Word on the Street: League Talk, A Week Before the Draft

Word on the Street: League Talk, A Week Before the Draft
Jun 22, 2007, 02:07 am
In our latest Word on the Street column, We discuss some rumors being floated in telephone conversations, tackle the troubling issue of Sean Williams and his workout schedule, and wonder about the future of Rudy Fernandez.

Rumors Floating Around the League

-Dallas is inquiring about the possibility of making a move into the top 10, likely in hopes of landing Joakim Noah. Their main trade bait is Jason Terry. Boston and Minnesota are two teams in particular who could have some use for a very efficient 17 ppg scorer.

-Phoenix is talking to a number of teams drafting in the late teens about the possibility of packaging both of their first round picks (#24 and #29) to move up in the draft.

-Philadelphia is having those same talks with their two picks in the twenties (#21 and #30). It’s possible they try to move up to #17 and select Jason Smith, who had a terrific workout for them early in the process.

-Some teams believe that Ramon Sessions has assurances in place that he will be drafted at the #35 slot (Seattle), while others believe there is no way he falls past #43 (New Orleans). Sessions has an outside chance of being drafted in the late first round by Phoenix at #29.

-If Nick Young falls out of the lottery (he has a good chance to go 13 especially), look for him to get a long hard look in Washington with the #16 pick—where a few teams believe he’s very highly regarded.

-Nick Fazekas has been one of the most impressive workout players around from what we’re told, shooting 75%+ from NBA 3-point range in virtually every city he’s visited. Some are wondering whether he’s not only the best shooting big man in this draft, but maybe the best shooter period. Considering he shot 57% from the field, 43% from 3-point range and 85% from the free throw line this season, that probably isn’t a fluke. If a team like New Jersey trades down in the first round, it could very well be to take him. He also seems to fit well in Los Angeles in the triangle offense, in Houston next to Yao, or even in Phoenix as a shot-maker. The only concern is his uncommonly high foot arches, which some worry may lead to injury problems down the road.

A Free Pass for Sean Williams?

Sean Williams is playing hard ball with teams who would like to consider drafting him, tell us two NBA executives with picks in the second half of the first round. Williams, who only played in five ACC-conference games this season after being kicked off Boston College in mid-January due to allegedly failing repeated drug tests, is yet to conduct even a single private workout at an NBA team’s facility.

Instead, he has taken the very rare strategy (even for a top five pick, let alone a troubled potential second rounder) of isolating himself in his hometown of Houston and conducting public workouts with interested NBA teams, only alongside a 7-3 Romanian player. So far, Williams has held two such workouts, on the 11th and 18th of June, with another one planned in Los Angeles. Teams that are interested in conducting an interview to dig deeper into the repeated off the court issues that Williams has had throughout his career can only do so by flying into Houston.

Only 5-6 team scouts were present at the workout conducted this past week in Houston, with the one real decision maker being the local Daryl Morey, General Manager of the Rockets. The Knicks, for example, sent a scout in Jeff Nix who they had already fired almost two weeks prior. The protocol here is usually for the scout attending to report back to the General Manger, and if the team likes what they hear, to recommend bringing him in for a workout. In a case like this, where Williams hasn’t been seen by almost any GM in person (very few if any scout the non-conference portion of a weak schedule like Boston College), it seems like teams are almost being begged not to select him in the first round.

From what we’re told, Williams is now scheduled to secretly fly to two select NBA cities to meet the coaching staff and work out in front of their front office—New York and Charlotte. The Knicks (picking 23rd) will be joined by the New Jersey Nets (picking 17th) as has become custom this year, followed by the Bobcats (picking 22nd) later this week. At least one team drafting in the mid-first round believes that the Knicks have zeroed in on selecting either Williams or Daequan Cook at this point.

Numerous NBA personnel we’ve spoken to believe that Williams’ draft range is somewhere from 17-25. Making things even more difficult, though, is the fact that some teams in that range do not even have a simple physical-- including a drug test-- to allow their doctors to clear him to be picked. Teams regularly share physicals when it comes to players who did not participate in the NBA pre-draft camp, and Williams was scheduled to be examined by the doctors of the Houston Rockets, which hasn’t happened, and is now supposedly getting his physical taken in New York/New Jersey.

Also missing from the picture are the psychological analyses/personality assessments that most teams conduct that could play a substantial role in the decision making process in this case in particular.

Some in the league are wondering about the message that is being sent, when a player who has barely been seen by top-decision makers and has such a troubling track record is given a free pass on being scrutinized and drafted in the first round regardless, solely off his athletic ability. “It’s an absolute joke,” one executive lamented to us privately this week. “For the sake of our profession, and the NBA in general, Sean Williams should not go in the first round,” the executive said. “What kind of message does that send? He has done absolutely nothing to show that he’s a pro, starting with the decisions he’s made, picking marijuana over the obligations he had to his team, and now not being bothered to travel to NBA cities and explain himself. It’s not even a matter of weed…it’s a responsibility issue. Life doesn’t get easier once you reach the NBA.”

Williams’ agent Charles Grantham did not return messages seeking comment about his client.

Rudy Fernández’s Future

Luis Fernandez

Rudy Fernández wasn’t in Treviso for the EuroCamp. Actually he was playing in the ACB playoffs trying to lead Joventut to the Finals--which he was not able to do. But we had the chance to discuss his immediate future there with his Spanish agent, Gerard Darnés.

That conversation comes extremely handy as, soon after the Treviso camp finished, one of the hottest rumors in Spain was European powerhouse Winterthur F.C.Barcelona being relatively close to sign Rudy. Those rumors have only intensified as of late. According to the newspaper Sport, Rudy would sign a multi-year deal that would pay him between 800,000 to a million Euros (1.07 to 1.36 million dollars) per year after taxes. Convert it to dollars and calculate the taxes and you will easily realize that, short-term, a first-round (and only two-year guaranteed) rookie contract in the 15-30 range has no business competing against this kind of money.

Fran Vázquez all over again?

We believe not. And of course, so does his agent. Darnés explained to us back in Treviso that Rudy wants to go to the NBA no matter what. The only doubt about it would be the timing. He has a buyout escape clause in his contract worth around 2.2 million dollars for the NBA (4 million dollars for another European team), and depending on how high he’s selected and which team picks him, would make an effort already this summer to get out of his contract to start his NBA career, even losing money in the process. Otherwise, he could also wait until his contract expires in 2008 and he becomes a free agent, meaning only one season of wait, while Joventut would lose him for nothing.

Why do we believe it? Well, Rudy is an ambitious player that already had declared for the draft a couple of years ago, and went to Chicago to workout in front of a number of NBA teams. He’s also a confident guy concerning his own possibilities as a basketball player, and we’re sure he loves the challenge that the NBA means for him.

As we discussed following the Fran Vázquez debacle two years ago, this is a common problem that the NBA will have to address at some point. Excellent international players like Rudy Fernández or Tiago Splitter—who don’t have the potential and/or the right overseas contract situation to be drafted in the lottery—are being priced out of the NBA by the rookie scale contract before they even get a chance to be drafted. As much as they might love the idea of playing in the NBA, it doesn’t make financial sense for them to give up millions of dollars over a 4-year contract to accomplish that goal if they are locked into the 20-30 portion of the draft and rookie scale.

Some NBA teams we spoke to drafting in the early twenties have enough doubts about their ability to ever be able to bring them over that they might pass on them altogether, allowing them to fall to the second round. This would actually be an ideal situation for Fernández and Splitter, as they wouldn’t be locked into the rookie scale contract anymore and would be able to negotiate a contract right out of their new team’s mid-level exception.

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