As we steam toward the NCAA’s rather ridiculous deadline of April 10, more and more players are declaring for the NBA draft. Here is the Tuesday crop (which doesn’t include the Kentucky guys we know are going pro because they are still celebrating).
• Washington’s freshman guard Tony Wroten Jr. has declared for the draft. He’s the kind quick guard with size (6’5”) who can get into the lane that is the hot trend in the NBA, and he has good court vision. But he has no outside shot (16 percent from the college three last year), no right hand to speak of, and questionable defense. So all that needs to improve. DraftExpress likes his potential and has him going No. 20.
• As expected, Weber State junior point guard Damian Lillard is going pro — he is the best guy in this draft you have not seen. He’s a quick, athletic 6’2” PG who is a likely lottery pick (DraftExpress says No. 13) — if a team has the guts to explain picking a small college guy to their fans. He averaged 24.5 points per game on 15.2 shots (with the opposing defense keyed on him) and knocked down 43 percent of his threes.
• Teams looking for size may consider Illinois sophomore center Meyers Leonard, who has declared for the draft. At 7’1” and 245 he has an NBA body, is fairly quick for his size and can defend — that should have him going in the late lottery (DraftExpress says 15) but he has a long way to go on the offensive end of the court.
Tristan Thompson is a man without a contract. By not signing the qualifying offer with the Cleveland Cavaliers he put himself in limbo, the rare NBA holdout. Right now his options are to sign the deal on the table (the Cavs still have the five-year, $80 million offer out there), get the Sixers or Blazers to offer him a max contract (which neither team has shown any interest in doing), or hold out and hope the Cavaliers make a better offer. If he holds out for the entire season he becomes a restricted free agent again next summer — exactly like he is right now.
Without signing the qualifying offer and the threat of leaving, Thompson hurt his leverage.
But he has a little leverage. He and his agent Rich Paul had one other card, and it got played Saturday.
LeBron James and Thompson share an agent in Paul. LeBron has largely remained silent through this process but if he wants something in the Cleveland organization, he usually gets it. And he wants Thompson back at practices.
LeBron’s leverage is going to be put to the test. The Cavaliers have let it leak they are not that concerned about LeBron leaving them next summer over this — and they’re right. The damage to LeBron’s brand if he broke the hearts of Cleveland fans again would be crushing, unless he leaves for a very good reason. Overpaying Thompson is not that reason.
However, LeBron’s comment could push the Cavaliers to try to find a compromise.
For the Cavaliers, a lot of how they view all this comes down to their tax bill. The Cavaliers already have $94.9 million in guaranteed salary on the books, putting them $10.2 million over the luxury tax line, at a cost of more than $16.25 million. What this means if (or when) they sign Thompson is his first $10 million in salary would cost them $28.75 million in tax and every dollar above that for the next $5 million costs them $3.75-to-$1. Look at it this way, by my count $14 million this year to Thompson would cost $43.75 million in tax — the total for Thompson at that price is $58 million. While that’s not all on Thompson it’s a lot of cash, and Thompson wants a max deal that starts at more than $16 million a year.
Owner Dan Gilbert is already going to pay the highest tax bill in the NBA this season, but if he balks at those figures it’s hard to blame him.
Mario Hezonja, the No. 5 pick in this year’s draft, has never lacked for confidence. The Croatian guard made his pro debut in the Magic’s preseason game against the Hornets on Saturday and did this:
Between Hezonja, Elfrid Payton, Victor Oladipo and Aaron Gordon, the Magic have a nucleus of young players that has the potential to be a lot of fun. Even if they’re still a few years away from contending, they’re definitely going to be a League Pass favorite this year.