The Wizards: NBA Draft Lottery, Blake Griffin, Ricky Rubio and Trade Possibilities

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Michael Lee
Washington Post Sports Writer
Tuesday, May 19, 2009; 2:00 PM

Washington Post staff writer and Wizards Insider blogger Michael Lee was online Tuesday, May 19, at 2 p.m. ET to discuss the NBA draft lottery and top prospects Blake Griffin, Ricky Rubio and the Wizards chances of landing one of them.

The transcript from his chat follows:

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Michael Lee: Hey, everybody. It's been a while since I rolled solo on one of these chats, so forgive me if I'm a little slow today. I'll try to get to all of your questions because there is so much going on today, with the NBA draft lottery (something that most Wizards fans are anxious about) and the NBA players (something the rest of the league's fans are interested in). I'm here all day folks. Fire away. Let's go ...

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New Orleans: What are the primary reasons why there is a lottery instead of the scenario where the worst team gets the first pick and so on?

Michael Lee: The primary reason is to eliminate the chances that a team just tanks or forfeits the rest of the season to ensure getting the top pick, especially in a year when there is a Tim Duncan or LeBron James about to enter the league. A lot of it is rooted in suspicions that the Houston Rockets threw games to get Hakeem Olajuwon in 1984. It's not like the NFL, where an ugly 16 games won't be so awful to watch (although I'm not a Detroit Lions fan so I wouldn't quite understand). But with 82 games, you don't want teams ruining the quality of the sport. At the same time, you don't want to completely punish teams that just aren't good enough to win.

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Richmond, Va.: Do you agree with espn.com and cnnsi that if the Wizards win the lottery, Jamison is gone?

Michael Lee: I don't. At least not right now. The Wizards, or Ernie Grunfeld in particular, has invested a lot into this group with Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison. I think he really wants to see how far they can go if they are healthy. Jamison is the only Wizard to start in the past four postseasons and he was a one-man show in 2007, back when Gilbert and Caron Butler were out against Cleveland. They signed with the intention of keeping him. The best time to move Jamison was at the trade deadline last February. I don't see the Wizards rushing to move him if they get Griffin.

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Fairfax, Va.: If the Wizards get Blake Griffin, will he immediately be a starter? If so, do you see Jamison as a sixth man or starting at the three with Caron moving to the two? I think Jamison filling the role as a veteran scorer off the bench would be the best scenario (much like Manu Ginobili or Jason Terry). Caron didn't look too comfortable in the two spot last season and it would probably be best to play him in his natural position.

Michael Lee: If the Wizards get Blake Griffin, it would be a perfect situation to bring him off the bench, because he won't have to carry the team right away. You could start Jamison and let Griffin beat up on second teamers, similar to how Miami used Michael Beasley most of this season. Griffin could learn from Jamison and the Wizards can have one of the most impressive second units in the league. You don't want to hold out Griffin for long, but this season, it would be a great way for him to learn the NBA without ever hitting the wall.

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Washington, D.C.: What does Secaucus, N.J. smell like?

Michael Lee: Like the rest of New Jersey.

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Washington, D.C.: If Blake Griffin ends up measuring out closer to 6-foot-8 instead of 6-foot-10, does Ricky Rubio at all come into play if the Wizards have the first overall pick?

Michael Lee: If the Wizards get the No. 1 pick, it's Griffin. No need to even mess around there. He's ready to contribute right now and fills one of the Wizards immediate needs -- a bruiser in the front court. The other need is backcourt help, possibly at backup point guard, but power inside is most pressing.

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Primary reasons for the lottery: ... plus, it's a lot easier for the commissioner to ensure Patrick Ewing goes to the Knicks if there's a "lottery."

Michael Lee: Right. Right. Or having Tim Duncan go to San Antonio. That one was definitely rigged.

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washingtonpost.com: Roundtable: What Do the Wizards Do If They Pick 1st? - Wizards Insider (Washington Post, May 11)

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Bullets/Wizards Fan: Mr. Lee,

What is wrong with (wait for it) drafting for the future? Aside from that guy from Cleveland, have there been many impact players that have come in right away and helped teams immediately? Don't get me wrong, I like Griffin as much as the next guy, but he still may take 2-3 years.

Having said that, what realistic veterans are available for the right price for our pick that could help us right away?

Michael Lee: That's why I think it would be great to bring along Griffin gradually. I'm not sure which big men are available in trades this summer (and no, I don't see Chris Bosh or Amare Stoudemire moving before the next trade deadline), but I don't think the Wizards should look into moving a pick unless it's No. 4 or No. 5. Using that fifth pick to Antawn Jamison in 2004 was one of Grunfeld's signature moves in Washington.

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London, UK: Is there anyone as a general NBA fan that you would personally like to see win the lottery? The Knicks or Clippers maybe?

Michael Lee: I'm actually of the opinion that I would want it to be anybody but the Knicks or the Clippers. Especially the Clippers, who should be given a lottery pass one season. They are in the lottery almost every year and they have only one playoff appearance to show for in the past 12 years. That's downright putrid. You shouldn't be rewarded every year for that kind of ineptitude -- especially when you use the No. 1 pick to draft somebody like Michael Olowokandi.

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Bethesda, Md.: Michael,

How come the Wizards are guaranteed a top-5 pick?

Michael Lee: The lottery is set up to determine the top three picks in the NBA draft. After that order is selected, the teams go in order based on record. Since the Wizards have the second-best odds of winning, they would be no worse than fifth if the Kings or Wizards don't fall in the top three. Was that confusing?

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Rudy, Md.: I can't recall a GM talking about trading their lottery pick quite as much as Ernie Grunfeld has this offseason. Many of the players, including Caron Butler and Gilbert Arenas, have talked about not wanting to get another young player going into next year and the need for a veteran.

We know the team has desperately tried to dump Etan Thomas and his hefty contract on another team unsuccessfully the past few offseasons. And it seems this will finally be the year the Wizards find a taker -- though any such trade will likely have to include our pick.

Why then, do Wizards fans and the media alike continue to pretend as if the team is going to actually keep this pick, when it's so painfully obvious that the team will move the pick along with either Etan Thomas or Mike James (or both) to another team?

Michael Lee: Who is pretending like they will keep the pick? Like you said, Grunfeld has been quite frank about trading the selection. Most league executives and scouts believe that Blake Griffin is ready to play immediately, so if the Wizards get the No. 1, they aren't going to move him. I think everybody else is in play, depending on how much interest the selection generates. If they can't get anything back but a marginal player, then they will have to keep the pick.

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Glenn Dale, Md.: If they are not able to pick Griffin or Rubio, won't the Wizards trade the pick? I know this sounds crazy, but can the Wizards trade a number one pick and someone like Haywood for Shaq, pay the luxury tax, fill the arena every night, and rise towards the top of the East?

Michael Lee: Shaq makes $20 million next season. The Wizards would have to trade half the team to match up the contracts necessary to bring him here. And trust me, a 37-year-old Shaq would not be the difference for this team. It would be entertaining, but doesn't this team already have Gilbert Arenas?

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Re.: Clippers: I absolutely love this. The Spurs had the No. 1 pick in 87 and 97, the Clips had it in 88 and 98.

Spurs: David Robinson, Tim Duncan

Clippers: Danny Manning, Michael Olowakandi

It's like watching a 20-year car wreck.

Michael Lee: The Clippers selected Olowokandi in 1998. He wasn't the sure-bet from that draft class. There was a debate over him or Bibby, but it's amazing that the best players in that draft didn't start getting picked until No. 4 (Antawn Jamison). After that, you had Vince Carter (No. 5), Dirk Nowitzki (No. 9) and Paul Pierce (No. 10). Which one would you take if you had to do it all over again?

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Bowie, Md.: I wonder with a relatively weak draft pool, will there be teams wanting to trade up to get the Wizards' pick if they are in the 3/4/5 position? Would the Wizards do a "3/4/5 pick for a dozen basketballs" trade just to be rid of the pick (and the luxury tax implications), if there weren't any good offers? What about "3/4/5 pick and Mike James for a dozen basketballs"?

Michael Lee: That's been my primary concern. Since there are few teams clamoring to move up in this draft, I wonder what the Wizards could get for a top five pick this season. I've heard that a number of teams are looking to trade out of this draft. So I'm not sure if there are going to be many good offers out there. Then again, I had no idea that Ernie Grunfeld would be able to trade Kwame Brown for Caron Butler. You just never know.

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Washington, D.C.: How fast can you sign up for a Twitter account and keep us abreast of your goings-ons at the lottery tonight?

Michael Lee: I don't do Twitter (unless I'm contractually obligated).

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New York, N.Y.: Lets get real, Michael. There's no way the Bullets get the first pick or even the second. With no clear cut difference in the guys from 3-6, how confident are you than Ernie doesn't screw this up? And if you think I'm being harsh, lets recap Ernie's picks (not his trades).

2006 -- Pecherov over Rondo, Lowry and Sergio Rodriguez

2007 -- Young over Belinelli, Rudy Fernandez, and Marc Gasol.

I give him some credit on McGee (so far), but none of the Wizards young players would be better than a ninth man on a playoff team.

Michael Lee: Yes, Ernie hasn't had the best draft record here, but where exactly were those players selected? When you get to the mid-to-late first round, it really is a roll of dice. It's hard to roll sevens and 11s from there. If the Wizards get a top two or three pick, it will be hard to blow it -- unless they trade hit for a bag of hot garbage.

And by the way, the Wizards have a 35.2 percent chance of getting one of the top two picks. Just wait for everything to shake out, my man.

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Hypocrisyville: I find it a little amusing that the Wizards vets talk about needing to trade the pick for a vet to help right now (presumably a bench player or shooting guard), but if the Wizards pick an outstanding rookie who is good enough to start, it's time to bring that guy along slowly. What am I missing here?

Michael Lee: There is nothing hypocritical about what I wrote. Why wouldn't you want to shore up your second unit while preparing for the future? That's what would happen in this case. The Wizards need more depth, especially at the forward position, so I don't see a problem with having a guy like Blake Griffin come off the bench right away. It takes time for every player to adjust to this league. Just because a guy is coming off the bench doesn't mean that he won't get major minutes. He would stay play and contribute, not sit the pine.

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Seattle: If Blake Griffin lands in Oklahoma City as is expected, won't NBA fans lose all faith in the lottery system?

Michael Lee: Is he really expected to go to Oklahoma City? Does the Thunder really need him that badly. When I look at that roster, they have a need at shooting guard and center. It would make sense for the hometown kid to stay home, but it doesn't happen very often. Cleveland desperately needed LeBron James. And Chicago needed a star like Derrick Rose. The Thunder has Kevin Durant, last time I checked, and he's going to be one of the most unstoppable offensive players in the league real soon, if he isn't there already. Oklahoma City could definitely use Griffin, but I don't think the team is holding prayer meetings to get him.

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Washington, D.C.: Mike, it is worrying, as mentioned above, that picks 3-5 aren't that attractive (there's a reason we'd want to trade them). However, from what's being reported elsewhere it seems that problem may be canceled out by teams desperate to shed salary (Michael Redd, Vince Carter, Richard Jefferson). Is that correct? Do you think those guys would make a big difference for the Wizards?

Michael Lee: I wrote last week that I thought Richard Jefferson would be a great guy to add, because he can play two positions, he defends and he always has a great relationship with the star, Gilbert Arenas. but he makes $29 million over the next two seasons. If the Wizards trade the pick, they will likely get a borderline all-star player and Jefferson fits the bill.

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Washington, D.C.: Michael:

Great job with the blog. When Eddie Jordan was fired and at various points during the rest of the season, it appears that some of the vets were ticked off at Grunfeld. Has the hiring of Flip eased those tensions, if there ever were tensions?

Michael Lee: I'm not sure about the tensions, necessarily. I think everybody was frustrated that the team was losing so much. I think the players respect Flip because he has had a track record of success, but it will be interesting to see if he gives them the same offensive freedom that Eddie Jordan did. Saunders is creative offensively, but he also likes to call plays from time to time, so that could frustrate the three all-stars who like to freestyle every now and then. But if Flip can get them wins, I think everything will be okay.

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washingtonpost.com: Roundtable: What Do the Wizards Do If They Pick 3rd? - Wizards Insider (Washington Post, May 13)

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Barno, Md: Today you wrote about Grunfeld's eight seasons in New York, four seasons in Milwaukee, and six seasons in D.C., and how he had only been to the lottery twice before this year. Then you included a quote from him: "Twenty Years. Two Trips."

How does 8 + 4 + 6 = 20? Who miscounted?

Michael Lee: Ernie had a few years in the Knicks front office under a different role before becoming the GM. I think he was including everything. Sorry for the confusion.

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washingtonpost.com: Wizards Look to Hit the NBA Draft Lottery (Washington Post, May 19)

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Washington, D.C.: Let's talk Thabeet. Will he ever develop an offensive game? Won't he get pushed around the paint? Is his upside greater than McGee's? Will he dominate defensively like he did in college? Is he more Yinka Dare or Dikembe Mutombo?

Michael Lee: If I knew the answers to those questions, I doubt that I'd be a sportswriter doing a chat right now. I think Thabeet has some upside because he started playing basketball late in life and is still learning. He's raw, but he's 7-3, so I think he can block shots at the next level. Seeing Pittsburgh's DeJuan Blair muscle him around makes me a little worried, but he can always hit the guy. That being said, I still like McGee's upside more.

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Houston: Michael, outside of Griffin and Rubio, who would be the best choice for the Wizards to take that could help right now coming off the bench?

Please, please let us get that number one though ...

Michael Lee: I guess it would be James Harden or Jordan Hill. Harden is a shooting guard who can score. Hill is a raw big man who likes to hustle. If they can't trade the pick, those guys aren't terrible options.

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Fairfax, Va.: There is talk of this draft class being one of the weakest in recent years. In your opinion, which is the best draft class in the last 20 years? Has to be either '96 (Iverson, Kobe, Ray Allen, Nash, etc.) or '03 (Lebron, D-Wade, Carmelo, Bosh, etc.), right?

Michael Lee: That's right. It's one of those two. The 1996 class has produced champions in Kobe Bryant and Ray Allen. But the 2003 class is already looking like it could go down as the best ever, especially if LeBron or Wade can get on a championship roll. And, if Carmelo keeps it up. . .

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Boston: The NFL must have the highest risk out of all the major pro sports in its top five or lottery level draft choices because of the dollars slotted for those picks. How much risk (both monetary and opportunity cost) is there in the NBA draft lottery picks. What gives you confidence that the Wizards will navigate those risks well?

Michael Lee: The financial risk isn't the same as the NFL because of the salary scale, but if you make a mistake in the NBA, it could damage the team for years. Can you imagine what position Milwaukee may have been in if it had never traded Dirk Nowitzki to Dallas for Tractor Taylor? A German in Milwaukee, c'mon! Look at how fortunate Phoenix was to get Amare Stoudemire at No. 9. I already mentioned the Clippers blunder with Olowokandi, and everyone here is familiar with Kwame Brown, but I don't know how the Wizards will fare. I think it will be interesting to see what happens. Getting Antawn Jamison for Devin Harris was a great deal to turn the Wizards into a playoff team. This next move could help the Wizards move beyond just being a "happy-to-be-here" playoff team. I can't predict what will happen, but I'll keep you informed.

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Burke, Va.: If Haywood gets hurt or is traded/leaves us next year for big bucks don't you think it would be beneficial to have a solid shot blocker like Hasheem Thabeet on our team?

Michael Lee: You are putting in a lot of ifs that are not definites. If you already know that Haywood is going to get hurt or you have no plans of keeping him, then you probably should take Thabeet. But I don't the Wizards expect either of those things to happen.

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Minneapolis, Minn.: What's the league-wide perception of the Timberwolves' inability to hire a new GM? Seems like it shouldn't be quite this hard to find somebody to run the team ...

Michael Lee: Really? After what happened with the last guy who ran the team, I think the Timberwolves are being smart to take their time to make sure they don't screw it up again. Kevin McHale got it right with drafting Garnett, and trading for Sprewell and Cassell, but he got it wrong with just about every other move. I say take your time, Minnesota.

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New York, N.Y.: If the Wizards land Griffin, where do they end up in the East next season? What about if they get Rubio?

Michael Lee: With Griffin, the Wizards jump right into the mix as one of the elite teams in the East, especially if Ernie Grunfeld can move Blatche or someone else to get some backcourt depth. Griffin makes the Wizards a legit team. I know that I've said they can bring him along slowly, but I also have no problem with him eventually starting with Jamison, Haywood, Butler and Arenas at some point.

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Baltimore: Is Ricky Rubio the consensus number two pick no matter what? I'm watching youtube videos of the guy and honestly I don't know how people could be so sure about him only because of the level of competition he's used to playing against.

washingtonpost.com: YouTube - Ricky Rubio

Michael Lee: I think he is considered a top two pick primarily because he is so young (18) and already pretty good. I know some executives are concerned that he is nothing more than a Youtube sensation. And, he very well could be. But I think he's worth the risk because the basic tools (confidence, toughness and basketball IQ) are there. You can build on the rest.

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San Jose, Calif: Posting a bit early, thank you for answering. I have never really understood why there is secrecy involving the draft lottery. Why can't the NBA conduct a live drawing of the ping pong balls, similar to state lotteries? They tell us some law firm was a witness behind the scenes. So what? I want to see the drawing live on TV. The NBA is really missing out on a great PR opportunity, plus it would quiet all the conspiracy that comes out every year.

Michael Lee: You are right, San Jose. The league talked about transparency with the officials after Donaghy, put showing the drawing the same way state lotteries are held would be pretty cool. I mean, what's a bigger deal? A powerball winner with a $150 million ticket? Or an NBA team with a possible No. 1 pick? In the end, it might turn out to be worth the same. I have to agree with you here.

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Washington, D.C.: Yes, moving the number five pick for Jamison turned out great. But, it could go the other way as well. If Loul Deng was not injury prone, I would have rather picked him and played him in Jamison's spot and had a younger player.

Anyway, a player to match up with LeBron is the main need, not a post player. Is there anyone anywhere that can help, knowing there is no one who can completely stop LeBron?

Michael Lee: If that happened, the Wizards wouldn't have been able to make four consecutive trips to the playoffs. You cannot discount Jamison's contributions to this organization the past five seasons. Deng or Andre Igoudala would not have been able to do that here. Not right away.

As for stopping LeBron, if that guy is out there, I haven't seen him. Don't know if I ever will.

I mean, at the start of this decade, the concern was how to stop Shaquille O'Neal. Tim Duncan snuck in there in 2003, but did Detroit knock off the Los Angeles Lakers in 2004 because Ben Wallace could shut down O'Neal? No. They threw everything at Kobe and played to their strengths on offense -- sharing the ball and letting Chauncey Billups, Rasheed Wallace and Richard Hamilton go off. You have to beat a superior star with a superior team. The more talent (that gets along), the better.

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Michael Lee: Wow. That was great. There were so many questions, I couldn't get to all of them. But I have to get going now. The lottery is a few hours away. Keep your fingers crossed, Wizards fans.

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Michael Lee: Oh, I almost forgot. Peace.

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