Life after Coach Cal: Hasheem Thabeet

thabeet-balloon-hat

Hasheem Thabeet gets fitted for his draft-night hat.

Well, that headline is a bit misleading. Because no one really moves on from Coach Cal. No, Coach Cal will always be a part of you. And his players will always live in Coach Cal's heart, and the nonsensical stories he drifts off into while discussing one of his current players.

But four players from this past season's Final Four team will move out of Cal's plush, championship-winning nest. So over the next ... however many days/weeks it takes to write these (it took me about two weeks to finally finish this, if that's any indication), we'll take a look at each player and their prospects of playing professionally.

First up: Theebz. (Man, it's going to feel bad when I won't be able to use that joke next year. Luckily, there's no way my dad pronounces Oriakhi.)

Things are a bit different for Thabeet compared to the other three players. Craig Austrie's only shot at continuing his basketball career is by going overseas or maybe in the D-League (the Gerry McNamara plan, if you will); and both Jeff Adrien and A.J. Price will likely get drafted, but face uphill battles to make it in the L.

But Thabeet doesn't have much to worry about. All of the draft sites list Theebz as a surefire Top 5, Top 3 pick. So it's a matter of where he gets drafted instead of if.

Because of this, this first edition will a bit different than the rest. For Thabeet, we'll take a look at the teams with the first five picks in the draft and see which one he fits best with, as well as gauge the likelihood of him getting drafted there.

1. Los Angeles Clippersclippers

This one is pretty easy. Despite having the personality of a robot, Blake Griffin is going to be the top pick in the draft, even if it wasn't the Clips who were selecting. The draft is so weak, and Griffin's pro potential is so far ahead of everyone else's, that there's no way he's passed over. GM/coach Mike Dunleavy Sr. even admitted as much the day after the draft lottery.

There's a chance the Clips trade the pick. But with Chris Kaman, Zach Randolph, Marcus Camby and Al Thornton already comprising a crowded frontcourt and taking up a huge chunk of their cap, they'd probably target a guard instead of a third center.

2. Memphis Grizzlies

This is where most mock drafts have Thabeet slotted, and if I were to make a guess right now, that's where I think he'll go (even after he missed Sunday's workout with the team).

Like the Clippers, the Grizzlies don't necessarily need a big man. They currently have Marc Gasol at center, and Pau's little bro is coming off a pretty good season. In Gasol fashion, he seemed to improve as his facial hair becagrizzliesme more hobo-like.

Problem is, the Griz don't necessarily need a point guard, either, and the only other player even worth taking in the Top 3 is Spanish teen idol Ricky Rubio. (The fact that Thabeet is considered an elite prospect shows you how weak this year's draft is.)

But because Memphis has been so bad for so long, they've essentially established a college all-star team -- the Bobcats of five feet to the west, if you will - and appear set at every position. They have a lot of really athletic, really young players stocked up, such as Mike Conley, Orange Juice Mayo and professional stat-sheet stuffer Rudith Gay, and they've basically assembled the type of team I would put together in NBA Live: No stars, just a whole lot of slamma-jammas.Which really makes this pick even more of a mystery.

Most would assume the Griz would go with Theebz here because they can always try to slide Marky Marc Gasol over to the 4 and allow the backcourt to develop for another year. However, given their history, it's just as likely that they draft Rubio and trade one of their guards ... and then watch him play way better than he ever did while in Memphis. (The 3-foot-6 Conley, who I contend will never be much good anyway, is the name you keep hearing in this scenario.)

And if there weren't enough twists to this whole shenanigan, teen sensation Ricky Rubio would need to sign off on the move first. He's already put himself in the draft mix, but Rubio will have to pay a reported $6.6 million for his release from his Spanish team, DKV Joventut.

And then there are the rumors floating around that Rubio wouldn't go to the Grizzlies if they chose him because of their already deep backcourt. And because, you know, they're just not that good.

But even if everything works out for Rubio -- which it likely won't -- it's hard to see the Grizzlies passing up Thabeet and risking another Steve Francis situation. It prevents the team from having to make a trade and would give them a young defensive stalwart who could help clean up the mess made by mediocre defenders like Mayo and Gay. Having played with Austire and Gavin Edwards, Thabeet should feel right at home.

Plus, with a core of Mayo, Gasol, Gay and Thabeet, the Griz would have some nice building blocks with which they could move forward ... and then trade in a year when they're too cheap to sign anyone to an extension.

But if I were Thabeet, I wouldn't be too excited about the prospect of going to Memphis. First off, you'd have to live in Memphis. Not only was it ranked the second most dangerous metropolitan area in 2007, but it's also a little bit country, and I just have this inkling that Hasheem isn't even a little bit rock n' roll. Second, aside from maybe the Clippers, it's probably the worst franchise in the NBA.

ESPN's John Hollinger, he of the mighty PER, recently ranked it as such when he rated all 32 franchises. Memphis has averaged only 26 games a season over its 14 years and has been swept in each of its three playoff appearances in 2004, '05 and '06.

And if that wasn't enough, the grizzly isn't even indigenous to Tennessee. Although I'm not sure about blue ones with glowing eyeballs.

3. Oklahoma City Thunder

Ah, the Thunder. For some reason, I've developed a collective man-crush on this team.

Although they won only 23 games the entire season and at one point seemed primed to take down the single-season loss record, the Thunder have developed a core of players that could turn the franchise around as soon as next season.thunder

Kevin Durant is a star, the type of player you build teams around. Russell Westbrook had a breakout rookie season, averaging 15.3 points and 5.3 assists per game. And after a rough first season, Jeff Green started to show signs that he can be a nice complementary piece. The team also has a few other decent role players, such as Nenad Kristic and Thabo Sefolosa. But what they desperately need is a center who could provide them a much-needed defensive presence.

And - hey! What do you know? Thabeet is just that.

He's not much more than that, really, but that's what makes this team such a great fit. Thabeet doesn't have to be much of a scoring threat in this offense. At least, not right away. Durant, Westbrook and Green averaged a combined 57.1 points a game, and with Durant jacking up almost 19 shots a game, he probably won't get many opportunities anyway. But what he can do is play defense, and that's something Oklahoma City desperately needs; it ranked 21st in defensive efficiency, averaged six fewer points than it allowed and churned out a -3.3 PER net production rate from the center position on the season (sixth-worst in the NBA). In fact, the only place it had a positive net PER was at small forward. Shocking, I know.

But overall, the team wasn't terrible. They played at the eight-fastest pace and had the seventh-highest rebound rate. Granted, their efficiency on offense was dreadful, but that's something that a team whose three best players have a combined five seasons of experience can develop with time. And a good defense would at least prevent the team from falling behind early and having to play catch-up.

Thabeet could provide that. And although he doesn't have much weight on him to bang with the likes of Shaq (get your minds out of the gutter), what he does have is incredible athleticism for a big man, which would allow the team to keep its up-tempo style on offense.

Really, the team reminds me a lot of the Wu-Tang Clan before they blew up. Durant's like a young Method Man: a lot of untapped potential, but you can tell he's got star potential. Green strikes me as someone with a little bit of Raekwon in him, and you can make the case that Nenad Kristic is the new Masta Killa.

But despite all that talent, a hit first album and all those karate references, they still needed something else to push them over the top - an unofficial 10th member.

Now, some might say that with nine members already, they didn't really need a 10th, especially one that wasn't officially in the group. But Cappadonna really rounded out the group's lineup. See, nine just wasn't quite enough, and 11 would have made them a prime number. And you know how the RZA feels about his natural numbers. Ten, though -- that's just right.

Thabeet would be like that 10th member. He's not the star, or really even good at all. But he fills a need that will collectively improve the group.

With all that in mind, I think Thabeet can really explode onto the scene in Oklahoma City. (Too soon?)

4. Sacramento Kings

Based on the information all of the draft experts are putting out, Thabeet shouldn't drop this far. The draft is devoid of both talent and size, and Thabeet has at least one of those.

But it's still possible. Just ask Brady Quinn's acne. kings

For instance, would it really be all that surprising for the Grizzlies to draft Spanish heartthrob Ricky Rubio (and watch him spend the next two seasons in Spain)? And although Thabeet to the Thunder seems like a perfect match, OKC still has other needs it can address, like at the 2-guard. Let's say that Memphis rolls the dice with Rubio. And then the Thunder decide Thabeet is too much of a project to waste the No. 3 pick on.

What happens next?

That's a tough one. But one thing I'm fairly certain of is Sacramento won't be the team providing a floor for the big man's fall. Even after trading Brad Miller to the Bulls, the Kings have spent the past few seasons beefing up their frontcourt with the draft and a few other moves. They essentially have their frontcourt of the future with Spencer Hawes at center and Jason Thompson and Francisco Garcia at the 4 and 3, respectively. And behind them, they've somehow built a stable of middling forwards, including Drew Gooden, Andres Nocioni, Kenny Thomas, Ike Diogu and future Bakersfield Jam swingman Donte Greene. They're kind of like the Jaguars' receiving corps the past five seasons.

Trades could be made (I think I heard Hawes' name being floated around in trades a few weeks ago) or they could go the best-player-available route. But for now, I think they would abstain from adding another body to their seven-man frontcourt rotation.

Although what they have up front isn't great, you would think they would go for the next best point guard considering the glut of decent options in the top half of the first round.

5. Washington Wizards

The Wizards present an interesting situation.

They were terrible last season, winning just 19 games. But with Gilbert Arenas coming back at full strength, some seem to think the team could contend in the East. And why not? It's not like most of their starting lineup is past its prime, or their best player has played 15 games the past two seasons.wizards

Because the team has suddenly become a gaggle of cockeyed optimists, there has been a lot of speculation that the Wiz are going to trade this pick in order to get some veteran help.

But let's say a deal doesn't go down before the draft and Thabeet is still on the board when they go on the clock.

With Brendan Haywood in the middle and a worse net PER at center (-3.6) than the Thunder, they could certainly use an upgrade. But would Thabeet really be much of an upgrade? Haywood certainly has his limitations, but his line in 2007-08 (the last time he played a whole season) of 10.6 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.7 blocks a game sounds a lot like what Thabeet can bring in his first season, and even that may be a bit optimistic. And one has to think with Arenas' floor-stretching shooting back on the court, Haywood can up his production a bit more.

Plus, the team already has its future at center in JaVale McGee. So it's more likely they go with a shooting guard who is already pro-ready, like Stephen Curry.

But if Washington does for some reason go against conventional wisdom, the Wizards present probably the best position for Thabeet in the top 10. Although the team likely isn't more than a bottom-tier playoff team, they're closer to the postseason than any of the other four teams in the top five. And as an added bonus, he would get to play alongside Tough Juice and grow thuggish beards and hang out with mediocre rappers with DeShawn Stevenson.

And really, does anyone beat the Wiz?

Rest of the Top 10

6. Minnesota Timberwolves: Thabeet won't get past the Wolves. Taking Theebz at No. 6 would allow the team to move Al Jefferson to power forward and Kevin Love to a hybrid 3/4, and give them one of the best young frontcourts in the NBA.

7. Golden State Warriors: On talent alone, Thabeet would be a great pick. But unless Nellie teaches him how to shoot the 3, I'm not sure how he'd fit into their five-guard offense.

8. New York Knicks: With the team preparing for next season, they'd be happy to grab anyone that wouldn't get in LeBron's way.

9. Toronto Raptors: With Chris Bosh pinning to leave, the Raps will need someone in the middle.

10. Milwaukee Bucks: Even with Andrew Bogut, I don't think the Bucks could pass up the value of Theebz this low in the draft.

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