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Column: Napier finds perfect fit in Miami

He won't be Walker, but Napier couldn't ask for a better situation with Heat

By Tim Fontenault
On June 26, 2014

Shabazz Napier will not be playing with Kemba Walker in the NBA, but he finds himself in an ideal spot in Miami. (JONATHAN KULAKOFSKY/The Daily Campus)

Seventy-nine days ago, on the night UConn won the national championship, LeBron James tweeted that no point guard should be taken in the NBA Draft before Shabazz Napier.

James knows a good basketball player when he sees one. He is, after all, the best basketball player on the planet. For some reason, several teams disagreed, as instead of Napier being the first point guard off the board, five went ahead of him.

The first two were no surprise, in fairness. Dante Exum has been a preconceived top-five pick for about 19 years. He ended up at Utah with the No. 5 pick. Marcus Smart, who probably would have been the No. 1 pick had he left Oklahoma State after his freshman year, went next one pick later. The only surprise there was that the team that took Smart, the Boston Celtics, already has a point guard. Maybe you have heard of Rajon Rondo.

Then it got weird. Philadelphia took Elfrid Payton, you know, the guy from Louisiana-Lafayette with the goofy hair.

Who?

Next to go was Zach LaVine, who did not seem all that happy about being selected by Minnesota at No. 13. Poor Zach. I would be thrilled to be picked 13th after starting one game all season for UCLA, even if it meant I had to go to Minnesota.

The Phoenix Suns then decided that Tyler Ennis was a better fit at point guard than Napier. What do you even say to that?

Pick after pick came off the board. Toronto, another team that Napier would have fit in well with, took some guy named Bruno from Brazil. With each five-minute interval between picks, the more time I had time to think about Russell Wilson, the Super Bowl-winning quarterback who was passed on in the NFL Draft for a punter.

Finally, the 24th pick came. Charlotte was on the clock. The Hornets, or the Bobcats as they were known last season, are a team that made the playoffs on the back of Kemba Walker. That’s right, Kemba Walker, UConn legend, national champion, mentor to Shabazz Napier.

Adam Silver, the commissioner of the NBA, took his place at the podium, as UConn fans stared longingly at their TVs.

“With the 24th pick in the 2014 NBA Draft,” Silver said, “the Charlotte Hornets select Shabazz Napier.”

Shabazz and Kemba together again! It seemed almost too good to be true, mostly because it was too good to be true.

By the time I got back from my bedroom sporting a throwback Charlotte Hornets, an impulse buy in the Charlotte airport on my way to the Final Four in April, the news had already spread like wildfire: Napier was on his way to Miami.

That is a bummer from a nostalgic, shortsighted point of view. In reality, however, it is awesome if you love Napier.

How often would Walker and Napier be on the floor together? Not as much as UConn fans would like.

Napier goes to Miami, where he will play with the best player in the game. Along with James, he could also be playing with Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and UConn legend Ray Allen. How do you beat that if you are a rookie in the NBA looking for the right fit?

It is perfect for Napier. He is a better point guard than Norris Cole and Mario Chalmers, so he could be the starter come October. Getting to play immediately on a perennial contender with the best players in the world is better than sitting behind your friend and mentor, as great as it would be to see Napier and Walker together again.

Everyone can make a fuss about the five points guards that were taken before Napier or the mysterious Brazilian named Bruno who is heading to Toronto. He could have ended up on a struggling team that is looking to rebuild in a city like Milwaukee or Cleveland.

Instead, Napier gets to go to Miami and do what he does best: play for championships.

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