BROOKLYN — It’s incredible how a building’s mood can change so drastically every five minutes. From the roaring approval for Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell to the acidic, vitriol for the Knicks’ pick of Kristaps Porzingis, nothing satisfies a sports fan’s need for instant gratification like reacting to an NBA draft pick.
But there were great moments behind the scenes that you could not see. A proud multi-generational basketball family sharing a special moment in a back room. A fashion statement that added to the best week an NBA team had in its history. A Kentucky star coming to grips with being taken by the sport’s most dysfunctional franchise.
The top moments from Thursday’s draft came from both the main stage and in the back rooms, hallways and corridors of Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. Through photos, videos and text, SheridanHoops shares those special moments with you.
1. Towns remains calm as top pick
Karl-Anthony Towns must have left his nerves on the other side of the Hudson River.
Despite Jahlil Okafor being ranked as the consensus top player in the draft for much of the college basketball season, the top of ESPN’s telecast lacked suspense because Towns so clearly distinguished himself as Minnesota’s surefire choice at No. 1. Towns’ calm and composed demeanor gave a pristine sense of order as he basked in the overwhelming applause when Commissioner Adam Silver called his name.
Towns is a New Jersey kid who is used to the high expectations— he was profiled by this reporter a week before he even started college— but one of the first things he spoke about in the interview room showed how grounded he seems. Towns talked about the 50 friends and family with him at the Barclays Center and his excitement for the Timberwolves’ new practice facility attached to the Target Center.
That should signal the big man’s focus and readiness to work with a nice young core built by Twin Cities overlord Flip Saunders. All indications suggest that Towns will be calm and ready for anything thrown his way.
2. Lakers make the bold move of the Draft
You could feel the change in the building after Towns exited the Brooklyn stage and the Los Angeles Lakers went on the clock with the second overall pick. Let the fun really begin, we all thought.
The drama and uncertainty with the second pick was magnified by the prestige of the Lakers franchise, championships built with the help of dominant franchise centers known around the globe; Mikan, Chamberlain, Abdul-Jabbar, O’Neal. The safe pick would have been to continue in that tradition and select Okafor.
Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak decided to be bold and found the perfect player to do that with in D’Angelo Russell — just as our Joe Kotoch said they would do two weeks ago.
Decked out in a bright red jacket, matching red bow tie and a gray pocket square that may have paid homage to his astoundingly superb season at Ohio State, Russell was confidence personified. He may be just what the Lakers need to turn around their franchise as they finally transition away from the Kobe Bryant era.
The crowd went bonkers when they heard that Russell was actually picked ahead of Okafor. You could tell by the way he carries himself that he can handle the outsized expectations that will follow him across the country to Los Angeles.
With rumors spreading that the Lakers will be players for free agent stars LaMarcus Aldridge and Kevin Love and a suitor for Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins (more on that in a bit), Kupchak hopes that Russell will become one of the franchise’s storied guards — a list that includes Jerry West, Magic Johnson and Bryant.
One bold move to select one bold man.
3. Knicks fans react to Kristaps Porzingis
After Philadelphia made an uncharacteristically safe move in taking Okafor, the moment this NYC crowd was waiting for had arrived.
The fans hadn’t endured a 17-65 New York Knicks season for nothing, right? After the lottery gods had dropped the Knicks back to the fourth overall pick, Knicks fans were looking for some kind of hope; someone who can contribute right away and give a lift to this moribund franchise.
So when Silver announced that Phil Jackson had picked little-known Latvian center Kristaps Porzingis, the crowd reacted in that way you would have expected for a fan base desperately starving for a brand name they would not get.
The fans booed. The fans jeered. They threw up their hands in hopeless disgust and would have pointed their thumbs through the ground if that were possible.
Porzingis had no control over that, and acted that way backstage during his various media responsibilities.
“A lot of fans weren’t happy that they drafted me, but I have to do what I can to turn the booing fans into clapping fans,” he said in nearly perfect English.
But Porzingis has no control over that either, just as he has no control over the video of the fans mercilessly booing this pick being replayed for many years to come.
4. Cauley-Stein comments on Sacramento circus
Does Willie Cauley-Stein know what he got himself into?
The Sacramento Kings added new layers of tumult and turbulence for a franchise that has lacked stability for quite some time. Reports surfaced that George Karl has been trying to trade All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins for months, against the wishes of owner Vivek Ranadive and recently installed vice president Vlade Divac.
Cauley-Stein started his press conference by saying the right things, saying that he’s excited to learn under Cousins and play for “an up-and-coming organization.” But when asked by SheridanHoops about the uncertainty of the franchise, the Kentucky product seemed a bit lost.
“It doesn’t really matter how stable they are or not,” he said, “they’re going to end up coming together and putting pieces together to make a good team that could compete. So whether DeMarcus stays or he goes, they’re still going to do what they do and have a team that’s going to play to win.”
Divac said that he felt bad for the Kings players last year after going through three different coaches. Now the coach Ranadive decided to commit to, Karl, reportedly lobbied behind his back to trade his franchise player.
So to Cauley-Stein, the sixth overall pick in the Draft and a seemingly nice guy, we say good luck to you, sir.
5. Kaminsky and his jacket cap off great week for Charlotte
The Charlotte Hornets had one of the best weeks in the history of their franchise this week. First, they were awarded the 2017 All-Star Game. Then they traded very little to acquire Nicolas Batum from Portland and Jeremy Lamb from Oklahoma City.
To complement those two players, Charlotte got the player they wanted without having to move from the ninth pick. Frank “The Tank” Kaminsky, who was rumored to go as high as fourth overall to New York, brings good size and shooting to a team that needed it. Our Danny Schayes even said Kaminsky will be in the league for 15 years.
Kaminsky even showed a flair for fashion as he walked down a Barclays Center hallway, opening the lining of his jacket to reveal two army tanks in Hornets teal and purple.
With ownership (you may know him as Michael Jordan) putting pressure on management to win now, general manager Rich Cho is off to a pretty darn good start.
6. Hollis-Jefferson shows off awesome pants, gets traded
How often do you see black and red plaid pants at an NBA draft? Perhaps never, but it fit the positive, spirited personality of Arizona defensive stopper Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who was originally selected by Portland with the 23rd pick. Minutes after being drafted, he talked to SheridanHoops about his pants.
His time with the Blazers was short-lived, however, as he was dealt to the hometown Nets in a four-player deal. In what amounted to the biggest trade of the night, Hollis-Jefferson was traded along with veteran guard Steve Blake to Brooklyn for fan favorite Mason Plumlee and second-round pick Pat Connaughton.
Here’s to hoping Hollis-Jefferson continues to be a media friendly and productive player in Brooklyn black and white.
7. Jerian Grant joins proud basketball family
The Knicks made quite the shrewd move by trading Tim Hardaway Jr. to Atlanta for Notre Dame point guard Jerian Grant, who was selected 19th overall. Not only is he a high-IQ player for what he called a high-IQ triangle system, Grant comes from a family that has had tremendous on-court success.
Grant’s brother Jerami plays for Philadelphia. His dad Harvey played 11 seasons in the NBA and his uncle Horace spent 17 years in the league and won four championships under Phil Jackson. So you could feel the happiness and love in the room during Grant’s introductory press conference.
Jerami— in the Sixers cap and bright jacket in the family photo to your left— chatted with SheridanHoops shortly thereafter and was still positively beaming with pride.
“I’m extremely proud of him,” Jerami said. “I knew he was going to make it. After I got drafted [last year] I knew he had a chip on his shoulder and I knew he had to get drafted.”
Jerami said that Jerian played as hard as he’d ever seen him play during his final year with the Irish. That chip on his shoulder may have come from the academic suspension that cut his junior year short and put his NBA hopes in jeopardy.
But a strong familial support system helped Jerian guide Notre Dame to the Elite Eight and his standing as one of the top guards in this year’s class.
For this writer, the happy Grant family was the feel-good story of this year’s draft.
Shlomo Sprung is a national columnist for SheridanHoops who focuses on analytics, profiles and features. He is also the web editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. A 2011 graduate of Columbia University’s Journalism School, he has previously worked for the New York Knicks, The Sporting News, Business Insider and other publications. You should follow him on Twitter.