The 2016 NBA Draft will be remembered for the draft-and-stash.
The 2016 NBA Draft had plenty of trades and international selections, which led to analysts asking “What happened to the American talent?” However, this is a bit of an overreaction compared to the state of the sport in the early to mid-2000s where not only did the U.S. Olympic Team fail to meet expectations in 2004, but also a large number of international selections were made. 28 out of the 60 drafted yesterday were not from the United States, a good number played College Basketball in the United States including Jakob Poeltl, Ben Simmons and Buddy Hield.
The xenophobic response from the generally progressive College Basketball community was shocking, it is a response that one would expect from a College Football audience. It is generally understood that Basketball is a global sport that has a great deal of popularity outside of its birth nation. Soccer (futbol) is the most popular sport in the world and it can be argued that Basketball is second. College coaches recruit globally and teenagers with the skill and athleticism to play Basketball on the college level outside of the United States routinely are able to attend preparatory schools in the United States. It should not be understated as to the value of a Postsecondary Education in the United States holds on an international basis. A Professional Basketball career in the United States with the NBA or with a league in Europe, Asia-Pacific, Australia or South America is considered a major accomplishment that can set the individual up for a really good life. It may seem inferior to play Basketball for a living in a league that is not the NBA to Americans, but these leagues still pay well and are not a source of shame. The idea of it being a source of shame comes down to the desire to put down talented individuals, media sources that care more about sound bytes than details and an ignorant public.
21 different countries were represented in the NBA Draft, which should be considered a great compliment to the power that the NBA, an American institution holds. The sport of American Football has far less reach despite efforts to expand the footprint to Mexico and the United Kingdom. Basketball has much in common with Soccer in that they are both sports that emphasize/require multi-faceted skill and have hardly any barriers to entry. It is far more conceivable that Adam Silver, the Commissioner of the National Basketball Association, could eventually oversee the expansion of the sport into Shanghai, Beijing, Tokyo, Seoul, Sydney, Paris, London, Berlin, Barcelona, Rome, Sao Paulo and Buenos Aires. The NFL does not have enough interest nor individuals playing the game outside of the United States and Canada to make a difference. The NFL is a parochial sport.
This leads back to last night. It was not a condemnation of the American talent, it was a celebration of an American sport that truly has an international flavor. However, last night’s draft was unique on several levels.
The Salary Cap Increase means a Flight to Quality
The NBA informed teams that the 2016-17 Season Salary Cap was going to rise even more than they had expected. The NBA has a salary cap and a salary floor to ensure competitiveness. Teams that go above the salary cap have to pay a so-called “luxury tax” and teams that fall below the salary floor are not penalized, but must pay the difference between the paid total salaries and salary floor and divide it among the remaining members of the team’s roster. The salary cap last season was $70 million, this upcoming season it is expected to be $94 million.
Why pursue a talented player in the draft when you can sign or trade to get a few established stars on your roster? Four NBA teams (Charlotte Hornets, New York Knicks, Miami Heat, Washington Wizards) declined to take anyone from the NBA Draft! With all of that cap space, everyone is looking to spend for stars.
Orlando traded their 11th pick in the NBA Draft to Oklahoma City along with their former second pick of the NBA Draft, Victor Oladipo, and Ersan Ilyasova for Serge Ibaka. Ibaka’s a rising star that will command major Free Agency money next offseason and the Magic have the space to give him a 5 to 7 year deal. If Aaron Gordon as a Small Forward, Serge Ibaka as the Power Forward and Nikola Vucevic as the Center turns out to be a success and gets the Magic back to the front in a rather weak Eastern Conference, it presents an opportunity to keep everyone in the fold and not leave management chasing talent. Stephen Zimmerman, drafted in the second round, is a rather inexpensive flyer in the frontcourt to back up Vucevic as far as both money and commitment are concerned.
The New York Knicks are trying to win the Kevin Durant sweepstakes and put him together with Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porziņģis. Rather than gamble in the NBA Draft, the Knicks want to win now and the fastest way to do that is through Free Agency. Porziņģis was a major coup in the NBA Draft last year for the Knicks, but they needed to fill immediate holes and the addition of Derrick Rose was significant. Derrick Rose has name recognition, but is not as productive nor as healthy as the recently traded Jeff Teague that is now formerly of the Atlanta Hawks. Rather than throw a rookie into the fire, the Knicks need an established player and are willing to commit the money to do it.
36 out of 60 of the picks involved a trade in the past, last night or to be executed on July 1, 2016. Last night was a seller’s market and as mentioned, four teams were clearly not interested in buying anything. 27 out of the 60 picks in last year’s draft involved a trade. 42 out of the 60 picked last year were American. The buyers were the Boston Basketball Club (with a caveat) and Denver Nuggets. The sellers were much of the Eastern Conference looking to pick up Free Agents.
The Draft and Stash
The Boston Basketball Club and other “buyers” bringing in international talent after the Lottery picks were taken were securing rights to international talent that could be used at a later time when the existing contracts for these Professional players expire. The best part of the Draft and Stash is that it does not negatively impact the salary cap, it avoids any immediate contractual issues and allows the franchises to pounce when the player is ready to make an immediate impact.
It’s possible that 13 out of 60 picks were Draft and Stash picks. It is a good way to punt on the NBA Draft and focus on retaining existing talent or Free Agent acquisitions. Punting was popular in the 2016 NBA Draft because of the increased cap space and perceived overall shallowness of the Draft Class.
These Draftees are Getting Ripped Off in a Sense
“The problem is in the league’s CBA, which does not tie the pay scale for first-round picks to the salary cap. Unlike max salaries, which are defined as a specific percentage of the salary cap and therefore balloon at the same pace the cap does, incoming rookies drafted in the first round have their salaries hard-capped by a rookie wage scale. Each pick slot is assigned a concrete yearly salary—$2,253,300 for the ninth overall pick, for example—and teams can sign drafted players for no less than 80 percent and no more than 120 percent of the number assigned to their slot. These first-round picks will get a two-year contract that comes with a slight pay increase in the second year and team options for years three and four.
What that means is that for the next four years, most of the 2016 first-round draft picks will be locked into truly awful deals. A large number of teams are going to have more money and cap space than they know what to do with this summer, and even the stingiest owners in the league won’t really have a choice but to throw it at players who enjoy the freedom to negotiate the terms of their contract. These first-round picks are walking into a gold rush and being told that they can’t take home more than what fits in one hand; meanwhile, 10th men and the undead will be striking it rich, simply because the money has to go somewhere.”
A new Collective Bargaining Agreement is set to be negotiated in August for 2017 and this will likely provide a more beneficial compensation approach for those drafted in the First Round of the 2017 NBA Draft. This feeds into the 2017 NBA Draft not only being a better draft as far as quality players, but also it was beneficial for a good number to stay in school. Jaron Blossomgame could be a big winner, if he just gets drafted in the First Round of 2017 NBA Draft as he not only improves his draft stock, but also is able to collect more money in the process. The biggest loser (comparatively speaking as he is now a millionaire and his life is extraordinarily better now than it was in Haiti) could end up being Skal Labissiere, who may find himself out of the NBA in two years and was left between a rock and a hard place.
Skal Labissiere and Malik Newman’s Conundrum
Skal Labissiere struggled as a Freshman at Kentucky as he lacked strength and a solid enough skill set to trust him as a Combo Forward, Power Forward or Center. Kentucky is a factory for future NBA players and those that choose to stay after their first year take the risk of losing minutes. Skal Labissiere compared to the 2016 Class at Kentucky would not have cracked the starting lineup, which would have put NBA scouts on notice that if he was not good enough to earn quality minutes for his college team how can he be a contributor on the highest professional level?
Media emphasized his physical gifts rather than his skill. Labissiere’s length was sold as a major reason why he should be drafted along with his ability to shoot from the perimeter, which was really an exercise in grasping at straws. Jalen Rose even made the asinine comparison to Raef LaFrentz. LaFrentz was 6’11” 240 pounds at Kansas, Labissiere is 7’o” 215 pounds after a trip with Jeff Foxworthy to Golden Corral.
Labissiere at Kentucky:
LaFrentz at Kansas
Comparing a two-time Big XII Player of the Year to a guy that could not crack his own team’s starting lineup is completely insane. Kentucky had a rather weak frontcourt this past season and Skal Labissiere was major part of the problem.
Malik Newman knew he was not going to be drafted after his performance at Mississippi State this past season. Newman was outclassed by many of his peers and was out-shined by Quinndary Weatherspoon, who will be a Shooting Guard to watch in the 2018 NBA Draft. Newman was not going to start at Mississippi State in the 2016-17 Season and he knew it. He was not going to the be the starting Point Guard in Starkville as I.J. Ready had a firm hold on the spot and Tyson Carter was going to be competitive. Shooting Guard belonged to Quinndary Weatherspoon and he could not grab the third guard spot either as Xavian Stapleton and Mario Kegler stood in his way. Newman is going to get one more chance to show NBA scouts that he is ready and he will have a full year of developmental opportunities before he steps on the floor again for another school.
Closer to Home: Kenny Gaines to get a shot with the Rockets?
Kenny Gaines is very interested in being a part of the Houston Rockets’ Summer League team. Summer League provides undrafted players the opportunity to earn spots on NBA and NBDL rosters. It also is an opportunity to show off wares for teams in other leagues. There is mutual interest between Gaines and the Rockets.
The Rockets drafted a pair of frontcourt players in the second round of the 2016 NBA Draft. Backcourt production was lacking for the Rockets beyond James Harden. With Mike D’Antoni at the helm, the team’s identity could change and it may present an opportunity for another Guard to emerge. James Harden sees the need for improvement in the backcourt and even seems willing to play the 3 spot. If someone wants to seize the opportunity, it is there for them in the Rockets backcourt. All Kenny Gaines may have to do is just be better than a bench contributor or two and he may win himself a roster spot.