Two things have put a damper on the excitement of the 2011 NBA Draft.
A weak talent pool and a looming lockout.
In some ways, the two are directly related. Because of the two, NBA front offices have to rethink their approach to Thursday night's event. The decisions they are forced to make could determine how enjoyable Thursday night is for followers and fans everywhere.
Here are five ways the labor negotiations have impacted this year's draft.
Players pulled out: Four of the projected top prospects eligible for this year's draft decided to return to college. North Carolina's Harrison Barnes, Ohio State's Jared Sullinger, Baylor's Perry Jones and Kentucky's Terrence Jones possibly would have all been top-five picks had they declared for the draft. But with uncertainty over whether there will even be a 2011-12 season, players like them can continue their development at top programs and not risk missing time on the court or the paychecks that come with it. In their absence, lower ranked and possibly less talented players got bumped up on draft boards. It's one of the leading reasons why there are few, if any, stars in this year's class.
An international wave: With top flight American-born talent pulling out, international players could be looked to as replacements. A nice mix of talent and potential is in this year's international class, and teams are sure to take a chance on them panning out. But the salary cap concerns also might lead to additional teams drafting an international player for financial reasons. A good number of teams in the first round might employ the draft-and-stash strategy, selecting an international player and leaving him overseas to save money until there is more certainty on the rules of the new collective bargaining agreement. Lottery teams are rarely in a position to be this patient, but the final 16 picks of the first round could be prime draft-and-stash position.
Balking at big deals: Part of the excitement surrounding draft night is not just seeing new blood enter the league, but also the possibility for established players to get traded to new places as well. But because no one knows what the salary cap might look like next season, many teams could be far more hesitant to take back high-dollar, long-term contracts. Even the handful of teams that are best set up to withstand a new hard cap or a potentially descending cap must be cautious to not make a move that will jeopardize their future rosters and budgets. That could drastically reduce the number of blockbuster trades Thursday. And if no blockbuster trades are being made, we could be in for a rather uneventful and boring night.
A holding pattern: It's not only blockbuster deals that could fall by the wayside. Some of the smaller, more intricate trades might be held up as well. If a labor agreement isn't reached by June 30, the financial calendar won't reset as it normally does on July 1. That means money can no longer be used like it did in years past when cap space became available on July 1. As an example, the Thunder could only complete the trade with New Orleans that brought Cole Aldrich to OKC last summer when the books cleared for the following season and allowed the Thunder to take on Morris Peterson's contract with the cap space it had gained. With teams unsure of when this labor dispute might get resolved, it could potentially lead a good amount of GMs to turn down these intricate trade offers.
Trading down or out: To avoid all the chaos, headaches, uncertainty and unproven talent, some executives might simply look to wipe their hands clean of this draft. A few teams are reportedly looking to get into the first round or secure an additional first-round pick. But there are others who could take a pass altogether. We could see teams trade back into the second round and look for a steal there, or they could give up this year's assets for a selection next year or in future drafts. This much is clear. Every pick and every trade that's made this year will be made with a specific purpose.