The Confusion of the NBA Draft

A few notes I have after the detritus has finally settled over last night’s draft:

1. Kevin McHale lets Minnesota fans down once again.  Draffs a potential superstar in O.J. Mayo and then deals him to Memphis for Mike Miller and Kevin Love, the latter will be very good, but I’m not sure that will be enough to keep fans from continuing to turn on the team. I expect another year of RandBall calling them “the McLovins.”

2. Did Pat Riley get outvoted on Beasley?  Every time I hear him talk about the pick, it sounds like he really, really didn’t want him.

3. Portland’s front office is smarter than yours. Brandon Rush wouldn’t have been a bad fit, but to turn him into Jerryd Bayless is a frickin’ steal. Bayless, Roy, Oden, Outlaw, and Aldridge. NICE.

4. New York Knicks fans will boo anybody. Why they weren’t expecting Coach Pornstache to draft Danilo “The Big Cock” Gallinari, I don’t know.

5. Joe Alexander makes me want to watch Bucks games. So does Richard Jefferson. Good job, Milwaukee.

6. Kevin McHale should be glad he doesn’t suck as much as Michael Jordan in a front office role.  D.J. Augustin is going to get burned on the defensive end in the Association early and often.  Brook Lopez will eventually thank Charlotte for passing on him so he can have a career.

7. Brook Lopez, trading away Jefferson and getting Bobby Simmons’ expiring 2010 contract is as blatant a play for LeBron James to come to NJ/Brooklyn in 2010 as anything else I’ve seen yet. Danny Ferry, you have two years to deliver.

Anything y’all liked, hated, or want to note?

Photo: AP/Frank Franklin II

The Cost of Mayo May Keep Rising in South L.A.

Naturally, as soon as any high-profile college program is associated with some allegations of NCAA violations, the well of problems will only get deeper until the program is either punished or gets through the NCAA gauntlet unscathed, and in the era of one-and-done, this is becoming even more obvious.

The current allegations surrounding O.J. Mayo and USC are already affecting Tim Floyd’s recruiting class for the ’08-’09 season in damn near record time: the L.A. Times is reporting that top recruit and prep sensation DeMar DeRozan may ask out of his signed letter of intent if any severe penalties are pushed upon the Trojans next season. This is a concern for any program, but quite possibly doubly so for USC given DeRozian’s very public and celebrity-associated recruitment.

College basketball and football coaches have a practice of offering scholarships to players that they are on the fence about or normally would not if that player can bring in a bigger name with them (read Bruce Feldman’s Meat Market sometime; even though it is about Ed Orgeron at Ole Miss and college football, that stuff happens in college hoops, too). To Floyd and USC, DeMar DeRozian of Compton High School is most likely that bigger name landed. DeRozan’s signing of his letter of intent, however, got a lot more notice than usual.

Why’s that? Because as an eighth grader, he happened to be a star on a club team with a point guard named Percy Romeo Miller, who later played for Beverly Hills High School. That club team is run by Romeo’s father Percy, better known to the rest of us as Master P, and his son as Lil’ Romeo. Romeo Miller averaged 8.6 points a game his final season for the Hills, which finished last in its league. By all appearances, DeRozan and Miller seem to be a two-for-one deal. While their respective fathers deny it, DeRozan’s brother Jermaine claimed in the WSJ article that DeRozan was “seduced” by the Millers’ lifestyle — and the father of walk-on Ryan Weatherell believes it, claiming that Floyd told him it was such a deal.

And Rodney Guillory wanted him, too:

Frank DeRozan said Guillory once attempted to recruit DeMar to play for his Amateur Athletic Union team, and when his advances were rebuffed, Guillory told other AAU coaches that DeMar was 15 years old when in fact he was 13. The family then had to go to some lengths to straighten out the discrepancy.

DeRozan is most likely a member of the latest one-and-done class. I got the opportunity to watch DeRozan play when Compton HS came up for a local HS’s tourney a few months back — complete real deal, outshone all of the talent on hand; I don’t expect him to stay at USC more than a year, and if this gets any worse for USC, it might not be done in the Galen Center. Myles Brand is already spewing fire about committing three investigators to college basketball, while spewing bullshit about how college hoops are harder to police than any other sport (try one with an 85 scholly limit, Mr. Brand).

DeRozan’s brother Jermaine told the Times the incident is already serving as a “cautionary tale.” They’ve already dealt with Guillory, apparently, and from their accounts, he doesn’t seem to be a pleasant fellow if he doesn’t get what he wants — and now, DeRozan’s high school coach has Final Four teams calling him, wondering if DeMar might be interested in changing his mind — another tried-and-true late recruiting tactic.

This is going to get a whole lot uglier. Whether it becomes a full exposure of the seedy world behind big-time college recruiting or simply a witch hunt for the athlete and the alleged enabler who got caught by a whistleblower with his own obvious agenda has yet to be seen. Don’t be surprised if those in the media opt for the latter rather than a modern exposure of Bill Rhoden’s Conveyor Belt concept (from 40 Million Dollar Slaves.)

DeMar DeRozan might ask out is USC is punished in Mayo case [L.A. Times]
A Hot Prospect? [Wall Street Journal]
NCAA ramps up enforcement of men’s hoops recruiting [USA Today]
NCAA — Myles Brand — Adds Race to Mayo Mix [Sports on My Mind]

Go On, Take The Money And Run

There will be plenty more dimensions to the allegations against O.J. Mayo that he accepted $30,000 in cash in gifts from a promoter named Rodney Giullory, all revealed in an ESPN report on Outside the Lines yesterday, which featured a former member of Mayo’s circle who allegedly provided receipts confirming this, and accused the management agency of agent Bill Duffy of paying Guillory hundreds of thousands of dollars to land Mayo when the guard was still in high school. But for now, much of the story makes glaze over and sigh.

Yes, this is the second bad money-involved scandal with USC, still trying to eke through the Reggie Bush investigation, and Tim Floyd must feel like he wants to swallow a cyanide pill if the whole “lack of institutional control” is ever brought up by the NCAA.  However, Mayo and Guillory were unlucky enough to have a member of the entourage turn on them. This goes on more often than you think: how many Sports Illustrated profiles do you read where a scholarship athlete at a big-time university has a decked-out off campus apartment, and that description comes mere paragraphs before or after one where the athlete being profiled grew up in very tough conditions?  That kind of dissonance is prevalent, and such payments are probably just as prevalent.  As usual, the allegations are exposed because someone either got caught or someone who used to be on the inside holds a grudge.

The voices of vitriol backing the so-called “purity” and honor of college athletics calling for sanctions against USC always seem to miss the point, although by the NCAA rules, there’s probably a way to get the athletic department for “lack of institutional control.”  That point is: athletes like Mayo shouldn’t even have to be forced to go to college for a perfunctory year in the first place. Yes, the NBA’s age limit is good for college basketball, but that doesn’t mean it’s any good for the athletes.  Either the NCAA is going to have to find ways to pay the players (any other type of scholarship recipient besides athletic has many more options of earning cahs on the side, and some of  the NCAA’s massive profits need to go to those who earn them on the court and field), or both the NBA and NFL are going to have to establish viable minor leagues unaffiliated with academic institutions.

The fake outrage that arises whenever an athlete is accused of receiving cash while on an athletic scholarship grows more tiresome. They’re operating in the framework of a broken system in the first place.

Should They Stay Or Should They Go?

Your basic evaluations as to which high profile freshmen should be declaring for the Association or should decide to stick around for another season in the college ranks.

Derrick Rose, Memphis – Guaranteed lottery pick, and depending upon the franchise that lands the first overall pick, could go #1 in the draft. Regardless of what happens against Kansas tonight, should punch his ticket to the Association.

Michael Beasley, Kansas State – If you are averaging 26 points and more than 10 boards a game in your freshman year in college in a conference like the Big 12, you are probably ready to go pro. Those are numbers beating Carmelo Anthony’s marks, and if Beasley had someone else to play with outside of Bill Walker the Wildcats might have gotten further.

Jerryd Bayless, Arizona – Already declared, might have wanted to stay another year. It may not be fair or right, but he reminds me a lot of a bit less polished version of Gilbert Arenas (and no, it isn’t necessarily because he wore “0” at Airzona too.)  He’ll probably turn out fine, but a year actually being coached by Lute Olson and a more open offensive system would have been better for him.

Eric Gordon, Indiana – I really don’t know if there was any other choice than for Gordon to leave.  There was too much instability and uncertainty about NCAA violations that Kelvin Sampson left with that Gordon might have been stuck with a school that could be punished severely. He was consistently good in conference, but faded when hitting the Big 10 and NCAA tourneys.

O.J. Mayo, USC – Started out his freshman year flat, got much better as Pac-10 conference play rolled on and grew into his role as leader.  Honestly, he needs to stay one more year and then he’ll be set to go. There are some shot creation situations he could use some more work on, at least from what I could see when I watched USC games this season.

Kevin Love, UCLA – After watching him just get boxed in by Memphis’ front-court tandem on Saturday, he needs to spend another year in Westwood lifting weights and focusing that post game further. The Tigers had players that are the caliber of guys Love will see in the Association — and he just looked kind of schlubby in comparison.

Photo: AP/Matt York

The Mayo Era Approaches, Short As It May Be.

I use a puff piece in the L.A. Times on O.J. Mayo’s taking of summer classes and playing pick-up games to get ready for his first (and let’s face it, probably sole) year in a Trojan uniform at the Galen Center to once again stoke the hope that USC can manage to keep it semi-competitive with UCLA, and keep it respectable even though both Nick Young and Gabe Pruitt have departed (Young was ready; Pruitt most certainly was not.) Really, I’m attempting not to have any illusions about Mayo staying longer than one year at Southern Cal, but maybe if he doesn’t get the team deep into the tournament in the first go-round, he’ll stick around to make his name further, especially since UCLA has Kevin Love coming in and Darren Collison back.

All most Trojan fans are asking for is to bring the program up. Getting to the Sweet 16 was an unexpected bonus last season, especially because it came at the hands of wunderkind Kevin Durant and the usual crunch-time coaching incompetence of Texas’ Rick Barnes.  If the Trojans can get back to the Sweet 16 with Mayo after losing Young and Pruitt, it’ll be great. I’ve written before that I’ve not soured on Mayo despite his back story and incidents — I have respect for him basically taking control of his recruiting process; basically recruiting schools instead of being swarmed by them. He probably isn’t the “punk” he’s been labeled as, at least not to that extent yet — and if he’s serious about winning a title at USC, hopefully he means that if it takes an extra year or two, he’ll do that.

I’m not counting on it, but it’s just a thought.

Go Ahead, You Can Laugh All You Want, But I’ve Got My Philosophy.

Bill Simmons occasionally issues a really idiotic column or blog entry from time to time, and the most recent on the hate for the supposed upcoming “O.J. Mayo Era” is pretty stupid (if not outright repellent). He’s right about one thing: with Mayo headed to USC and talented big man Kevin Love headed to UCLA, next year’s games between the schools will be an awesome rivalry to watch (and will keep me and my UCLA alum co-worker jabbering at each other all season.) Thanks for jumping on the bandwagon, after ignoring it while living in L.A. for so long.

The problem is, Simmons has to drop this stuff:

The bigger picture: With Mayo joining a loaded USC team and Love playing 20 minutes away for a Final Four team, that’s looming as a dynamite rivalry and the most intriguing media subplot for the 2007-08 season. After all, Love represents everything good about basketball (unselfishness, teamwork, professionalism) and Mayo represents everything we’ve come to despise (showboating, selfishness, over-hype). If Love were black, this would be a much easier topic to discuss. But he’s white. So even though there’s a natural inclination to embrace Love’s game and disparage Mayo’s game — you know, assuming you give a crap about basketball and care about where it’s headed as a sport — there’s also a natural inclination to hold back because nobody wants to sound like the white media guy supporting the Great White Hope over the Black Superstar Du Jour.

But you just did, Bill. Either cop to it or shut up; don’t just brush it off as a philosophical difference. We have a few selective elements about both Mayo and Love, both filtered through news media, with its own series of professional biases about what is good and what is bad, and sports media, often, is no different. Simmons goes on to say that Mayo’s style is neither good or bad, but just what it is, even though he doesn’t like it much. Did he ever consider that Mayo may have tossed the halfcourt alley-oop to himself because he was having fun? Or that Mayo got T-ed up by an official who had it in for him? Does he remember that the McDonald’s All-America game is a FREAKING EXHIBITION and doesn’t mean jack?

Let’s hold off on judging Mayo’s game until he’s in the cardinal red and Love’s until he suits up in powder blue. The problem with assessing how exceedingly talented players like Mayo and Love play in high school is that high talents are playing above the rest of their competition by leaps and bounds, and that isn’t always reflective of what we see in the college and pro arenas.

In the next paragraph, Simmons says that players coming in want to be Kobe, Vince Carter, or Agent Zero rather than Steve Nash, using LeBron as an example:

Just look at what happened to LeBron’s all-around game when he reached the pros — blessed with an innate passing gene that gave him a choice between becoming the next Magic or the next MJ, he said “Screw it, I’m going for my points” and went the MJ route. I will always be disappointed about that choice.

Bill, be disappointed in LeBron’s teammates and the Cleveland front office — the reason James has had to play to the MJ role of scorer is because no one else on that team can score on a consistent basis. Management and the coach expect him to do it all. However, it’s not a Bill Simmons column without a Celtics mention, and in saying that this has been one of the worst regular seasons in recent memory and tying that in to the era of NBA AAU ball, he says the Celtics were lifeless and unconcerned about their losses, as if they didn’t matter.

During their 18-game losing streak, nobody ever got kicked out of a game, knocked someone into a basket support, threw a frustrated punch … hell, even the coach didn’t get kicked out of a game. There was a passive, pathetic, indifferent response to everything that was happening. Not a single person stepped up. As somebody who travels with the team told me, “If you were with these guys every night and saw how little these losses affected them, you’d never want to follow sports again … the losses just bounce right off these guys.”

There’s no winning with most sports observers — if you don’t show passion, you don’t care, but if any of those Celtics kids got angry, got caught up in the heat of the moment, like knocking someone into a basket support, that player would be a pariah, suspended, and viewed as everything that’s wrong with the sport of basketball. Part of being a pro athlete is trying to shake off the losses like they don’t affect your game, so you can go back and do better in the next one.

It’s not a white thing or a black thing … it’s a basketball thing.

Right. If you have to say that in the first place, then the truth really lies somewhere in between. The problem is that Simmons writes that there’s room for both of them, which there ought to be — flashy guys like Mayo do things that make me say, “WTF; that was awesome!” and get me tuning in; folks like Love make me appreciate every little thing about the game (i.e., Tim Duncan). I’m going to love watching both of them in Pac-10 play next year. Don’t implicitly lionize one and demean the other. Both games have a place in the college hoops landscape, and eventually, in the Association.

Does Tim Floyd Know What He’s Getting Into?

Far be it for me to question Tim Floyd as a college coach right now, especially after the Trojans just dominated the Texas Longhorns and Kevin Durant in ways I didn’t think were possible as an SC fan, based on how Oregon just decimated them in the Pac-10 final. Next season, he has a legitimate shot at making the SC-UCLA rivalry competitive in basketball, which is not something those of us who root for the Trojans have expected in recent years. However, as everyone knows, those hopes for next season lie on a recruit who is most likely one-and-done, and already has a propensity for troubling behavior, as well as bizarre ways of being recruited.

I won’t cut and paste the first half of the article here; go read it for yourself (if you haven’t already) and just read the oddities throughout. O.J. Mayo essentially recruited USC to host him; not the standard way it’s done in college basketball. Floyd didn’t have to do any work, he just had to say “Yes.” Now, Floyd may be one of those Pete Carroll types who just do better in college than the pros, but it’s really hard for me to think he’s just hoping this doesn’t blow up in his face.

(Also interesting: in the article, it says Mayo’s second choice outside of USC would have been an historically black college or university. Now, as the Head Chick noted, the schools probably don’t do a heck of a lot with their basketball programs, but imagine if say, Howard had actually made a pitch for O.J. — the guy would bring the ESPN cameras to you.)

Update: Please note that D-Wil has probably just handed me my ass on a plate on this with his interpretation.