The Los Angeles Lakers had to sit through 57 picks in Thursday night's NBA Draft before selecting former UK guard Joe Crawford at No. 58.
Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak seems to think getting Crawford was worth the wait.
”We had him projected to be drafted a lot higher than 58,“ Kupchak told the Los Angeles Times on Friday. ”He comes from a top-rate basketball program, used to playing in big games. He had a great career.“
The Lakers' first-round pick went to the Memphis Grizzlies in the Pau Gasol trade earlier this season, leaving Los Angeles with one pick.
Kupchak wouldn't say exactly where the team had Crawford on its draft board but Kupchak did indicate to the newspaper it was somewhere around No. 35 in the 60-player draft.
Second-round draft picks in the NBA Draft do not get guaranteed contracts. The Lakers currently have 10 players under contract for the 2008-09 season. The team also has two restricted free agents, Ronny Turiaf and Sasha Vujacic, who plays the same position as Crawford and the Lakers have expressed interest in bringing back next year. Other guards on the Lakers roster include Kobe Bryant, Derek Fisher, Jordan Farmar and Trevor Ariza.
But Crawford will get a chance to earn a roster spot with Los Angeles.
”We're very optimistic that we can get him on the roster next year,“ Kupchak said. ”I'll contact his agent this week and have some initial discussions.“
UK Coach Billy Gillispie wished Crawford well in his pursuit of an NBA career.
”We're extremely excited for Joe and his family,“ Gillispie said in a statement. ”He's very deserving of this. The most gratifying thing is to see how hard he worked and that he achieved his goal of making it to the NBA.“
While Crawford will have to earn his way on to the Lakers roster, former Western Kentucky guard Courtney Lee will have a guaranteed contract with the Orlando Magic, who chose him with the 22nd pick in Thursday's draft.
The Magic introduced Lee during a news conference at the team's arena on Friday.
”I can bring a lot to the table,'' Lee said during the news conference. ”Knowing the style of play he (Coach Stan Van Gundy) likes to play, I should be able to contribute right away. I'm ready. I learned a lot in four years.“
Magic General Manager Otis Smith called Lee ”NBA-ready to play“ and said he was concerned the ex-Hilltopper would be chosen before the Magic would have a chance to pick him.
”Until you get a guy, you don't have a guy. So we kind of sweated that the whole way through, still taking calls to move the pick, to move back in the draft,“ Smith said. ”He's a guy that we like, that we will fit with what we do and how we play, that can defend the position, so we picked a guy that I think can come in and play.“
The Magic already have former UK star Keith Bogans and ex-Duke standout J.J. Redick at the shooting guard position. Both Smith and Van Gundy alluded to the possibility of a trade in their post-draft comments.
Van Gundy also praised Lee for his maturity and drive to be a better player.
”Even by first impression, talking to him, you will see a very high maturity level,“ Van Gundy said. ”I like the fact that he got better every year in college because I think what that says is that he's a guy that clearly, just by what you see on the court, has worked hard. I think that he seems like a very level-headed guy that will come in and do whatever it takes.