Draft Gave Us Little Drama


Published: Friday, June 29, 2012 at 12:17 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, June 29, 2012 at 12:17 a.m.

ORLANDO | It wasn't the most exciting of NBA drafts. A little too predictable.

Anthony Davis went first to New Orleans, followed by a parade of freshman and sophomores from Kentucky and North Carolina, which will be the routine for NBA Drafts until they change the rules again.

After all the rumors that filled the void between the Finals and the Draft, the word "trade" never come up Thursday night until late in the first round. The Mavericks traded Tyler Zeller, the 17th pick, to the Cavaliers for three lower picks.

That gave us three first-round winners, at least theoretically, in the Hornets, the Cavs and the Portland Trail Blazers.

The lottery-winning Hornets got Davis, the only obvious franchise building block in this draft, and Duke's Austin Rivers, the guard from Winter Park and the son of Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers. That will sell tickets and might even win some games.

Cleveland, still digging out from under the rubble of LeBron James' "Decision," drafted Syracuse guard Dion Waiters with the fourth overall pick and then acquired Zeller, a 6-foot-11 project who can run the floor.

Portland, coming off a disappointing season, came out of the draft with flashy Weber State guard Damian Lillard and Meyers Leonard, a legitimate 7-footer from Illinois.

History tells us that at least two or three of the aforementioned will be NBA busts. If you doubt that, check through the first rounds of the last eight or 10 drafts. You might be surprised at how many of those names you never heard again.

But there was a poignant moment Thursday night that brought back some fond memories.

It came just after Austin Rivers was drafted, 29 years to the day after Doc Rivers was drafted by the Atlanta Hawks. Beaming with pride, the senior Rivers hugged his son and then said how happy he was that Austin would be playing for a "great coach."

That would be Monty Williams who, as it turns out, played for Doc Rivers' overachieving "Heart & Hustle" Magic team in 1999-2000.

The Heart & Hustle Magic were a one-year phenomenon, perhaps the most fondly remembered Magic team of all, even if it didn't make the playoffs. In his first season as a coach, Rivers was named NBA Coach of the Year for squeezing a 41-41 record out of a team picked by Sports Illustrated (and others) to be the worst in the league. General manager John Gabriel, who earned NBA Executive of the Year honors for blowing up an aging roster and assembling that team, blew it up again the following summer in order to sign Tracy McGrady and Grant Hill.

The T-Mac/Hill blueprint never worked out because Hill was injured throughout most of his seven seasons in Orlando. Strapped by Hill's maximum contract, the Magic could not replace him and it eventually cost Rivers his job.

Orlando bottomed out in 2003-04 and Rivers was fired halfway through a 19-game losing streak. The Magic finished with the worst record in the NBA and won the lottery, drafting an 18-year-old kid from Atlanta named Dwight Howard. In a trade with Denver, they also acquired Jameer Nelson in the same draft.

Austin Rivers was seven years old at the time of Heart & Hustle. His dad would soon get another gig as the coach of the Boston Celtics and after a couple of rough years there, coached the Celtics to an NBA championship in 2008.

He's still trying to get another one, and now his son is in the league, playing for Monty Williams. And the Magic, with a coach yet unknown, may be ready to go for another round of Heart & Hustle.

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