Lockout fears affect potential draft entrees

April, 28, 2010
A record number of early entrants are expected to be on the official NBA list when it is made public this week.

But according to members from the conference that helped push a shortened window for testing for the NBA draft, the reason for it has nothing to do with a new NCAA deadline to withdraw.

Instead, coaches in the ACC have been told that the high number of players declaring this spring -- a number that could be well past 100 when the list is made official by the NBA as early as Thursday -- is because there's a fear of a league lockout and dwindling rookie salaries in 2011 and beyond.

"It's the fear of the lockout," said Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt. "And it's the fear of the rookie wage scale going down. That's what I've been told."

The ACC was at the forefront of pushing for a shortened window in the early-entry draft process. Underclassmen had two months to test the NBA draft process before this season. The NCAA has changed the rules as to what has been permissible over the years. There was a time when players testing the draft process had to pay their own way to team workouts, and even to the pre-draft camp. Then the NBA was allowed to pay for players at the draft camp but not for team workouts. Then the rules changed again, allowing teams to pay as the NCAA struggled to keep up with the money trail.

But there were a number of complaints from college coaches who said the players were taking too long to decide, holding their programs hostage during the NBA draft process and waiting until the NBA's deadline to withdraw: 10 days before the draft in mid-June. That deadline from the NBA hasn't changed, but the NCAA deadline has been moved up from mid-June to May 8, leaving players less than two weeks from the April 25 deadline to decide if they will stay in the draft.

NBA teams are allowed to start working out players Thursday. In the past, NBA teams weren't allowed to work out players until May, and in some years not until after the pre-draft camp, which is usually in late May. This year it is May 19-22 in Chicago. That had usually been a gauge for underclassmen to get a sense of whether they were able to get into the late first round before making a decision on whether to stay in the draft. But that option is not open to them this year, with the early deadline.

ESPN.com conducted an informal poll of NBA teams Wednesday to see if they were even going to have workouts during the brief April 29-May 8 window. More than half responded, and only two teams -- the Blazers and the Lakers -- said they were planning on having one workout during this window.

Kentucky coach John Calipari said he thought about having a workout this weekend for freshman point guard Eric Bledsoe, the one certain early entrant who is testing the draft, but he lined up "three to four teams who I trust who are going to work him out" before the May 8 deadline. The other possible fence-sitter is freshman Daniel Orton, although it appears he could be leaning toward staying in the draft with fellow freshmen John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins as well as junior Patrick Patterson.

Hewitt said he feels bad for the players who are on the fence and waiting to see if they're going to get workouts.

Maryland coach Gary Williams said the rush of underclassmen this year is all due to the perception of a possible lockout, not a shortened window. "What we've been told is that they'll come out, and if they don't make it then it would be better to just go to Europe for a year and already get going in case there is a lockout next year," Williams said.

Williams saw no issue with the shortened window and said if it doesn't work, then the NCAA membership should address it again. Williams has always been a proponent of players leaving directly out of high school as opposed to the current rule that requires draft picks to have been out of high school for a full year, as well as to turn 19 during the calendar year of the draft.

North Carolina's Roy Williams was one of the more outspoken coaches two years ago when he had three players (Tywon Lawson, Wayne Ellington and Danny Green) testing the draft process down to the final hours. All three returned after none of them was guaranteed a top-20 draft spot. Their return, coupled with 2008 national player of the year returnee Tyler Hansbrough, put the Tar Heels on the path to the 2009 national title.

If the shortened window had been in place two years ago, Williams said only Lawson might have stayed in the draft. "Danny would not have gone at all. Wayne wouldn't have stayed in the draft; Tywon might have," Williams said. "Is this perfect? No. But it's far better than what we had -- two months of waiting in 2008. Guys were working out 12 to 14 times. I had as many as 18 different teams represented at games. I'm one of those guys who lets scouts come to practice."

Williams said shortening the window, and NBA teams not opting for workouts in this shortened time period, is a way the "clubs justify the large scouting [budgets]. They spend thousands of dollars all season watching and evaluating. They don't want to make bad decisions. They see games all year."

The purpose of past workouts has been for the coaches and general managers (the latter to get out some time, the former not at all during the season) to get a first-hand look at a player in their particular facility. Still, workouts have been overplayed in the past. Rarely is a player selected strictly on how he works out. Usually the workout hurts the player more than it helps push him to be drafted. A player who doesn't work out against another player can be common practice among elite draft picks.

Williams said sophomore Ed Davis, who was out with a broken bone in his hand toward the end of the season, considered the fear of a lockout as one of his reasons for staying in the draft. "That was a factor but so was that fact that he got hurt," Williams said. "In my opinion, the window could be a little longer [than a week], but two months was too long. In football they get just three days."

Calipari added that "two months is too long, but one week isn't long enough. These kids can't get a true gist of where they are. There are 70 kids that think they're the last 10 picks of the first round. But once they start sliding and the team hasn't worked you out, they're not picking you."

Andy Katz | email

ESPN Senior Writer



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