Vitaly Potapenko has one of the more interesting Cavs bio's for such an insignificant player. He's like that uncle you haven't seen for years but he would have left a good impression on your life if he was there. If there was a Mount Rushmore of most significant Cavs transactions, Vitally would at least be Lincoln. His draft pick was obtained from the Washington Bullets for Mark Price, the legendary Cleveland sharp shooter.
Price is one of the most beloved Cavs ever. They traded the backend of his career for the kid from Kiev. The Cavs traded their most well known non-Lebron Cav ever for Vitaly Potapenko. I live in Los Angeles and constantly try to force Cavs conversations on people and they only talk about Lebron and that white cat Price. You know, the one who looks like he's an adult with aspergers and shooting free throws was his fixation area. Price. Yeah. That guy. Price was the reason they traded Kevin Johnson to the Suns (probably a bad long term decision). Price could have had any chick in Northeast Ohio with the middle name "Marie" during his heyday. They traded that guy. The 12th pick in most drafts isn't considered a prime area of the prosperity pool. This one was. This was one of the most significant "Good Earth" scenarios for what that 12th pick could have become if the city of Cleveland wasn't stuck in athletic prosperity penalty box because of John D. Rockefeller's crimes against humanity.
The 12th pick of the 1996 NBA draft isn't notorious because of the player the Cavs selected, but of the guy who went with the very next selection...Kobe Bean Bryant. You never kill yourself over solid draft picks. If Vitally became a better version of Tyler Hansbourgh, who talks funny-You can live with it. You regret the hell out of "OMFG we drafted Vitaly Potepanko one spot ahead of Kobe!!!" You passed on the most significant player since Jordan for Vitaly Potepanko!!!
They did trade Potapenko three years later to the Celtics for the draft rights for Andre Miller with the 8th pick. At least Vitaly had a good enough PER 36 numbers to net you more than what you paid for him thee years later. The bad thing about his PER numbers is that he was never a good enough of a player to come close to 36 minutes a night on mediocre teams. If you can at least get what you paid for a guy three years after he was drafted he's not a total bust. As bad as we remember Vitaly, Beasley couldn't fetch anything better than a pair of 2nd rounder's. Derrick Williams wouldn't go for the 2nd pick in this draft? Vitaly wasn't a total bust because they flipped him for future value, and his trade value didn't dissipate during his tenure here.
There's a lot attention being paid to the hire of Potapenko as a player development assistant on the Cavs blogosphere. The coverage is justifiable. It's a slow news day and no one wants to hear about the Heat being in the NBA Finals for the third straight year. Vitaly coming back was the most interesting Cavs story of the day.
Potapenko was an accomplished assistant with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants of the NBADL. Vitaly used that as a steppingstone to land a big league gig with the Indiana Pacers on Jim O'Brien's 2010-2011 staff. Larry Bird fired O'Brien two months into that campaign because the team was so awful. Frank Vogel, a former coach of Potapenko's, replaced O'Brian and didn't retain Vitaly after the season. Potapenko went on to greener pastures with the Dakota Wizards. The Pacers development team has turned Paul George (9th pick) and Roy Hibbert (17th pick) into a "Good Earth" version of what Brandon Roy and Greg Oden could have become. Vogel didn't want to retain Vitaly because he didn't think he needed him. Looking back on the results and where Vitaly has gone, he didn't.
The coverage on Potapenko is aimed at his ties to the Buckeye State. He was a star for the Wright State Raiders and was drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Like dapper Danny Ferry, he's coming back to the land of believe to help push the Cavs back to the NBA's elite. Native son returns stories are always fun...
The draft is the most relevant Cavs topic for the rest of the summer. Perhaps it has more to do with Vitaly's hire than anything. Perhaps the attention to his addition should be concentrated more on this draft than his ties to the team and area. The Ukraine Train hire should be focused more on his birth land and his possible new role of "Native Uncle."
Before the lottery I assumed that the Cavs would wind up with the fifth pick. It was the most likely outcome and as a Cleveland sports fan, I've gotten used to worst possible scenarios. I figured that by the time the Cavs came on the clock that Noel, Olapido and Porter would be gone no matter how the lottery played out. I thought that Alex Len would be Chris Grant's guy. Maybe he still is.
Was Vitaly Potepanko brought in to be Alex Len's personal player developer? Len averaged 16 ppg, 11.4 rpg and 4.3 bpg in the Under-18 European Championships. Len struggled at Maryland his first year for multiple reasons. He was thousands of miles from home and barely spoke English. Communication in basketball is more important than in any other sport. Len also was ineligible to play his first 10 games for his previous professional sports experience. His freshman season was a disappointed but there were reasons for his struggles. In Len's sophomore season he was far more prominent part of the Terps game plan. Alex had better communication abilities with the staff and his teammates in his second season and had some dominant performances.
Two of the bigger knocks on Len have been his passivity and lack of toughness. Those were Potapenko's strengths during his mediocre career. Potapenko was regarded as a tough nosed player and that he was not to be messed with. Potapenko's credentials as a player development coach aren't sterling. No other NBA team has tripped over themselves to obtain his services. He had one year as a NBA player development coach and hasn't been in serious demand since. Was he hired to help Alex Len adapt to NBA culture and be his personal developmental coach because of the familiarity of native tongue and their common life experiences? Was he hired to teach Alex Len how to adapt to the demanding NBA lifestyle? Could Alex Len be Chris Grant's international man of mystery and is Vitaly Potapenko a major clue? Vitaly retired because of knee problems, was he brought to Cleveland to bounce Alex Len on his aching knees and teach him how to make it in America?