College underclassmen faced a double-edged sword when deciding to declare for this year's NBA Draft.
The decision has always been a matter of timing, and whether a player was qualified to make the jump.
This year, a prospect also had to consider whether he was willing to make the jump.
The NBA's collective bargaining agreement expires at midnight on June 30, one week after the draft. Until a new CBA is in place, no interaction between players and their NBA team – not even via a third party – is permitted.
There will be no contract agreements, no summer leagues, no mandatory workouts, no voluntary workouts, no mini camps, no training camp and no sessions with team trainers or physicians. Most important, there will be no pay days.
No NBA player gets paid without a new CBA. These circumstances are stressful for league veterans and could become overwhelming for draftees, especially those who chose not to return to college.
Oklahoma City Thunder center Nazr Mohammed faced the same decision when he declared for the 1998 draft after his junior season at Kentucky. The NBA played just 50 games that season, which did not begin until Feb. 5, 1999.
Mohammed said uncertainty of the CBA did not influence his decision to leave UK, but it was tough for him to watch his college team play while the NBA was still in a lockout.
“I know in December I wish I was playing in college,” Mohammed recalled. “I was still in Lexington (Kent.) watching the guys play, and I wanted to be out there with them.”
Mohammed was the last pick in the first round (29th overall) and has played for seven different franchises in his 13-year career. He won a world championship ring with San Antonio in 2005 and has made more than $57.2 million in the NBA.
Mohammed's contract expired after this season, and he repeatedly has said he would like to return to OKC. Thunder general manager Sam Presti, who was with Mohammed in San Antonio, speaks glowingly of the 33-year-old.
“It was a roll of the dice, but my career's been solid,” Mohammed said of leaving college early.
Of the 14 players on the Thunder's regular-season roster, only three completed their collegiate eligibility — Nick Collison at Kansas, Eric Maynor at Virginia Commonwealth and Royal Ivey at Texas (see chart).
The Thunder's starting lineup totals just three years of college.
Guard Thabo Sefolosha played for a pro team in Switzerland at age 17 and remained overseas until he was drafted five years later.
Forward Serge Ibaka was a child of war in the Republic of Congo, had a limited education and didn't play his first organized ball until age 16.
Center Kendrick Perkins went to the NBA straight out of Clifton J. Ozen High School in Beaumont, Texas.
All-Star forward Kevin Durant left Texas after his freshman season.
All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook left UCLA after his sophomore season.
Circumstances vary for every prospect, particularly those from overseas. Other players were so highly regarded the decision to jump early was fairly obvious.
Durant was chosen No. 2 overall in the 2007 draft, Westbrook was chosen No. 4 in 2008 and James Harden was chosen No. 3 in 2009 after his sophomore season at Arizona State.
Had there been an expiring CBA the same year they decided to join the league, would any other Thunder underclassmen still have declared for the NBA Draft?
“I'd still leave, but you've got to weigh the options, talk to a lot of different people,” Durant said. “I know in my situation, I would want to leave. I would have done it, but it's tough for guys who are late first- or early second(-round picks).”
Though Westbrook was selected earlier than expected: “I basically feel I would make the same decision,” he said. “Coming out of college, you don't even know what the CBA is, really. That would be a tough decision to make (this year). I'm sure some players came out just because it's the right time for them to come out.”
Reserve guard Daequan Cook left after his freshman season at Ohio State and was chosen No. 21 overall in 2007.
“It would change my thinking dramatically,” Cook said of having to declare without a CBA in place. “With all that's going on, it'd be a hard decision. To be on the safe side, you could go back to college and be even more productive. Once you make a decision, you've really got to stick with it.
“If I was in that position, I would probably stay (in school), more than likely. If you don't get a paycheck, you're still living your college life, so why not go back to college, actually play ball, and then just come back the following year?”
Reserve center Byron Mullens also left after his freshman season at Ohio State and was considered a potential No. 1 overall pick had he been able to declare for the draft directly out of high school.
“I'd be half-and-half with it,” said Mullens, who was chosen No. 24 overall in 2009. “If you could go back to school, I think you'd kind of have to go back.”
Ohio State power forward Jared Sullinger was slated a top-3 pick this year, but opted to return for his sophomore season.
Cole Aldrich could have returned for his senior season and played for a loaded Kansas team and rejoined potential lottery teammates in Marcus and Markieff Morris. Instead, Aldrich became a lottery pick in 2010 after his junior season.
“It depends on what you want to do as a player,” Aldrich said. “If you're a player who might not like school who wants to go forth, then you might take that risk.
“I think the biggest thing is talent. There are a few guys who come right out of high school and talent-wise can play in the league right away, and there are guys who stay four years (in college) and are really good players, but still struggle. I personally think college helps you a lot, but some guys just don't care for school.”
The bottom line in making a decision?
“Basically, go with your gut,” Durant said. “You have to take a chance sometimes and go with it.”
Duke's Kyle Singler was one of at least four players who worked out with the Thunder on Monday morning. The 6-foot-8, 228-pound forward was believed to have been joined by 6-foot-9, 230-pound Richmond power forward Justin Harper. The Thunder does not share information involving its pre-draft workouts. DraftExpress.com is projecting the Thunder will take Singler with the 24th pick in the June 23 draft.
Center Kendrick Perkins visited children participating in the Thunder Youth Basketball Summer Camp at Mid-America Christian University in south Oklahoma City on Monday. He is scheduled to appear on ESPN's Jim Rome Is Burning at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Thunder players and when they turned pro:
PLAYER (AGE); CLASS; SCHOOL/COUNTRY
Thabo Sefolosha (17); Secondary school; Switzerland
Serge Ibaka (18); unknown; Republic of Congo
Kendrick Perkins (18); High school; Beaumont, Texas
Kevin Durant (18); Freshman; Texas
James Harden (19); Sophomore; Arizona State
Russell Westbrook (19); Sophomore; UCLA
Daequan Cook (20); Freshman; Ohio State
Byron Mullens (20); Freshman; Ohio State
Nazr Mohammed (20); Junior; Kentucky
Nate Robinson (21); Junior; Washington
Cole Aldrich (21); Junior; Kansas
FOUR YEARS OF COLLEGE
Nick Collison (22); Senior; Kansas
Eric Maynor (22); Senior; Virginia Commonwealth
Royal Ivey (22); Senior; Texas
Note: Guard/forward Robert Vaden, who was added to the Thunder's postseason roster, played two years of college ball at Indiana and two years at Alabama-Birmingham.