Sixers choose Speights as top pick

<div class="meta image-caption"><div class="origin-logo origin-image none"><span>none</span></div><span class="caption-text">Marreese Speights is the number 16 pick in the 2008 NBA Draft and the Philadelphia 76ers first pick.  Floirda&#39;s Marreese Speights &#40;34&#41; reacts after Florida defeated the Temple Owls, 86-69 at the MetroPCS Orange Bowl Basketball Classic tournament Saturday, Dec. 29, 2007, in Sunrise, Fla. &#40;AP Photo&#47;Luis M. Alvarez&#41;</span></div>
June 26, 2008 8:27:24 PM PDT
The Philadelphia 76ers have chosen Florida sophomore Marreese Speights. Speights is 6' 10 and 250 pounds. The Sixers selected Speights with the 16th pick in the NBA draft Thursday night, bolstering their frontcourt depth and giving the playoff team one more pivotal piece as they try to return to elite status.

"We felt we were going to get a big guy and we got the player we wanted," said Sixers president Ed Stefanski.

Speights, 6-foot-10, 245 pounds, averaged 14.5 points and 8.1 rebounds last season as a sophomore at Florida. He was an early-entry candidate and the Sixers hope he can play both power forward and center.

The Sixers will be patient with Speights and expect to use him as backup behind either center Samuel Dalembert or power forward Reggie Evans.

"We don't see him as a major impact this year; we hope next year he'll be able to get more playing time," said Sixers assistant general manager Tony DiLeo. "We're hoping by next year he can play major minutes."

DiLeo said Speights was the highest-ranked player left on Philadelphia's draft board. Speights is a strong post-up player and has great hands - two attributes that greatly wowed the front office during a workout.

"We're a running team and he's one of the best running big men in the draft," DiLeo said.

The 76ers had only one pick in the two-round draft. DiLeo said any attempt at moving up in the draft would have been "too costly."

Speights impressed the Sixers' front office, most notably Stefanski, when he worked out for them last week. Chairman Ed Snider and coach Maurice Cheeks also watched Speights perform various drills, a sign that the Sixers were heavily interested in taking him in a draft deep with quality big men.

They could have brought him back for another look, but there was no need.

"We saw enough," Stefanski said.

Speights was knocked at Florida for committing silly fouls, his failure to play defense all the time and a noticeable lack of stamina. But he was at his best down the stretch, scoring in double figures in each of Florida's final 12 games and grabbing double-digit rebounds five times over that span.

"I know this is a special moment for him and I'm extremely proud of Marreese," said Florida coach Billy Donovan. "He's joining a fantastic organization and I wish him all the best as he continues his playing career at the next level."

He's the 10th Gator to be a first-round pick.

Speights averaged 4.2 points off the bench his freshman season when Florida won the national championship.

The newest Sixer wasn't immediately made available to the local media, but he said after his visit last week that Philadelphia's young and athletic roster was a good match for him.

"They're a young team that likes to run, and I like to do that," Speights said. "I'd fit in good with a young team."

Without a draft lottery selection or other first-round picks, the Sixers will have to use some of that $11 million in salary cap space this summer to make additional roster upgrades. Philadelphia could still go after a proven starting power forward via free agency or a trade as it tries to improve on last year's 40-42 record.

The Sixers also need a 3-point threat to make up for the midseason trade of Kyle Korver and possibly another point guard. Teams can begin negotiating with free agents on July 1 and sign free agents on July 9.

"The $11 million is extremely important to us to get that free agent that we want," Stefanski said. "We will be active July 1."

NBA DRAFT 2008

The Chicago Bulls selected Rose, who grew up on the city's South Side, with the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft Thursday night, choosing the Memphis guard over Kansas State forward Michael Beasley.

With Beasley going second to Miami and Minnesota picking O.J. Mayo at No. 3, college freshmen made up the first three picks for the first time in draft history.

"We actually talked about this earlier," Beasley said. "We all grew up together and we all grew up playing against each other and we all made a pact together that we would all be here. Just to see it all fall into place and see it all happen is kind of crazy."

Five of the first seven players selected were freshmen, also an NBA record.

Rose led the Tigers to the national championship game in his lone college season. The Bulls opted for the point guard's playmaking ability over the scoring and rebounding of Beasley, who ranked in the top three in the nation in both categories.

Rose is the Bulls' first No. 1 overall selection since they grabbed Elton Brand in 1999. He's the second straight freshman taken with the top pick, following Portland's Greg Oden last year.

The 6-foot-3 guard put on a red Bulls cap, hugged some supporters, including Memphis coach John Calipari, and shook hands with Beasley, seated at a nearby table, before walking onto the stage to meet NBA commissioner David Stern.

"I was a little nervous when they came back out, but I always had that in mind that I want to be No. 1," Rose said. "So it was great hearing my name and being the No. 1 pick."

Rose should be an upgrade over Kirk Hinrich, who now could be traded, and gives the Bulls another option if they don't re-sign guard Ben Gordon.

Expected to contend for a division title, the Bulls instead stumbled to a 33-49 record and eventually replaced two coaches. But with just a 1.7 percent chance, they won last month's draft lottery, giving them a chance to quickly return to the playoffs.

"It feels great to go in and compete," Rose said. "I'm just blessed to be in that position right now, because a lot of people aren't. And just knowing that we are a few pieces away from really contending as a team, it just makes me happy."

Miami settled for Beasley at No. 2, even though he wasn't sure if the Heat would go for Mayo instead. Beasley averaged 26.2 points, third in the nation, and topped Division I with 12.4 rebounds per game. But with questions about his size - he may be 2 inches shorter than the 6-foot-10 he's listed at - the Bulls may not have believed he could play the 4 spot in the NBA.

After Mayo's selection, UCLA guard Russell Westbrook was the first non-freshmen taken, going fourth to the Seattle SuperSonics - with new teammate and reigning Rookie of the Year Kevin Durant standing and applauding the pick from the back.

Kevin Love gave the Bruins consecutive picks, going to Memphis at No. 5. The New York Knicks followed with Italian forward Danilo Gallinari, whose father played with new coach Mike D'Antoni overseas. Fans in Madison Square Garden weren't impressed, booing loudly.

"It's part of the game, all the players have got to hear this," Gallinari said. "Not every time can you hear good things. It's normal."

Indiana guard Eric Gordon became the fifth freshman taken, going to the Los Angeles Clippers at No. 7. West Virginia's Joe Alexander, whose stock began to rise after a strong run at Madison Square Garden in the Big East tournament, went to Milwaukee with the next pick.

Charlotte gave new coach Larry Brown a point guard, taking D.J. Augustin of Texas with the ninth pick. New Jersey took Stanford center Brook Lopez at No. 10, and Arizona's Jerryd Bayless joined fellow Pac-10 guards Mayo and Westbrook by going 11th to Indiana.

Bayless' rights were later traded to Portland for the rights to Brandon Rush, the No. 13 pick from national champion Kansas, Jarrett Jack and Josh McRoberts. Rush's agent, Mark Bartelstein, told The Associated Press about the deal shortly after Rush was taken.

The Pacers also had a proposed trade with the Toronto Raptors. Indiana would send six-time All-Star forward Jermaine O'Neal to Toronto for T.J. Ford, center Rasho Nesterovic, the 17th pick in the draft and a player to be determined.

Sacramento pulled a surprise at No. 12 with Rider forward Jason Thompson, the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference player of the year and the first senior taken. Golden State grabbed LSU forward Anthony Randolph - yet another freshman - with the 14th and final lottery pick.

Robin Lopez joined twin brother Brook in the NBA when Phoenix chose him at No. 15. That started a run of big men in which Philadelphia took Florida's Marreese Speights, Toronto picked Roy Hibbert of Georgetown at No. 17, and Washington drafted Nevada 7-footer JaVale McGee with the 18th pick.

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AP Sports Writer Cliff Brunt in Indianapolis contributed to this report.

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