What if the NBA Draft still had Territorial Claims?

Back in May you might remember this Bill Simmons column in which he lays out the history behind the 24 second shot clock. Simmons borrows heavily from 24 Seconds To Shoot by Leonard Koppett , a must-read history of the early days of the NBA that I bought for $6 at Powell's back when Shoals was down here doing his FreeDarko reading.  

The book is full of random tidbits that you might find interesting:

  • Less than 60 years ago, an NBA team (Ft. Wayne Pistons) played all of its home games in a high scool gym (capacity 3,800).
  • At one point, the Knicks attempted to buy out the entire struggling St. Louis franchise simply to acquire their star center, paving the way for the Pau Gasol to LA trade. 
  • Bob Cousy was awarded to the Celtics after 3 owners drew names from a hat.

But by far my favorite quirk of the early NBA was its territorial draft rule, which went something like this...

In the league's early years, when teams were struggling to include fan bases, the draft included territorial picks. Before the start of the draft, a team could forfeit its first-round pick and instead select a player from its immediate area, presumably with a strong local following.

This was no one off deal either; it was a common practice that ended up heavily favoring certain teams. For example, according to Koppett, in 1953 the New York Knicks, despite finishing in first place in the Eastern Conference, held territorial rights to the top 3 players in the draft (!!!).  In today's context, that would be like the Orlando Magic having first crack at either Blake Griffin, Ricky Rubio or James Harden simply because of geographical proximity.  Ridiculous.  Clearly it was a system that could entrench power bases and adversely impact competitive balance in a ~10 team league.

Over the last 60 years a lot has changed: professional basketball has become a truly national -- and now international -- game.  Youth basketball talent can be found in every corner of the country.  Just last weekend, I sat in a small-college gym in Southwest Portland and watched the #1 junior in the country, from Seattle, play against the #3 junior in the country, from Mississippi. [Tony Wroten is a straight baller, by the way]

For absolutely no reason whatsoever, let's see what this year's draft would be like if territorial claims were allowed.  We'll go through the claims in draft order -- one claim per team -- and then give those teams without first round draft picks a claim as well, in reverse order of their record.  

A player's hometown, as well as his college's location, will be considered.

2009 TERRITORIAL MOCK DRAFT

1. Los Angeles Clippers -- Brandon Jennings (Compton, CA)

Mike Dunleavy is on the clock but, before he can announce his selection, Donald Sterling files a petition with the league to territorially claim Ricky Rubio.  Stern considers the petition briefly, with an eye towards Rubio's marketing potential in a heavily-Latino megacity, before concluding that Los Angeles proper possesses an embarrassment of basketball talent and that the Clippers must therefore select someone homegrown.  Dunleavy's list includes 4 top 12 talents: Brandon Jennings (Compton), DeMar Derozan (Compton), Jrue Holiday (UCLA), and James Harden (L.A.).  With Eric Gordon and Al Thornton in the team's long-term plans, Dunleavy opts for a point guard. In true Clippers fashion, he goes with the one likely to create more headaches: Jennings.

2. Memphis Grizzlies -- Tyreke Evans (University of Memphis)

Grizzlies General Manager Chris Wallace has already been considering drafting Evans, the one-and-done local college kid, to help sell tickets in Tiger country.  This territorial claim system gives him the perfect public relations cover to pretend Rubio (whom he loves but knows will never play for his decrepit franchise) doesn't exist.  A backcourt of Evans and Mayo is so imperfect that it might just be perfect.  Wallace also briefly considered Lousville's Terrence Williams and Earl Clark before realizing everyone in Memphis hates Lousville.  And vice versa. 

3. "Oklahoma City Thunder" -- Blake Griffin (University of Oklahoma)

Now that his year-long mission to add territorial claims back in the NBA draft is successful, "Thunder" GM Sam Presti spends the pre-draft process downing ecstacy and riding a mechanical bull at the Stillwater Dave and Buster's. Clay Bennett and Aubrey McClendon look on, drinking pitchers full of oil.  Seattle natives Kevin Pelton and Sherman Alexie briefly consider moving to "Oklahoma City" before deciding that Seattle Sounders season tickets are a suitable consolation prize for having their hearts ripped out. The Oklahoma state legislature immediately declares June 25th a state holiday and erects an Easter-Island-esque statue of Blake Griffin in downtown "OKC."  

4. Sacramento Kings -- Patrick Mills (St. Mary's)

Adding insult to the injury of not winning the draft lottery, the Kings try to territorially claim Californian Jrue Holiday, only to have the Lakers nix the idea with a threat of an appeal to the league, which they are sure to win because they are the Lakers.  Flummoxed, Kings GM Geoff Petrie doesn't even bother trying to claim SoCal'ers DeRozan or Harden, settling for local college player Mills in a potential downgrade from Beno Udrih (how often have those words been written?).  The Maloofs seriously consider folding their franchise and Tom Ziller begins work on his own 5,000 word territorial mock draft that doesn't completely shaft the Kings.  My bad, Ziller.

5. Washington Wizards -- Ty Lawson (Forestville, MD.)      

Laying territorial claim to the entire DMV region, the Wiz take a long look at Georgetown's DaJuan Summers and VCU's Eric Maynor and briefly try to smuggle Ricky Rubio into the US Embassy in Spain in an attempt to take diplomatic control of his draft rights.  Of course, they're the Wizards, so the plan doesn't work and they settle on Lawson, who is actually kind of a nice fit next to Arenas, Butler and Jamison.

6.  Minnesota Timberwolves -- Jonas Jerebko (Sweden)  

Still reeling from Tom Penn's thanks-but-no-thanks and the most awkward coach firing in history (tweet tweet), Wolves GM David Kahn scans his draft board and realizes that not one of the top 100 prospects attended high school or college in Minnesota.  Under these ridiculous circumstances, David Stern approves an appeal from the team, which lays out, in excrutiating detail, the strong Scandanavian ties present in the land of 10,000 lakes.  Thusly green-lighted, The Wolves select Jerebko, a 22 year old face-the-basket player with one of the least accurate jumpshots the Western world has ever seen. Sounds about right.  Kahn made his splash.

7.  Golden State Warriors -- DeMar Derozan (Compton, California)

Undeterred by Sacramento's failed claim on Jrue Holiday, the Warriors take Los Angeles product Derozan.  Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak ponders blocking the move before releasing the following statement, "Do I want to see the draft's most confusing prospect on the league's most confusing roster?  &$^* yes."  

Monta Ellis celebrates because Derozan isn't a point guard and because Ellis will finally be invited to an All-Star Game (as Derozan's designated Slam Dunk Contest lob-thrower/hype man).  Don Nelson was not available for comment because as soon as he heard the words "territorial rights" he flew immediately to Hawaii and has been drunk ever since.

8. New York Knicks -- Taj Gibson (Brooklyn, NY) 

The Knicks become the third team to try to claim Rubio before realizing that their place as the center of USA media doesn't really have anything to do with a random, kind-of-goofy-looking teenager from Spain.  The Knicks pressure MTV to bring back TRL and offer Rubio a co-hosting spot but the league office responds by issuing a one-word Press Release: " * sigh * ".  

GM Donnie Walsh then attempts to claim Syracuse Point Guard Jonny Flynn but Toronto GM Bryan Colangelo successfully challenges the claim based on proximity to Flynn's hometown of Niagara Falls. Walsh blows a gasket, considers North Babylon, NY's Danny Green and then ultimately drafts Gibson, the Basketball Mecca's top prospect. After years of exploiting territorial claims in their favor, the Knicks couldn't be less happy with how things played out this year.

On the plus side, drafting this relatively unheralded power foward clears the way for the Blazers to acquire David Lee.  

9. Toronto Raptors -- Jonny Flynn (Niagara Falls, NY) 

Reality sets in for Colangelo who, initally ecstatic that he won an appeal over the big-city Knicks, comes to terms with the fact that he doesn't actually need a point guard.  Oh well, at least he's succeeded in adding the first American to his roster.  Also, this is arguably the greatest day of Flynn Fan Holly MacKenzie's life. So Toronto's got that working for them. Which is nice.

10. Milwaukee Bucks -- Jerel McNeal (Marquette)

Bucks leadership spends their entire time on the clock muttering "why couldn't territorial rights have been added during the D. Wade draft?" before settling on fellow Marquette product, nothing-special point guard Jerel McNeal.  Good thing Bucks fans don't exist because they would be livid.

This move clears the way for the Blazers to acquire Ramon Sessions. 

11. New Jersey Nets -- Earl Clark (Rahway, N.J).

With Memphis having passed on their Louisville territorial claim, the door is wide open for New Jersey to grab the multi-purpose Clark, immediately rendering Yi Jianlian redundant and obsolete.  Which is a good thing because Yi is terrible.

12. Charlotte Bobcats -- Steph Curry (Davidson)

Stunned that the NBA wasn't operating with territorial draft claims all along, Bobcats GM Michael Jordan spends most of his time on the clock chewing on a cigar asking, "You mean I drafted Sean May with my own free will?", before realizing that Steph Curry is absolutely 100 percent still on the board.  Jordan then attempts to draft Duke's Gerald Henderson because that's what every other mock draft this year has told him to do. Larry Brown intervenes at the critical moment and Curry becomes a Bobcat.  Prepare yourself for 300+ excellent Curry interviews with Chris Littman on The Baseline over the next 12 months.

13. Indiana Pacers -- Jeff Teague (Indianapolis, IN)

By far the best Indiana product in the draft, Teague becomes the fourth most interesting point guard on the Pacers roster after just-plain-nuts Tinsley and love triangle rivals Jack and Ford.  On the bright side, Teague is actually pretty good and could pair nicely with Danny Granger.

14. Phoenix Suns -- James Harden (Arizona State)

Arguably the biggest winners of this territorial exercise outside of "Oklahoma City," the Suns snag Sun Devil Harden, who goes unchallenged by the Lakers who have locked in on Jrue Holiday and, um, don't really need a two guard (obvi). A Nash/Harden backcourt gives Suns fans hope that the team can make a serious playoff run in 2010; too bad the real draft isn't capable of offering them the same.  Sorry Stan.  

15. Detroit Pistons -- Goran Suton (Michigan State)

Joe Dumars can't believe that, with all the hoops talent that flows through Michigan on a regular basis, the best of this year's Michiganders is Suton.  Dumars spins this as a Darko Do-Over but no one is buying it.  He then admits to thinking long and hard about drafting NBDL Dunk Champion Brent Petway (University of Michigan) but abandoned those efforts when informed that Petway's nickname is "Air Georgia," and therefore his territorial rights could potentially be claimed by the Atlanta Hawks.

16. Chicago Bulls -- Tyler Hansbrough (Missouri) 

First the Big Apple and now the Second City: two total duds when it comes to adding big-time inner-city talent in this year's draft.  The Bulls wind up reaching outside the state for Hansbrough and, just like in the real draft, no one is going to maneuver to stop them.  Seriously, take him. He's yours.  Instantly, Chicago bookies start laying odds on who kills who first: Hansbrough or Noah.

17. Philadelphia 76ers -- DeJuan Blair (Pittsburgh)

Philly considers Merion, PA products Gerald Henderson and Wayne Ellington but opts for the perfect replacement for the recently-traded Reggie Evans. Blair instantly competes with Elton Brand for who can miss the most time due to injury.  Cleveland considered laying territorial claim to Blair but after re-watching tape from the Eastern Conference Finals they realized the absolutely last thing in this world that they need to draft is "undersized." 

18. Atlanta Hawks -- Jordan Hill (Atlanta, GA)

Getting a top 5 talent at the 18th position would seem to be a huge steal... if Hill wasn't a virtual lock to be a bust.  

This pick also frees up the Hawks to trade the obviously untradeable Josh Smith to Portland.

19. Utah Jazz -- Lee Cummard (BYU)

Honestly, I have no idea who Cummard is but the Jazz are likely to pick him whether or not there was a territorial rule in place. Just look at this picture.

20. New Orleans Hornets -- Marcus Thornton (LSU)

Thornton is the best scorer among the group of LSU draft prospects. This is important because Hornets owner George Shinn is considering laying off 20 percent of his starting lineup to help cut costs in these trying economic times.  If the Hornets do decide to begin games with just 4 men, it will be imperative that Chris Paul has another scoring option in the backcourt.

21. Dallas Mavericks -- A.J. Abrams (Round Rock, TX)

Outside of NYC and the CHI, the biggest disappointment in talent production this year is Texas.  Aside from Hasheem Thabeet, who played high school ball briefly in Houston before making his way to UConn, it's an empty, empty barrel.  The Mavs take Abrams, a shorter, less-ready, less-skilled Jason Terry and then spend the rest of the afternoon sulking and complaining, like they always do.

22. Portland Trail Blazers --  Austin Daye (Gonzaga)

Thanks to the departure of the Seattle Supersonics, the Blazers have the largest square-mileage territorial claim range of any team in the NBA: Washington, Oregon, and Alaska are all in play.  

Kevin Pritchard and his staff narrow the field to two players: Terrence Williams out of Seattle and Gonzaga's Daye.  Williams has the whole package: he's pro-ready, ebullient, versatile, plays with a chip on his shoulder and has nice ups.  On the other hand, he's rumored to have yelled at a PE coach back in middle school and Chad Ford has successfully spread rumors around the league for the last 4 years that this should be a red flag.  

Daye, on the other hand, is an all-upside small forward with a lot to prove.  In the end, Pritchard selects Daye because his 7'8" and 135 pound frame cannot support the weight of an ego, which the team believes makes him a better "culture" fit. 

Williams goes on to become a 5 time all star.    

23. Los Angeles Lakers -- Jrue Holiday (UCLA)

After successfuly scaring off Sacramento, the Lakers draft Holiday over his more proven teammate, Darren Collison. At #23 and with 3 point guards on the roster, it's a great forward-looking addition for the 2009 NBA champs.  They couldn't be happier; Los Angeles is the clear-cut big city territorial draft winner which is proof enough territorial claims should never, ever be brought back.

24. Cleveland Cavaliers -- BJ Mullens (Canal Winchester, OH)

The only Ohioan prospect ranked in the top 25, Mullens puts to bed the Shaq and Yao trade rumors and has every opportunity to follow in the big stiff footsteps of Zydrunas Ilgauskas.  Unfortunately, he's doomed to the worst possible rookie hazing imaginable: taking imaginary pre-game pictures for LeBron, getting covered in chalk dust by LeBron, answering post-game questions about why LeBron isn't answering post-game questions, and on and on.

It's all worth it because he gets to play with LeBron.  At least for one year anyway.

Teams without a first round pick

25. Miami Heat -- Jack McClinton (University of Miami)

McClinton is an undersized scorer that can come in microwave style when D Wade is busy applying new bandaids to his cheek.  

26. San Antonio Spurs -- Curtis Jerrels (Austin, TX)

Let me reiterate that Texas seriously lacks talent this year.  Jerrels is a turnover-prone point guard that couldn't carry Tony Parker's strap de joque at this point but there are not really any other better options in the greater San Antonio region. Jerrels' body is found in a Nevada desert surrounded by wine corks less than a week after he leads the Spurs to a 0-5 Summer League record.

27. Houston Rockets -- Hasheem Thabeet (Cypress Christian School, Houston)

The big winner in Texas, by far, is the Rockets, who add to their Hakeem and Dikembe lineage by snagging Thabeet over Danny Ainge's girl-scream protests.   By October, Rockets.com's servers are on life support after the team decides to put Yao vs. Thabeet training camp video online.  

This would actually be a fairly awesome development for the league as a whole and a nice way to ease the pain of that gruesome Mutombo career-ending injury in the Rose Garden that scars me to this day. Can we make this happen?

28. Denver Nuggets -- James Johnson (Cheyenne, Wyoming)

His name is "James Johnson." He's from Cheyenne, Wyoming.  Hmm. Kind of has "witness protection program" written all over it.  Don't tell Carmelo. Kidding.  Denver is happy to add this active, athletic top 20 talent to its already loaded frontcourt.

This pick clears the way for the Blazers to acquire Birdman.

29. Orlando Magic -- Nick Calathes (Winter Park, Florida)

Skip To My Lou's crew was literally threatening Stan Van Gundy's life during the NBA Finals (how was this not a bigger story?). The Magic draft Rafer's eventual replacement from right down the road and hope Calathes makes his journey to Greece a brief one.   

30. Boston Celtics -- A.J. Price (UConn)

After narrowly, narrowly missing out on Thabeet, the Green Monster settles for Price, his laptop-pilfering college teammate, who reports to training camp with a tattoo on the side of his head and sneakers that are falling apart on his feet.

Karma for Kevin Garnett.

Some thoughts

I'm not saying that the NBA should or ever will revert back to this system but aren't you a little bit taken aback by how much more interesting this makes the draft? If somehow territorial rights were allowed during the second round, for example, wouldn't that make the entirety of draft night must-see TV?

Taking out the six teams that didn't have first round picks this year (most of whom would be thrilled to have territorial rights over the guys they are paired with above) there are 24 teams. Of those 24, I count the following 9 teams as being fine with taking the player listed above over whomever they are likely to wind up with on Thursday...

"Thunder", Raptors, Bobcats, Suns, Sixers, Hawks, Blazers, Lakers, Cavaliers

I count these 5 teams as being relatively indifferent...

Grizzlies, Warriors, Nets, Pacers , Bulls

I count these 10 teams as feeling like they're getting the short end... 

Clippers, Kings,  Wizards, Timberwolves, Knicks, Bucks, Pistons, Jazz, Hornets, Mavericks

Of course, I wasn't able to deal with any of the international prospects, minus Jerebko, which is a pretty serious problem in this day and age.  After all of that, Rubio and Omri Casspi are left twiddling their thumbs.  Not to mention that this setup puts the screws to roughly half of the lottery teams --  those teams most in need of help if competitive balance is to be restored -- which really isn't the best look for the league as a whole.  

I guess the takeaway from this exercise, besides way too many cheap jokes, is confirmation of the logic that eliminated territorial rights in the first place: it's a system that tends to make the rich richer and the poor poorer, even in 2009. 

-- Ben (benjamin.golliver@gmail.com)

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