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David Falk was the agent for Michael Jordan during Jordan’s unparalleled NBA career. One of the players Falk currently represents is 7-foot Roy Hibbert, who was the 17th pick in the 2008 draft.

Hibbert made about $2.5 million this season in the final year of his rookie contract with the Indiana Pacers. He is a restricted free agent, giving the Pacers the right to match any offer the 2012 All-Star receives from another team.

“He’s about to make a lot of money,” Falk said, “and when he signs his new contract, I don’t think anyone is going to care what number he went in the draft.”

Falk said that’s what he told his newest client, Jared Sullinger, when they first met in April. Sullinger needs to believe that more than ever right now, because his number in the draft is not getting any prettier.

The Columbus native and two-time All-American from Ohio State was not among the 13 or so players the NBA invited yesterday to attend the draft on Thursday night at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. There, the players will sit with their families in the makeshift “green room” next to the stage where commissioner David Stern will greet them when their names are called early in the first round.

Sullinger had expected to be among them until a week ago, when ESPN.com reported that doctors who examined him during the NBA combine this month had “red-flagged” him for unspecified issues in his back that could shorten his career. Some doctors reportedly advised their teams not to take him in the first round.

Sullinger missed two games after experiencing back spasms early last season. Falk said the issue is nothing more than muscle tightness in Sullinger’s hamstrings and groin area and can be alleviated by flexibility exercises and maintaining an “appropriate weight.”

Shortly after the medical report became public, Sullinger began sliding out of the top 10 in mock drafts and into the high teens and low 20s. Yesterday, NBA executive vice president Stu Jackson confirmed to ESPN.com that information the league office received from teams indicated that Sullinger would not be among the first 15 drafted. The top 14 are considered “lottery picks.”

“It’s more of an ego thing,” Falk said, “and that’s what I told Jared the day I met him: ‘Don’t worry about what number you go. We’re going to get you in a great basketball environment, and then you’ve got to take it on the court.’ ”

Falk said his research shows that the failure rate for top-10 picks in the draft is “higher than 50 percent.” During an interview, he rattled off the names of 22 such failures in 26 seconds. And while declining to discuss Sullinger’s medical situation, he said, “I think the likelihood that Jared will have any medical problems playing long term in the NBA is dramatically lower than the likelihood that players drafted in the top 10 will be in the league in four years.”

He called his client “a top-five talent.”

Last weekend, Sullinger changed the avatar on his Twitter account to a picture of the cartoon character Underdog.

“I guess I got another ladder to climb,” he posted yesterday. “It’s nothing new.”

SOURCE: Columbus Dispatch

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