April 19, 2006
RALEIGH -- While N.C. State continued its search for a successor to Herb Sendek, another story line involving the basketball program continued to develop.
State athletic department officials confirmed that sophomore center Cedric Simmons has asked the NBA for an evaluation of his potential. But they were emphatic that Simmons had not officially applied to become eligible for the draft and at this point merely is exploring the options of whether to test the waters.
Simmons' ultimate decision will have a huge impact on State's success next season, and it could well decide whether the new coach inherits a team capable of returning to the NCAA Tournament or one that will struggle to finish in the upper half of the ACC.
Should he stay, Simmons would project to be one of the best big men in the ACC, and one of the cornerstones of the team. A nucleus with Simmons at center, Andrew Brackman at power forward, Engin Atsur at guard and Gavin Grant somewhere on the perimeter would give the new coach a nice starting point.
Should Simmons leave, State would be thin inside, with Brackman and Ben McCauley the only returning options. Brackman is eyeing the Major League Baseball draft in the summer of 2007, so the departure of Simmons and the basketball team's potential for success could impact how much longer he chooses to play both sports.
Simmons' situation is interesting on several levels. After averaging 11.8 points and 6.3 rebounds in 32 games this season -- one filled with great performances and inconsistency -- he has plenty of reasons to consider turning pro, and plenty of reasons to consider staying. He falls into several gray areas in terms of where (slot, team) he might go in the draft, and he also must consider the ramifications of a return to State.
Among the issues:
* This draft is considered to be a prime opportunity for underclassmen to jump, because it is the first draft since the NBA adopted an age requirement of 19. That eliminates high school players and young European prospects, and it makes the draft pool smaller. For those pro teams that are willing to gamble on "projects," it may make a player such as Simmons more attractive than he might be otherwise.
* There does not seem to be a consensus on where Simmons projects in the draft, because of his inconsistency during the season. The Simmons who had 28 points, nine rebounds and seven blocks against Shelden Williams at Duke in January, and the Simmons who out-played Texas big man LaMarcus Aldridge in the NCAA Tournament, looked like a sure-fire first-round draft pick. The Simmons who disappeared often late in the year and who had only three double-figure rebound games all season draws yellow flags from scouts.
* Assuming that the new coach doesn't copy Sendek's Princeton-style offense and implements more of a post-friendly system, Simmons could expect his touches to increase exponentially. That would give him increased opportunities to improve his offensive game, and it ultimately could enhance his long-term professional career while he continues to sharpen other facets of his game.
* Should he return and not improve his rebounding skills significantly, Simmons could risk being less attractive in the 2007 draft than he is right now. A player with "potential" after his sophomore year can be more intriguing to NBA teams willing to gamble than a player whose warts have been exposed after his junior year. Simmons lacks rebounding fundamentals and instincts. He could develop them in college with another year, or prove once and for all that he won't rebound in the pros.
* Money always matters, especially for a player who grew up in humble surroundings, as Simmons did in Supply, N.C. If Simmons is a first-round pick, he will get a two-year guaranteed contract based on the NBA's rookie scale. If Simmons is not a first-round pick, he likely will wind up with a one-year, non-guaranteed minimum contract if he stuck with an NBA team, or he would have to negotiate a deal in Europe.
If Simmons is taken anywhere in the 2006 first round, he will be assured of at least $1.5 million over the next two years and perhaps more, depending on where he's taken. If he doesn't go in the first round, he could make a nice paycheck (about $400,000 per year) but would have little security. If he stayed in college, improved his game and turned into a 2007 lottery pick, he would wind up with a significantly bigger contract. Example: The 10th pick of the 2007 draft will make about $3.5 million in guaranteed money over two years, again with team options for even more money in subsequent years.
* If Simmons enters this draft and is a late first-round pick, he might not even play in the NBA next season. Because of new rules about to go into effect regarding NBA rosters and the NBDL, the concept of a true minor-league system is emerging. Some teams are indicating privately that they will put their first-round pick in the NBDL for a full year of seasoning, rather than keeping him at the end of the bench. If Simmons went late in the first round, to one of the NBA's best teams, he could spend next year in Fayetteville or Roanoke.
There's one other fascinating part to this. The first person to talk publicly about Simmons' plan to explore his draft status was agent Kevin Bradbury, of BDA Sports Management. Bradbury represents 2005-06 Wolfpack senior Cameron Bennerman, and BDA already has signed several other college seniors and underclassmen who have made themselves eligible for this year's draft.
State officials were miffed as to why Bradbury was speaking publicly about Simmons at all, even though Bradbury said Simmons had not signed with BDA. The NCAA has specific rules about what an underclassman can and cannot do while gauging his NBA potential and draft status. A memo referred to as the "Randolph Morris Rule" has been sent to all schools and players, and State officials say they are intent on working within those rules so that Simmons can retain his eligibility should he test the waters and then choose to return.
The fact that Bradbury talked at all publicly may suggest that Simmons already has made up his mind to turn pro. Or, it may be an example of an agent trying to convince an underclassman to turn pro. Or, it might be a case of Bennerman trying to help a friend get advice in a stretch where State is without a coach. Only Simmons knows that stuff.
What is not in doubt is this: Whatever Simmons decides, it'll have a huge impact on State's hopes next season.