As "must see" events on the sporting calendar go, the annual NBA Draft is highly underrated. If you ask the average sports fan his or her five most watchable sports nights of the year you'll probably get canned answers like the Super Bowl, a Game 7 in the MLB or NBA playoffs, and any interview involving Ron Artest -- all valid answers.
But with the suits, the interviews with foreign players trying to wade through kindergarten level English, and of course actual basketball highlights, I contend that the NBA Draft has something for everyone.
Tonight's draft has actual intrigue for Rockets fans as well with the Rockets poised to make an actual lottery-level selection for the first time since 2002 when they selected Yao Ming -- unfortunately they forgot to draft a functional pair of feet to go with him, but that's another story. (And I'm not counting 2006 when the Rockets swapped the rights for Rudy Gay to Memphis for Shane Battier.
The lottery comes with many a cautionary tale, so while I'm not one of the three or four NBA "insiders" who can tell you with any level of certainty what the Rockets or the thirteen teams in front of them (or at least in front of them for now -- rumors abound of the Rockets trying to move up) will do tonight, I can leg-work some history for you.
So I'll use the 1995 Draft as the cut-off point and go back slot--by-slot and put together the Ultimate Donkey Lottery of the last fifteen years. (1995 is the cutoff for a couple reasons -- first, that was the first draft class playing under a rookie wage scale so the fiscal mentality over that period most mirrors today; second, 1995 was the last time the Rockets won a title, so for Houston fans the post-title era unfortunately is the de facto "modern era.")
Here we go....
1. KWAME BROWN, 2001 Washington Wizards -- The first lottery selection of then-Wizards president Michael Jordan, Brown became the poster child for (a) the risk involved with selecting immature big men whose highest level of competition was against guys six inches shorter than he and (b) NBA legendary players being D-League level talent evaluators (yes you, Michael). He lasted four seasons in Washington, and is probably best known for bowing out of a practice because of a stomach ailment and yet being seen that same night at a Chinese buffet. Nice.
HONORABLE DONKEY MENTION: Michael Olowokandi (Clippers 1998), Joe Smith (Warriors 1995)
2. DARKO MILICIC, 2003 Detroit Pistons -- This one is a lock for this slot for two reasons -- (1) the Pistons were on the verge of becoming a championship team and could have ensured their future into the next decade with Carmelo Anthony or Dwyane Wade (or, hell, Chris Kaman!); (2) Darko's body of work consisted largely of Zapruder-style film of him dribbling around chairs and shooting open jumpers in an empty gym (as opposed to Anthony and Wade whose film consisted of footage of each of them playing in the Final Four).
HONORABLE DONKEY MENTION: Jason Williams (Bulls 2002), Stromile Swift (Grizzlies 2000)
3. ADAM MORRISON, 2006 Charlotte Bobcats -- By 2006, Jordan was poisoning the future of his next NBA franchise back in his home state of North Carolina. A Jordan favorite, Morrison is best known for crying uncontrollably while his final college game was still going, and battling J.J. Redick for Player of the Year honors in 2006, which sounds so very ridiculous now. Sadly, Morrison has two rings for sitting in street clothes next to the Lakers the last two seasons.
HONORABLE DONKEY MENTION: Mike Dunleavy (Pacers 2002), Darius Miles (Clippers 2000), Raef LaFrentz (Nuggets 1998)
4. EDDY CURRY, 2001 Chicago Bulls -- Marcus Fizer was probably a bigger bust of a Bulls draft pick, but Curry almost has to be thrown in here -- where else do you get a weight problem, cardiac issues (not like metaphoric "heart" problems, like an actual heart ailment), sexual harassment allegations, and loans procured with 85 percent APR's? Where? Curry, that's where.
HONORABLE DONKEY MENTION: Mike Conley (Grizzlies 2007), Fizer (Bulls 2000)
5. SHELDON WILLIAMS, 2006 Atlanta Hawks -- Nikolas Tskitishv-whatever-the-fuck from Denver is probably a more deserving selection (but not by much), but the Nuggets didn't have a "Darko" to go off of when it came to drafting Euro guys with virtually no meaningful film. Williams needs to be in here (a) to represent the ridiculous string of overrated Duke players in the last decade and (b) because he is best known for impregnating Candace Parker, who at this point would have been a more sensible draft choice than Williams.
HONORABLE DONKEY MENTION: Nikolas Tskitish-blah-be-dee-blah (Nuggets 2002), Jonathan Bender (Raptors 1999)
6. ROBERT "TRACTOR" TRAYLOR, 1998 Milwaukee Bucks (via trade from Mavs) -- It's not so much that Tractor Traylor sucked...I mean, he did suck. But it's more about the fact that he was traded for Dirk Nowitizki, a move that made the Mavericks relevant for the next 12 years and made the Bucks...well, the Bucks. Moral of the story: If a dude is named after a big, slow, methodical vehicle, he is probably big, slow, and methodical.
HONORABLE DONKEY MENTION: Josh Childress (Hawks 2004), DaJuan Wagner (Cavaliers 2002), DerMarr Johnson (Hawks 2000), Bryant Reeves (Grizzlies 1995)
7. CHRIS MIHM, 2000 Cleveland Cavaliers (via trade from Bulls) -- I'll be honest, Eddie Griffin probably deserves this spot, Rocket fans probably want to put him here, but...well, thoughts and prayers. Fortunately, Chris Mihm is still walking the earth so we can be completely disrespectful of him and the pile of suck that is his career (which because he's seven feet tall, is sadly still going). Oh and he has a ring, too...for sitting next to Morrison on the Lakers bench in 2009.
HONORABLE DONKEY MENTION: Griffin, Lorenzen Wright (Clippers 1996)
8. RAFAEL ARAUJO, Toronto Raptors 2004 -- Araujo was best known in college for (a) failing a steroid test in 2002 and (b) being a hothead, getting multiple reprimands from the Mountain West Conference during his time at BYU. Naturally, the Raptors decided they were sold. After his rookie contract was up the Raptors parted ways with Araujo and he was last seen bumping around overseas.
HONORABLE DONKEY MENTION: Brandan Wright (Warriors 2007), Adonal Foyle (Warriors 1997)
9. PATRICK O'BRYANT, Golden State Warriors 2006 -- Nobody knew who the hell O'Bryant was until he led Bradley to an upset of Kansas in the NCAA tournament. That was enough for the Warriors who made O'Bryant the ninth pick in the 2006 draft. They chased it the next year with Brandan Wright. This is how you become a perennial lottery team.
HONORABLE DONKEY MENTION: Rodney White (Pistons 2001), Ed O' Bannon (Nets 1995)...got to admit, it's really hard not to pick O'Bannon...hmmmm....
10. LUKE JACKSON, Cleveland Cavaliers 2004 -- The 10th pick has been surprisingly devoid of complete and utter failure, but Jackson thankfully is pretty terrible. Symbolically, he's an outstanding choice here because he was the first first-round pick of the LeBron Era in Cleveland, a fitting metaphor for the crap that the Cleveland front office surrounded LeBron with during his time in Cleveland. (And if it sounds like I'm referring to his time in Cleveland like it's over, well....)
11. TRAJAN LANGDON, Cleveland Cavaliers 1999 -- Yeah, when in doubt, I'm going with Duke guys. You figured me out.
12. CHEROKEE PARKS, Dallas Mavericks 1995 -- Uh huh....what are you gonna do about it, Coach K?
13. SEAN MAY, Charlotte Bobcats 2005 -- Fine, fine, fine....here's a token Tar Heel for you.
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And at the risk of being perceived as one of those "all negative," new-century blogger types, here is the NBA Ultimate Lottery (as in actual good players) of the post-Rockets Title Era (1995-2009):
1. TIM DUNCAN, San Antonio 1997
2. KEVIN DURANT, Seattle 2007
3. CARMELO ANTHONY, Denver 2003
4. CHRIS PAUL, New Orleans 2005
5. DWYANE WADE, Miami 2003
6. BRANDON ROY, Portland 2006
7. RICHARD HAMILTON, Washington 1999
8. ANDRE MILLER, Cleveland 1999
9. DIRK NOWITZKI, Dallas 1998 (via trade with Milwaukee)
10. PAUL PIERCE, Boston 1998
11. MICHAEL PIETRUS, Golden State 2003
12. NICK COLLISON, Seattle 2003
13. KOBE BRYANT, Charlotte 1996
Sorry, LeBron. Win something and then we'll talk.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game from 3-7 p.m. weekdays on the "Sean & John Show" and follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.