Decisions That Intrigue
How a probable lockout is affecting the 2011 NBA Draft.
by Jon Jaques / @JJaques25
It was supposed to be a given. College basketball coaches have been banking on the looming NBA lockout as a giant safety net for their programs. Though it doesn’t stop many players from making questionable decisions, there is normally little reason for fringe NBA prospects who are sitting on the first-round border or are 100 percent second-round material to jeopardize their college eligibility for a non-guaranteed contract.
But with the lockout appearing more likely by the minute and the Las Vegas Summer League (second-round picks and undrafted free agents’ best — maybe only — shot at playing their way on to rosters) either officially shelved or still in limbo, what’s the harm in hanging around in college for an extra year?
The professional athletics work-stoppage umbrella usually covers all aspects and levels of the sport in disarray. In basketball, where coaches, parents, friends and complete strangers start advising the most talented players at shockingly young ages, the trickle-down effect is especially obvious.
I’m getting a little ahead of myself, obviously. Unless never-before-seen crisis ensues, the lockout won’t last for more than a season. But the college game is sure to be affected in some way. Right?
Maybe not. Or possibly it’s too early to tell. But a couple of players have already rejected conventional wisdom and made somewhat surprising decisions on their draft status.
UCLA’s Malcolm Lee declared for the Draft without hiring an agent shortly after the Bruins’ season ended in the Tournament’s first weekend. Not earth-shattering news. No one will dispute Lee is a talented and athletic player with NBA potential. But the guy screams late second-round pick. The threat of a lockout is supposed to send players like Lee back to school. But this week, Lee caught many by surprise and hired an agent, officially ending his career in Westwood.
Definitely more startling than Lee’s departure is Perry Jones’ odd decision to return to Baylor. Jones has been anointed as a future lottery pick from the moment he shot up to 6-11 in high school. Despite not coming close to reaching his potential this past season, Jones would’ve been a top pick if he decided to leave school. Though the lockout complicates matters of compensation, the guy was going to get paid handsomely even if the NBA season was derailed. But throwing this curveball into the mix makes things even more bizarre: Jones will be serving a five-game suspension at the start of the season for receiving impermissible benefits through his AAU coach the summer before enrolling at Baylor.
As a small forward in possession of a 7-3 wingspan, Jones could be an axe murderer and still be lottery-bound, so this slap on the wrist would have had little impact on Jones’ draft status.
Maybe Jones enjoyed his college experience in wonderful Waco, and the imminent lockout just made his decision to return easier. In addition to referencing Jones’ family upbringing and “parental guidance” in the decision making process, Baylor coach Scott Drew flat out told ESPN.com that “the potential (NBA) lockout also had something to do with this …” It’s not straight from the horse’s mouth, but that little nugget has to be worth something.
These two cases could be isolated samples that in no way indicate any trend or pattern of the lockout’s impact on this year’s draft class. And there’s no way of knowing what the work stoppage’s real ramifications on the college game will be until the May 8 deadline for players returning to school passes.
My money is on Lee being an outlier at the end of all of this. Players like Lee, the set-in-stone second-round picks, wary of the more precarious than usual state of non-guaranteed draftees and free agents, will start returning to school in mass around the first week of May.
The uncertainty of the lockout’s reach doesn’t make analyzing Lee and Jones’ decision-making process any less interesting. Most would’ve advised Lee to return to school and encouraged Jones to move on. The lockout obviously didn’t scare away Lee, but there’s a chance it spooked Jones into accepting his suspension. In the end, these two individual cases could mean little when stacked up against one another other than possibly foreshadowing an NBA Draft landscape that’s as unpredictable and as fluid as ever.
Jon Jaques is a former starter for the Cornell Big Red and current forward for Israel’s Ironi Ashkelon club.