Once upon a time (I spent a while thinking up that lead), to be a second-round pick in the NBA was a sign of many things -- few of them good. As Doc Rivers, picked 31st overall in 1983, remembered, "It sucked. I thought I was better than all of them [drafted ahead of me]. But I think it was the best thing that ever happened to me. It put my ego back in check -- for my career. I'll never forget that."
There were some years when being a second-rounder wasn't so bad (1986, for instance) and other years when it pretty much was a death sentence.
Fast-forward to the 2005 NBA Draft.
"It was deep enough to have three rounds," says Leo Papile, the Celtics' assistant executive director of basketball operations. "This was a senior-heavy draft with a tremendous value in the second round."
The Celtics have two players on their 15-man roster who were second-round picks last June: Ryan Gomes (No. 50) and Orien Greene (No. 53). Both have signed three-year deals, which second-rounders receive about as often as extended playing time. They also have a second-rounder from the year before in Justin Reed and the rights to the player taken immediately before Reed, Albert Miralles. And the last second-rounder taken in the pre-Danny Ainge era, Darius Songaila, has been a valuable NBA role player for Sacramento and Chicago. (He also played the same part for Lithuania in international competitions.)
It's not as if the 20 second-rounders have been bench warmers. In the first 10 days of the 2005-06 season, second-rounder Salim Stoudamire (Atlanta) ranked third among all rookie scorers. Second-rounder Daniel Ewing of the surprising Clippers was eighth among rookies in assists. Stoudamire, Ewing, and Chris Taft (Golden State) are all averaging more than 14 minutes a game, more than at least 10 first-round picks are getting, including the Celtics' Gerald Green.
The Celtics are not alone in their rosy assessment of second-round talent in the last draft. Of the 30 players selected, 20 made Opening Night rosters, including two on the Pistons: Amir Johnson, at No. 56, and Alex Acker, at No. 60. Johnson was fresh out of high school.
Of the 10 second-rounders who were not on NBA rosters, most are believed to have found homes in FIBA locations around the planet. As they say, there's a country for everyone. (Some later second-rounders with unpronounceable names were taken with the express purpose of letting them stay overseas.)
Clearly, while first-rounders still get the guaranteed money (although it's now for only two years), the notion that a second-rounder is to be used as a future bargaining chip or as a training camp body is getting to be less and less the case.
Take Gomes, who, coming out of Providence, was seen as a possible first-rounder last June. The Celticseven said they were thinking of taking him at No. 18 -- until frequent-flyer Green fell into their lap. But Gomes slid even more, from possible mid first-rounder to the bottom third of the second round, where draft picks usually go to die. He wasn't happy watching the draft unfold from his home in Waterbury, Conn., but the Celtics made it clear to him that being taken at No. 50 was not a concern.
"The way I look at it is that this draft was loaded and there were players taken in the second round who could have gone in the first round," Gomes said. "Even when I hadn't been picked, I was thinking, 'Geez, there are still a lot of good players out there.'
"But everything happens for a reason. If I had been picked in the first round, I'd be getting the money, but maybe I'd be sitting at the end of the bench and not playing. And at the end of the day, regardless of where you're picked, that's what matters the most -- being able to play. Because we all love the game."'
Talent and timing certainly matter, but love of the game has to factor in as well. Because, as Gomes noted, "When you're a second-round pick, you think you have a little bit more to prove."
And here's another example of how valued the picks are: When the Celtics were about to pick Gomes, a team called and offered them well into six figures for the choice.
BUCKING THE ODDS, FORD EXCELS
One of the undeniable feel-good stories of the 2005-06 season is transpiring in Milwaukee, and that is in addition to public relations czarina Cheri Hanson's recent blessed arrival.
The reemergence of rocket ship T.J. Ford has been a huge factor in the Bucks' early success, so much so that Ford was named the Eastern Conference Player of the Week in the first week of the season. Not bad for a guy who missed all of last season while recovering from a spinal cord bruise and, frankly, a player whose career seemed to be in question.
"It was never a question of 'if' for me; it was always a matter of 'when,"' he said by phone from Milwaukee. "I was patient. I tried to get myself prepared, physically and mentally, for the NBA. I have to play the game with no fear and that fear is now gone."
But, he admits, it was difficult prepping himself for a return after missing so much time with such a serious injury.
"It was the hardest I have ever worked in my life," he said. "That's the reason I made it. I felt I did all the right things and prepared myself."
The Bucks allowed Ford to recuperate in his native Houston, and he worked with former point guard John Lucas. In the first four games of the season, Ford was averaging a double-double; he had as many double-doubles in those games (two) as he had in the 55 games of his injury-shortened rookie year of 2003-04.
The young Bucks will be tested this week as they start a Western swing with games against the Clippers, the Warriors, the Kings, and the Jazz.
BROWN'S KNICKS AREN'T POSITIONED WELL
Hey, it took Larry Brown only four games -- all of them defeats -- before he started to moan about the Knicks' roster. (That's three games longer than many figured it would take.)
After a loss in Portland, Brown told New York reporters, "We're playing a small forward [Quentin Richardson] out of position. We're playing a 2-guard [Jamal Crawford] out of position. And I'm not sure exactly how to use Stephon [Marbury] with that kind of 3-man and 2-man.
"Who do you have come in as your backup point guard? And who do you bring in as a real starting small forward? It's something I'm just trying to figure out."
One guy Brown apparently doesn't have to worry about is offseason signee Jerome James, who happily agreed to a five-year, $29 million offer from Isiah "Trump" Thomas. James has reinjured his left hamstring and was not in the rotation for the Portland game.
In addition to losing games, the Knicks also may be losing what remains of their appeal and cachet. Their appearance in Portland drew only 12,296, the smallest crowd in the history of the Rose Garden, which opened in 1995.
You might think that New Orleans or Toronto would set a record like that, but New York? And with Brown coming to town? After all, an equally bad Knicks team last year with Herb Williams at the helm drew 15,656 in Portland.