The annual NBA Draft, the unofficial kickoff to what figures to be a contentious offseason, takes place Thursday at the Prudential Center in Newark.
The event shifts across the Hudson River due to renovations taking place at historic Madison Square Garden, and marks just the second time that the selection process is being held in The Garden State.
The first was the 1996 Draft from East Rutherford, which saw the Philadelphia 76ers select Georgetown's Allen Iverson with the number one pick. Future All- Stars Ray Allen (fifth), Kobe Bryant (13th), Peja Stojakovic (14th), Steve Nash (15th), Jermaine O'Neal (17th), and Zydrunas Ilgauskas (20th) were also selected in that draft.
The 2011 version is the NBA's last major event before the collective bargaining agreement between the league and its players union expires on June 30, a development that could affect the start of the 2011-12 season.
Owners and players remain in disagreement on the salary cap, among other things, as the league nears a rapidly approaching deadline to reach a new collective bargaining agreement or risk a lockout.
This draft has been described as an exercise virtually devoid of franchise players, a narrative that has continued coming from more than one scout around the league.
"In this type of draft, I don't think you can say, 'I'm going to get what I want,' " said Ryan Blake, the NBA's co-director of scouting. "This is the kind of draft where you don't have a sure-fire franchise player other than the two guys at the top."
The two guys at the top Blake was speaking of are, of course, Duke point guard Kyrie Irving, expected to be selected No. 1 overall by the rebuilding Cleveland Cavaliers, and Arizona forward Derrick Williams, perhaps the best pure player in the process.
The Cavs will be making the number one selection for the fourth time in franchise history and Irving figures to join Austin Carr (1971), Brad Daugherty (1986) and LeBron James (2003).
"I think Kyrie's a really good player," ESPN draft guru Chad Ford said. "He's an elite prospect. I don't think he quite compares to some of the guys that you want to compare him to. I think his game's a little like Chris Paul. I don't think he's as good a prospect as Chris Paul. I don't think he's quite as good a prospect as Deron Williams or Derrick Rose or Russell Westbrook or even a John Wall."
Cleveland, which also possesses the fourth overall selection, will also be the first team to have two picks in the top four since the inception of the NBA Draft Lottery back in 1985.
The last team to pick twice in the top four was the Houston Rockets, who landed Ralph Sampson with the No. 1 overall pick in 1983 and followed that by snaring Rodney McCray with the third selection. The 1967 Detroit Pistons, 1975 Atlanta Hawks and 1977 Milwaukee Bucks are the other three teams in the modern era (1966-present) to have each made two picks in the top four.
Minnesota continued its almost annual NBA Lottery losing streak, falling to 0- for-14 in the lottery and dropping for the eighth time. The Wolves had a 25 percent chance of winning the No. 1 pick after finishing with a league-worst 17-65 record last season but came up short again, falling to No. 2. The team with the worst record hasn't won the lottery since Orlando got Dwight Howard back in 2004.
That said, Minnesota, which highest previous draft pick was third (Christian Laettner in 1992 and O.J. Mayo in 2008), holds the lynchpin slot in the 2011 draft. The Timberwolves don't look like a natural fit for Williams since the franchise boasts All-Star Kevin Love, along with the talented Michael Beasley and Wes Johnson at forward.
"He is going to be a really good NBA player," draft analyst Jay Bilas said of Williams. "He's really explosive athletically. The way I look at it, he's going to be able to score in the NBA. I don't think there is any question about that. I just question whether he's going to be able to guard effectively in the league. But with his athleticism, his ability to score, I just don't see anybody else going second behind Kyrie Irving other than Williams simply because of his explosive scoring ability."
Milwaukee, Washington, Indiana, San Antonio and the LA Lakers are among a number of teams that have made publicized overtures to the Wolves and Minnesota's decision on what to do with its coveted pick will likely shape the rest of the first round as teams jockey for Williams, along with a number of players that may not project as superstars, but can certainly play a role in a winning environment.
"It is a very deep draft for role players and guys who can help a team," Blake said.
"I think the draft is really important," Bilas said on a recent conference call. "I think there are a number of teams, Oklahoma City being one of them, that are built primarily through the draft. Free agency is always a component, but one data point does not make a trend.
"This is a valuable process for every team, whether you have a high pick or not, and I think the best people in the NBA really utilize the draft to their advantage."
Utah figures to nab a replacement for Deron Williams for the third overall pick with Kentucky guard Brandon Knight, a point guard with excellent size and speed along with solid scoring ability, projected above UConn's Kemba Walker.
The Cavs get to pick again at No. 4 and will have an eye on Turkish big man Enes Kanter, a player that possesses natural size, strength and a soft scoring touch.
Toronto is next and new head coach Dwane Casey could opt for Lithuanian big man Jonas Valanciunas, although a pesky buyout clause with Real Madrid could have Valanciunas falling in favor of Walker.
"I think if you picked Kanter, you're picking because he is a bit more polished offensively right now, and he has a better NBA body right now," Ford said. "If you pick Valanciunas, you're picking upside. You're picking a guy who I know many NBA scouts feel in five years could end up being the best player in this draft, but he's got a long ways to go to get there. But he's longer, he's taller, he's got a good motor on him, and NBA centers are so difficult to get their hands on."
The Wizards, who have last year's No. 1 pick in John Wall and can't rebound, select sixth. You can forget about the perimeter in the nation's capital and Washington would love to snare Kanter, but settle for the next best legit big, Valanciunas or Czech Jan Vesely.
Ownership in Sacramento would reportedly like BYU sharpshooter Jimmer Fredette, one of the draft's biggest names in order to generate interest and sell tickets. However, the Kings' coaching staff rightfully questions whether Fredette is the answer and is enamored with Colorado combo guard Alec Burks at No. 7.
"I think the best way to put Jimmer is he going to be Steve Nash or Steve Kerr? And I'm going to lean towards Steve Kerr," draft expert Fran Fraschilla said. "I absolutely was enthralled with him this year as a college player."
The Motor City's personnel limbo is over and Joe Dumars can finally get back to work rebuilding the Pistons with the eighth selection. Dumars will love Vesely, a slight European big man with impressive length and an aggressive offensive game. He also likes to post-up more than the average big these days and has a big-time motor, a great fit next to Greg Monroe.
"I think Jan Vesely is one of the safest international players we've seen come out in the draft in a long time," Ford said. "I'm not sure he'll be a superstar, but it's easy to see how his athleticism, his motor, and what he's been doing at a high level in Europe and Serbia will translate to the NBA level."
At nine, Charlotte wants offense which could mean Burks or Kansas forward Marcus Morris, a versatile guy that's a little slight, but has a very advanced offensive game that includes the rare mid-range game with the ability to score, both looking at and with his back to the basket. San Diego State forward Kawhi Leonard is also worthy of being a top 10 pick.
"One of the best defenders overall in the draft I think is Kawhi Leonard because he can guard multiple positions," Bilas said. "I would put him and [Florida State forward} Chris Singleton as the two best overall defenders in that. Actually, I graded out Singleton as better than Leonard as a defender overall because of his size and his length. But Leonard's probably able to guard out on the perimeter a little bit better."
Milwaukee rounds out the top 10 and would love to move up and snare Williams but Burks, a player that has the size, athleticism and leaping ability to stand out down the line, would be a nice consolation prize.
"He's not a shooter. He's a driver," Bilas said of Burks. "Can get into the lane, gets to the free-throw line. He's a very good passer, sees the floor very well. He's the kind of kid that I think plays with a chip on his shoulder."
Like Cleveland, the Jazz also have two lottery selections, the third and 12th overall picks. Minnesota (Nos. 2, 20), Washington (Nos. 6, 18), Charlotte (Nos. 9, 19) and Chicago (Nos. 28, 30) also have multiple first round picks while the world champion Dallas Mavericks will choose at No. 26.
Atlanta, Miami, Orlando, the LA Clippers and the LA Lakers are without first round picks but that doesn't mean they will all be quiet.
The Lakers possess four second round selections, giving them the opportunity to jump back into the end of the first round if they see a backcourt player with some upside. The former champs clearly need to add speed and athleticism, especially on the perimeter.
The NBA annually invites 14 or 15 players to sit in the so-called "green room", a special room set aside at the draft site for the invited players plus their families and agents.
This season, the following players were invited: Burks, Fredette, Irving, Kanter, Knight, Leonard, Lithuanian star Donatas Motiejunas, Morris, his brother Markieff Morris, also of Kansas, Singleton, Washington State's Klay Thompson, Texas' Tristan Thompson, Valanciunas, Vesely, Walker and Williams.