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Chicago JK
06-19-2003, 09:17 AM
HILL: NBA's battle for talent
BY RANDY HILL
FOXSports.com
Jun. 17, 2003 8:09 p.m.

Shaquille O'Neal's A Taste of America has been preempted this summer so the Lakers won't have to wheel him into training camp through the service entrance.
Despite the loss of this traditional event, we're still stuck in the most wonderful time of the basketball year.

The last time I checked, only eight days separate us from the 2003 NBA Draft.

Commissioner David Stern is busy super-setting his neck exercises. The green room fashion police department is preparing to handle the anticipated avalanche of frivolous suits.

Basketball fans are wondering if their favorite team has enough cap room to buy a few vowels during the expected European siege.

But I'm taking this event seriously.

So, instead of ghostwriting Eight Simple Ways to Attack a Zone Defense for Byron Scott, my focus again turns toward the NBA's battle for talent.

If you think choosing the appropriate prospect is easy, go blow your nose.

Then think again.

As an example of the attendant difficulty in making prudent draft selections, let's introduce Jerry West, the Memphis Grizzlies' president of basketball operations.

According to most basketball watchdogs, Jerry's work as the personnel king with the L.A. Lakers qualifies him for the rank of top eye in the league.

And I won't dispute that.

But I will point out that Jerry's impressive history has a few questionable calls mixed in.

During the Y2K roundup, West selected Mark Madsen when Marko Jaric and Michael Redd were on the board.

Back in 1999, he grabbed Devean George one spot before the Utah Jazz selected Andrei Kirilenko. That year's second-round Laker choice was John Celestand, who was plucked 27 spots ahead of Manu Ginobili.

One year earlier, West went for Sam Jacobson (26) and Ruben Patterson (31), with Rashard Lewis and Cuttino Mobley still available.

My point? Aside from offering some sympathy for current Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak, please realize that this NBA gig is no hay ride.

If you want more proof, consider the public-relations predicament of Chris Wallace, who's been accused of inspiring employment interest from the Portland Trail Blazers.

Chris and the Boston Celtics had three first-round picks in 2001, scoring Joe Johnson (10), Kedrick Brown (11) and Joe Forte (21).

Still unclaimed at 10 was Richard Jefferson, with Troy Murphy hanging around at 11 and Tony Parker still waiting at 21.

For Wallace's sake, let's imagine that much of the credit for this draft-night tragedy should go to Rick Pitino, even though Pitino was already gone.

Anyway, Parker wasn't selected until the San Antonio Spurs came in at 28. And even though Tony still continues to disappear as swiftly as one of my wives, landing him with the first round's last pick underscores the importance of making wise decisions.

Among NBA tasks, only keeping track of Larry Brown's power forwarding address is more challenging than choosing the right player.

The mind-numbing quest for talent has even been felt at NBA Entertainment, where someone must be held accountable for a Finals halftime lineup that included what we hope is a Lisa Marie Presley impersonator, the Mariah Carey incarnation of Jewel and K.C. with his Sundown Band.

But I also have some swell news:

According to prevailing wisdom, next week's first three picks are a cinch.

LeBron James, whose popularity has propelled a silly and pathetic "root for-LeBron-to-fail" campaign among middle-aged white guys, is locked in with Cleveland.

The Detroit Pistons aren't hiding their glee over drafting a 7-foot, 17-year-old Serb named Darko Milicic, who arrives from Europe with an uncustomary nasty streak.

Darko allegedly defies the Euro tradition by enjoying his work shifts on the low post. Based on the performances of his predecessors, I've decided that most European players don't even like playing with their backs to the basket on defense.

After underachieving in the lottery, Denver's Nuggets check in with the third pick and are expected to grab Syracuse hero Carmelo Anthony.

A rumored trade with the Chicago Bulls could alter this sequence, although any kid referred to as "'Melo" would seem more comfortable playing in L.A.

After we move past the Big Three, draft prognostication becomes a bit dicey.

Georgia Tech freshman Chris Bosh is a prospect assigned the doomsday label of "upside."

Central Michigan's Chris Kaman is credited with being the best American center in this draft, an honor that doesn't quite surpass the glory of summer school valedictorian.

Kaman's agent reportedly asked interested franchises if Chris could bring his own workout competition, but most GMs decided that posting up Pauly Shore may not provide a true indication of anyone's skill.

Texas point guard T.J. Ford is an excellent floor general and passer, but skeptics believe the warranty already expired on his jumper.

So, what's a GM to do when confronted by such question marks?

Well, in recent years, NBA teams have taken a pre-draft cue from their NFL buddies.

For the record, their NFL buddies often have four years of college tape to study.

But NBA talent assessment usually doesn't have that luxury.

Projecting dozens of prospects with similar skills has forced basketball judges to take the sidebar approach.

In addition to dropping jumpers and demonstrating low-post technique, a potential draft pick often is required to sit for a lengthy personality profile exam.

While most of the results are difficult to gauge, many teams will avoid drafting a player who reads "If you could be a tree, what kind of tree would you be?" and writes "Rollins."

Many draft candidates also are asked to demonstrate flexibility when confronted by the options of steak or chicken.

When the tested category is balance, a player can't go wrong telling the GM that he listens to rap and R&B.

For the record, if your favorite player seems to have slipped down the mock lists, don't worry.

He could rise faster than a gallon of California unleaded.

Before appearing at a semi-private workout in Chicago, 7-foot-4, 300-plus-pound Russian teenager Pavel Podkolzine was considered a fringe lottery suspect.

Now, he's a candidate for the top five.

According to a few Chicago witnesses, Pavel may become the most important Russian name in the United States since Stolichnaya.

And if basketball doesn't work out, there's a good chance Sylvester Stallone will want to fight him.