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2009 NBA Draft Coverage: The Thunder Are A "Wild Card" In The Draft

I'll apologize right off the bat for not having the Photoshop skills that Mr. P does, so I'll just be using the AP photos. Apparently Chad Ford has labeled the Oklahoma City Thunder as a "wild card" in the 2009 NBA Draft. The logic here is that Ricky Rubio is still a target, but obviously so are James Harden and Hasheem Thabeet. What the Thunder do depends on the picks ahead of them, but the person that the Thunder take will have a big impact on the rest of the board. With the first pick, the Clippers are almost a lock to take Blake Griffin, and it doesn't seem like they'll trade the pick for anything less than a king's ransom. The Memphis Grizzlies could go a number of routes with their pick. They are looking at the same players as the Thunder, but are also likely looking at some trade offers. So it's really a mystery who will fall to the Thunder, and with that we'll take a look at the latest draft buzz from the top of the board:

Ricky Rubio is an interesting story. Chad Ford explains:

It's pretty simple as to why Rubio is being selective: He is going to have to pay a lot of money for the privilege to play in the NBA next season. His buyout will cost him something between $5 and $7 million of his own money. That's a lot of money, especially when you consider that Rubio wasn't making a ton of dough in Spain. He essentially will be signing over his paychecks for the next couple of years to his team in Spain.

It really is quite the dilemma for Rubio. He can always just play out the last two years of his contract in Spain and then jump the pond to the states for the 2011 NBA season. However, Rubio really wants to play in the NBA now. He's just nervous that unless he gets the right fit, he's not going to realize his potential and he's not going to get the big contract he wants in the future. So, not surprisingly, Rubio is going to be looking for a team that desperately needs help in the back court, but has some money to sign some free agents and some other decent players that Rubio can play with.

Why are you telling me this, I'm sure you're asking yourself. Because the latest rumor is that the Thunder have been showing some interest in Rubio. Obviously they have some room in the back court, and it wouldn't be surprising if Rubio would want to play with the talented players that Sam Presti has assembled. The other part of the rumor is that the Thunder would consider taking him, and then trading his draft rights. It's important to remember, though, that the Thunder haven't had Rubio in for a visit yet, and without that piece of the puzzle, it seems unlikely that they'd draft him.

EDIT: A HOT teaser for you; big Rubio information at the end of the post that I stumbled upon after publishing.

More draft buzz after the jump!

Rubio probably wouldn't go to the Grizzlies either. He'd be competing for playing time with established NBA players Mike Conley and O.J. Mayo. It's starting to look like he may fall to the Kings, but Chad Ford sees a remote possibility that he could fall all the way to the 7th pick where Golden State sits. Not surprisingly, "A Golden State of Mind" has this possibility outlined in a blog post, so I'll let you read it there if it interests you.

Chad Ford has reported that most of the talk around the league has the Thunder taking James Harden, which shouldn't be shocking to any regular readers of this blog.

I still think Rubio has a shot at No. 3 either as the Thunder's pick or as part of a trade, but I have to concede that all signs point to Harden.

Of course, there's also the possibility that Thabeet will fall down to the Thunder. While a lot of mock drafts have the Grizzlies taking Thabeet, one of the best Grizzlies blogs points out some slant in Memphis towards Rubio:

In Memphis, the thought of selecting the the UConn center has been followed by a lot of angst and hostility.  Chris Vernon of 730 FoxSports has already started his Just Say No to Thabeet campaign.  The Grizzlies' fanbase is in a frenzy to draft the child prodigy Ricky Rubio with the #2 pick.

Not to mention this tidbit from the same blog, a quote from the Memphis Commercial-Appeal:

"If we want (Rubio), we're going to take him," Wallace said Wednesday. "We wouldn't have taken a 10-hour flight to Spain if we didn't have interest in him."

So real quick, let's recap what we know. The Clippers are undoubtedly going to take Griffin unless they want to go for the biggest jaw-dropper of all time. The Grizzlies like Rubio and could take him, but most mocks and chatter have them going with Thabeet to shore up their front line. The Thunder's probable choice would be Harden, although Sam Presti has gone against the grain before. And Rubio's agent Dan Fegan seems to be trying to steer him to Sacramento, which could certainly use his talents. Sacramento really seems to want Rubio too, and that's who I think they'll wind up targeting. Fortunately for Memphis, they own the 2nd pick, and as the quotes from their front offices are indicating, I think they are trying to give the illusion that they'll take Rubio. They'll then trade with Sacramento to pick up something in return, drop below the Thunder, and grab the player they're really targeting.

Basically, I would rank the most likely picks at 3 for the Thunder as: Harden, Thabeet, Rubio. As Darnell Mayberry of the Oklahoman points out, Presti is not likely to draft a player he hasn't done all of his homework on:

What’s growing more and more evident is Rubio doesn’t appear likely to workout for any of the additional teams he might visit over the next week. The report says the Thunder is pushing for a meeting, physical and a review of Rubio’s contract in Spain, adding that if he feels better and is up for the visit he will travel to Oklahoma City next.

While a visit to Oklahoma City would serve as just one more small piece of the entire evaluation process, it’s seemingly an important one for Thunder officials to experience before deciding whether to draft Rubio. It’s the most intimate and extensive time organizations spend with players and, without it, it’s hard to see the Thunder selecting and keeping Rubio.

Harden was in Oklahoma City on Wednesday for an individual workout with the Thunder, one of only four teams that he has worked out for. I've been trying to find any other possibilities with the third pick, other than a trade obviously, and it looks like really only DeMar DeRozan, Stephen Curry and Jordan Hill have been mentioned. In fact, one mock draft out there has the Thunder taking Curry (Sporting News):

The consensus seems to be that the Thunder will take SG James Harden. But the Thunder almost never do what the consensus indicates. Curry would give OKC a sweet-shooting combo guard to pair with PG Russell Westbrook. They could try for Thabeet or Rubio here, too. There’s been talk about Hill, but Hill has not worked out here.

Now that would certainly create an interesting twist, wouldn't it?

EDIT: I came across some interesting information right after I published that I thought I'd pass along...

Just as the notion of Ricky Rubio in a Kings uniform is seeming less likely by the day, there is this unsurprising news: he is moving on.

A source with knowledge of the situation said Rubio was visited in Los Angeles today by the Oklahoma City Thunder, who have the No. 3 pick in the June 25 draft. This matters mostly because Rubio's visit in Sacramento this week came with unspoken terms, an understanding of sorts that a Rubio promise on the Kings' part could have stopped his American tour with just one concert. But that clearly never happened, and certainly not only because Rubio was unable to get on the floor Thursday when he fell ill.

So he continues to interview away, certainly hoping to not fall below the fourth spot if only because that $6.6 million buyout has to be paid for somehow. There has been talk of a second Sacramento visit, but I'm not sure that's plausible now since he is believed to be headed back to Spain on Sunday. 

--Sam Amick, Sacramento Bee

Very interesting. This suggests that the Thunder continue to have an interest in Rubio and they are pursuing it as much as possible to make sure that they get every opportunity to interview him before he heads to Spain tomorrow. Nothing like stirring the pot a little!