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Draft Order Is Restored in the NBA

James, Milicic, Anthony go 1-2-3, as expected, in a first round with few surprises, many foreign players. Clippers take Kaman; Cook to Lakers.

June 27, 2003|Mark Heisler | Times Staff Writer

As expected, LeBron James began the most hyped, if not yet the greatest, career in NBA history Thursday, after which the foreign invasion began in earnest.

James' selection a month out of high school was a foregone conclusion in the NBA draft, the Cleveland Cavaliers having jubilantly broken with tradition to announce they would take him when they drew the No. 1 pick. Nevertheless, Thursday's event, held in New York's Madison Square Garden before an audience of rowdy Knick fans chanting to have Knick General Manager Scott Layden fired, marked James' rite of passage from adored amateur to targeted pro.

Not that anyone seems too worried about protecting him from expectations. The Cavaliers brought a No. 23 uniform top to the draft for him, Michael Jordan's number.

This whole event was about James. When other players were paraded before the media, they were asked about LeBron too.

James was poised as usual, refusing to be baited into a declaration that he would consider his first season a waste if he isn't rookie of the year, laughing when asked about Carmelo Anthony's claim to be the best player there.

"Don't make me answer that question," James said at Wednesday's pre-draft press session, breaking up. "Carmelo, I don't know ... I don't know how to answer that question."

Said Miami-bound Dwyane Wade: "LeBron's cool. He's just like the rest of us. He just got a little more attention and a little more money in the bank."

Thursday's draft began roughly as projected, with the Nos. 1, 2 (Darko Milicic to Detroit), 3 (Anthony to Denver) and 4 (Chris Bosh to Toronto) picks rolling off, according to the consensus.

Miami sprang a mild surprise at No. 5, drafting Wade, leaving center Chris Kaman for the No. 6 Clippers, who will need one with Michael Olowokandi on his way out.

The Lakers, drafting further back, wound up with value, although it remains to be seen just how valuable their picks turn out. At No. 24, they got a fallen star, Illinois' Brian Cook, who was projected for the lottery and included among the 15 invitees in the green room. Three picks into the second round, they drafted Arizona's Luke Walton, a rare playmaking forward.

It was actually a good night for college seniors, with three (Kansas' Kirk Hinrich, and Nick Collison and Nevada Las Vegas' Marcus Banks) getting into the lottery and six more -- Cook, Xavier's David West, Wake Forest's Josh Howard, Louisville's Reece Gaines, Boston College's Troy Bell and Duke's Dahntay Jones -- going in the first round.

Nevertheless, the pendulum continued to swing heavily toward teens (Bosh was the oldest of the top four picks at 19 years 3 months) and foreigners, with eight going in the first round, breaking last season's record of six.

Serbian prodigy Milicic and French guard Mickael Pietrus went in the lottery, followed later in the round by two more Serbs, another Frenchman, a Croatian, an Argentine and a Brazilian.

It's still a predominantly American event, but the margin isn't what it used to be.

Here's how it went.

1. Cleveland -- James. Big surprise.

2. Detroit -- Milicic. ESPN's Dick Vitale, who prefers NCAA players (guess why), even if they're just one-and-done, wailed about passing up Anthony. Of course, Vitale has been out of pro ball a long time and may have forgotten what a 6-11 1/2 center is worth, even if you have to wait a season or two.

3. Denver -- Anthony.

4. Toronto -- Bosh. After trying to trade the pick right up to the draft, General Manager Glen Grunwald figured out what everyone else knew: this 6-10 1/4 freshman may be slight but may become special.

5. Miami -- Wade. The Heat has wing players (Caron Butler, Eddie Jones) but Pat Riley must be one of those who sees Sidney Moncrief in the does-it-all-but-shoot Wade.

6. Clippers -- Kaman. They had to do it with Olowokandi outbound. Of course, Olowokandi wants to stay, is way better and his price has dropped sharply, but the owner won't hear of it.

7. Chicago -- Hinrich. Rookie GM John Paxson, set to take Wade or Pietrus, changed his mind at the last moment and did the smart thing, taking a solid point guard with Jay Williams out and Jamal Crawford acting erratically.

8. Milwaukee -- T.J. Ford. Another Vitale protege. Lots of pros love Ford too, even if it looks like madness. He's tiny and until he learns to shoot, defenders can fall back and take away his penetration.

9. New York -- Michael Sweetney. Another runty (6-7 1/4) power forward to go with 6-7 Othella Harrington and 6-5 Clarence Weatherspoon. However, they got 6-10 Maciej Lampe, a projected first-rounder, in the second round after a late-breaking contract issue with Real Madrid frightened everyone off.

10. Washington -- Jarvis Hayes. Had a burnout workout for them, and lots of people like him.

11. Golden State -- Pietrus. ESPN pundits tore them every way but loose but if Gilbert Arenas leaves, as expected, they're starting over. They don't think much of Jason Richardson, and Pietrus, who plays that position, has breakout potential.

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