After some last-minute wrangling with the Chinese Basketball Association, the Houston Rockets are set to take Yao Ming with the top pick in tonight's NBA draft, the Houston Chronicle reports. A last-minute deal will allow Yao to miss the first two weeks of training camp to play in China, but guarantees that he'll suit up for the Rockets for the regular season and playoffs.
The Yao endorsements are few and tepid. The Chronicle's Fran Blinebury thinks the Rockets should draft the big man "for a change." ESPN The Magazine's Ric Bucher says Yao will benefit from playing in "a one-newspaper town with a less-than-rabid basketball culture, which means his every turnover and missed dunk won't be micro-analyzed as they might in Chicago—or draw screaming headlines as they might in New York."
The Dallas Morning News' Tim Cowlishaw disagrees: "It should be obvious that the wisest course would be to draft Duke point guard Jay Williams, the consensus college basketball player of the year last season. The Rockets already have a stud point guard in Steve Francis, you say? Perfect. … What's wrong with Williams, Francis and Cuttino Mobley dividing up 96 minutes a night?"
The Chicago Tribune's Rick Morrissey writes, "We keep hearing, 'You can't teach height.' Well you also couldn't teach Manute Bol."
So who's the draft's second-biggest bust? The rest of the lottery ain't great, either. Chicago picks second and covets Duke's Jay Williams. The Kansas City Star's Jason Whitlock isn't impressed: "Williams receives a lot of publicity, but no one seems to talk about his horrible free-throw shooting, lack of size to be a true shooting guard, poor decision-making for a point guard and subpar performance in this year's NCAA Tournament."
Golden States picks third and wants Duke's Mike Dunleavy Jr. The San Jose Mercury News' Skip Bayless says he's even worse than Williams: "Dunleavy plays with a low-rpm nonchalance that was camouflaged by three college teammates who might make better pros—Williams, Carlos Boozer and Chris Duhon. … He'll be an NBA starter, but he won't make an All-Star team. The drop-off from Williams to Dunleavy is don't-look-down scary."
The Memphis writers aren't worried about whom the Grizzlies are picking, figuring new president Jerry West will perform another draft-day miracle. The Commercial Appeal's Geoff Calkins recounts his biggest steals: "Take 1990. Here are the three men taken immediately before the Lakers drafted: Lance Blanks, Alaa Abdelnaby and Dwayne Schintzius. West then grabbed Elden Campbell. Or 1996. New York had three picks before the Lakers drafted once. The Knicks took Dontae Jones, John Wallace and Walter McCarty. West then grabbed Derek Fisher."
At No. 5, Denver favors Georgian wunderkind Nikoloz Tskitishvili. The Rocky Mountain News' Bernie Lincicome writes, "Why young Tskitishvili is prized enough to be the fifth choice in the draft is a matter of faith and practice videos, given he could not crack the starting lineup of a team that features Americans Tyus Edney (cut by Indiana) and Charlie Bell (cut by Dallas). The last man off the bench, Tskitishvili managed to play 6 minutes each in six games and average one point a game, numbers that are, granted, very Nuggets-friendly."
Pacers considering actual basketball player: The Chicago Tribune's Sam Smith predicts a shocker: Maryland guard Juan Dixon—considered too small and too slow to play in the NBA—sneaking all the way up to Indiana at No. 14.
Other mock drafts focus on who's falling. The Philadelphia Inquirer's Stephen A. Smith thinks Caron Butler will tumble to Michael Jordan and the Washington Wizards at No. 11. The New York Daily News' Mitch Lawrence has junior-college phenom Qyntel Woods slipping to No. 15.
Finally, free from the constraints of the Brazilian salary cap! The sportswriters are all over the foreign invasion angle. USA Today's Rudy Martzke recalls the strangest instance of draft-day culture shock: TV cameras catching Yugoslav center Vlade Divac smoking backstage in 1989.
The Boston Globe's Peter May reports that Maybyner "Nene" Hilario, a power forward who figures to go high, made $20,000 playing for Brazil's Vasco de Gama squad last season. "He'll make more than that per game next season."
Read a good column lately? Post a link in "The Fray." The best entries will be mentioned in future columns.