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Sports Business

Hayward's rising stock presents Bird with difficult dilemma

June 21, 2010
KEYWORDS Sports Business

In April, when Butler University star Gordon Hayward declared himself eligible for the National Basketball Association, many draft analysts said the Indiana Pacers would be fools to draft the Brownsburg native.

He’s too wispy and has no post-up game. For a shooter, his range isn’t good enough. He’s not athletic enough.

Most draft experts in April said Hayward would go no higher than No. 15, but more likely around No. 20 to No. 30.

Let’s not get confused. Gordon Hayward is no Larry Bird.

But he’s no Steve Alford either. This isn’t 1987.

As it turns out, Hayward might not be available Thursday when the Pacers draft at No. 10 (assuming the Pacers hold on to that selection).

Hayward’s draft stock is soaring. His handlers too are gaining confidence. Earlier this month, Hayward refused to work out for the Memphis Grizzlies, which has the 12th selection.

Part of that has to do with the Grizzlies’ poor management and ownership. But his handlers also feel Hayward could be gone before No. 12.

NBA Commissioner David Stern over the weekend invited Hayward to New York for the draft. That’s an honor usually reserved for players projected to go in the top 12 to 15 of the draft.

Earlier this month, Hayward worked out for the L.A. Clippers which picks No. 8, and Utah, which picks No. 9.

Scouts for those teams were surprised by Gordon’s athleticism, his lateral movement—likely the product of years of playing tennis—and his ability to play the perimeter. They also love his attitude and demeanor. No surprise there for those that followed the Bulldogs basketball program the last two years.

Hayward will be in Conseco Fieldhouse today to work out for the Pacers.

There’s another reason the Pacers shouldn’t draft Hayward, NBA observers said. And this is my favorite one. It would be unfair to pin the hopes of a franchise turn-around on a 20-year-old local kid.

Too much pressure. He couldn’t handle it.

Performing in front of the home crowds didn’t seem to affect him during the Final Four.

And of course, there’s the Pacers' dire need for a point guard. That’s a valid point.

But not everyone thinks drafting solely on need is the most brilliant idea. I agree.

“As we look back at the draft, the mistakes that have been made in this league are made primarily because we let the pain of need supersede the talent that might be available,” said Gersson Rosas, Houston Rockets vice president of player personnel.

No one will ever forget the Portland Trailblazers passing on Michael Jordon because they already had Clyde Drexler on the roster.

This is a deep draft, and Pacers basketball operations boss Larry Bird’s job doesn’t figure to be easy.

The Pacers badly need to win more games and attract more fans. The team is losing on the courts and bleeding about $30 million annually.

Hayward would undoubtedly help fill some seats. But if the team doesn’t win, Bird knows that’s only a stop-gap measure.

And Bird may still be smarting from the criticism he took over drafting North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough last year. Hansbrough hasn't exactly made Bird look like a talent judging guru just yet. Some have suggested the Hansbrough draft choice was as much to do with sales and marketing as basketball Xs and Os.

Certainly the same folks that criticized Bird last year could suggest the same thing about the Pacers drafting Hayward.

If Bird truly thinks Hayward is the best guy for the Pacers to pick, it will be as brave a choice as Donnie Walsh’s decision in 1987 to pass on Steve Alford for Reggie Miller. That pick is still largely the foundation on which Walsh’s legacy here rests.

Thursday’s selection could be that kind of event for Bird.

Hayward and Bird could be tied together like Walsh and Miller.

Of course the opposite also is true. If Bird passes on Hayward and he falls flat, and Bird's choice soars, the man from French Lick will look pretty smart.

Either way, if Bird misses, he could find himself blowing away with the wind.

And his legacy along with him.

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