NBA Notes : Lakers May Have a Gem in Vlade Divac
Before the Seoul Summer Olympics last year, National Basketball Association scout Marty Blake suggested that one player worth watching was Yugoslavian center Vlade Divac.
“Some people are saying,” Blake said at the time, “that if the draft was held today, Divac would be selected ahead of Pervis Ellison.”
Blake was talking in pure basketball terms. He was talking about natural skills and potential. He failed to include cultural problems and language barriers.
Still, the comparison is worth remembering because the bottom line is that the Los Angeles Lakers, who had the 25th pick in Tuesday’s draft, drafted a player who may be as talented as the No. 1 pick in the draft.
And Divac, 21, may still be growing. At the Olympics, he was measured at slightly less than 7-foot. But Lakers General Manager Jerry West claims the Lakers recently measured Divac in his stocking feet at 7-1. And he weighs about 240 pounds.
“We think he’s very good,” said West, who also said the Lakers thought Divac might be drafted in the top 10. “People look at him as a gamble, but from a talent standpoint it’s not a gamble. He’s no project at all. There’s no question that there’s a risk. The negative right now is his inability to communicate. But he plays very fluidly and easily.”
Divac, in fact, is capable of bringing the ball up the court at least as well as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in his prime. Divac can dribble behind his back, through his legs, and he has a variety of clever moves around the basket.
Again, however, we’re talking about skill and potential. The cultural adjustment cannot be downplayed. Foreign players are worldly because they travel extensively, playing basketball almost year-round. But once a player is removed from a restrictive, controlled environment of an Eastern bloc country and attains freedom, there is an adjustment.
The first NBA player from an Eastern bloc country was Bulgaria’s Georgi Glouchkov, who played for the Suns during the 1985-86 season. Glouchkov didn’t have the talent to play in the NBA, but he was so unable to adjust culturally that even if he had had the talent, he probably still would have failed.
Glouchkov, who never learned to speak English and had an interpreter travel with him and the team, developed an insatiable appetite for junk food, most notably Almond Joys. He once was seen consuming seven of them for breakfast on the team bus.
But if Divac can learn English and adjust culturally, the Lakers will have made a spectacular draft pick. Magic Johnson has made players with less talent than Divac look great. Next season, Mychal Thompson can start and Divac can learn. After that, Divac could start and play at least two years with Magic. It could mean another championship.
Looking for an early candidate for Rookie of the Year? Don’t forget David Robinson, who will join the San Antonio Spurs after his two-year Navy stint. And his main competition may come from fellow Spur Sean Elliott. It’s no secret that Coach Larry Brown is not reluctant to play rookies. Last season, Willie Anderson led the Spurs in minutes and points, so Robinson and Elliott should get plenty of playing time. And the Spurs may just double their total of 21 victories.
The Spurs aren’t finished, either. They may sign Yugoslavian forward Zarko Paspalj (6-9, 222) and also are considering making offers to unrestricted free agents Caldwell Jones and John Lucas. And Brown may get really wild and go after Micheal Ray Richardson. At least that’s the rumor.
If the NBA’s anti-drug program is really working, league officials should be in Seattle testing Sonics executives. The Sonics had one of the strangest drafts, starting off by trading the No. 18 pick to the Chicago Bulls for Brad Sellers. That seemed to be an indication that the Sonics felt this draft was weak; so, by itself, it wasn’t a bad move. Sellers might be better than the No. 18 pick.
But then the Sonics dealt their 1990 first-round pick to the Golden State Warriors for the No. 16 pick and then astounded everyone by taking 5-10 Boston College guard Dana Barros and 6-10 Shawn Kemp, a Proposition 48 casualty at Kentucky who never played a college game.
The Sonics protected 5-10 Avery Johnson in the expansion draft, so why draft Barros? And a team not noted for its on-court intelligence does not need a project like Kemp.
The smartest man in the deal was Warriors Coach Don Nelson. Next season, the Dallas Mavericks and Spurs, who did not make the playoffs, should improve and challenge for the playoffs. And the most likely team to drop out is the Sonics, especially if Dale Ellis or Xavier McDaniel is injured. Therefore, next season the Warriors could have the Sonics’ pick, and it could be in the lottery.
Danny Ferry suggested after the Los Angeles Clippers selected him with the second pick that he may be traded. Unfortunately, Danny is probably getting his information from Bullets General Manager Bob Ferry, his father. Bob Ferry is the guy who drafted Kenny Green instead of Karl Malone, and also drafted 5-3 Tyrone Bogues with the 12th pick in the 1987 draft.
With that track record, it is possible that the younger Ferry may not be getting the best information.