After batting 1 for 4 at best in '99 and drafting a raw talent in 2000, Pete Babcock dropped back and punted in 2001, trading the #3 pick in a strong draft to Vancouver, along with Lorenzen Wright (who had cost 2 #1s himself) and Brevin Knight for then 25 year old Shareef Abdur-Rahim and the #27 pick of the draft.
LEADING UP TO THE DRAFT:
Diametrically opposed to the 2000 draft, the 2001 draft had much more exciting potential, with a better crop of high school seniors, seasoned collegiate players, and international entries.
The Hawks held very well attended workouts as the Hawks were picking as high as they had since 1975, when they famously whiffed on getting David Thompson and Marvin Webster (picks 1 and 3 that year), losing them both to the ABA.
Picking third in such a draft class would surely yield a quality player, but the question was at what point would these players be ready to go. If they selected a player as NBA ready as Duke's Shane Battier, the answer would be 2001, but the Hawks, knowing they needed more than a solid player, would see this as an opportunity to try and get a franchise player.
Georgia's own Kwame Brown did well, too, and really impressed with his desire to be a Hawk. At 7'0, the high school senior, who had skipped going to play for Billy Donovan at Florida, was quickly getting recognized as potentially the best big man in the draft and maybe the overall #1 pick.
Three other high school big men had dominated draftniks throughout the year: Eddy Curry, Tyson Chandler, and Desgana Diop.
Curry was the classic low post center, Chandler the athletic shot blocking/rebounder from California, and Diop the unfinished big body. All three at one point or another had captured Babcock's attention and could be seen as a good replacement for Theo Ratliff, who had struggled with injury, and more long term than the proficiently shot blocking Ratliff.
No question Babcock had zeroed in on the bigs in this draft, but not one of those players emerged as the #1 big on Babcock's list.
From Spain, Pau Gasol had gained a lot of momentum and though international bigs were coming over with a rep for being soft, Gasol was seen as a potential franchise center for sure. With long wingspan and great hands, Gasol was quickly being slotted to the Hawks at 3, though Battier was still thought by some to have a chance.
But the conundrum was there for Babcock: I know they will be good---but when?
With the Hawks coming off another lottery season, Babcock pulled the trigger on the deal with Vancouver the day before the draft, commenting that he could use the pick and maybe that pick would become and all-star or he could turn the pick into a young player in his prime that was already all-star caliber in Abdur-Rahim.
Shareef had just finished his first season under a new max contract with the Grizzlies, one that soon-to-be-Grizzlies GM Jerry West would comment at a booster meeting as "the worst max contract ever" (to that point). But Babcock saw this as a positive. Years after having been burned by Danny Manning not extending with the Hawks and taking a minimum contract from the Suns, to get a young player already locked in for 4 more season sounded very good to him.
BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE:
With the Hawks feeling at this point that Jason Terry was not going to be the pure point guard they were hoping for when they got him in 1999, they wanted to maximize Terry's efficiency by moving him to the shooting guard position, which would mean they would need a point guard once again.
The thought was that the Hawks would use the #27 pick to make that point selection. In fact, when the trade was finally made official the night of the draft and after the Gasol selection (which is why he was wearing a Hawks hat when picked), Babcock told me that he had a list of point guards and if one on his list was there, he would pull the trigger.
Coming into the draft, there was one point guard coming out of college that was considered lottery material, Iowa State's Jamaal Tinsley.
Tinsley was a true point guard, meaning he was a pass-first, defensive minded player who could also score by getting inside and getting fouled. Tinsley was not a good shooter coming out of college, but was expected to be long gone by the time the Hawks picked at #27, for sure.
As the draft progressed, a point guard didn't go off the board until pick #22 when Jeryl Sasser was picked by Orlando. Actually he and pick #21, Joseph Forte out of North Carolina were shooting guard who were going to try to be wedged into the PG position.
Still, there was no way that either Forte or Sasser was on Pete's list of point guard. And, now that the draft was at #23, there was a good chance that Pete would be looking at someone from that list when the #27 pick came up.
Of the next 4 picks (Brandon Alexander, Raul Lopez, Gerald Wallace, and Samuel Dalembert) only Lopez might have been on Pete's radar but surely, given that Pete had a list of point guards to select from, that only Lopez might have been considered to be on that list by virtue of a "true PG" label, and that Jamaal Tinsley was still out there, the consensus #1 PG in the draft and having dropped into the Hawks lap at #27, this had to be a slam dunk pick for the Hawks and the close of a solid trade.
The pick was announced. It was Tinsley, but he was headed for Indiana. Babcock had punted again.The Hawks had a future #1, but no point guard, leaving the Hawks to start a less-than-stellar cocktail of guards (Glover, Emanuel Davis, Jacque Vaughn, Ira Newble) alongside Terry.
What happened? That's the question I asked Babcock right after the draft. What happened to the list? Surely his guy or guys were still there? There was no way that list was comprised of Joe Forte, Jeryl Sasser, and Raul Lopez.
Babcock said that they had a lot of concerns about Tinsley and that he wasn't their guy. Their guy, the one who they would have picked, was a guard from France that they had scouted, but ultimately when it came time to pick, Babcock wasn't sure enough about how he would play in the NBA to make the commitment.
Babcock would later share, on the day of his resignation as GM of the Hawks, that it would be passing on Parker, not the Isaiah Rider fiasco or Wilkins trade, that he regretted most about his tenure. The trades were made from what Babcock felt was certainty--he believed in it. Passing on Parker was because they simply didn't know enough--and they should have.
Shareef Abdur-Rahim was indeed a solid player, and an all-star one season, but was always a cut below the best, averaging around 19 points, 9 rebounds, and a 19 PER during his time in Atlanta. If the premise was that Abdur-Rahim was already all-star caliber and that Gasol would be good, but not immediately, the premise was wrong. Gasol was as good as Abdur-Rahim in every statistical category, and at center to boot. Gasol also added a shot blocking element that Shareef could never approach. Gasol, because he was on rookie scale, was about 25% the price, making it a stinker of a trade for the Hawks, even without the Parker whiff.
As for Parker, well he broke on the scene as was an all-star himself as soon as 2003, and the point guard position continuesto haunt the Hawks to this day.
Even though the deal was done through the paradigm of rebuilding while competing, the trade only kicked the can of real rebuilding until Shareef, JT, and everyone else on the roster was sent packing around 2004 by Babcock's replacement as GM.
The GM who pulled the deal for the Grizz wasn't around to see it through either. Instead he became the assistant GM at another franchise and then assumed the reigns shortly thereafter.