If anyone can take advantage of the "new" NBA draft, it's Danny Ainge
John Starks is one of the NBA's most famous undrafted free agents -- and he wont be the last.
The NBA draft was fundamentally altered this year when the NCAA changed their early-entry rules to allow student-athletes to enter the draft process and remain in it up until ten days after the NBA combine. Such a change means the talent pool of players who will be selected in June has expanded greatly -- and so too will the pool of players that forgo school and still do not hear their name called on draft night.
Undrafted free agency has rarely had a huge impact on NBA roster building. With only fifteen roster spots available, sheer logistics often prevent undrafted players from securing a spot unless it is a temporary arrangement due to injury. For every Ben Wallace or John Starks, there are a hundred undrafted players who never make it to summer league, much less become impact NBA players.
With the new early-entrance policy, however, the winds have shifted. Players such as Providence's Ben Bentil, who turned an unspectacular freshman campaign into a Big-East leading 20 points per game sophomore performance, have taken advantage of the new rule to gauge teams' interest, not only in being drafted in the first round, but in garnering a large guarantee as a second round pick (a la Montrezl Harell or the Celtics' Jordan Mickey).
One unintended consequence of this process could be that the promise of guaranteed money from interested, high-revenue teams could convince borderline draftable players to remain in the draft. And that is just the sort of loophole Danny Ainge loves to exploit.
Ainge has already shown a propensity to be creative, guaranteeing Mickey more money than first-round pick R.J. Hunter just this past year. And the Celtics' helmsman has already made his wide-ranging draft interest known, bringing in upwards of 40 players for workouts before the ping pong balls even dropped.
But money is not the only allure that talented undrafted players will desire in picking their new home -- development is a huge part of any prospect's decision, and the key ingredient in any development stew is playing time.
Luckily for whomever receives some of Wyc Grousbec's millions, the Celtics have a one to one affiliation with their D-league squad, the Maine Red Claws, and have never hesitated to use Maine to give their young players game reps. This past year both Hunter and 16th overall pick Terry Rozier spent plenty of time on I-95 between Portland and Boston, and even productive rotation players like Avery Bradley have spent time honing their skills up north.
While the immediate impact of such a change may be minimal -- undrafted players go undrafted for a reason, after all -- the potential for growth and the opportunity to help shield the varsity squad with talented depth at Maine makes undrafted free agency an intriguing roster building tool going forward.
With eight picks in this year's draft, Boston's interest in players who fall out of the top 60 may be somewhat lukewarm. Should they retain all those selections, it is a very real possibility that the team will have to draft an international player or two who are willing to stay overseas while the Celtics settle their roster logjam.
The Boston Celtics currently have 13.3% of the selections in the 2016 NBA Draft.
Yeah, that’s insane. Don’t expect it to stay that way.
But the long-term is the arena in which Danny Ainge dwells, and that is where this phenomenon could have a great impact. Despite the soaring cap, the realities of NBA roster construction remain in place -- as the cap rises, so too do max salaries, and any team with true title aspirations will have a large chunk of their cap eaten up by massive max contracts.
In the past, the conventional wisdom was to use cap exceptions to lure veteran free agents and hope to hit on a late first round pick to help build depth around a core of stars (much like the Big Three Celtics did during their title-chasing heyday). But, much like a rebuilding team garnering as many lottery selections as they can, a title contender could, with the new rules in place, sign several talented UDFAs per year with the expectation that most of them simply won't work out -- all for the payoff of one or two turning into contributors.
In the world of NBA transactions, the minutiae matters. Cap exceptions, salary matching -- all the little facets of deals add up to make or break a team. Danny Ainge's philosophy has always been to use the minute to his advantage, whether it is a two day stop in Maine for James Young or a huge second-round guarantee to snag a talented prospect. With the new NBA draft in place, all the league has done is give Trader Danny more cards to stack his deck with. Follow Brenton on Twitter @BBTruth8294 Photo courtesy of Tom Berg via ESPN.com