The NBA season ends and begins again every June. The first two weeks of this month have been spent trying to crown the league champion for 2012-13. A few weeks after the Finals end, on June 27th, a whole new batch of young superstars will be drafted to join the professional ranks.
Much has to be done in the days and weeks leading up to the NBA Draft, as every team but one begins the off-season preparations needed to improve on a season that did not see them take home the championship hardware. The NBA Draft Combine is history; June is for pre-draft player workouts and evaluations.
Groups of young men, the best of the best from the college and international player pools, travel back and forth across the country, auditioning for NBA assistant and head coaches, general managers, and even team owners. The purpose of these workouts, like the combine that came before them, is to better evaluate which prospects are worth the investment of a draft pick, and which are not.
The Blazers, one of the NBA’s young teams looking to build on a somewhat promising season, have used June leading to run a number of prospects through the pre-draft workout process, bringing in a wide variety of players from across the country hoping to address the team’s needs at various levels.
“We're not always just looking for guys for the Blazers,” General Manager Neil Olshey said in his short press conference following the close of the Blazers’ first workout session. “We're looking for guys that might be development guys, (guys) that might go undrafted that we would like to be part of our minor league system.”
With only 60 spots available in any given draft, 30 in the first round and another 30 in the second, a significant percentage of the young men brought in to run through pre-draft workouts around the league will end up on the wrong side of the draft, finding their futures as professional basketball players in leagues that are not the NBA.
For those types of players, working out for an NBA team is one part dream come true and one part high pressure/high stress job interview.
“I’m trying to enjoy [the workouts],” University of Memphis forward Adonis Thomas said after his workout with the Blazers. “It’s something that’s a once in a lifetime type thing, so you got to enjoy it. I know its going to get kind of stressful, wear and tear on my body, but I got to push through.”
Thomas, among the first prospects worked out by the Blazers, decided to leave Memphis after two seasons, leading the Tigers to the round of 32 in the 2013 NCAA Tournament. A friend and former teammate of current Blazer Will Barton, Thomas is ranked by Draft Express at 72 out of the top 100. A good word from Barton notwithstanding, Thomas probably won’t be on the Blazers, or any other NBA team for that matter, when the 2013-14 season tips off in the fall.
That being said, rookies entering the draft will take any advantage they can get. Having a familial connection to the league is one such advantage.
A sizable cross section of NBA players with family ties has also made a stop-through in Portland to work out for the Blazers. Larry Drew II, son of recently hired Milwaukee Bucks head coach Larry Drew Sr.; Glen Rice Jr., son of Los Angeles Laker and University of Michigan great Glen Rice; Cody Zeller, younger brother of current NBA players Luke and Tyler Zeller; and E.J. Singler, younger brother of current Piston and former South Medford High School star Kyle Singler, all recently participated in pre-draft workouts.
Just like the rest of the NBA hopefuls who have come through the Blazers’ practice facility in recent weeks, the future for these legacy players is unknown. What is known, though, is that professional success for players with fathers and/or brothers who have played or coached at the NBA level is not a rare occurrence.
“There might be a little anxiety because you want to do good, obviously,” Larry Drew II said about working out for NBA teams. “But I’m not as taken aback by the whole thing, maybe because basketball has been such a big part of my life, every since I was little.”
First hand knowledge of the workout and drafting process, a process that often seems to be left to agents and handlers to figure out also provides legacy players with a leg up on the competition.
“[Kyle] said it’s a tough month,” E.J. Singler said following his workout with the Blazers. “A lot of traveling, [and] you have to be really enthusiastic every workout because everyone’s watching you every second.”
But even with the advantages legacy NBA players have, a spot on a professional roster is far from guaranteed. Having a superstar for a brother or being the family friend of a head coach might get a player invited to participate in preseason, but that’s all.
“Having family members in the NBA is not going to get you drafted, it’s just not,” Drew said. “It’s a business, at the end of the day (NBA teams) need players who are going to do what they need them to do.”
In the end, every player who comes through the Blazers’ practice facility has the same goal in mind: making an NBA roster.
“I just want to fit on a team,” University of Ohio point guard D.J. Cooper said after his workout. Cooper, an undersized point guard who played four years of college ball at a mid-major school is a long shot to make the jump to the next level. Pre-draft workouts might be his only chance to show professional coaches what he can do.
“My number one goal is to make somebody’s team and be in a good situation where I can show my skills. I’m just embracing the journey, embracing the process, just trying to make a roster.”