Denver Dragons on Day One
- By Ken Walden, Day 1, 2021
In the end, the Dragons choose youth over experience, and frugal contracts over splashing cash. The Dragons were not hesitant to offer some large contracts, offering 20+ million at points to Antoine Peeler, Keith Humphries, and Reggie Fortier. But in the end, the Dragons backed out of those negotiations, and chose not to match offers on many other journeymen who the Dragons were interested in, but who were looking to get more than the team thought they were worth.
"We were disappointed to lose out on a lot of players we considered very valuable targets in free agency," said a source in the front office. "But we had to consider value as a combination of contract and player talent. And we had to consider that as an expansion team, no matter what we do in free agency we are likely to struggle for at least two years. Signing a hot prospect this year for a 2+1 or even a 3+1 could be a real disaster for us, whether the player struggles but has a player option that makes him difficult to trade, or does great but comes back up to free agency right in his prime and leaves." The Dragons have clearly chosen to take a slow start instead, finding young prospects or guys who have had limited playing time to blossom. This season will give these players a chance to show their skills and earn more playing time, and better contracts, in the future.
However, the chance to grow new talent came at a cost: experience. The Dragons have some veteran players, but very few who have played a prominent role on a JBL team. One team leader is 8th year veteran Detrick Brown, who will be sharing time at the point. Brown has 63 career starts, most from back in 2015. Backing up Odell Bracey will be Dejuan Jefferies, most recently with the Fireballs, who has 97 career starts. Next is center Mirko Blazevic, who the Dragons signed from division mates the Mexico City Jaguars, with only 21 starts in his career. Outside of those three, the Dragons have a total of 7 games started among the other 11 players. That is a lot of opportunity, and a lot of inexperience. The Dragons will have to hope that a few of these players show something they haven't in the past. And Dragons fans will have to grin and bear it for a year until free agency rolls around again. With a salary floor looming after the second season, the Dragons are sure to be buyers in their second offseason.
The goal at the point was to find a distributor and defender who can get the ball to OB1. The Dragons went after Humphries but decided not to match the kind of contract he was getting. Instead, the Dragons with Craig Leonard and Detrick Brown, two experienced guys who seemed to meet the bill. These two provide most of the veteran leadership on the team, on the floor and off. Rookie Hamer may have a chance to get minutes and develop. The scouts had some real concerns with the #63 pick, but in college he showed an extremely efficient A:TO ratio. Then again, scouts think Bracey has the skills to run the point so he may be given a chance to play the position instead.
For now, this team will belong to the #6 pick, Odell Bracey. The talented shooting guard from UCLA is the best prospect the team has, and they will undoubtedly lean heavily on him in his rookie season. This will be OB1's chance to prove he has a pro game, and he will get the minutes and the looks at the basket to demonstrate it. Unfortunately, he will not have a terrific level of support from the rest of the roster, and a question will be whether the locker room can survive what could be a rocky first season for the team and for their top player. Backing up Bracey will be Dejuan Jefferies, picked up from the Fireballs in the expansion draft. Jefferies is a three point bomber, an excellent athlete who can run the floor and a perfect fit for the Dragons system.
This is where the Dragons really stumbled this offseason. The team picked Mitchell van Bree in the first round, and hope that he can grow into this position and provide some sharp shooting to punish teams that focus on Bracey. However, he has some flaws in his game, and is young. The team hoped to bring in a veteran here, hopefully a strong defender, but they backed out of the race for Reggie Fortier, and proceeded to back out on nearly every other player on their list as the prices got too high. The team ended up signing Chuck Wiseman at the last minute. However they are likely to instead have Jefferies spend minutes at the wing, or to experiment by playing one of their many power forwards here. This is the weakest position on the team going into the season.
The Dragons didn't find a perfect player here, but they found a handful of guys who could compete for the position. Among them are free agents Dwight Simmons, Cliff McCaffrey and Rich Thompson. Simmons and McCaffrey have some experience and have solid games as decent defenders and rebounders. McCaffrey and Thompson both have the ability to hit shots from range and stretch the defense, and Thompson can run the floor. The Dragons will experiment to see which of these guys fits their play best. In addition, the Dragons picked up rookie Clay Stanback in the expansion draft. Stanback is an interesting prospect who played center and power forward in college, but in the pros is more a small forward size. In addition, he has range with his shot and the ability to handle the ball. With slim pickings at small forward, the team may try this raw prospect at the wing and give him room to develop while still playing around with the power forward roster.
The Dragons will be starting Mirko Blazevic at center to begin the season. A young guy with only a few starts to his name, Blazevic is the most established player in the frontcourt. He plays with size and strength, and the Dragons had him focus on strength in his offseason regimen. The question will be whether this 7'6" 245 pound guy can run the floor, or requires the team to slow the pace. Backing him up are two young prospects, Cedric Durrant and Rodrick Guinn. Look for Durrant, who is another huge player, to get most of the minutes as the Dragons assess his play. These two players may be adequate, but may not fit the team's eventual style of play. They both possess the endurance necessary, however, so the Dragons will look to outlast other teams and wear them down with these big bodies.
The Dragons spent the least of any team on their roster, and it will unfortunately show. Rookie Bracey is the most talented player on the team, most likely, and the team will suffer through the same growing pains he does. The Dragons hope some of these players bloom in their new opportunity, but if they do the team will not likely see the results this season. This is a season about letting rookies and young players develop, and hoping to create some chemistry between these players. As the season goes on, the GM and coaches will learn what kind of system they want to run, who to keep around, and what kind of players they need to really compete next year.