Suns draft center Robin Lopez in 1st round - East Valley Tribune: News

Suns draft center Robin Lopez in 1st round

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Posted: Thursday, June 26, 2008 6:07 pm | Updated: 8:48 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

While the rest of the top rookies assembled in New York had their fingers crossed hoping to be drafted as soon as possible, Stanford center Robin Lopez followed a different tact.

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"I was almost hoping that I would drop," Lopez said, moments after the Phoenix Suns selected him with the 15th overall pick in Thursday's 2008 NBA draft. "I was probably the only person in the draft room that was hoping I would drop a few spots to end up on this team."

The Suns had their fingers crossed as well. After Kansas shooting guard Brandon Rush and LSU power forward Anthony Randolph - two players also high on Phoenix's wish list - went 13th and 14th, respectively, they were able to take the 7-foot, 255-pound Lopez and plug him in as Shaquille O'Neal's backup and understudy at center.

Phoenix was able to get the player it wanted in the second round as well, cutting a deal with San Antonio to grab Slovenian point guard Goran Dragic in exchange for their second-round pick this year (Oregon swingman Malik Hairston), a second-round pick next year (which the Suns obtained from Golden State) along with some cash.

Kerr said the 22-year-old, left-handed Dragic, who is under contract to a team in Slovenia for at least next season - although the Suns will revisit his contract situation in the coming days - could be the long-term successor to Steve Nash at point guard.

The Suns were concerned New Jersey might take Lopez at No. 10 or drop down a few spots in a trade and still take him. Ironically, those fears were removed when twin brother Brook Lopez dropped lower than expected and was still around for the Nets to select.

"Robin's a guy we've had our eye on for a long time," Suns general manager Steve Kerr said. "One of the things (new head coach) Terry (Porter) made very clear when he took this job is that we needed to protect the basket and cover screen and rolls better with a big man.

"He's active, he's tough and I think he addresses a lot of our issues, our weaknesses. We expect him to come in and play a role for us right away."

The Suns spent most of the last three days working the phones trying to move up (they had discussions with Indiana, Sacramento and Portland) and/or add a pick in the first round with the idea of adding both Rush and Lopez to their bench. But Kerr said he "never came close" to striking a bargain and most of the last 24 hours involved worrying whether Lopez would last to 15.

There was not much interest on the trade front involving Boris Diaw, who has four years and $36 million left on his contract. Most of the trade talk involved Leandro Barbosa, who has a much friendlier deal ($27 million over four years).

Lopez doesn't have the flashy offensive moves of his brother, but his defense, shot-blocking, athletic prowess and ability to defend the pick and roll - a sore spot for the Suns not only last year but all during their recent run of disappointing playoff exits - interested Kerr and Porter right away.

"Robin can clean up the mess," Kerr said. "We've had such great skill players here over the years, the one thing we've lacked is a tough guy, a guy who can get on the floor, be a little crazy, knock people down, get his hands on balls with tips and create second opportunities.

"That's what this guy does. He's not going to come in and dominate a game offensively, he does a lot of the things that we don't, to be frank."

Lopez said he doesn't consider himself offensively challenged so much as defensive-minded. "I heard somebody say I would dive into a canyon for a loose ball, I think that describes me perfectly," he said.

Lopez may have to ratchet back some of his aggressiveness - foul trouble limited him to about 24 minutes a game last season - but the Suns aren't going to try to rein him in too much to start.

"He's going to make up for mistakes we make, like getting beat on the perimeter," Suns vice president of basketball operations David Griffin said. "Psychologically, he's the perfect guy for us. He plays every minute of every game as if it might be his last. It's hard to turn that down when you look at our team and our need for defensive playmaking."

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