KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Well, whattaya know? Tom Petty was right. The waiting really is the hardest part.
“Watching the draft was a very stressful thing on the TV,” ex-Kansas center Jeff Withey, now of the Portland Trailblazers, said late Thursday, roughly a half-hour after they’d finally stuck a fork in the 2013 NBA Draft. “So my whole thought process was, ‘Maybe the next one, maybe the next one.’ And when (my name) was finally called, it was (really) a relief.”
Truth be told, if you were a Jayhawks fan with coffee to burn, that wound up being the overall gist of the night, at least as far as the locals were concerned. What some had projected as an potential evening of euphoria — former KU guard Ben McLemore off the board as the top pick overall, Withey following suit maybe midway through the first round — turned out to be more of a nervous exhale.
Air Ben wound up being taken at No. 7 to Sacramento, which was about six picks after what he — and the folks in Lawrence — had hoped. Withey was also tapped later than expected, by the Blazers with pick No. 39.
And, hey, everybody got what they wanted. OK, maybe not exactly. But they got what they needed.
Withey is a 7-footer parachuting into a roster that desperately needs size, chutzpah, and some defensive muscle. Meanwhile, the 6-foot-5 McLemore landed with a franchise that’s pushing the reset button on all fronts, one that’s reportedly recommitted its affection for all things NBA. Plus, they don’t need him to dribble around the wings trying to create his own shot. They can let Ben be — well, Ben.
“He was our No. 1 choice,” new Kings owner Vivek Ranadive reportedly told fans gathered to celebrate the McLemore pick. “And we were frantically in the war room trying to trade up to the number two, three, four slot. We were willing to pay a lot of money to get Ben and we got him at seven.”
So Sactown is thrilled, even if McLemore isn’t. And, in theory, you’ve got to admit: It works. Point guard Isaiah Thomas excels at the drive-and-kick. The Kings of present are a team of ballhogs, egos and occasional malcontents; what McLemore does best is roll off screens, spot up, and pop.
He’s not there to slice into DeMarcus Cousins’ precious possession time or putz around with the rock. He’s there to chuck and duck.
“I want to come in and show everybody what I can do,” McLemore told reporters in New York. “Because … on the court, I know what I can do. I can be an alpha dog and take over games and help my team win games.”
Well, that ‘alpha dog’ part remains to be seen. And you wonder if questions about McLemore’s lack of a mean streak — his intensity and scoring faded alarmingly, at times, outside the friendly confines of Allen Fieldhouse — scared off some clubs that needed outside-shooting punch.
Or maybe it was something else. A few weeks ago, word got out that McLemore looked, ahem, less-than-impressive during a June 5th workouts in Phoenix, that he’d come off as out of shape. And there’s the ongoing Rodney Blackstock saga; Air Ben’s agent has been accused of plying family members with money and other assorted gifts while McLemore was still a collegian.
“Ben could’ve gone higher,” KU coach Bill Self observed. “He could have just as easily gone where he did. So I don’t see (Thursday) as a negative in any way, shape, or form.”
And did you see the social media love? As the first handful of picks came off the board while poor McLemore sat, celebrities rushed to Twitter in shock.
It’s true: McLemore just might have the most upside of anybody in this wacky, unpredictable 2013 draft haul. Mind you, Sacramento is where upsides sometimes go to die.
A year ago at this time, the Kings grabbed Jayhawks big man Thomas Robinson at No. 5. He was expected to be an enforcer and a building block, while the franchise was supposed to have one foot out the door towards a move to Seattle, Anaheim, Las Vegas, or parts unknown.
In February, T-Rob was traded to Houston, which was out of left field. But that was a mild shock compared to the decision by NBA owners a few months later to spurn a well-heeled Seattle suitor and keep the franchise in California’s capital city.
“The bottom line,” Self said of McLemore, “is (that) he probably ended up just where he needed to be.”
Amen. Amen, amen, amen. And you could probably sing the same song about Withey, given the benefit of hindsight. The Blazers are a hot mess defensively, coming off a season in which they ranked 26th in the league in blocks per game (4.3 as a team), or almost as many as Withey averaged (3.9) by himself during his senior campaign in Lawrence. Portland also wound up 26th in the league in points allowed per 100 possessions (109.2).
“I know Jeff is excited,” Self said. “He’s more motivated now than ever.”
Which is good. The Blazers crave post help for power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, even though Aldridge allegedly wants to get the heck out of town. Portland center J.J. Hickson is a free agent, while backup Meyers Leonard is still a pup.
“A good night for Kansas,” Self called it.
A good night for McLemore and Withey, too. Just watch.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at email@example.com