Since Gordon Hayward‘s half-court heave bounced off the rim in Indianapolis just two weeks ago there has been a spate of early entries. While it is not shocking to see a number of underclassmen enter the NBA Draft before they are probably ready to leave the college ranks, the sheer number of early entries is surprising. As Chad Ford recently pointed out, all 18 of the top-rated prospects on ESPN’s “Big Board” have declared for the first time [Ed. Note: Patrick Patterson has not officially declared, but signs are pointing towards an announcement this week] and all of them still have eligibility left to come back to college (Jan Vesely and Donatas Motiejunas are international players who could have gone to college, but the fact that they opted to enter the draft is not the least bit surprising). Is this just a random occurrence (I mean some year had to have the most underclassman ever declare) or is there something more behind it? It’s true that many of these guys could come back for an extra year or two (or three in some cases), but we have a sneaking suspicion that most of them will keep their names in the draft especially since nearly two-thirds of that group has already signed with an agent or is expected to in the near future.
The big question for college basketball fans is what caused this mass exodus from campuses across America. College life certainly has not gotten any tougher for these athletes (and that’s for a guy who averaged 2.7 PPG so you can imagine what kind of perks an All-American gets) and while next season’s NBA salary cap is higher than it was expected to be, it is still $1.6 million less than this season’s salary cap. The real reason behind the exodus may have less to do with the college game than a rumor that has been gaining steam over the past six months — there might be a NBA lockout after the 2010-11 season. We would normally dismiss this as purely speculative message board talk, but there have been numerous major media outlets that have published articles recently about the possibility of a lockout:
- Veteran Players Believe NBA Lockout More Likely Than Not
- Expect an NBA Lockout in 2011
- Preparing for worst, union stresses solidarity as labor unrest looms
- NBA aims to crush union in labor battle
- Proposed CBA would limit LeBron deal
- Talk of guns and a lockout in 2011 has the NBA seeing red
- NBA lockout looming in 2011
- Welcome to the No Benjamins Association
At this point all of this could just be idle speculation although with the numerous prominent media voices chiming in on it the possibility of a NBA lockout has to be considered. Even though many of these players will have NBA careers that will exceed a decade we can understand their apprehension at having to wait two more years (coming back to college for one year followed by a potential NBA lockout season) before getting an NBA contract. On top of that, there is a good chance that a lockout would result in a significant restructuring of contracts in a way that would not be favorable to the players. Billy Hunter can posture all he wants about the strength and unity of the players, but the owners have much bigger bankrolls than the players do to live off of during a lockout (see Antoine Walker‘s case for a little background on the financial sensibilities of some NBA players) and they also have streams of income coming in from sources outside of basketball. We would not be surprised to see the owners force the players to accept contracts that are more like what NFL players have to deal with — guaranteed up to a certain point with bonuses up front, but the owners having the opportunity to cut the cord at the first sign of a drop-off in a player’s ability.