Do not bother me – the Draft is on

by Kevin Brent

I’m riveted. Unmovable. No, do not talk to me, I will not hear you. You walk by and you are on fire do not look for me to put you out. Just get out of my way. You are blocking my television screen.

Its the draft and it could be for the NBA or the NFL, it doesn’t matter, as long as it is on and I am watching. No phone calls. No noise. Nothing but what is happening on at that podium on stage or in that green room where the players wait on the sharpest of pins or in those war rooms where the guys in suits wheel and deal until the draft board is full, the crowd has gone home and the stage lights have been shut down. It’s the draft, and it is as good as it gets.

The only thing more exciting than the draft is watching your team play and even then the moments of downtime are substantial (you know, the infinite succession of television prescribed time outs, clock problems, drunk guys/beach balls/batteries on the field, etc.) Then, like some bizarre, slovenly chain reaction, distractions begin taking center stage at our own homes. A beer run. The call for the two medium, two topping pie from the joint down the block. The second beer run. At worst, our scenario may disintegrate fairly rapidly into a bunch of guys silently rubbing their bellies and belching – or worse – intermittently for three strong hours.

But the draft is the real deal. It is the sports fans’ equivalent of One Life to Live, only in our soap opera the bad guys are really bad, while the good are really only the innocent. The lives altered here are for real and they are permanent and they could, at worst, involve a one-way passport Clipper training camp. In other words, a three-year term of grinding slavery is not out of the question.

The trades. Movement of a player or group of players from team to team. This will bring out the truest of reactions, the kind straight from your gut. It can make you curse the heavens or fall to your knees helpless in a wash of euphoria, as I myself was rendered once the official announcement of Shaquille O’Neil’s signing with Lakers was broadcast.

Trading activity gives one the freedom for terminal speculation about how personnel movement will effect the already intact nucleus of a team. Will a small receiver used to running the long routes adjust to taking on the middle of the field? How about a shortstop with five years dedicated to the position adjusting to second base to make room for a highly touted free agent who will only play the middle? These are things to mull over, to toss back and forth like a ping-pong ball to your buddies, each trying desperately to emulate the schooled analyst they just heard on the local sports radio station.

Then there are the baffling ones. The ones that burn holes in your brain. The trades that would make more sense if they were written in scripture and inscribed on a boulder. Basically, the kind where a team gets ripped off so bad the General Manager should be forced to stand on the field for the duration of every home game, accessible for being pelted with rotten fruit and dislodged seat cushions.

The full-scale of emotions? Yep, the draft can run you into the ground, pull your insides apart and maybe, just maybe, in an act of divine intervention, save your soul at the last minute. It has happened before, remember. Something along the lines of your team’s General Manager sending a fourth round pick, an undisclosed amount of cash, and, of course, the mysterious “player to be named later” to the Packers for their starting quarterback and their number one draft pick next year. Hey, even the godly Pack have a salary cap to mind.

This kind of scenario is not outside the realm of infinite possibility available on draft day. After all, draft day trades have made and broken many a team. Remember Kobe Bryant straight up to the Charlotte Hornets for Vlade Divac? That was almost five years ago, and today, that eighteen year old kid has become the second best player in the game, a first team all-defensive selection, a three time All-Star, and just collected the first of what should be a long string of world championship rings. And Vlade? Stuck in Sacramento, stuck behind the Lakers and the Blazers and the Spurs and the Jazz and without a hope of ever seeing past the second round of the playoffs in his career. Harsh, maybe, but that is how proper draft day orchestration can right or wrong the path of a player and a team.

Take this years’ NBA draft. The Clippers of all teams pulled off some of the greatest single day miracle swaps of all time. Picks and trades that could effect the league for years to come. The high school kid drafted third, Darius Miles, and Cory Maggette, who was obtained in a trade with Orlando, have the potential to change the face of the team and actually give them the opportunity to become competitive. Give it the four or five year cap allowed for Kobe to mature, and see what you have. These two guys could make L.A. a two-team town and could actually be cornerstones – along with the talented Lamar Doom – to a burgeoning rivalry. Just take a minute to ingest that one. Well, a good draft can allow a lot of speculative thought to blossom, at least enough to carry one through the endless summer leagues and training camps until the start of the next season.

Conversely, a bad draft day can destroy a team. Transform them into punchlines or the greatest of laughing-stocks. Even though the San Diego Chargers did the right thing in trading away their draft future for the rights to draft Ryan Leaf, they did so with the narrowest of blinders, recklessly endangering their already fragile franchise image. Of course we all know the tragic course of the Leaf saga. He will never play effective quarterback for the Bolts much less suit up again before he is released.

But Leaf’s own ignorance has separated himself enough to save the Chargers their pride and dignity. The blame is, and should be, solely on his shoulders, for Leaf’s entirely egotistical and mindless off-field actions have only mutilated his own image. He is the spoiled toddler sitting on his own high chair, whimpering now to the deafest of ears, the precious seconds on his clock ticking quicker than ever before. The Chargers will recover from that draft day choice – the only one they had. But Leaf’s road will now twist straight uphill. But for a player, on-field performance weighs so heavily that one good season, or even a tremendous single game, could instantly put him beneath the glare of the limelight.

He could do it slower, taking the path to resurrection over which Kerry Collins has managed to travel. Now, with the New York Giants, Collins has gained the starting position and could be even more effective if running back Ron Dayne plays out to be the masher he was in college. Could Leaf emulate his own turn around in such a manner, he could still come out a troubled success story.

Ricky Williams was unable to take the blame solely on his shoulders because his coach, Mike Ditka, was so firmly locked together with him in tow. Together they are branded responsible for the mortgage of the New Orleans Saints’ future – Ditka for selling away the future, Ricky for being the un-kept, unruly promise. When they went down last season, it began to dawn greater than on draft day just how much the Saints gave away for one talented but highly limited (especially in today’s wide open offenses) player.

Now the deal can be rightly assessed and the performance of the players obtained on the other side of the trade can be drawn against Williams’ productivity. For the Redskins, Champ Bailey, already rounding into at this years draft, seem lopsided in comparison. Williams, of course, most likely will pan out to be a 1000+ yard. back, running behind the best offensive line in the nation. But would the Saints be more competitive with Bailey, Arrington, four other high draft picks and a couple middle of the road backs signed from free agency? The answer lies in the swift firing of Ditka and his entire staff.

If the draft hasn’t yet become such an encompassing phenomenon, it’s entirely understandable. It takes time to inoculate oneself properly in order to withstand three hours of draft coverage by the incessant blanket of ESPN’s propaganda machine. Two minimum viewings of Sportscenter a day over a ten year minimum span could qualify as adequate immunity. So remember, those two draft days a year can only become as integral a part of your life as you allow it to be. And when you have become one with the happenings of the draft and allow its energy to reside within your own being, that phenomena known as the ‘runner’s high’ may be obtained in your own armchair. With that said, I must stop. The white padded truck is coming for me.