NBA DRAFT: The Mystery of the Bullets (and other NBA teams) Passing on Karl Malone
So in all likelihood, something bad is going to happen this evening … not necessarily to the Wizards, but to some NBA franchise. It’s practically a given. The gravest ill is drafting a bust. The second-gravest ill is passing by an All-Star. Every team has experienced draft night regret, and often they pity-party with each other over could-have-been
Hall-of-Famer Karl Malone is perhaps the most famous pass-over ever. On June 18, 1985, 12 teams, including the Washington Bullets, passed over Malone, a junior out of Louisiana Tech. But the selections of several teams were understandable in the first draft of the lottery era. Patrick Ewing went first to the Knicks; another HOFer, Chris Mullin, went seventh to the Warriors. Can’t blame the Pacers for taking Wayman Tisdale (Oklahoma) second overall. Other players drafted before Malone—such as Xavier McDaniel (Wichita St.), fourth to the SuperSonics; Detlef Schrempf, eight to the Mavericks; and Charles Oakley, ninth to the Cavaliers—all had above-average productive careers. In fact, Malone thought he was going to Dallas with the eight pick instead of Schrempf. From a 2007 ESPN.com run-down on Malone:
“Convinced the Mavericks were going to select him with the eighth choice of the 1985 draft, Malone rented an apartment in Dallas. Instead, the Mavs took Detlef Schrempf and Malone lasted until Utah’s turn at No. 13.”
Recently, on NBA TV, Vince Cellini led a 2013 NBA Draft roundtable discussion between Mike “the Czar” Fratello, Steve Kerr, and Ron Thompson. The crew talked about draft prospects from small schools and the Karl Malone incident. Kerr had these words in particular:
“No one wanted to take him because he went to the small school. Probably five years after Karl Malone left, there was another power forward named Randy White from Louisiana Tech, who went 8th in the draft. You know why? He went to Louisiana Tech. Nobody wanted to miss on the Karl Malone.”
Kerr went on to point out Malone as the text-book example of the “reverse” affect of the small school syndrome. Essentially, if people (read: NBA GMs) are reaching for the next Damian Lillard, they might end up with Randy White.
Malone went 13th in 1985, one spot after the Washington Bullets selected Kenny Green out of Wake Forest. Randy White was taken 8th overall after four years at LaTech in 1989. He lasted five years, 281 games, in the NBA. According to Basketball-Reference.com, White’s career most closely resembles those of Greg Foster, Jerome Lane, Obinna Ekezie, and Cartier Martin.
Regarding the Bullets’ selection of Green with the 12th pick, an interesting nugget recently arose via the book, “The Bullets, the Wizards, and Washington, D.C. Basketball,” by Brett Abrams and Raphael Mazzone. The tid-bit arose from an interview that one of the authors had with then-Bullets GM Bob Ferry on March 17, 2012 in which Ferry reveals insight about not picking Malone that I’d never seen before. From the book:
“Despite having the 12th pick, the team had a chance to significantly improve itself. Bob Ferry and crew selected a forward, Kenny Green, out of Wake Forest, whom they traded to the Philadelphia Sixers midway through his first season with the team. The trade yielded guard Leon Wood, who went to the Nets the night before the Halloween evening start of the season for Mike O’Koren. The Bullets waived O’Koren four months later. Thus, the first-round selection, before the start of the 1986 season, resulted in the Bullets getting a man whom they waived one and a half seasons later. Selected by Utah immediately after Green was forward Karl Malone. Bob Ferry explained, ‘We missed on Karl Malone. I was misled by his college coach, a lot of guys were. The coach said Malone was potential trouble.’ “
Malone’s college coach was Andy Russo, who coached at the University of Washington after leaving LaTech in 1985, then Florida Tech in 1991, then Lynn University in 1999. Russo, now around 64 years old, hasn’t had a head coaching job since his last season at Lynn University in 2002-03.
Another blurb from the 2007 ESPN.com piece on Malone might shed some more insight:
“Malone admitted he didn’t play hard every game in college. ‘It was rough in our league to play a half-decent team one night and then a 6-2 center the next,’ he said.”
Was Ferry actually duped by Malone’s college coach? Were “a lot of guys” duped, as Ferry states? That, as of the present, remains a mystery… to perhaps be overturned in the future.
Big picture: it’s hardly a surprise, considering the circumstances. It’s why teams do a lot more due diligence these days. Current Wizards Head Coach Randy Wittman might not like the current pre-draft workout process, but GMs hungry to avoid mistakes certainly appreciate them … even if they might have just as much chance of screwing up in 2013 as they did in 1985.
So will this year’s draft have a Karl Malone? Without clear cut stars in the top 3 and with scenarios changing by the minute, it seems more than likely. The Wizards, in jumping from eight to third overall via the draft lottery, seemingly have much less of chance of screwing things up. The reality is that you don’t need a team to take Karl Malone 13th overall or Kawhi Leonard 15th overall to screw up a much higher pick.
With Georgetown’s Otto Porter all but a lock for Washington at No. 3. Those who favor UNLV’s Anthony Bennett or Indiana’s Victor Oladipo or anyone else for that matter, might just be hedging their bets on a future ‘I told you so.’