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P&T Time Capsule: A 2021 NBA Draft real-time diary

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Ahh, July.......were we ever so young?

2021 NBA Draft Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

July. Remember July? What a world that was. The country was slipping backwards into an avoidable pandemic nightmare because the same people who’ve unflinchingly obeyed “no shirt, no shoes, no service” their whole lives and who laud the sacrifices made by “the greatest generation” can’t handle wearing a piece of cloth that doctors have worn forever for obvious reasons.

The Mets were in first. They are emphatically not anymore. Lionel Messi was staying at Barcelona. He is now at PSG. The Olympics were imposing their global fraud on the unwilling people of Japan. Now the imposition is over and the financial and health ramifications can begin to avalanche. What a strange world, then and now.

Recently one of our army of P&T interns was digging through old files when they came across a folder marked “Time Capsule.” This folder contains a number of abandoned or forgotten pieces from the past. We’ll be sharing them over the rest of the offseason. The first one is a real-time diary I wrote during this year’s NBA draft. Kick back. Relax. Turn up the AC while there’s still time to enjoy the world before climate change, and harken back to a simpler time, when we dreamed of Chris Duarte, Usman Garuba and the unceasing, unformed future...

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Hey loves! Every NBA draft I keep a real-time diary of what stood out the most from it. This year’s draft was no different: some suspense, some surprises and a lot of people saying or doing things they’ll look silly for down the road. But this isn’t about down the road. This is about re-living last Thursday night. Here is one person’s courageous account.

8:00

We already know Cade Cunningham is going first in the draft because Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted it hours ago, and Wojnarowski is a ghoul who hates children and surprises. If Woj’s mother was a DNR scheduled to have her life support plug pulled at midnight, he’d pay someone to pull it five minutes early just so he could be the first to break the news. If you’re going to hold a draft in the first place, an event that in 2021 feels absurdly out-of-touch as far as those who enjoy privilege and agency — the owners who now ask to be called “governors,” which is horseshit since governors are at least potentially accountable to a voting public, whereas owners are not — versus those who do not — predominately young Black men, the most successful of whom will be vilified the first time they take control of their career and go where they want to work. Could you at least not try to kill all the drama?

8:01

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver thanks the fans for being there in-person and not digitally, calling the sight “truly uplifting.” Silver also thanks the fans “for standing by us the past 16 months.” To have been a fly on the wall of anybody watching the draft from Vancouver, or Seattle, or Oakland, or East Rutherford, or...well, you get it.

8:02

Silver says the upcoming season will be especially special because it’s the NBA’s “75th anniversary.” It isn’t. The NBA’s first season was 1949-50, the result of a merger between the Basketball Association of America and the National Basketball League. For the Knicks and Celtics, who originated along with the BAA in 1946, last year was their 75th. The NBA won’t reach that mark until 2024.

8:05

Kendrick Perkins is on TV being paid to analyze the draft. Kendrick Perkins is on TV being paid to analyze the draft?!

8:06

Cade Cunningham is compared to Grant Hill. Did you see Hill in his prime? If you didn’t, you need to know: he was it. Hill made All-NBA defenders look silly trying to stop him.

If the Pistons have a new Hill, they’ll be back sooner than later.

8:08

Perkins calls Cunningham the most complete draftee since LeBron James 18 years ago. That can’t be true. Can it? What about Luka Dončić? Anthony Davis? Kevin Durant? Dwyane Wade? (Wade was technically drafted after LeBron, albeit only a few minutes later) Cade is better than all them cats?

The burden on some of these kids is obscene. Cunningham could go on to have a career where he’s as good as, say, Danny Granger, plays at that level for 10-12 years, and he’d still be considered a bust. Yet another reason LeBron blows me away. When he came out in ‘03 I was worried for him; I remember thinking He could turn out to be as good as Paul Pierce and still be labeled a disappointment! I wasn’t wrong. On the other hand, I was very, very wrong.

8:09

Quoth ESPN draft anchor Rece Davis: “Our Adrian Wojnarowski...” The money there must be unbelievable to get people to talk about a corporation like a family when that same corporation keeps firing people or lowballing them out of town because the wealthy people at the top wanna be more wealthy.

8:12

Malika Andrews to Cunningham: “What does it mean to share this achievement with [your family]?”

Whether it’s Rachel Nichols asking Chris Paul how he feels about losing the Finals practically immediately after losing the Finals or Andrews’ query to Cunningham, the point is clear: Naomi Osaka was right to avoid press conferences for her mental health. It’s just not that the question is inane; it completely disregards Cunningham’s humanity in a once-in-a-lifetime moment. He’s minutes removed from something he’s pro’ly spent most of his life imagining. Think back to the first time you had sex. Imagine a reporter five minutes later being like “What does it mean to share this achievement with [your lover]?” How articulate would you be? How intrusive to have someone asking you to digest something so special and try to package an articulate response for outsiders who have nothing to do with it. I can wait 24 hours. Let these young people live their night. They’re all stuck with whoever drafts them for years anyway. Can’t they at least be free to process it?

I hope athletes stop indulging nonsense sideline reporter interviews. Put the pressure on the media to do a better job than lazy-ass dead-end questions.

8:14

Perkins points out Jalen Green’s suit and jewelry. Guess you have to be a former pro to spit that level of trenchant insight.

8:19

The Westbrook-to-the-Lakers trade is official. With Washington adding pick 22, could that help the Knicks in their pursuit of the Wizards’ higher pick?

Spoiler: it will not.

Also, Westbrook to the Lakers?! I can totally see it working out or blowing up in their faces. He’s an awful perimeter shooter who’s at his best with the ball in his hands, which if it is means it’s not in the hands of LeBron or AD, both of who are vastly superior to Westbrook. On the other hand, this is still someone who in a subpar season puts up 22/11/11. Next year’s Lakers will arguably be the best team he’s ever played on, perhaps putting him in position to win a ring with L.A. before Kevin Durant does in Brooklyn. Westbrook will be mighty motivated. It should be fun to watch.

8:22

Perkins: Evan Mobley “reminds me of a modern-day Bill Russell.” A public service message: no one is Bill Russell or Michael Jordan or Marilyn Monroe, OK? Just don’t.

8:26

Scottie Barnes LEAPT from his seat when Toronto chose him at #4 rather than Jalen Suggs. I’ll take that organic, unscripted moment — like the time Zach LaVine muttered “Fuck me” after being drafted by Minnesota — over 1000 Woj bombs any day.

9:00

In one of the draft’s first surprises, Sacramento selects point guard Davion Mitchell. The Kings’ backcourt already features De’Aaron Fox, Tyrese Haliburton, Delon Wright and Buddy Hield; it’s hard to imagine where they fit another lottery guard into that mix. If the Kings and all their guards ever formed a roster with Orlando and all their forwards, you might have an interesting team. Instead, you have two who can never seem to get out of their own way.

9:07

As franchises emphasize player development more and more, it’s worth wondering which player may have been drafted into a situation where the deck is stacked against their success regardless of that player’s skill or drive to succeed. I am unusually certain that MItchell in Sacramento will not work out for the team, mostly because I believe they’ll fail the player.

9:22

Kendrick Perkins’ laugh is driving me and my fiancee nuts. ‘Tis a dry, percussive, toneless ostinato, like a wine that doesn’t get you drunk but still leaves you with a vicious hangover.

9:23

Indiana selects Chris Duarte, whom the Knicks were rumored to be hot after. Not gonna lie: as a Puerto Rican who idolized Dominican Felipe Lopez (I still have his #13 St. John’s jersey hanging in my closet), I loved the idea of Duarte playing at MSG. Also not gonna lie: I’m glad the Knicks didn’t trade up to make it happen.

9:33

Silver reads a tribute to Terrence Clarke, the Kentucky star who died in an April car crash. Clarke’s mother, sister and little brother came up on stage as Silver announced the NBA was drafting Clarke posthumously. That was cool. And tough to watch. His poor mother.

9:43

Oklahoma City traded the 16th pick to Houston for future considerations, which they then used on Alperen Şengün. That gives Houston four 1st-rounders tonight, perfect for a cheap-ass vulture capitalist like Tilman Fertitta who pretends to give a crap about competing.

9:44

Kendrick Perkins joking about his inability and unwillingness to pronounce “Şengün,” as well as every other non-American player in the draft, is not funny. Not funny at all. Maybe the league can spare one hand from either self-congratulatory pats on the backs or strokes further south and realize that kind of microaggression isn’t ever cool. Or hire someone who takes the time to learn how to pronounce someone’s name.

9:58

Mike Schmitz asked Cunningham what makes him wired differently than most players in clutch situations. A great answer by Cunningham, who referenced early life “trust issues.” An unusually frank and insightful reply. I think it’d be great to hear more from successful athletes and people in general about converting a challenge or obstacle into a strength. I know there are parts of my life where my neurodiversity is a hindrance and others where it’s an asset. I wish I’d known that 30 years ago.

10:02

The Knicks are up, and...they trade pick #19, center Kai Jones, to Charlotte for a protected future 1st-round pick. Okay, Leon Rose. What you go up your sleeve?

10:20

The Knicks select Tennessee freak athlete Keon Johnson...or do they? They don’t! Johnson is being traded to the L.A. Clippers. It’s late at night, I still have a lesson plan to finish for a 9 a.m. class, and here are the Knicks, repeatedly kicking the can down the road and pushing their decision(s) back. My overwhelmed to-do pile and underserved sleep schedule both thank you for the delays, Knick management!

10:38

Adam Silver is a joke maker. Tell them, Adam.

10:41

The Knicks finally draft someone they don’t trade. Quentin Grimes’ scouting report reads like a lesser Duarte. Would I rather have traded up for the original, or hold steady while drafting its hronir? I’m cool with Grimes. If he can land a spot as a bench 3-and-D wing, this pick works.

11:22

The Knicks draft Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, then trade him to OKC for picks 34 and 36. They’ve had success recently picking 36th.

11:30

At #34 the Knicks select Rokas Jokubaitis, described by Schmitz as a lefty Euro combo guard in the vein of Goran Dragic. So yes: I’m suddenly on all fours.

11:36

Once I was waiting tables in college at a restaurant inside a Six Flags theme park. There was a girl I liked; we were a few years older than most of the other workers and had fun flirting and working together. One day the restaurant was dead, so the manager had us all draw straws; the two shortest would get to go home early. The girl drew the shortest straw, so she was out. We’d agreed to go out to eat together if we both drew the short straws. When my boss came over with the jar full of straws I prayed to any gods who might be listening to grant me this one private miracle. Let me win, just this one time. They did. I drew the next-shortest straw, and an hour later I’d changed and met the girl at a restaurant for our first date.

That’s how I felt when the Knicks landed Miles McBride at 36. I haven’t seen the kid play a minute for New York, but I’m already holding out hope his jersey is the next one I buy. Not literally, of course; I’m not spending $100 on a basketball jersey that pro’ly cost $15 to make. But I am ready to fall in love with McBride’s game.

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Looking back on that night, the Knicks did well: they drafted a potential two-way backcourt, draft-and-stashed a compelling guard, picked up an intriguing center project at 58 with Jericho Sims and added a 1st- and 2nd-round pick. In free agency they improved their shooting and creativity by adding Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier, and re-signing many of last year’s players on team-friendly deals. The roster, the coach and the front office all seem worthy of our faith and affection, the first time you can say that since...? And the owner appears to have turned his attention to the Rangers of late, as good a reason as any to be bullish about the Knicks.