The year had been a long strange drift for Kiovanic Atomik. It had been just as strange for the NBA team that nearly drafted him in June, a team decimated by injuries and poor luck. Kio wondered if he could have made a difference. The way he sees it, things couldn't have gotten any screwier, even if the word doesn't literally exist in his native tongue. The good people of Ingushetia speak the Ingush language which shares a high degree of intelligibility with neighboring Chechnya. At least that's what Wikipedia says. Kio shrugged and lit another cigarette and hacked deeply and spat.
Last year, the Los Angeles Lakers had the #55 and #60 draft picks, ultimately selecting Darius Johnson-Odom and Robert Sacre. They dropped Johnson-Odom in early January and hung onto utility center Sacre. They didn't sign Atomik, a streaky 6-9 point guard with off-the-chart passing skills and the admiration of a consortium of part time Lakers scouts. That was then, this is now. The team's ownership situation has become a bit loose around the edges in recent weeks, with rumors of Jim Buss's new interest in eastern religion.
This time around the Lakers have the #48 pick. That's better than #55 or #60 but then again it's only half as many. You take what you get though – the team parted with a number of other draft options through a byzantine ponzi scheme that nobody seems willing to discuss. As for Kio, he returned to another impressive season with Euroloeague's elite Montepaschi Siena before blowing out his knee in a collision with Alba Berlin's Robert Swift.
The Los Angeles Lakers are in a luxury cap bind at the moment, unable to sign any meaningful free agents other than their own. The current priority is convincing Dwight Howard to sign a new long-term contract. On Wednesday, management hung a large banner outside Staples Center, imploring the All-Star center to stay. There has not yet been an official reaction to the sign from Howard's camp. The other three members of last summer's Four Horseman are currently rehabbing from injuries. With limited options, the #48 pick begins to take on added importance. Among names being bandied about are 6-2 point guard Ray McCallum from Detroit, 6-5 wing Archie Goodwin from Kentucky and 6-9 power forward Bojan Dublijevic from Montenegro.
If Atomik was a long-shot last year, his NBA path is becoming increasingly narrow. Friends have voiced concern about his emotional well being after a painful breakup with one of the lesser-known members of Russia's Pussy Riot punk collective. Former teammate Bobby Brown recently offered that “Kio's knee is about 90 percent back but his soul is hurting.” Why even mention the Ingush baller then? Perhaps longtime Euro scout Antonio Scariolo said it best. “You should have seen the kid a couple years back with CB Bruesca. He blew everyone away with his beautiful game and that's a tough fucking crowd.”
Kiovanic's mother was a political activist from Ingushetia, his father a soldier from South Ossetia. He escaped a civil war, lived on his own from an early age, traveled the nomad's life through smoke-filled arenas. He has an uncommon gift for seeing the floor, for reading nearly impossible situations. This Thursday night in the pale predawn hours, Kio will be sitting somewhere in a far-off land, watching an internet feed from Barclay's Center. Waiting to see if his name is called.