The recent NBA Draft made me to look back at all that this generation of Gators gave us and provided me with a glimpse into what the future holds for them now that they've gone their separate ways. Let us now take a closer look at what exactly that might be, shall we?
Al Horford in Atlanta
The Hawks have an average record of 26-56 over the past five years, but they've been improving since hitting rock bottom in the 2004-05 season. Their management had been widely criticized for ignoring needs in the draft and simply misjudging prospects in the past, but they did as most expected them to do this time around and the outlook is suddenly much brighter than it has been for years.
This was already a young team that should be giving significant minutes to their rookies next season, so they probably won't be a factor in the playoff race, but they certainly won't be the league's doormat any longer. With a bonefide star (Joe Johnson) and several promising prospects (Horford, Acie Law IV, Josh Smith, Marvin Williams and Josh Childress) the Hawks should be respectable in the short term and truly competitive in the long term.
Corey Brewer and Chris Richard in Minnesota
When you talk about the Timberwolves, you have to discuss Kevin Garnett. Whether or not that NBA superstar is with the team at the beginning of next season is the difference between these two rookies being either part of a strengthened supporting cast put together to make another run at the playoffs or integral pieces for a rebuilding plan that could take some time in panning out.
The T'Wolves have been in a downward spiral the last four years and one has to wonder whether simply adding two of our beloved Gators will be enough to bring them out of it. It's tough to envision this team, as currently constituted, making waves in the Western Conference, but they certainly wouldn't be fun to match-up against. I'd look for them to begin a rebuilding plan that would take them beyond the duration of the myriad of bad contracts they currently have on the books and would allow them to move forward with a core including Brewer, Richard, Randy Foye and whatever other talented youngsters they can amass in that timeframe.
Joakim Noah in Chicago
The Bulls have risen from the post-Jordan ashes and are back with a vengeance. They've been a playoff caliber team in the Eastern Conference for three years now and their player acquisitions have reflected that. Those moves, however, have had mixed results and have brought with them a great deal of criticism. We've all grown accustomed to Noah being a lightning rod for that sort of chatter and his selection by this franchise seems to have brought about a perfect storm of sorts.
While we've all grown concerned over his future prospects, pairing Joakim with Ben Wallace makes for a potential low-scoring frontcourt to a troubling degree, but that fact has led some to believe that this pick will eventually open the door to the sort of trade that would catapult the Bulls into the league's elite and allow them to truly compete for an NBA title. So, while the picture in Chicago may still be developing, Noah has certainly landed at the best destination of the Gators that we've looked at thus far. That is, of course, until...
Taurean Green in Portland
The last Gator selected, our former point guard joins a bevy of young stars in, perhaps, the most up-and-coming team in the entire league. The Trail Blazers were extremely active in this draft, trading for and purchasing additional picks after selecting Greg Oden as #1 overall choice. This once perennial playoff team has fallen upon hard times, but they've paired last season's Rookie of the Year (Brandon Roye) with an early favorite for next season's (Oden), gotten rid of the troubling characters in their locker room and infused their roster with young players hungry to succeed at the next level.
While Green won't play as big of a role as he did in Florida, the door is definitely open for him to assert himself as a key member of this squad. Of all the Gators selected in this draft, he'll likely be the first to experience the playoffs and could well be the first to truly challenge for a championship at the next level.
We've all read about the records that this legendary group set even before stepping on an NBA court and, while it's difficult to envision any of these guys becoming superstars at the next level, I fully expect them to help make winners out of every one of the franchises that were lucky enough to get them. These young men have gone about their lives, both in basketball and outside of the sport, the right way; we can all be proud of this generation of basketball Gators and I know I'm not alone when I say that I can't wait to see what they have in store for us at the next level.