May 30, 2014 Updated: May 30, 2014 at 9:56 pm
DENVER - A few years back, a Big Ten head coach called me with a question. He wanted the scoop on a high school junior, from Chicago, who looked like he might be, could be, should be a high-major prospect.
Find out which schools he likes, the coach said.
"Cleveland State," Nuggets general manager Tim Connelly said without hesitation when I began to tell him the story. "I know. I remember. Unbelievable, isn't it?"
The kid was Anthony Davis. Until late in high school, Davis had one scholarship offer, from the Horizon League. Two years later? He was the top pick in The League.
At the time, Connelly had the title of assistant general manager with the New Orleans Hornets, who held the No. 1 pick.
"There wasn't a decision," Connelly recalled. "As draft picks go, Anthony was a certainty. Anthony was obvious."
The Nuggets own the 11th pick in the June 26 draft. Their decision isn't so obvious.
Few think the top prospect in this draft is obvious, but I do. Jabari Parker is that guy. Another Chicago product, Parker is a small-forward mix of Carmelo Anthony and Paul Pierce; not as dominant as Melo, but able to captain a championship team like Pierce. I see Parker as somewhere in between, and that's a good somewhere to be.
In a perfect world, where the Nuggets carry title aspirations or Chris Jackson is still the shooting guard, here's what they should do in the draft:
Dial up the Cavaliers, Bucks and Sixers. Learn what it will take to swoop in and score a top-three pick. Send all of it over, express-mail style. Draft Parker. Build around him.
What do you think, Mr. GM?
"Anything is possible," Connelly said. "I don't think it's likely they would give up that spot. In this draft, with these players, it would take a lot."
Parker is worth a lot. Superstars lead three of the four teams still kickin' in the NBA playoffs. The Pacers got there by being fortunate to play in the Eastern Conference.
The idea isn't a dumb one, Connelly said. But here's the issue: the Cavs, Bucks or Sixers would risk alienating their fanbases by passing on the chance to draft Parker, Andrew Wiggins or Joel Embiid. It takes two to Tango, and to trade.
"This draft is different. There are things beyond basketball: the fans' excitement in getting one of those guys, waiting an entire season for it," Connelly said. "There is so much promise in those three guys. The best players in the NBA - when you look at it - came from those top three, four, five draft picks. Really, it's true.
"Look at the guys still playing. They're top-three, top-five picks."
Those guys? LeBron James, Tim Duncan and Kevin Durant, all superstars who went No. 1 or 2 in the draft.
Although the Nuggets should steer away from the Pacers' muckety-muck model that turns basketball into mud wrestling, Indiana shows it's possible to land a valuable player at No. 11. Paul George went 10th overall in 2010, Roy Hibbert 17th in 2008. Whistle-blower Lance Stephenson arrived as a second-round pick.
I think the Nuggets are closer to trading the No. 11 pick than using it. Connelly believes the Nuggets should be a playoff team next season, and playoff rotations rarely have minutes available for a mid-round prospect entering his rookie season.
"I think we'll have no problem picking a solid player at 11. But is that solid player the guy that helps our team the most?" Connelly said. "We have to be realistic with the expectations. How impactful would that guy be? Historically, not very. Maybe we buck the trend and get a guy that helps us right away.
"I think if you look at our roster 1-5, there's always room for improvement. (But) I think it would be difficult for the 11th pick to play major minutes from Day One."
Trading away all but Pepsi Center for the chance to draft Parker would be starting over. But it's starting over with the piece necessary to building a championship roster:
There are no certainties in the NBA, or its draft. But that's one.