|The seventh pick belongs to the New Jersey Nets. Their net GM is:
Outlook/prognosis: We'll give John Calipari a year one grade of A as GM and C-plus as court coach. The Nets' hopes for a revitalized oncourt record lasted about as long as it took for Shawn Bradley to misss a wide-open layup in the season opener--about 90 seconds--and Calipari's act seemed to be wearing thin on several players in mid-February, when Calipari pulled the trigger on the big deal with Dallas which got rid of the most vocal malcontents as well as black hole Bradley. The Nets actually played some entertaining basketball after the trade, including a win over the Bulls and 2 wins over the Knicks, and now can actually boast of quality, NBA-caliber depth at every position on the roster. Proceeding on the assumption that the Nets ought to re-sign free agent Cassell, then find a way to ship Jim Jackson out, hopefully for a quality inside scorer, here is how the depth chart looks for '97-98, even prior to the draft: PG: Cassell, Edwards SG: Gill, Kittles SF: Benoit (missed '97 with injury), Kittles PF: Williams, Gatling C: Gatling, Montross Kleine, Massenburg, McDaniel, Haley, and Dare, from the '97 roster, do not figure in my vision for the Nets, although perhaps Massenburg might be kept around. Of the above 8 "nucleus" players, Edwards, Benoit, and Montross are clearly expendable, in that order. This is an eight-man nucleus capable of winning 35-40 games if healthy; the tough decisions now , as I see it, are how to use JacksonŐs slot and the draft picks to upgrade from decent-quality to star-quality players, especially in the frontcourt; convincing all-star Gatling that he can make a happy home in the Meadowlands; improving defensively overall; and bringing in players with a winning background. It should be taken for granted that the Nets are still a year away from becoming a solid winner, and will be gearing up for a big free agent signing push in 98 with the salary cap flexibility produced by the Dallas trade, so there should not be a sense of impatience in regard to bringing in young players who will need development. That said, my approach to the draft is to look for 1)star quality player at the 3 spot and 2)defensive presence inside; again based on the assumption that Jackson can be packaged with the likes of Massenburg, Montross, Kleine, or, even the #21 pick, to bring in another decent scorer inside and change. (This GM was willing to pull the trigger, for instance, on a Jackson for Gary Trent-plus the Blazers' first round pick.) A fourth priority would be a passing-oriented point guard to complement Cassell and provide superior footspeed to Edwards off the bench--an option which can't be ignored in light of the large number of good point guards available in this otherwise weak draft. Obviously, if Cassell goes elsewhere, keeping Jackson may be necessary, with Gill taking the point, at least until a quality PG can be acquired. I think Cassell is much too valuable a player to let slide away, however, and would make resigning him the first priority. For what it's worth, I can't see the rumored Shawn Kemp for Jackson, Williams, etc. trade happening...doesn't make sense for the Sonics salary wise. Player-by-player breakdown of "Nucleus players" Cassell: A winner and clutch player. Not a defensive anchor. Good playmaker but likes to hunt his own shot too. Gill: Coming off best pro season yet, offensively. Average defender. Kittles: The Man. Great streak shooter, nice long arms help make him a fine defender, good ballhandler. Not strong enough going to the hoop. As close to untouchable as anyone playing for the Nets can be. Should get 15-20 shots a game next year. Edwards: Basically still hanging on, shot has totally deteriorated, hampered by injuries in '97. But still a legit NBA player. Benoit: Good role player in Utah, New Jersey was to provide test of whether Benoit could lift game to another level. We're still waiting to find out. Decent 3 point shooter. Gatling: Great inside scorer, offensive rebounder, runs court. Defense not strong suit. Williams: Chance to lead NBA in rebounding with a healthy '98. Terrible shooting percentages in '97. Too bad he can't be combined with Gatling into one body. Montross: Teammates in Dallas, some of whom came with him to New Jersey, got in habit of not throwing #00 the ball or looking inside until Gatling entered game. Numbers improved after trade, though still very poor for season as whole. Will never get the ball on this team until he develops a jumper, but can provide active presence on boards and defensively most nights. Players seriously considered at #7: Tim Thomas (1st choice if available) Tracy McGrady Adonal Foyle Kelvin Cato My pick: McGrady, 6'8 SF, Mount Zion: Meets two needs at once: shores up the weak small forward position, and provides star potential on a team of average-good players. Conceivably could be teamed with Jim Jackson trade to land a huge player (i.e. Kemp), but this a pick made with the intention of seeing McGrady in a Net uniform, playing 20 minutes a game as a rookie and possibly rounding into a star by the 2nd or 3rd year a la Garnett. If the highest-end projections of McGrady's potential pan out, the Nets could in time find themselves with a Pippen-caliber small forward. Picking McGrady will mean the bonehead factor on the rest of the team needs to be minimized as the Nets make their pickups for slots 10-12 on next year's roster. To be sure, in most years this would be considered a risky pick--McGrady is universally lauded, but has not proven he can do his thing against top-notch talent. But this is a very weak draft; the main alternative to this pick in my view was going for inside defense with Cato and Foyle. However, that move would mean eventually having to dump Montross and probably get little in return. I'd prefer to give Montross a chance for one more year before moving to upgrade, unless a clear star is available. However, I will continue to look at centers (and point guards)--and even small forwards--for the #18 pick. To put things in larger perspective, clearly the Nets will have to get lucky at some point to get anywhere near the top of the Atlantic Division. McGrady is a calculated gamble with a potential payoff too large for a mediocre franchise like the Nets to ignore.
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