Wizards Interview Several Players in Lead Up to NBA Draft

Despite questions about his athleticism, Arizona State guard James Harden is still one of the many players the Wizards are considering with the fifth pick.
Despite questions about his athleticism, Arizona State guard James Harden is still one of the many players the Wizards are considering with the fifth pick. (By Rick Scuteri -- Associated Press)
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By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 29, 2009

CHICAGO, May 28 -- Arizona State sophomore James Harden admitted on Wednesday that he sometimes checks the Internet to see where various mock drafts have him slotted, and he is often annoyed by criticism that he lacks the athleticism to be a successful shooting guard in the NBA.

Southern California swingman DeMar DeRozan said he doesn't pay attention to draft speculation, but people have told him that some analysts compare him to NBA star Vince Carter.

DeRozan's beef?

"I think I can jump higher than Vince Carter did," DeRozan told reporters at a Chicago hotel.

After running drills trying to impress scouts at the league's draft combine with their athletic gifts and basketball intelligence, the top prospects for June's draft then went about making their cases to the media. Some carried duffel bags and cellphones, while others -- like Harden and DeRozan -- carried big dreams and a gift for hyperbole.

With the Washington Wizards holding the No. 5 pick, they are out of contention to grab Oklahoma forward Blake Griffin, the favorite to go No. 1, and would have to trade up for the rights to acquire a talent like Spanish point guard Ricky Rubio, who is rumored to have no interest in playing in Memphis or Oklahoma City, the teams that pick second and third, respectively.

So that leaves the Wizards in a position to trade the pick for veteran help or select the best player who falls to them, in a draft that most NBA executives consider to be weaker than in recent seasons.

That could be either Arizona forward Jordan Hill or an overstock of back-court players, including Harden, DeRozan, Memphis guard Tyreke Evans, Davidson guard Stephen Curry, Syracuse point guard Jonny Flynn and Brandon Jennings, the guard who bypassed college basketball to play professionally for one season in Italy. Of that group, all but Jennings were in Chicago yesterday, and the Wizards have already begun the process of setting up workouts. Evans, Harden, DeRozan and Curry are all expected to work out for the Wizards next week.

Evans, the 6-foot-6 guard who bolted from Memphis after one season, provides an attractive blend of speed, aggression and tenacity, even if he would not commit to one position -- shooting guard or point guard.

"I'm a combo guard," said Evans, who was excited about possibly teaming with Gilbert Arenas in Washington. "I think I'd fit perfectly. If they get healthy, they'll be back as one of the top teams in the NBA. I wouldn't mind playing behind Gilbert, watching, learning from him. I'm not the type of player that's going to go in there and complain about playing time. If I have to wait my turn, I'll wait my turn."

Curry, who will always be remembered for knocking off Georgetown two seasons ago, sees himself possibly sharing the back court with Arenas in Washington. "I see myself as a true point who can score. I've evolved my game the last year to do that," the 6-3 Curry said. "If they can move him to the two again. Me and him being a one-two combo would be fun."

Harden met with Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld, Vice President of Basketball Administration Tommy Sheppard, Vice President of Player Personnel Milt Newton and Coach Flip Saunders on Wednesday night. He was grilled on how he would fit on the team, his goals and how he would handle different basketball situations.

Some mock drafts have Harden landing between Nos. 3 and 6, so he has studied the situation with the Wizards and Arenas closely. "They are a great team because he's a great player. Once he's healthy and he's back, that team has no limits," Harden said of his fellow Los Angeles native. "He can score the ball, Caron Butler can score the ball, Antawn Jamison. I feel that if I go in there, and not only just score the ball, but facilitate and try to help those guys get shots, it will help out the team a lot."

He disputed claims that he lacks athleticism. "I can jump. I probably didn't show it as much as they wanted to this season, but I think I can get up there with those guys," said the left-handed Harden, who compared his game to a combination of Manu GinĂ³bili and Paul Pierce. "I'm here now, so why not try to be the best player that ever played the game, or be in the Hall of Fame."

DeRozan, a 6-7 swingman who played one season at USC, also met with the Wizards' brass on Wednesday and said he always follows the team because of his friendship with fellow USC alum Nick Young and because Arenas is one of his favorite players. He added that a few weeks ago, Young told him, "We might be teammates."

Asked to compare his game to someone currently in the NBA, DeRozan said: "I don't compare myself to nobody. I just want to be that player who works hard to where I have my own name at the end of the day. Now I get the chance to step in and show my athleticism and see if people still compare me to Vince Carter or not."

But more hops than Carter? Now or 10 years ago?

"Vince now," DeRozan said with a laugh as he backtracked some. "Yeah, you caught that. Vince now."

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