July 4, 2012

NBA Draft 2012

The 2012 NBA Draft was held last Thursday night in Newark, New Jersey. The Draft is the annual meeting where NBA teams select rights to players who are eligible to play in the league. For the most part, either college basketball players who have completed between one and four years of college ball or international players younger than 22 years of age are selected and assigned to teams for a contractual period defined in the NBA's collective bargaining agreement.

Reduced to its simplest form, the Draft is essentially an event where names are announced, with up to a five minute gap between names in the first round of 30 and up to a two minute gap between names in the second round of 30. That's it! 60 names being read! Literally, nothing else happens. But for NBA fans, and especially fans of teams that are not so good or even awful, the Draft offers hope. Hope that things will get better. That maybe, just maybe, my team will get lucky enough to select someone who will turn the franchise into a perennial playoff team and if things go really well, a championship contender. I don't know much, if anything, about the players who are being drafted, nor do I think anyone, including the so-called experts, can predict accurately how a player will perform in the NBA, so nobody will ever know the night of the Draft whether a team has made the right selection or not. But for me the Draft is all about hope and that is why I watch.

As recently as 2000, the Draft was held in NBA arenas on a rotating basis, but starting in 2001, the location became fixed at the Theater at New York's Madison Square Garden. With the MSG Theater under renovation the last two years, the Draft has shifted to the Prudential Center in Newark, an arena large enough to allow space for enough fans that they actually sell tickets. Since I'd never been to the Draft and tickets were available, I decided this was the year to attend, especially since the Wizards held a high pick as a result of having the distinction of the second worse record in the league.

So last Thursday morning, I put on my Jan Vesely shirt, packed up a couple of days of clothes, and headed to Union Station to board Amtrak's Northeast Regional to Newark to see if the Draft in person would be at all exciting. I managed to talk my friends Mike and Bryan into coming with me; God love those guys for coming on trips like this with me, although I realize that if there were no beer available, I'd definitely be going solo. The trip up was flawless: our train was on time, we checked into the Newark Hilton and were drinking beer at the Edison Ale House right outside the Prudential Center at about 5:15. The crowd in the restaurant was just as I expected: NBA fans of many different teams including the Celtics, Trailblazers, Sixers, Knicks and a contingent of Milwaukee Bucks fans featuring a guy in a Glenn "Big Dog" Robinson jersey. I wonder how many times a year that guy wears that jersey. We wondered if we would see fans of every NBA team at the Draft and thought if any franchises would not be represented, it would be the Charlotte Bobcats and the Sacramento Kings.

The Prudential Center: The Jewel of Downtown Newark, NJ.
The Prudential Center opened in 2007 as the new home for the New Jersey Devils, although the arena played host to the New Jersey Nets the last couple of years before they turned their back on Jersey and moved to Brooklyn as soon as the 2011-2012 NBA regular season was in the books. I have been in my fair share of sports arenas in this country in my life but I am not sure I have been in one built in quite the same manner as the Prudential Center. I assume funding was scarce during the construction. I haven't seen gypsum board walls or what appeared to be corrugated metal decking used as wall covering in any other NBA or NHL arena. The appearance of the place is completely unimpressive and the lack of wayfinding signage is confusing. I actually walked past our section until we realized you had to push aside the curtains dividing the concourse from the seating to access the seats. It appears the only thing that money was spent on was an inordinate amount of New Jersey Devils logos on the floors, walls, seats and even the urinal and water closet flush valves. I think I would have skimped on some of the logos and splurged for CMU walls in lieu of the gypsum board walls which are already showing signs of premature age. You can always add logos later.

Were the New Jersey Devils logos on the flush valves really that essential??
The Draft was actually interesting. No, seriously. I'm not sure I'd ever go again but I wouldn't rule it out either. It's definitely different in person than it is on TV, even though the ESPN broadcast is taking place in the arena. You can watch what you want to watch, rather than being restricted to watching what ESPN wants you to watch. The audio commentary, including analysis of picks and interviews with players and others, is mostly inaudible in the upper level of the arena, which was disappointing. Fortunately, we could still hear the names being announced (that's the whole point after all, isn't it?) over the cascade of boos that commissioner David Stern elicited every time he stepped to the podium.

The rumored trades involving the first few picks of the draft which promised to re-shape the NBA landscape never materialized so we ended up filling the time between names being called by talking to other fans, which is always one of the best parts of traveling. We swapped our own analysis of the picks with the Knicks fans behind us and the Sixers and Suns fans in front of us, even though we knew we wouldn't understand how the picks would work out for years. Surprisingly, a lot of the fans around actually seemed to think the Wizards had things going in the right direction, which is a perspective I can't get being so close to the team in DC. I hope they are right.

The event was full. I'd actually say close to being sold out. I'm not sure we saw paraphernalia from all 30 NBA teams but we did see the Bobcats (Gerald Wallace still counts, even though he's two teams removed now, right?) and Kings (there's always one Jimmer Fredette fanatic) represented. I think the most confusing sight of the night was the guy with the "Bring back Darius Miles" sign and his five different Darius Miles jerseys. After making his case for Miles in vain, he eventually settled on his Jason Thompson jersey, which was equally confusing, but which added representation for the Sacramento Kings in a way that somehow seems appropriate for that franchise. 

Our view of the Draft stage from our upper deck seats.
As for the Wizards, they drafted Bradley Beal out of the University of Florida with the third pick, who was the guy we wanted all along. There was some anxiety that the Bobcats would trade down and allow another franchise to draft Beal at number two, but that never happened. We traded for Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor the week before the Draft so shooting guard is the only spot in our lineup with a clear talent deficiency and Beal was generally considered to be the only superior shooting guard in the draft. We left over a full minute on the clock when we selected Beal, which I think was the most of any pick in the draft. Hopefully, he and John Wall can solidify our backcourt for years to come.

In the second round, the Wizards selected Tomas Satoransky, a 6'-7" guard from the Czech Republic, who will probably wait a couple of years before coming to the NBA, which might allow us to re-sign guys like James Singleton, Cartier Martin and Roger Mason, Jr, all of whom did what I thought was a good job at the end of last season.

Summer League starts July 13. Vegas, here I come!

The completed first round Draft board. The upper deck closes after round one. It's open seating downstairs after that.

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