NEW YORK – Much of the NBA still isn’t happy with the Memphis Grizzlies for trading Pau Gasol(notes) to the Los Angeles Lakers. Nor is anyone outside New England too pleased with the Minnesota Timberwolves for sending Kevin Garnett(notes) to the Boston Celtics, a deal that triggered a shift in the Eastern Conference’s balance of power.
After Thursday’s NBA draft, it might be time to add the Washington Wizards to the list of scorned franchises.
The Wizards laid the cornerstone of their massive rebuilding project by drafting Kentucky guard John Wall with the No. 1 pick, but it was a deal they made a few hours before the draft began that could change the NBA landscape. By agreeing to take on Kirk Hinrich(notes) – a trade that also netted them the No. 17 pick – the Wizards freed up $9 million in salary-cap space for the Chicago Bulls, allowing the Bulls to pursue not only LeBron James(notes) or Dwyane Wade, but also Chris Bosh(notes) or Amar’e Stoudemire(notes) to play alongside them.
The Bulls’ trade puts them atop Yahoo! Sports’ list of winners from the 2010 NBA draft. Wizards officials claimed they made the trade, which can’t be completed until July 8, because they were excited about acquiring Hinrich, a combo guard, and adding French big man Kevin Seraphin with the 17th pick. If Washington can eventually move Gilbert Arenas(notes), Hinrich will be a nice addition. But if James and Bosh decide to go play alongside Derrick Rose(notes) in Chicago?
The Wizards shouldn’t expect too many Christmas cards from their Eastern Conference peers.
The Kings landed the big man they coveted in Kentucky center DeMarcus Cousins, who believes he is the best player in the draft. Cousins, who measures 6-foot-10, 292 pounds, has the talent and size to become an All-Star. Questions persist about his coach-ability and conditioning, but he appears motivated to prove himself.
Kings assistant coaches Mario Elie and Truck Robinson won’t be afraid to hold Cousins accountable. Cousins also has legitimate competition for the starting center job in newcomer Samuel Dalembert(notes).
More good news for the Kings: Cousins wanted to play for the Kings. At least for now, Sacramento’s newest addition sounds motivated and energized.
LOSER: Portland Trail Blazers
Say what you want about Kevin Pritchard – and there have been a few unkind things said about him – but the Blazers’ decision to formally fire their general manager on the night of the draft was both demeaning and classless.
The Blazers told Pritchard about his firing, which had been widely expected, an hour before the draft. Pritchard stayed to work the draft.
“The process was more public and took longer than any of us would have liked, but that was indicative of how critical a decision this was for our franchise,” Trail Blazers owner Paul Allen said in a statement.
And the Blazers wonder why they have such bad luck.
WINNER: Miami Heat
While it doesn’t seem likely James will go to Miami to play with Dwyane Wade(notes), the Heat now have $43 million in salary-cap space thanks to a trade that sent guard Daequan Cook(notes) and the 18th overall pick (Eric Bledsoe) to Oklahoma City. In essence, the Heat could now have enough money to re-sign Wade and add two more marquee free agents like Bosh or Joe Johnson(notes).
The Heat also found potential steals in the second round in Texas big man Dexter Pittman, the NCAA’s all-time leading shot-blocker in Jarvis Varnado and forward Da’Sean Butler.
LOSER: Luke Babbitt
The Golden State Warriors actually liked the Nevada star enough to give him some consideration with the sixth pick. In the end, Babbitt had to wait until the Minnesota Timberwolves took him 16th and sent him to the Blazers. Babbitt joins a crowded stable of small forwards on Portland’s roster that includes Ryan Gomes(notes), Nicolas Batum(notes), Dante Cunningham(notes) and Rudy Fernandez(notes), who figures to be traded. Welcome to Portland.
WINNER: Paul George
The unheralded Fresno State swingman looked like an iffy prospect shortly after the college season ended. A string of strong workouts, however, elevated him to the No. 10 pick.
While it’s uncertain if the Indiana Pacers were disappointed (or glad) local star Gordon Hayward was selected a spot earlier by Utah, they showed some guts by selecting George over the likes of Cole Aldrich, Xavier Henry, Ed Davis, Patrick Patterson and Luke Babbitt. Now it’s up to George to prove he’s more than just hype.
Fortune also smiled on the Pacers, who, sources say, unsuccessfully tried to buy a late first-round pick for $3 million and an early second-rounder for $1.5 million to take Lance Stephenson, a former New York phenom. Despite their failed efforts, Stephenson fell to the Pacers anyway at No. 40.
LOSER: Underclassmen who should have stayed in school
Marshall freshman center Hassan Whiteside made a name for himself by leading the NCAA in blocked shots with 5.35 per game. Evidently, that didn’t make him a top-tier prospect.
A 7-foot center, Whiteside could have positioned himself to be a 2011 lottery pick by returning to school. Instead, he believed the hype, entered the draft and wasn’t selected until the 33rd overall pick in the second round by the Kings. Other second-rounders who would have been wise to stay in college and improve their stock: Stephenson, Nevada’s Armon Johnson, Mississippi’s Terrico White, New Mexico’s Darington Hobson, Florida State’s Solomon Alabi, Georgia Tech’s Gani Lawal and Oklahoma’s Willie Warren.
But, hey, at least they were drafted. Seattle’s Charles Garcia, Vanderbilt’s A.J. Ogilvy, Louisville’s Samardo Samuels, Virginia’s Sylven Landesberg, Arkansas’ Courtney Fortson, Alabama’s Elijah Millsap, Oklahoma’s Tommy Mason-Griffin and Michigan’s Manny Harris left college early and weren’t picked.
WINNER: University of Kentucky
The Wildcats not only produced Wall, the No. 1 pick, they also sent four of his teammates into the first round, making them the first school to have five first-rounders in a single year. Center Daniel Orton almost slipped out of the first round, but was taken 29th by the Orlando Magic. Wall was the first Wildcat selected first overall in the NBA draft.
LOSER: Cleveland Cavaliers
While the Bulls and the Heat acquired major salary-cap space in hopes of luring James, the Cavaliers were absent from the draft. Cleveland didn’t have a single pick and the only time the franchise was mentioned was in relation to the possibility of James leaving Ohio. The question now: Can the Cavs give LeBron enough reasons to stay?
WINNER: Greivis Vasquez
The former Maryland basketball star made the evening’s grandest entrance. After being selected by the Memphis Grizzlies with the 28th pick, Vasquez stood up from the stands, gave his buddies high-fives and fist pounds while two Venezuelan flags were waved over him – and then walked onto the stage and wrapped NBA commissioner David Stern in a big hug.
LOSER: Wesley Johnson’s clothes
As much as Johnson tried, his choice in clothes wasn’t as cool as it was odd. Johnson donned plaid pants that would have gone better with a set of bag pipes … a bright yellow dress shirt that seemed better suited for the spring … a blue blazer with so many buttons it looked like it was borrowed from Gorton’s Fisherman. Even Jalen Rose’s red pinstripe suit and Karl Malone’s uncomfortable ensemble looked like more fashion-savvy choices