The Comedy of Knicks Euro-drafting Errors
"La gatta frettolosa ha fatto i gattini ciechi."
The Italian curse words (and proverbs, perhaps) were likely flying fast and furioso behind closed Knickerbocker doors this week. And, no it's not because of Roma's disappointing start to the Series A season. It's because rookie forward Danilo Gallinari is out indefinitely due to a back injury. The timetable for his return (or just his "turn" since he was never really here which means he can't really "REturn") is more like months than weeks, and missing the season entirely is a real possibility. The Knicks selected Gallinari with the No. 6 pick in the recent NBA draft and he has been able to appear in one summer league game and 11 minutes of one regular-season game. Which is not exactly what we all had in mind when ESPN NNBA guru Chad Ford was touting this kid as "the perfect weapon for his new team: a 6-10 point forward who knows how to think the game." Although, I guess El Gallo has really been thinking the game lately, since he surely hasn't been playing it.
Now, Gallinari is young. He's just 20 years old. He's still growing. He doesn't have a known history of injury and he's been playing professional ball since he was 16. He should have a bright future ahead of him even if he misses this entire season. He should. But, him being from the Old World and this organization being the New World Knickerbockers does not bode well for his career. After all, hearing your name called by a Knicks rep on draft night has historically been a death sentence for European prospects.
The Knicks European Draft Picks Through the Years:
Name: Danilo Gallinari
Draft Pick: 6
Age When Drafted: 19
Home Country: Italy
Notable Players Knicks Could've Picked Instead: Everyone but five guys. Like lots of people.
What Happened: He experienced some lower back soreness following his debut in the Vegas Summer League in mid July. In that debut he scored 14 points in the second half after a timid first two quarters. The back pain led him to be ruled out of the rest of the summer league and eventually led to him to limited participation during the preseason. After make a cameo in the regular-season-opening win over the Heat in late October. Reports on Gallinari's health varied from him him needing back surgery to the pain all being in his fearful head.
Name: Maciej Lampe
Draft Pick: 30
Home Country: Poland (by way of Sweden)
Notable Players Knicks Could've Picked Instead: Jason Kapono, Luke Walton, Steve Blake, Mo Williams, Keith Bogans, Kyle Korver
What Happened: Lampe never suited up for the Knicks. He was, however, part of the multi-player trade that landed Stephon Marbury back in New York. He went on to play parts of three seasons with the Suns, Hornets and Rockets before falling out of the Association. During those three years he played in 64 games and averaged 3.4 points and 2.2 rebounds per appearance. After giving up on the NBA, Lampe found himself playing in the Russian Basketball Super League. He currently plays for BC Kimki and was named the MVP of the Russian cup final.
Name: Slavko Vranes
Draft Pick: 39
Home Country: Serbia
Notable Players Knicks Could've Picked Instead: Zaza Pachulia, Keith Bogans, Mo Williams, Kyle Korver
What Happened: Mr. Vranes never played a single minute in a Knicks uniform and played just three minutes in the NBA during his "career." He saw three minutes of run for the Portland Trailblazers in 2003-2004. During those epic three minutes, which came in the waning moments of blowout loss to the Timberwolves, he missed his lone field goal attempt and committed a personal foul. After returning to Serbia he ended up signing with a team in the Turkish Basketball League. They were underwhelmed and loaned him to another club. Vranes fled home shortly thereafter. Still, being 7-foot-5 he was able to nab a multi-year contract from a Belgrade-based side in 2007.
Name: Milos Vujanic
Draf Pick: 35
Position: Point Guard
Home Country: Serbia
Notable Players the Knicks Could've Picked Instead: Juan Carlos Navarro, Matt Barnes, Darius Songaila, Rasual Butler, Luis Scola
What Happened: Milos's case seems slightly different than that of the gangly likes of Lampe and Vranes. Vujanic is a point guard, and seemingly a pretty good one, who eschewed the NBA for the comfort of the Euroleague. Vujanic, like Lampe, was part of the eight-player blockbuster that brought Marbury to NYC. But he never suited up for Phoenix. He stayed on the Continent and tore it up over there, leading the Euroleague in scoring in 2002-2003 with 25.8 points per game. More recently, he won the Euroleague title with Greek side Panathinaikos in 2007. Vujanic now plays with Dyanmo Moscow.
Name: Frederic Weis
Draft Pick: 15
Home Country: France
Notable Players the Knicks Could've Picked Instead: Ron Artest, James Posey, Jeff Foster, Kenny Thomas, Devean George, Andrei Kirilenko, Gordan Giricek, Francisco Elson, Todd MacCulloch, Manu Ginobli
What Happened: Last and certainly least, we come to the man who started it all. The man who begat the "Curse of Frederic Weis." It was June 30, 1999 and the Knickerbockers were five days off a shock run to the NBA Finals. The Minnesota Timberwolves were on the clock with the fourteenth pick. They selected William Avery out of Duke. Clearly a blunder. And fans in Madison Square Garden were ecstatic. Everything had worked out how they hoped. They were going to be able to add a hometown player to a roster that had just reached the NBA Finals. The team was going to reload and make one more sustained charge at a title before Patrick Ewing's contract ran out just a little bit down the road. It was perfect. Until it wasn't. Until it was a joke. And perhaps even a curse that would affect every draft pick going forward.
Because the Knicks didn't select Ron Artest with the fifteenth pick of the 1999 NBA Draft. Artest, who grew up in Queensbridge and went to college at St. John's, was the player that every Knicks fan wanted. He could defend. He could score. He'd shined on the court at Orchard Park and in the Elite 8. He was everything this town wanted in a Knickerbocker. He was one of us. And he has yet to play for the home team at MSG since he left school. The Knicks selected French big man Frederic Weis. He was a seven-footer and he never set one foot on the court during an NBA game. In fact, he never even signed a contract with the Knicks. The Chicago Bulls, meanwhile, quickly nabbed Artest with the sixteenth pick of the draft. His pro career has been a non-starter even though it has managed to stay alive. He currently plays for a team in Bilbao in the Spanish league. In spite of (or, really, because of) his irrepressible mediocrity and timidity, Weis was a part of one of the more memorable moments in the last decade of hoops history. While playing for the French National Team at the 2000 Olympics he was entirely cleared by Vince Carter as he threw down an amazing dunk.
In France the posterization of Weis is known as "le dunk de la mort." That means, the dunk of death.
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