View Full Version : Nuggets Draft Dilemma

05-14-2003, 03:33 PM
Nuggets Draft Dilemma
NBA draft will test teams' patience, fortitude
May 13, 2003

You think the Denver Nuggets' nightmare scenario is losing out in the lottery again and winding up with the fourth pick in the draft. Actually, there's another one:

The Nuggets win the second pick in the lottery. The player staring them in the face is 7-foot Darko Milicic of Serbia-Montenegro.

"It definitely raises an interesting question for you guys," said Mike D'Antoni, laughing. Evidently, he believes I have some connection to the organization. I did not want to interrupt.

"How can you draft him? I'm asking you. Can the fans stomach saying, 'Well, we've got another 17-year-old guy coming over; he's going to take two or three years?' "

In fact, D'Antoni is among a growing number of NBA people who believe the more interesting question is whether LeBron James, the presumptive No. 1 pick, will be better than Milicic five years from now.

"A lot of people are saying James is good, there's no doubt about it, and they love him, but the Yugoslavian kid, at 7 feet, with all the things he's supposed to be able to do, in three or four years will be the better pick," D'Antoni said.

Nevertheless, James will be the No. 1 pick for two reasons. The hype alone will fill the building, and . . .

"If he doesn't turn out, you survive," D'Antoni said. "If the other guy doesn't turn out, you get fired."

I know, I know, you've heard all this before. D'Antoni is the former Italian league coach who recommended Nikoloz Tskitishvili, whom the Nuggets took with the fifth pick last year.

I urged them to do it. Don't play it safe, I said. Go for greatness.

Now 20, Tskitishvili averaged 3.9 points and 2.2 rebounds as a rookie. People are all over him. He's a bust.

To be perfectly blunt, this might be dementia, because this is what D'Antoni said right here a year ago, making the case for him:

"Whoever gets him, if they have patience and they wait two or three years, they're going to be very, very happy they took him."

A year later, now an assistant coach with the Phoenix Suns, D'Antoni says this of Skita: "When you haven't played at any level, it's kind of normal that you struggle. I think he's going to struggle a couple more years."

The question is, do the Nuggets and their public, such as it is, have the patience to see a project through?

The early returns are not that encouraging. The team is thrilled with its other rookie, Nene Hilario, who averaged 10.5 points and 6.1 rebounds for a 17-win team. General manager Kiki Vandeweghe compares him with "a young Karl Malone." I'm choosing to take this as a joke, a sign that Vandeweghe has an undiscovered sense of humor. Hilario is a banger who could play a long time. But the fact that he had a much better rookie season than Tskitishvili tells you nothing about how good they'll be in five years. Before he blew out his knee, Raef LaFrentz was having a better rookie season than Dirk Nowitzki.

In fact, Nowitzki was no factor as a rookie for Dallas. When John Lucas was D'Antoni's lead assistant with the Nuggets, he used to call him "No-Whiskey," as in, "Hey, Mike, I thought you said that 'No-Whiskey' could play."

Five years later, he is considered the best player in the 1998 draft, after being taken ninth.

This year, it's more complicated. Instead of one unknown, the top of the draft is mostly unknowns. James, Milicic and Carmelo Anthony are all teenagers.

The NBA draft is rapidly becoming the major league baseball amateur draft. You take a high school pitcher, you wait five years and hope he turns out. Chances are pretty good he won't.

One big difference in the NBA: There's no place to put these kids while they grow up. There's no farm system. The National Basketball Developmental League was created for this purpose, but it's turned into something else.

The league office recruited well-known former players to coach the NBDL teams. This got a little splash in the towns where the teams were located, but it did not provide the intensive coaching and teaching NBA teams are looking for.

Nor has the league negotiated a deal with the players association that would allow teams to assign players to developmental squads.

Which brings us back to the Nuggets. If they think Milicic will be the best player five years from now, do they dare take him? Even with the second pick, do they dare?

Do they dare field a team next year with two languishing lottery picks who are years away?

More to the point, if Nene Hilario reminds them of Karl Malone - if that wasn't a joke - do they have a prayer of judging correctly who will be the best player five years from now?

Tell you what, the third pick isn't looking so bad.

(Contact Dave Krieger of the Rocky Mountain News at http://www.rockymountainnews.com.)

05-14-2003, 03:52 PM
OK, I've marked his name down. Dave Krieger. In three years, I'll have to pull out that "bust" comment about Tskitishvili and shove it down his ignorant throat. Skita has looked pretty raw in his rookie year, but damn promising. You do not label 18 year old athletic mobile seven footers a bust after one year. That's just asking to get your ass burned.

05-14-2003, 06:48 PM
No, no, perhaps he's right. Skita is clearly not going to make it in the NBA.

But it's time for Cuban and Nellie to return Kiki's favor and help get him off the hook--Kiki has been taking heat in Denver ever since he let Raef "I OWN Scott Pollard" LaFrentz get away.

Perhaps a Skita for Raef refund trade could be worked out, and if necessary Hilario could be thrown in to make the dollars work.

After all, it's the least Nellie and Cubes could do for their old homeboy Kiki.

05-14-2003, 08:23 PM
I watched numerous Nuggets game this year. Skita was indeed raw, but showed incredible flashes. Just when I would start to figure him a bust he would break off the most unbelievable game. He's ripe to break out.

Blonde Bomber
05-16-2003, 01:34 PM
Denver needs to play it safe and draft either Carmello Anthony or Ford out of Texas.

That is if James is gone.

They have enough of the Overseas projects allready.