Q. When you look back on the draft record – we don’t have to go through it line by line – Flynn, Wes, all that, what’s your opinion of it?
A. Let’s not do it line by line but year by year, OK?
2009, I’m hired on May 22, 2009. There are four GMs or assistant GMs who have been scouting the entire year and one of their complaints to me was that despite all their scouting work in the past, in the end nobody would listen to them and my predecessor would take who he wanted to take. I also inherited a very fluid coaching situation. As you recall, Kevin McHale had been offered a multiple year deal to continue coaching the team. I had not been in the league that year so I had to familiar myself with as many game tapes as possible. We made trades during that five-week period and it was just an incredible time, it was a whirlwind. When I look back on that draft, the fact that we pulled out Ricky and we pulled out Wayne Ellington, who since has become Dante Cunningham, I can think of a lot of worse things. In drafts, you can make a mistake or you can make a mistake you’ll never recover from. One can argue that the Trail Blazers in certain ways didn’t recover from the Jordan draft (in 1984). Our decision to take Jonny Flynn is not a decision we couldn’t recover from. Memphis is playing this week and if they win one more game, they advance to the second round and in that same draft, they took Hasheem Thabeet with the second pick. He was out of the league briefly and now he’s with Oklahoma City. So we needed a point guard on the team, we knew Ricky couldn’t come. That was the whole point behind the trade (Mike Miller and Randy Foye to Washington for the fifth pick used to take Rubio), to give us flexibility to draft Ricky with our second pick if he was there. And so the scouts had Flynn as the No. 1 point guard. And I had just emerged from several meetings where all they were saying to me was nobody ever listens to us and I like Jonny too, so please don’t mistake that. I could see a lot of the appeal and so to that extent, that’s the reason that pick was made. And the reason we deferred the other pick (18th overall, which they traded to Denver and took Ty Lawson for the Nuggets in exchange for a 2010 first rounder). The reason we deferred is we didn’t have a coach yet and I was starting to feel uncomfortable with making a lot of decisions with so little so much more work to do with who would be coaching these guys.
The 2010 draft: We tried mightily to move up to the third spot (New Jersey, who took Derrick Favors), mightily. We just couldn’t get it done. We just didn’t have enough talent on the roster. We gave some thought to move back (they discussed a deal with Indiana involving the No. 4 pick and Flynn for the No. 10 and Danny Granger), but it just didn’t materialize in either direction. We were trying to pull ourselves out of the four hole. I remember at the lottery that night, being four was not as bad as being five, but it would have been a lot better for us to be three. It really made a significant difference in my mind as far as what we would have done. And you should ask Rick about this: One of the selling points to Rick on this job when he was watching film of the team, he really liked Wes Johnson. And there was a lot to like about Wes. He was athletic. Even though he didn’t have a ball that had a lot of rotation on it, seemed to go in from a distance. You could really see him developing into an elite defender. I just think one of the things we missed was I’m not sure at the time his commitment was what was necessary. And I can’t speak for what he’s been like in Phoenix, but I’m noticing that it looks like they may be wanting to bring him back.
The 2011 draft, I think there would have been bonfires and pitchforks in front of my office if we hadn’t taken Derrick Williams. I just recall coming into that draft. You just had to do it, even though we were deep at that position, And I think you could also make an argument he really was the right pick. In time, I think it will prove to be the right pick. Derrick’s very young though and people tend to be impatient. I think Derrick’s on course to be a very fine player in this league.
And last year, when I met with the scouts, the first year we put in the scouting system I wanted, I was convinced with the 18th pick we weren’t probably going to find a player who could help us both now and in the future as Chase Budinger. I just felt it was a no-brainer. Once we had the deal in hand, once we were satisfied the 18th pick was not going to produce a player who for us would play right away, that was the right way to go.
Go to Part III of the interview