After LeBron, who knows?

Jun 24, 2003 7:32 AM

The NBA Draft is usually more hype than substance, but there’s no question that the 2003 edition is the coming out party for high school sensation LeBron James.

No player in basketball history has received more endorsement money or publicity before turning pro than James. Cleveland will be the lucky franchise that drafts its home-state product first overall, but it’s really a crapshoot as to how smart the upcoming picks turn out.

Last year, the media frenzy focused on Yao Ming, who showed signs of stardom during a first season in Houston that was definitely a learning experience. Ming didn’t embarrass himself as a rookie, but was unable to carry the Rockets into the NBA playoffs.

Jay Williams, injured seriously over the weekend in a motorcycle accident, went No. 2 to Chicago and was on the whole a disappointment as was the No. 3 pick Mike Dunleavy to Golden State. Both players went to Duke, which has a strange legacy for producing great college players who fizzle out in the pros.

Kwame Brown was the first player taken in 2001, which enticed Michael Jordan to play for the Washington Wizards. Brown did not play college ball and it showed. He remains a project.

The next two selections, Tyson Chandler (LA Clippers) and Pao Gasol (Atlanta) wound up being traded. Chandler went to Chicago, where he struggled. Gasol ended up in Memphis, where he flourished.

The draft doesn’t figure to cause much of a stir in Las Vegas regarding the odds. In fact, Las Vegas Sports Consultants has the Lakers booked as a 2-1 favorite to win next season. That’s quite a feat, since current NBA champion San Antonio eliminated the Lakers in five games during the second round of the playoffs.

A player that had a major hand in the Spurs march to the NBA title was Tony Parker, a 19-year-old point guard drafted first by San Antonio as the 28th overall selection in 2001.

This year’s draft will start with the 6-foot-8, 240-pound James going to Cleveland, center Darko Milicic headed to Detroit and Syracuse All-America guard/forward Carmelo Anthony going to Denver. After that, it’s anyone’s guess.

Naturally, the story is James. His power jams and Jordan comparisons should bring the NBA a much-needed boost in fan interest, which sunk to an all-time low during the championship series between San Antonio and New Jersey.

"This draft is all about LeBron mania," said Chuck Esposito, race and sports manager at Caesars Palace. "But, unless there’s some sort of a blockbuster trade, like Jason Kidd going to San Antonio, I don’t think the NBA odds will change much."

The Nuggets may wind up with the best-case scenario at No. 3, taking Anthony.

He has some college experience off a national championship team, while James is fresh out of high school and Milicic comes over from Europe.