UConn's Napier Drafted By Hornets, Traded To Heat; Daniels To Toronto At No. 37

UConn's Shabazz Napier is congratulated by NBA commissioner Adam Silver after being the 24th pick in the draft. (Brad Horrigan)

NEW YORK – The route didn’t go quite as anticipated, but Shabazz Napier ended up in Miami.

Napier became the 19th UConn player selected in the first round when the Charlotte Hornets selected him with the 24th pick. But as soon as the pick was made, the word was out that he would be traded to the Miami Heat.

“The chip never leaves my shoulder,” said Napier, who had been projected to go as high as 12th in some of the pre-draft speculation. “Or I wouldn’t be who I am.”

The Heat, who have been in the NBA finals four years in a row, are a team in transition, a possible dynasty breaking up. LeBron James has opted out of his contract, and most of the team is soon to hit the free agent market. Napier could have a chance to earn significant playing time as a rookie.

Napier’s former UConn teammate, DeAndre Daniels, was chosen early in the second round by the Toronto Raptors at No. 37.

“When I heard my name called I just started crying,” said Daniels, who was watching in Manchester with his family. “I’m just really excited.”

Daniels, 6-foot-9, who came out as a junior, figures to be more of a long-range prospect, while Napier could be counted on to play right away in Miami.

The Heat were one of the 10 teams to for which Napier worked out, with team president Pat Riley watching personally. Moreover, James is an unabashed fan of Napier’s, and there had been reports since Wednesday that Miami, which had the 26th pick, was looking to trade up to get Napier.

“If me going there helps him come back, it helps us become a more complete team,” Napier said. “But at the end of the day, my job is to get there, improve, work on my game so when it comes to the stage where it’s my first game, I’m ready to compete.”

James tweeted Thursday night, “My favorite player in the draft.  #Napier.”

“It’s something special to know that one of the best players in the world thinks that about you,” Napier said, “and appreciates your talent.”

Napier, 6-foot-1 and 175 pounds, played on two NCAA championship teams at UConn, leading the Huskies, as a senior, to  their most recent title on April 7. Seniors usually fall in the draft, but Napier got an invitation to attend the draft in the “green room,” an indication he was a top 20 pick. When the Magic were on the clock at no. 12, Napier’s agent, Rob Pelinka, came over for a confab and the group was all smiles. But the Magic instead picked Dario Saric, a power forward from Croatia. As players, including several point guards, came off the board, Napier sat and waited. The Celtics picked a point guard, Marcus Smart, at No. 6, so they did not need Napier when their second choice, No. 17, came up. The Bulls, who picked 16th and 19th, traded both picks to Denver for Doug McDermott. The Suns, at No. 18, took Tyler Ennis from Syracuse.

The Hornets made UConn history in 2011 when they took Kemba Walker, and he has become a star for the franchise. Napier, as a freshman, was Walker’s understudy with the Huskies’ championship team in 2011 and for a moment, it looked as though they would be reunited.

But the Heat, ESPN was already reporting, had a deal in place. They did not have enough to offer to trade up very many spots, but they sent their No. 26 pick, and two second-round picks to Charlotte to acquire Napier. The No. 26 pick was P.J. Hairston, one of the second-round picks is in the future.

“My head is twirling right now,” Napier said. “I’m just super happy.”

Napier’s mother, Carmen Velasquez, is of Puerto Rican heritage and Napier tried out for the Puerto Rico Olympic Team in 2012, but had to pass up a spot on the team due to a foot injury. As was pointed out, Miami has a large Puerto Rican community ready to support him.

“My grandmother and grandfather, they love it down there,” Napier said. “If I get a chance to play down t here, best bet I’m going to bring them with me.  I was raised by my mom and she’s full Puerto Rican, so I kind of think I’m 75 percent. It’s just a special moment, and knowing there are a lot of Hispanics in Miami, it’s super-special, man.”

Miami is looking for help at point guard. Mario Chalmers is soon to be a free agent. Norris Cole struggled in the postseason.

“There’s always an opportunity to do something great,” Napier said. “I’m going to compete. That’s who I am.”

Daniels worked out for 14 different teams. As the first round wound down, he said, he left the room where the TV was.

“It was tough. I was impatient, I was walking around,” Daniels said. “I came out at the right time and they called my name and my whole family started going crazy.”

After Daniels was chosen, and Napier talked by phone.

“He said he was happy for me, and I said I was happy for him,” Daniels said. “It’s not the end. We’re both going to have a chip on our shoulder and go out and prove people wrong.” 

Napier is the 19th UConn player taken in the first round. He and Daniels are the 39th and 40th UConn players to be drafted by the NBA since 1965.