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Without Guarantees, Nba Won't Raid Team

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff

  April 12, 2004 CHAPEL HILL — Through mid-April, when there remained a glaring lack of dependable information on this year's pro draft, many North Carolina basketball fans grew increasingly frustrated with the NBA-inspired uncertainty surrounding next year's team. Contrary to much of the idle speculation, the lack of available info wasn't a result of lazy reporters, coy basketball players or protective coaches and family members. Rather, the upcoming decisions of sophomore point guard Raymond Felton and McDonald's All-American signees J.R. Smith and Marvin Williams will depend heavily on direct feedback from NBA executives, and most of those folks simply weren't ready to give firm answers to most inquiring prospects in mid-April. Meanwhile, fans desperately searched the internet for reliable draft projections, to no avail. The few websites (nbadraft.net, etc.) that focus on the draft year-round are run by fans who have no special expertise or insight into the thoughts of NBA executives, and most of the mainstream media outlets admit that at this point even their recently posted mock drafts are highly speculative, especially after the top 10 or so picks. For what it's worth, the highest projections found on the regularly updated sites in mid-April were No. 16 for Smith, No. 19 for Williams and No. 26 for Felton. "The good news for us is that we think we have three pretty level-headed young men making these decisions," a UNC basketball source said. "They're not going to listen to this guy on TV or that guy on the street corner. They're going to be patient, and if it's a close call they're going to listen to the (NBA) people who have a vote on draft day. At this point, it's not a close call for any of them, and we expect everyone to be with us next year. Of course, that can change with one phone call, and that's why this may take a while." For some high school seniors and college underclassmen, the situation was crystal-clear long before the May 10 early entry deadline. Duke freshman Luol Deng, Georgia high school center Dwight Howard and Duke signee Shaun Livingston were among those who had enough direct feedback from NBA people to know that their decisions were more philosophical than financial. As no-doubt-about-it lottery picks, they know they'll be able to sign guaranteed three-year contracts worth anywhere from about $11.2 million (for No. 1) to about $4.2 million (for No. 13) as three of the top 13 picks in this year's draft. Former Wake Forest center Tim Duncan serves as the classic example of this set of circumstances. After his sophomore and junior years with the Demon Deacons, he was an absolute lock to be a top-five selection, but on both occasions he decided to remain in school. He knew he wasn't going to improve his draft position by staying, but he didn't care. He didn't have a desperate need for the big bucks, and he thoroughly enjoyed the college game, his coaches and teammates and the university lifestyle. After another stellar season as a senior, he became the NBA's No. 1 overall selection, and to this day he tells anyone who will listen that he's extremely happy he did everything the way he did. History Supports Williams' Advice At this point, Felton, Smith and Williams don't fall into the lottery-lock category, and that makes their decision-making processes more complicated. Further clouding matters in mid-April was the incomplete list of which other players would be turning pro early. NBA executives don't want to make any guarantees until they know for certain who will be in the draft, and the UNC players don't want to put and keep their names in the draft unless they have some reliable promises. Here's another important fact to remember: Anyone (high school or college) who enters his name, fails to pull it out by the June 17 withdrawal deadline, and is selected in the two-round draft permanently loses his college eligibility. Those who go undrafted can appeal to the NCAA (which now gives routine approvals) to have their amateur status reinstated, but everyone agrees that Felton, Smith and Williams would be selected at some point. The problem: Whether or not they like where they're picked, it would be too late to turn back. "June 17 is the real deadline here," the UNC source said. "If you declare by May 10 and make sure you do things the right way — pay for your own expenses, don't hire an agent, all that — all you're really doing is buying yourself more time to make an intelligent decision. The hard part comes on June 17. If you don't have any guarantees, or if (a reliable NBA source) promises he'll take you at No. 20 (in the first round), do you go? I don't think any of our guys would. But if that same promise comes at No. 10, you might have a different answer." A few years ago, high school seniors could not test the NBA waters without permanently losing their amateur status. That too has changed — Connecticut freshman Charlie Villanueva participated in the Chicago pre-draft camp last summer, although he complicated his eligibility (and ended up missing six games in 2003-04 because of it) by accepting expense money from inappropriate sources — so Smith and Williams have that option available to them. Under an NCAA rule adopted in 2003, college underclassmen such as (potentially) Felton who are invited to the camp can have their expenses paid by the NBA and play in the games without penalty. The Chicago camp is June 8-11 this year. In late March, UNC coach Roy Williams repeated his long-held opinion on turning pro early to an end-of-season media assembly. He later shared those same thoughts with Felton, Smith and Williams in separate conversations. The coach's bottom line: If you have anything close to a Duncan-like appreciation for college basketball and you're not guaranteed to be a top-eight NBA pick, don't go. "I fully believe that we will have everybody back," Williams said. "I've said many, many times that if I believe someone is going to be in the top six or eight picks, I have zero problems with that. But to hear someone say he should go if he would be drafted in the first round, that's not very bright. But that's just my opinion. "If the guy's drafted with the last pick, that's two-and-half million dollars. Taxes are going to take half of that, so now you've got one-and-a-quarter million dollars. Then if you're going to buy three cars, two mink coats and six houses, then two years later you're in debt two million dollars. Just to say anyone who can be drafted in the first round, in my opinion, that's not a good thing. (Former Kansas star) Drew Gooden has got 10 million dollars; he was the fourth pick in the draft. With 10 million dollars, if guys do what they're supposed to do, that's enough to take them all the way out." Historically speaking, even from a strictly UNC perspective, Williams' logic stands up quite well, and the Carolina program certainly can speak from experience. The Tar Heels have had more players turn pro early (10) than any team in the nation. Eight of the UNC underclassmen — Bob McAdoo (1972), James Worthy (1982), Michael Jordan (1984), J.R. Reid (1989), Jerry Stackhouse (1995), Rasheed Wallace (1995), Vince Carter (1998) and Antawn Jamison (1998) — left to become top-10 picks in the first round. They all had long NBA careers and made truckloads of money in the process. Carolina's other two early entries were not high-level picks and subsequently traveled much more difficult roads. Junior guard Jeff McInnis dropped into the second round in 1996. He was released as a rookie and subsequently made stops in Greece and the CBA, and he didn't stick in the NBA until 2000, although he's doing well there now. Sophomore guard Joseph Forte fell to the 21st pick in the first round in 2001 and made about $2.6 million in guaranteed money over three years, but he played poorly, ran into a series of legal problems and found himself out of the league before the conclusion of his rookie contract.