" King, who played for Nebraska, would go as high as No. 10 with Orlando and get a shot at being the Magic's starting center. King's fate now is to be a caddie for the Sonics' incumbent pivotman, Benoit Benjamin. Ugh!
WINNER—Guard Steve Smith, No. 5, by the Heat. Some teams rated Smith as the second-best all-around player in the draft (behind Owens), and he will get the chance to prove it with the Heat. "Willie Burton told me Miami was a nice place to play," said Smith.
LOSER—Burton, Glen Rice or Kevin Edwards. Steve, did Burton also tell you that he might not be in Miami to enjoy it with you? With the addition of Smith, one of these three shooting guards has become expendable to the Heat, and Burton seems to have the most value in the trade market. The Heat wanted a power forward but not badly enough to pick Missouri's Doug Smith ahead of Steve. Doug went to the Mavericks at No. 6.
WINNER—Forward John Turner, chosen No. 20, by the Rockets. As much as Roberts turned off the scouts in the last few months, that's how much the 6'7" Turner (from Phillips University in Enid, Okla.) impressed them. There were concerns about Turner's past—he withdrew from Georgetown two years ago because of what coach John Thompson considered an unsavory association with a drug dealer—but he overcame such concerns with hard work and dedication after leaving the Hoyas.
LOSER—Center LeRon Ellis, No. 22, by the Clippers. He's not one quarter the player his Syracuse cohorts, Coleman and Owens, are. The Clips would have done better to tap North Carolina swingman Rick Fox (the 24th pick, to the Celtics) or Kansas forward Mark Randall (26th, to the Bulls).
Among NBA teams, the big winners appear to be the Hawks and the Nuggets. It takes more than just calling out a name at the draft to improve in this league, and Atlanta and Denver are making other adjustments involving their veteran players. More movement is likely to occur all over the league when the NBA salary cap increases from $11.8 million per team to about $12.5 million on Aug. 1.
The Nuggets, for example, traded point guard Michael Adams to the Bullets on June 11 to position themselves for two lottery picks. They did well to get Georgetown center Dikembe Mutombo, a defensive stopper, at No. 4, and Macon, a scorer who is considered a good defender.
The even busier Hawks began what may wind up being a substantial house-cleaning by deciding not to go after their two unrestricted veteran free agents, center Moses Malone and shooting guard John Battle. (This decision had not been announced officially as of last weekend, but it had been made, according to a source close to the team.) That will free up a considerable amount of money under the salary cap, $2.4 million in the case of Moses alone. The Hawks also traded veteran point guard Doc Rivers to the Clippers on draft day in exchange for the No. 9 pick, which went for Augmon, a versatile defensive player. And the Hawks made an agreement with the Nuggets to choose Anthony Avent, a 6'10" power forward out of Seton Hall, at No. 15, and send him to Denver in exchange for Blair Rasmussen. That move will give Atlanta about 28 feet of center—the 7-foot Rasmussen, the 7-foot Jon Koncak, the 7-foot Tim McCormick and the 7'1" Gary Leonard—so look for another deal.
The Hawks also sent point guard Spud Webb to Sacramento for second-year shooting guard Travis Mays. Having failed to get Anderson, the Kings desperately needed a quarterback. And after all that, Atlanta landed North Carolina State sharpshooter Rodney Monroe, a guard it valued, with the 30th pick. He, too, should be a keeper.
The wheeling and dealing isn't over. The Celtics deny that they are shopping point guard Brian Shaw, but they are listening to all offers. The Bucks, in need of a rebounder since their release of frontcourtman Jack Sikma, acquired Avent from Denver for their selection (at No. 18) of Southwest Louisiana forward Kevin Brooks, who is primarily an offensive player. The Hornets still want to move frontcourtman J.R. Reid—Johnson may terrorize him in practice—and the Cavaliers want to do the same with forward Hot Rod Williams. But the Hawks got a head start on everybody.