European draft picks stand out from the U.S. crowd
Saturday, June 28, 2003
NEW YORK -- When point guard Paccelis Morlende of France heard his name called with the 50th pick of the NBA draft, he got out of his seat amid a throng of Knicks fans and walked onstage to meet deputy commissioner Russ Granik.
Morlende was one of a record 21 international players chosen Thursday night, many of whom sat in the stands as the draft unfolded.
"It shows you their appreciation for the NBA and the opportunity to play in the NBA. I mean, they're in the second round and they're fired up," said agent Bill Duffy, who watched the night's events unfold from the area in Madison Square Garden known as the green room.
Granik customarily announces the second-round picks and then hastily retreats backstage, but Thursday night he had to wait a few times as players including Slavko Vranes (No. 39, New York), Zaur Pachulia (No. 42, Orlando) and Morlende (who was selected by Philadelphia and then dealt to Seattle) made their way through the remainder of the crowd and walked onstage. All were dressed in fancy suits, none of which measured up to LeBron James' all-white ensemble designed by Bill Drakopoulos and Carl Harris of BD Tailor Shop in Chicago.
Seattle's Rashard Lewis cried at the 1998 draft when he lasted into the second round, and the NBA has tried to spare others a similar embarrassment by limiting its green room invitations to those expected to be drafted in the first round.
But many of the foreign players took it upon themselves to show up in person Thursday night and wait for their names to be called.
It's much like what Americans experienced in the '50s, Duffy said. "They just have a better appreciation, a better work ethic," he said, "and that's meaningful to them."
One of the night's most dramatic moments came at the end of the first round when the Knicks were on the board with the 30th pick and the crowd began a chant of "We want Lampe."
Polish center Maciej Lampe, projected by some as a lottery pick, had waited impatiently in the green room throughout the first round as 29 other names were called.
The crowd went wild after Granik announced the Knicks had chosen Lampe, and he played to the crowd brilliantly by raising a fist and saluting them. One observer noted that a Knicks crowd hadn't been so thrilled by a pick since New York selected Patrick Ewing in 1985.
Lampe remains under contract to Real Madrid and may not play in the NBA for a year or two. Several other foreign players are under contract for several years, some with buyout clauses; others without.
Darko Milicic, the 18-year-old center chosen second overall by the Detroit Pistons, is under contract to Hemofarm Vrsac until 2009. NBA rules allow the Pistons to contribute only $350,000 toward his buyout, while Milicic will have to pay the rest out of his own pocket.
"A lot of these guys won't play this year because they have obligations overseas. Clubs, rather than have roster spots committed, would rather they went back and developed," said Duffy, who felt the Portland Trail Blazers chose the sleeper of the second round when they selected one of his clients, 7-foot-3 center Nedzad Sinanovic, with pick No. 54.
There were five trades involving second-round picks and only one semi-major deal, the Grizzlies sending the rights to the 13th and 29th selections (UNLV guard Marcus Banks and high school center Kendrick Perkins) to Boston for the rights to picks 16 and 20 (Boston College guard Troy Bell and Duke guard Dahntay Jones).
Memphis president Jerry West made the trade to provide some backcourt depth behind Michael Dickerson, who has been injured for the better part of two seasons, and Wesley Person, who is entering the final year of his contract.
As agent Mark Fleisher left the Garden and pondered where to take his clients to dinner, he commented that the trade seemed curious because West might have been able to get both Bell and Jones in the second round.
As Fleisher spoke, one of his clients, Greek teenager Sofoklis Schortsanitis, paced grumpily on the sidewalk wearing a Clippers cap. Los Angeles selected Schortsanitis with the fifth pick of the second round, meaning he will not get the three-year guaranteed contract that goes to all first-round picks.
"Yeah, he's not too happy," Fleisher said.
But at least Schortsanitis had the privilege of walking onstage to shake Granik's hand. There were 17 Americans taken in the second round, none of them on hand to hear their names called.
To some of them, being picked in the second round was nothing to be proud of.
To the likes of Morlende and Pachulia, it was worthy of their presence.