Selecting Syracuse’s Chris McCullough with the 29th overall pick didn’t come without a substantial amount of risk for the Brooklyn Nets in Thursday night’s NBA Draft.
In the process of recovering from an ACL tear, the young power forward from the Bronx may be unable to take the court for a single minute next season. Needless to say, a completely unproductive rookie contract isn’t exactly what a team struggling to create salary cap space – mostly due to the $20+ million contracts of point guard Deron Williams and shooting guard Joe Johnson – needs.
Even if McCullough, who averaged 9.3 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game in his freshman season with the Orange, is projected by the masses to demonstrate lottery-level talent once restored to full health.
So when Billy King decided to swap Brooklyn’s 41st pick, Pat Connaughton, and reserve center Mason Plumlee, for Rondae Hollis-Jefferson – the 23rd overall pick by the Portland Trailblazers out of Arizona – and veteran point guard Steve Blake, it was exactly what the Nets did need.
While Blake is a veteran that brings countless intangibles to the roster, there’s also a great deal to be said about the other factors the transaction consists of.
The initial thought of coming away from the draft absent of an active-roster first rounder through the duration of his rookie season was that of a potential disaster for the Nets. Preaching patience in a New York market after a 38-44 campaign and first round playoff defeat would be like climbing to the top of the Empire State Building in 10 seconds – impossible. Even in Brooklyn.
But the deal King configured with Portland to land the Nets Hollis-Jefferson, who was good for 11.2 points and 6.8 rebounds per contest in his sophomore season, was a brilliant save.
Not only does Brooklyn address a couple of serious holes by attaining an athletic wing that brings defensive intensity, but the trade also enables the kind of patience the organization will need when it comes to McCullough’s return to action down the line.
McCullough must also feel an enormous sense of relief following the deal. Whatever internal pressure he would place upon himself to make his debut as soon as possible will now be dramatically lessened thanks to the presence of a 2015 first round pick on the roster. McCullough will have the luxury of returning at his own pace, which is always an enormous bonus when it comes to the topic of ACL tears.
And in the realm of possibility that McCullough never evolves into the kind of player the organization anticipated when selecting him at No. 29, Hollis-Jefferson could prove to be the safety net King and coach Lionel Hollins can fall back on. Should Hollis-Jefferson live up to expectations and McCullough sorely disappoint, it would invalidate the argument that Brooklyn completely dropped the ball on the opening round of the 2015 Draft.
After making a risky first selection, Billy King needed to find some backup ammunition for both the Nets and himself, and he succeeded in doing so.
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