It was a long road to Brooklyn. There was a 45-minute drive to a NJ Transit station in Trenton, an 80-minute train ride to New York Penn Station, and then a 25-minute subway ride from there to Brooklyn. But the road started well before my three-hour trip. The 2014 NBA Draft was supposed to be the culmination of a whirlwind year, starting with the trading of Jrue Holiday, with some god awful regular season basketball sprinkled along the way.
Thursday night was supposed to be the night Philadelphia finished building the team's essential core, and I was going to be there to watch it all unfold. I met up with NJ.com's Eliot Shorr-Parks, and we headed over to the Barclays Center around 4:00. I had no idea what I was going to do for four hours, but I wanted to drag the night out for as long as I could, and eat all the food available to the media.
There was no seating chart on the draft floor, so I scanned the aisles until I found where I was supposed to sit and-HOLY CRAP WOJ IS SITTING RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME. Why he had a regular chair on press row and not some sort of private office completely surrounded by security I'm not sure, but I wasn't complaining. Unfortunately, he wasn't the friendliest. If you talked anywhere remotely near him, he would shoot you that "I'm trying to kill you with my eyes" look. Hey, when you're the best in the world, you can be like that. I was the Smush Parker to his Kobe.
So I walked around and tried to talk to anyone I could. I introduced myself to Bill Simmons, who surprisingly could not have been nicer. "I think tonight's going to be a pretty basic draft, " he said. "Nothing is going to happen." I was convinced the Sixers would go in a direction other than Joel Embiid, Simmons was not. We shook hands and he left me with his prediction for Philadelphia, Embiid at three and Nik Stauskas at ten.
In line for the bathroom I ran into Jalen Rose, and talked to him about what he thought the Sixers would do. "Maaaaaaaaaan," he started (he really drew out that 'Man'), "If you guys don't take Embiid, you're stupid." We bantered for a minute, I said a backcourt of Michael Carter-Williams and Dante Exum has a better chance of surviving than a frontcourt of Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid. His bladder apparently couldn't hold up any longer, so he departed and I headed back to the draft room thinking both he and Simmons were crazy.
There's no way they're taking another big man. I wouldn't believe it. Mostly, I didn't want to.
I was completely caught off guard by the start of the draft. My anticipation was the draft started at 8:00, and I was going to need every second to mentally prepare myself. It was 7:30, and here was Adam Silver taking the podium now. I'm gonna vomit.
The top two were horribly anti-climactic, mostly because I was watching Woj type up Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker's names a good ten minutes before they were announced. Once three rolled around, I was still holding out hope it was Exum. Right as the Sixers went on the clock, there was Woj again.
Philadelphia will select Joel Embiid with the No. 3 pick in the NBA Draft, league source tells Yahoo Sports.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) June 26, 2014
I'm here at the draft with no tape delay and yet the picks are still being ruined. Woj is a wizard.
My guess was Embiid may have been on the move, but my focus was on pick ten now. Maybe they will take a guy who can actually play in 2014-15. What transpired at pick ten was the funniest thing of the entire night. Here Woj was, ruining every pick far before they were announced, and Sam Hinkie absolutely stumped him.
2010 NBA Draft
2010 NBA Draft
He whipped around and told DX's Jonathan Givony, "I think it's Saric, but I have no idea." Givony responded with a shrug. Two minutes later, Givony grabbed Wojnaroski. "McDermott?"
"No, I don't think so. I don't know."
Here is a reporter who gets information like there are wire taps in each war room, and he did not have a single clue. Eventually, word began to leak that the pick was Dario Saric, and I was anticipating the announcement of another guy who won't play next season. I was half listening to Adam Silver as I banged out my tweet on Saric, so it didn't really register with me the Sixers took Elfrid Payton. After ten seconds something finally synapsed in my brain that Saric wasn't the pick, and I'm pretty sure my body reactively yelled out "WAIT!", like that was going to take back their selection of Payton.
So here we are, two picks down, and the Sixers have a second really talented center who is going to be hurt, and a second point guard who can't shoot but has a wicked afro. I didn't know what to think.
Michael Carter-Williams was at the draft, and somebody forced him to come over and take a picture with the Sixers newest point guard. I have never seen anyone look more miserable to take a photo than MCW, who seemed like he thought he was being replaced. He gave Payton a real unenthusiastic pat on the back, and went back to his seat.
Eventually Philadelphia traded Payton for the rights to Dario Saric, a 2017 1st round pick (which they gave to Orlando in the first place), and a 2015 2nd round pick. We waited around for about an hour to interview Saric, and what transpired thereafter was one of the greatest interviews I have ever seen in my life.
Saric on himself: "Hi, I'm Dario Saric, and before everything, my English is not so very bad."
On Philadelphia: "I am happy because Philly chose me, and I'm happy because I play with teamates like Michael Carter-Williams, he's rookie of the year, Joel Embiid, Nerlens Noel, and I am pleasure because I play with them."
On signing a contract with Anadolu Efes: "I chose because it's a better option for me, to stay two years more in Europe, to get more experience, to bring my basketball to a higher level....Philadelphia choose me because I am no liar, and one day I will be back in Philadelphia for sure."
I'm in love.
I rushed back into the draft room to catch the Sixers pick at 32, hoping they would select someone with an iota of talent that will at least play in 2014-15. Cool, I like K.J. McDaniels, he's good value at 32. Sure, Jerami Grant, that's like 3/4 of an iota.
Meanwhile, Woj was hitting the second round wall real hard. He had started coming up with hybrid players, at one point calling out the name of "Cleanthony Harris", a combination of Virginia's Joe Harris and Wichita State's Cleanthony Early. Sure enough, the two of them went back to back.
I didn't mind picking Russ Smith at 47, but I absolutely geeked when they traded for Pierre Jackson, giggling to P&T's Seth Rosenthal like a small child. Very professional. Pick 51 brought on Rich Hoffman's personal favorite Vasilije Micic, a nice draft & stash talent that I actually knew about. Then they took Nemanja Dangubic at pick 54.
I turned to the guys sitting next to me. "You got anything for me on him?"
"We call him Dang-u-bitch." Solid.
I didn't want the night to end, apparently neither did Philadelphia, who then traded for 58 and took Jordan McRae. Woj was having a hard time with some Euro names, but it was an SDSU product at pick 59 that was giving him real problems. He turned around to Givony one last time and asked "Thames?". I knew he was looking for a first name, and I was going to come to his rescue.
"It's Xavier," I told him. Without even looking my way nor acknowledging me, Woj turned around to his computer and typed in that Toronto would select him at pick 59. I helped the world famous Adrian Wojnarowski with a scoop; he is forever indebted to me.
It was fitting that the Sixers closed to the entire 2014 draft by selecting a guy who will never play for them, trading Cory Jefferson to Brooklyn. And thus, the night was concluded.
I wandered over to Simmons and Rose at the end of the draft, begrudgingly admitting to them they were right about Embiid, and they bid me adieu.
It was disappointing knowing that the team stepping on the floor in 2014-15 will be pretty identical to the year previous, plus Nerlens Noel. But the experience of being at the draft went far beyond my wildest imagination, and left me with plenty of great stories.
And when the Sixers are kicking ass in 2017-18, I can say I was at the draft that made it all possible.