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CBSSports.com Senior Writer

Draft gives troubled NBA an appropriate closing bell


NEWARK, N.J. -- So the final NBA event of this season, and probably for a long time, would end like this: With deputy commissioner Adam Silver enthusiastically pronouncing names no one had ever heard of, playfully hamming it up to a smattering of fans -- also known as a regular-season crowd -- at the Prudential Center.

So when Silver strode to the lectern, thanked the league's broadcast partners (who'll be getting their money back if games are missed due to a lockout) and the few dozen people who were still shouting incoherently at five minutes past midnight ET, the NBA as we have known it for decades ended. Silver announced that the Sacramento Kings had taken Washington's Isaiah Thomas with the 60th and final pick in Thursday night's draft, said, "Good night, New Jersey!"

And hello to basketball darkness. The lockout is just around the corner. And the NBA will never be the same.

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We only had a few of the usual money-moving hijinks Thursday night, only two teams taking on significant salary beyond next season in trades. The fact that it was two of the most financially inept teams in the league, Sacramento and Charlotte, could provide one final dose of ammunition for the union's argument -- falling on deaf ears with the league negotiators thus far -- that the owners are trying to impose work-rule Armageddon on the players simply to be protected from themselves.

The NBA's CYA mentality continued for the most part. After a season in which struggling teams like Sacramento (hate to keep picking on you, Sac-Town) and Minnesota hovered around the league minimum payroll in anticipation of the lockout, and teams like the Pistons didn't execute a single roster transaction due to a pending ownership change, the full force of the gathering storm was on display.

After Cleveland got its replacement king, Kyrie Irving, and Minnesota got the next best thing in Derrick Williams, we had caution exercised to the Nth degree -- a rare, concerted spasm of diligence and restraint by tough-talking owners who suddenly could not find the courage to spend like the drunken sailors they've been for most of the past two supposedly owner-friendly labor agreements.

Look beneath the surface of the dizzying array of draft-night trades and you'll find this: owners who were scared, or more likely, who'd already boarded up the windows on their businesses in preparation for a long summer of hibernation.

The Knicks, of course, went on one last bender before sundown -- paying $1 million for the 45th pick, which got them Josh Harrellson of Kentucky. The pick, of course, was purchased from the other 28 people who co-own the New Orleans Hornets with Madison Square Garden chairman James Dolan. But all is fair in blood, labor wars and cooperative ownership of failing business partners.

Beyond that, there was only one trade with significant salary taken on beyond the 2011-12 season, that among the Kings, Bobcats and Bucks, a virtual who's who of teams that need the NBA shut down in order to survive in a league that won't contract teams like them. The Bucks won that deal, not only trading out of the top 10 in the weakest draft in human history but also shaving $17 million off their post-'11-'12 books.

The Kings took on a net of $9.3 million in salary beyond next season for the privilege of moving down three spots to select Jimmer Fredette. Correct me if I'm wrong, but Fredette was available for free with the seventh pick, and he didn't have to bring John Salmons and the $25 million in guaranteed money he has coming to him over the next four years. But that's just business, the kind of business NBA owners need to so radically change in order to stop the players from burning up all their profits.

The Bobcats? They got seventh pick Bismack Biyombo and absorbed a net of $7.6 million in salary beyond next season. We just have to assume Michael Jordan has inside info that there will be an amnesty clause in the new CBA, the better to wipe Corey Maggette's $21.2 million in guaranteed money beyond next season off the face of the Earth -- if not Maggette himself.

Other than that? Only one trade Thursday night involved a veteran who is owed money after next season, that being Brad Miller's partial guarantee of $848,000 in 2012-13 as part of a trade with Minnesota that sent Jonny Flynn to the Rockets. It's almost as if these guys know something is up.

So this is how the 2010-11 NBA season ended. A season that began with owners literally tripping over each other to lavish praise, money, and all manner of suckup on some of the biggest free-agent stars the game had ever seen, went out with a whimper. It went out with Silver, the tough, brilliant negotiator, smiling from ear to ear while reading names like Milan Macvan, Tanguy Ngombo, Ater Majok and -- who could ever forget? -- Chukwudiebere Maduabum, whose player profile page looks like this. Why? So the teams drafting them could stash them overseas and not have to pay them for a long time.

Maduabum -- Chu Chu, as he apparently is known – was selected by the Lakers and traded to the Nuggets, just so you know. And why would you know? Chu Chu was known to only a handful of basketball-watching humans until Thursday. One of them, player personnel director Brian Levy of the Bakersfield Jam, for whom Maduabum logged 20 minutes last season, suggested this week that if Bismack Biyombo is a poor man's Serge Ibaka, then Maduabum is a homeless man's Ibaka.

I don't know why that made me laugh so hard, but if you can't laugh at a time like this, what's the point? It makes you wonder though, if and when Maduabum ever makes it to the NBA, will the NBA have its house in order?

Before joining CBSSports.com, Ken Berger covered the NBA for Newsday. The Long Island, N.Y., native has also worked for the Associated Press and can be seen on SportsNet New York. Catch Ken every Saturday, when he hosts Eye on Basketball from 6-8 p.m. ET on cbssportsradio.com

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