Bulls Hoping to Cash in on Draft Uncertainty


Jun 23

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This is becoming the Find the Best Point Guard NBA Draft. And it may prove a bonus for a team like the Bulls with the possibility that a talented forward could slip through unexpectedly.

The point guard of choice was supposed to be Spain’s Ricky Rubio. But maybe Brandon Jennings was right when he said after a recent workout that Rubio is more hype. Jennings apologized, but teams are beginning to wonder about a point guard who can’t shoot or finish strong at the basket. So how good could Rubio be? And what if he chooses to remain in Europe? And he has a tough agent, Dan Fegan, to deal with.

The speculation now is the top three picks will be Blake Griffin, power forward; Hasheem Thabeet, center; and James Harden, shooting guard. Then comes the Guard Games. There’s a half dozen that likely will be selected in the lottery, and one of the big trades Tuesday opened the way for a point guard festival.

The first big deal had the Bucks dumping Richard Jefferson and his salary to the San Antonio Spurs for a collection of bones, namely Bruce Bowen, Fabricio Oberto and Kurt Thomas. It’s a heck of a deal for the Spurs, giving them a big time scoring option at small forward. It also makes it clear the Spurs realize their window is short with declining health for Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili and they intend to challenge for maybe two more years. Jefferson has two years left on his deal. The Spurs said the heck with 2010 free agency, and I suspect we’ll see more teams doing that as he urgency to win now to hold fans in this recessionary era becomes greater.

The Bucks moved Oberto on for Detroit’s failed Amir Johnson and saved some money. The assumption is it will be to perhaps retain Charlie Villanueva or add a salary cap exception player. Though it seems a step back for them with Michael Redd coming off serious injury and likely not ready to open the season.

The other deal seems a coup for the Washington Wizards, who landed Mike Miller and Randy Foye for the No. 5 pick in Thursday’s draft, Etan Thomas, Oleksiy Pecherov and Darius Songaila. It gives the Wizards an excess of wing players and perhaps opens up the way for another deal. For Minnesota, it’s a clever message from new management to not fire them for at least three years because of all the developing talent on the roster.

The Timberwolves now have the Nos. 5 and 6 picks and the belief is they’ll use them for a new backcourt to go with Al Jefferson, Kevin Love and Corey Brewer. There’s speculation the deal was to swap both picks to move up to No. 2 for Thabeet. But it may make more sense to recruit an entirely new backcourt with several good young guards likely available at those spots.

I know there’s no Derrick Rose there, and I really don’t see anyone close. I’ve gotten a variety of opinions from NBA executives, so I decided to ask a guy who knows the position as well as anyone who’s ever played it, Isiah Thomas.

Thomas is now head coach at Florida International U., but he was scouting for the Knicks for much of this season. And while Thomas got his share of criticism as Knicks and Raptors boss, his collegiate talent evaluation ranked among the best in the NBA. And Thomas is a Hall of Fame guard, regarded by many as the best small guard ever to play in the NBA.

So who’s the best point guard in this draft, Isiah?

“(Tyreke) Evans or (Jonny) Flynn,” Thomas said. “I think Evans has a chance to be a real star. With the style of the game now, the point guard position may be the most important. It used to be center. Now you have to have a great point guard. So how are you going to defend the pick and roll? He’s a bigger and quicker athlete. It’s the stuff you see with (the Lakers and) Phil (Jackson) and Tex (Winter). Guys like (Trevor) Ariza, (Lamar) Odom, Kobe (Bryant), athletes out front who can switch everything. Evans is big. He can handle the ball and get where he wants. You don’t see many able to stay in front of him. Flynn is the kind of player who’ll do whatever is necessary, make a shot or score, facilitate, a good locker room guy.”

Thomas says he then sees Stephen Curry and Rubio and Jennings and then Jrue Holiday, who has great tools but is too reluctant a scorer, a player who you want to do more. Thomas says Jeff Teague has the potential to be a big time scorer while Ty Lawson is probably the most ready and a bit like Jameer Nelson, and, like with Nelson, always will have his detractors.

I’ve heard the Kings are backing off Rubio and looking at Evans and Flynn now and leaning toward Flynn. Which leaves the Timberwolves picking a pair of guards. The guessing now is it will be Evans and Curry. Neither one is a pure point guard, but both can handle the ball, and Curry’s shooting would get defenses off Jefferson. It’s not a team contending soon, but maybe it develops. Of course, they could go for Rubio. It’s possible the Thunder pass on Harden if Thabeet drops to them as he declined to work out for the Grizzlies at No. 2. Then Harden probably goes to Minnesota with a point guard.

The belief then is the Warriors go for the power forward, Jordan Hill, and the Knicks probably Jennings or Rubio as it’s unclear who slides. The Raptors could take DeMar DeRozan and the Bucks would want a point guard, maybe Jrue Holiday or whomever comes through. The key for the Bulls could be with the Nets and Bobcats. I heard the Bobcats like Louisville’s Terrence Williams, so if the Nets pass on him Duke’s Gerald Henderson begins to slide along with other more ready-to-play guys like James Johnson and DeJuan Blair. My guess is the Bulls want a guy they can plug in now and not a project in waiting, like Ohio State’s B.J. Mullens or Gonzaga’s Austin Daye. With the likes of Lawson and Louisville’s Earl Clark on the board for several of the teams in front of the Bulls and Tyler Hansbrough rising, the Bulls appear to have a shot at a comparable talent at No. 16.

It’s also where the No. 26 pick comes in handy. As you see from the Minnesota deal, to move up high into the lottery, you have to give up a lot. In 2006, the Bulls moved from No. 16 to No. 13 to get Thabo Sefolosha. They now have No. 26 for Sefolosha. You can usually move up a few picks without giving too much. The Suns don’t have a draft pick next year, so they might have interest in an additional low first round pick. They are said to like Florida State’s Toney Douglas, who likely would be available late in the first round. It might make sense for a team like the Suns to grab that extra pick now and just slip two spots if they also can get the guy they want at No. 16. Plus, the Pacers and No. 13 and the Suns at No. 14 prefer point guards.

Sometimes the draft, especially in the middle of the first round, is like Christmas morning. You may not know what you are going to get. But you can dream.

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