Calling It Quits On a Top-3 Pick
What a fall from grace for Adam Morrison.
Remember those Larry Bird comparisons as a junior at Gonzaga? Remember how intrigued we all were by the unabashedly old-school Morrison, who read Marx, had posters of Che Guevara in his dorm room, and sported 70s hair and a 70s stache to go with a seemingly wicked game? Morrison, who overcame diabetes to share Player of the Year honors with J.J. Redick in 2006? Morrison, the 3rd overall pick in that summer’s draft?
What happened to that guy?
Three years later, Morrison was dealt to L.A. in a trade that seems destined to become a mere footnote in NBA history: a former draft flop for a mediocre jump-shooting big man. Basically, the Bobcats gave up on him when it became abundantly clear he would never fit within Larry Brown’s system — and worse yet, that he was nowhere near as good as he was made out to be before the ’06 draft. So now we have to ask: exactly how big of a bust does that make Morrison, who only lasted 122 games and 2993 minutes with his original team?
The modern draft began in 1966, the year ancient practices like territorial picks were eliminated in favor of the familiar “worst picks first” style of format we still see today (obviously, the way picks are ordered has changed over the years, from coin flips to ping-pong balls, but the general concept remains the same). Here is every top-3 pick since then who played fewer games or minutes with his original franchise than Morrison before either being cut or traded:
Bob Kauffman, 3rd overall in 1968 – Unlike some of the guys on this list, Kauffman is here because of his circumstances, not his play. In 1968, Kauffman was drafted by the Seattle SuperSonics and had a solid rookie year, but Seattle coveted veteran Bob Boozer of Chicago and dealt Kauffman there after only one year (82 G, 1660 MP) with the franchise. He then was traded again after one season with the Bulls, before finally finding a home and becoming a pretty good player with the Buffalo Braves.
Lucius Allen, 3rd overall in 1969 – Allen, a member of two John Wooden-coached championship teams at UCLA, would also spend just a single year (81 G, 1817 MP) with the Sonics before being shipped to the Bucks — ironically, with Boozer of all people — for Don Smith in 1970. Like Kauffman, Allen would blossom into a solid player elsewhere, posting more than 7 WS per season for Milwaukee between 1971-72 & 73-74.
Marvin Webster, 3rd overall in 1975 – Though drafted by the Atlanta Hawks, Webster’s first pro team was the Denver Nuggets of the ABA, a league that folded after his injury-marred rookie season of 1975-76. Denver was absorbed into the NBA the following season and Webster showed promise as a reserve, but in May 1977 the 7’1″ “Human Eraser” was traded to Seattle for another talented young giant in 7’2″ Tom Burleson. His 2-year career with the Nuggets lasted 118 G and 1674 MP.
Rick Robey, 3rd overall in 1978 – An All-American at Kentucky, Robey probably thought he would be settling in for a long career with the Indiana Pacers, who took him with the #3 pick in the ’78 draft… But 43 games and 843 minutes later, Robey found he had been traded in the middle of his rookie season to the Boston Celtics for former 20+ PPG scorer Billy Knight. He would end up helping the Celtics a lot, though — not only was he a contributor on their 1981 championship team, but he was also the centerpiece of the trade with Phoenix that brought Dennis Johnson to Boston.
Chris Washburn, 3rd overall in 1986 – Fresh off a 17.6 PPG/.562 FG%/6.7 RPG year at NC State, the gifted, 6’11” PF Washburn was drafted at #3 by the Warriors, who planned to pair him with C Joe Barry Carroll in their frontcourt. Unfortunately, Washburn had just about every character problem imaginable, and would enter rehab for his cocaine problem by January of his rookie season. In December 1987, Golden State divested themselves of their Washburn problem for good, trading him to Atlanta for Ken Barlow. Washburn’s final tally with the Warriors: 35 GP, 385 MP, and -0.8 WS.
Pervis Ellison, 1st overall in 1989 – “Never Nervous Pervis” was a standout at Louisville, where he helped the Cardinals win a national championship in 1986 and was an All-American in 1989. That pedigree led Sacramento to select Ellison 1st overall in the ’89 draft, but he was so inconsistent and oft-injured during his rookie year (34 G, 866 MP) that the Kings shipped him to Washington after the season in a 3-team trade that yielded 2 players & 3 draft picks.
Chris Webber, 1st overall in 1993 – C-Webb’s inclusion here has nothing to do with his playing ability and everything to do with his relationship with then-Warriors coach Don Nelson. The extraordinarily talented PF won Rookie of the Year honors in 1993-94, but the Webber-Nellie dynamic became so strained as the year went on that Golden State essentially had no choice but to deal C-Webb to the Washington Bullets before the ’95 season for Tom Gugliotta and 3 future first-rounders. Webber’s totals for his first stint with the Warriors: 76 G, 2438 MP.
Chauncey Billups, 3rd overall in 1997 – With Billups playing so well in Detroit and now Denver, it’s hard to believe how checkered his early NBA career was. A 19.1 PPG scorer at the University of Colorado, Billups was more of a combo guard/tweener in those days, but Rick Pitino asked the rookie to be the team’s PG and primary distributor. Naturally, there was a period of adjustment there, but Pitino wasn’t about to wait it out, especially when the FleetCenter fans started getting on Billups in full force. The Celtics ended up trading Billups to Toronto for Kenny Anderson after just 51 games and 1296 minutes in the green and white.
Darko Milicic, 2nd overall in 2003 – Ah, Darko. The Human Victory Cigar. Basically the poster child for this entire article. We thought at first that it was just a Larry Brown problem, given his affinity for vets, but even Flip Saunders wouldn’t use Darko after taking over as Detroit’s coach in 2005. Eventually, Milicic’s stock had slid so low (especially when compared to the meteoric development of his fellow top-5 picks — LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, & Dwyane Wade) that all he and Carlos Arroyo could fetch in a trade with Memphis was Kelvin Cato and a protected 1st-rounder. Darko’s Detroit career: 96 G, 553 MP.
Certainly Morrison isn’t the biggest bust on this list (though he is near the top right now). And who knows, maybe he’ll turn into a useful part with a change in scenery… But unless he has a Billups-style rebirth in another city — and probably not L.A. — he’s going to go down as one of the all-time biggest disappointments in league history. 3 years ago, the guy was posting 28.1 PPG as a junior for a Gonzaga team that wasn’t exactly playing cupcakes (they had the 13th-hardest non-conference slate in the country). Now he’s suffered through 3 years of injuries and awful play (and not necessarily in that order). What a fall indeed.