News - Draft daze

For Atlanta's three wretched teams, the favorite time of year

Not a day goes by that I don't get a fax from the Falcons' media relations staff. Nothing escapes their notice and subsequent documentation. Would that the team's brain trust were as efficient and accurate.

Yes, sports fans — it's that time of year. Atlanta's three pathetic professional sports teams — the Falcons, Hawks and Thrashers — are each entering a period even more treacherous than their respective recent regular seasons: the draft.

The NFL is up first, drafting this weekend. The NHL's two-day draft takes place June 23-24. The NBA, with fewer players but gobs more guaranteed money, needs only a couple of hours on the evening of June 27 to divvy up the few bodies capable of playing at that level. (Along with the majority of draftees who will find out they can't hack it. But who cares, when they'll get automatic multi-year, multi-million-dollar-plus contracts anyway?)

But getting back to the Falcons' crack media department ... Each year these fine people invite the media to the team's headquarters for cold pizza and warm Coke and the opportunity to hear the Falcons' thinking — I use the term loosely — on the upcoming draft. This, of course, is pointless, inasmuch as Dan Reeves does the picking and he is not there.

For the last two years, Reed Johnson, in charge of college scouting, entertained us by outlining the player grading system he's used for 24 of his 27 years of scouting: character, athletic ability to play the game, mental ability to play the game, competitiveness, strength and explosion at the position, playing speed and confirmed speed, in that order.

Makes you wonder how they ever came up with Nathan Davis, doesn't it?

Oh, that's right, Reeves was choosing, along with scouts and coaches and Falcons president Taylor Smith. Reeves, Johnson told us, "has a very, very honorable way of treating everyone in a gentlemanly way. There's no yelling and screaming and cursing." Except by fans following another dumb pick. Honorable, Reeves is; draft guru he is not.

This year's seminar was conducted by Ron Hill, vice president of football operations. Shortly after the season ended, Reeves announced he was delegating more draft authority to the scouting staff, then promptly demoted Johnson, whose advice he apparently never took anyway. Colleagues report that in marked contrast to Johnson, Hill wouldn't discuss prospects, mentioned no criteria, declined to say which players had visited Flowery Branch for interviews, and spent most of the meeting defending last season's free-agent signings.

I missed that stupefying performance. I was at the Thrashers' end-of-season meeting, which general manager Don Waddell opened by announcing, "We control the draft."

Waddell is big on control. He just fired — excuse me, I mean he did not renew the contracts of — coach Curt Fraser's assistants, Jay Leach and George Kingston. As though this dismal season had been their fault. Fraser appeared to be exceedingly unhappy about the axing, and no credible reason was given for it. Except that Waddell believes the team desperately needs a full-time goalies coach.

Actually, what they desperately need is a full-time goalie. We'll never know if Damian Rhodes could be The One because he's never healthy enough to play more than three weeks at a time. So you'd better believe the Thrashers are going to use the No. 1 pick in this draft — which they miraculously drew in last week's lottery — to get someone who can consistently stop a puck. Teams are calling already to inquire about trading for the pick. Only those with a bona fide NHL starter to offer have a chance of acquiring it.

Don't hold your breath waiting for the Thrashers to sign blue-chip free agents. Any player good enough to command a mega-million-dollar contract is not coming here. Those players are going where they think they can win the Stanley Cup.

If the Hawks get as lucky as the Thrashers did and draw the No. 1 pick in the NBA's lottery, they'll use it on Duke's Shane Battier. Only Battier is worth fielding a team younger than the Hawks already are. Expect any other pick to be packaged in trade. Not to lure some other team into parting with a good player but to induce any team to take dead-weight Alan Henderson off the Hawks' hands.

Hot shots: What's hot in Atlanta sports
"I'm going to be Defensive Player of the Year the rest of my career." -- Perpetual stander-under-the-basket Dikembe Mutombo, after NBA owners OK'd zone defenses last week.

Soccer, the sport of the future. -- Again?

$3.7 billion -- Amount baseball team owners owe to 247 players over the next 10 years. And that's not counting deferred payments.

.198 -- Braves' batting average with runners in scoring position.

Arrest of the week, amateur division -- Tech basketball recruit Michael Southall is released from his letter of intent after being charged with resisting arrest, public consumption of alcohol and underage drinking. He was already on probation for a misdemeanor drug charge. Raise your hand if you think coach Paul Hewitt would have put up a tougher fight on this one if he'd had more than a year at Tech under his belt.

Fantasy league -- Who would you rather have on your team: Mia Hamm or Brandi Chastain?

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