Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Point/Counterpoint: Brandon Jennings Debate

As I mentioned earlier I have been having an intellectual discussion with Jeff at JVSports. He is of the opinion that Brandon Jennings is making the right decision by setting a questionable precedent and heading to Europe rather than college. His original viewpoint makes many statements about how this is good for him. I, on the other hand, respectfully disagree. That's a whole lotta links, I know. So here is a copy of our e-mail correspondence.

First off I would like to say that I like this idea, and credit Jeff with it entirely, he contact me. Instead of going back and forth on comment boards like immature idiots, we decided to actually have an intellectual debate about the pro's and cons of this serious issue. In the interest of Full Disclosure, I am an Arizona Alum, I am upset that Jennings is leaving, but I have also been against High Schoolers in the NBA for a long time, and actually believe the "one and done" rule should become a 2 year minimum or at the very least an age based rule. So I will be responding to Jeff's questions (In Red).

-How much money from Arizona boosters is Jennings passing up by going to Europe? Is there a chance he will actually make less money?

Boosters? What do you mean by boosters? Players don't receive paychecks from boosters. Allegedly. Either way, since it's not on the books, we'll assume he isn't going to be getting those checks. He will however be getting money for food, rent, and stipends that are very fair for players to survive. An old friend of mine used to work for the Arizona Basketball team and thus I spent more than a little bit of time with the 2004 and 2005 Arizona Basketball teams. They weren't panhandling on the side of the roads. He would receive substantially more money in Europe than via stipends, absolutely. It's a stop-gap solution. The money he receives there, which will be substantially less than that he has the potential to make in the NBA, will be a lot more than the average college player getting his meal money but what impact will it have on his draft stock? If he shows against a higher level of talent to not be as outstanding as he looked going into Arizona he might not be a Top 5 pick. Especially with teams starting to sour on European players. That Top five or Ten money he would have gotten in '09 could very well be 15-25 money, substantially less. So in the long run yes, less money is definitely a possibility.

-Why do you think Jennings game would be better off in the NCAA than Europe?

In the NCAA he will be developing along with other developing players, playing against other developing players. His game would improve tenfold during the season and he would get a lot of minutes. In Europe if he isn't dominating early he won't see as many minutes. In Europe it's a job and if you don't perform you don't see the floor. There isn't as much grooming and developing of players there. Especially since he will literally be a boy among men who are bigger and stronger than him.

-Are you concerned that Jennings would be too close to negative influences from his hometown in Compton? (Think Allen Iverson's entourage)

That's a possibility, I suppose, but there's also the fact that AI doesn't get into a whole lot of off the court troubles. Jennings doesn't have the track record of off the court troubles. The implication that, because he's a young black kid from Compton means that, uh oh, he's going to be a problem, is laughable since his track record shows nothing of that nature. He has stated publicly, that he was only planning on attending The University of Arizona, for only one year. That means that he is geared towards playing in the NBA and the smart kid that he is (despite his SAT scores/scares) he wasn't going to put that in jeopardy, at least not until he was drafted and hanging out in Vegas.

-Now that he has opted for Europe, do you think that some cable network will pick up coverage of his games? Won't this lead to us seeing random College players that we used to like all the time? Won't that be awesome?

Brandon Jennings' High School games weren't on TV, I don't foresee any kind of serious increase in Euro TV. The possibility that a game or two might be shown is obviously there. After all there are a thousand channels, but there have been more High Profile players in other leagues that don't get the TV attention. Ricky Williams in the CFL, countless potential draft picks in Euro leagues, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, and other former All-Stars have returned to organize basketball for a game or two to play in Europe. I haven't ever seen any of those games on TV. Americans don't watch much of the Olympic basketball, Americans arent' interested in Euro ball. Jennings doesn't have the draw that LeBron did. People won't watch a game just for Jennings. Will it be more popular in Europe, potentially but Jennings is not LeBron.

-What is the long term effect of this move on basketball players and fans in America? Will we start caring about Euro ball the way we do about college? Will we stop caring about college b-ball?

The Euro leagues have been a pipeline of NBA players for years, I don't know the first thing about the Euro leagues other than players who get drafted and flop, in both senses of the word (don't perform well, land on their backs more than…well I'll keep it tasteful). Euro basketball has never been a source of entertainment for Americans because the individual talent there is subpar to that of the NBA. It has been a successful league, on its own accord for years, and until Stern continues his attempts at Global Domination (NBA European division) it will. But keep in mind when the NBA expands we're exporting NBA players to Europe and bringing our game there, further diluting the European game in American eyes. I'll get to the effect of players later.

-What is the Worst Case Scenario For Jennings' Career now that he has decided to go to Europe? (Note: lets not count early career ending injury) What was the worst case scenario if he had gone to Arizona?

Worst case scenario in Europe, he shows that he isn't ready for the professional game and slips down many spots in the draft and might wind up sticking in Europe another year or two going undrafted. Think about all the High School players who went pro prior to 2005. Very, very few (including Kobe) did much of anything their first couple years, they still needed to develop to be competitive on the professional level. Jennings will go there and might show that he isn't ready. But instead of doing it for an NBA team he'll be doing it for an Italian team and he will slip in the draft. Worst Case Scenario if he had gone to college is that he doesn't perform there and goes undrafted. The thing is it's far more likely that underperforming in Europe is much higher possibility than underperforming in the NCAA. He would be among peers in the NCAA and show off his talents, plus he would be learning from Lute Olson who has a very nice track record of Point Guards having success in the NBA. The majority of the successful European influenced players are bigger players. The exceptions being Parker and Manu. Plus if he fails at Arizona in his Freshman year he would be able to recoup and play well in a Sophomore and Junior possibly Senior season to improve his draft stock. If he goes to Europe and flops he will disappear off of many radars.

-Best Case Scenarios (Europe, NCAA)?

Best case scenario he succeeds, wins MVPs and Championships and will be a top NBA draft pick. The same holds true for success on the collegiate level. I just think that faith in the European game is starting to disappear on the American front and Success in American Collegiate basketball will escalate Jennings higher than if he had the same level of success in Europe. My basic complaint with this is on a grander scale. Jennings will, most likely, succeed in Europe and be a Top 5 pick next year. The same, most likely, would have held true had he come to Arizona.

The above was our original correspondence. Below you can find his answers to my issues with it.

Jeff, my complaint is the effect on future players who don't want to play college ball.Look at the history of players who went from High School to the pros. Seriously, Wikipedia or Google the 2001-2005 NBA Drafts, I mean really take a look at '04 and '05.

1975, Darryl Dawkins and Bill Willoughby were drafted, then no one else was for another 20 years.Then it came to KG in 1995, Kobe and Jermaine O'Neal in 1996, and T-Mac and Stephen Jackson in 1997. For the most part none of these guys got PT. They were drafted because their potential was so high, they all sat the bench for large chunks of their first 2 or 3 years to develop. Over the next 9 years, until the practice was stopped, more and more players were being drafted out of High School.The names went from KG and Kobe to Ndubi Ebi, James Lang, Ousmane Cisse, Leon Smith, and so on. Yeah there were Amare's and LeBron's in there, but the majority would have been much better suited playing even just one year in the NCAA to develop. I realize this isn't a question but a statement.

So on to the questions. This time his responses will be in red.

-What impact will Jennings going to Europe to receive a paycheck have on the future of the incoming players and the college game?

In a lot of ways this may help to unify basketball to a more formal, understandable "minor-league" system. Consider this, right now there are:
International leagues, which have historically been very difficult for NBA scouts because of differences in coaching, style of play and rules.
The NBA D-League, which should be the easiest to scout but gets all the players that no one wants.
The NCAA, which excludes many players and has a much different style of play, but ultimately produces the most successful NBA players (although, coaching style effects NCAA hoops so much that intelligent people stage debates like "who is the best player in the country Adam Morrison or J.J. Redick?")
There is also a muddled mix of camps, AAU teams and high school resumes.In short it is really confusing to be an NBA hopeful or scout because there are so many leagues that are so different.
Which leads me into my response for your next question…

I understand what you are saying but just because an American player is going over there, and perhaps many more in the future doesn't change the way the game is played there, it will still be just as hard to scout. Also, the bulk of the players in the D-League are already on rosters so scouting doesn't matter these are drafted and undrafted players alike who are playing for a couple years to earn a roster spot. NBDL is already their minor league. Take a look at Jennings' cousin former Wildcat Marcus Williams he has had his shots in San Antonio, who he signed by. Plus they're getting compensated comparably to those in Europe. I don't disagree that the NCAA is hard to scout, players play against only a small amount of future NBA-ers. The fact of the matter is this is going to make things MORE confusing, it won't unify anything.

-What impact do you think it will have on the NBA? If Jennings succeeds in Europe and the pros, will it have the same snowball effect of KG to Ebi?

The bad news is that if this catches on, the competitiveness of college basketball will suffer.If Brandon Jennings goes across the pond and dominates, then comes back to the US and dominates in the NBA, every top recruit will want to do this.And rightfully so, they would increase their fan base (Europeans), increase their world view (living in Europe), increase their marketability (see 'fan base') and elevate their game (learning new tricks internationally) The good news is that this would be good for high school players, the NBA and the Euro league. Players would stop having to risk injury and pretend to be a college student for one year for no money whatsoever. The NBA would get a larger audience in Europe. The Euro league would get an influx of star talent. Everybody wins. (except college hoops fans) Eventually, international players and American players would rub off on one another and bridge the gap between the two styles of play. The downside (which you touched upon in your responses) is that if a player goes to Europe and fizzles out he is left without a career or a degree--which could get a bit dicey. In College, theoretically, a star prospect that burns out could just get his degree and go on to be an engineer or a doctor or any number of other decent occupations. Perhaps going to Europe should only be done by athletes who have the grades and resources to go to college with or without basketball, as a back up plan.

Valid arguments, especially regarding marketability. I guess the bottom line is you are looking at it from the players point of view and I'm looking at the big picture. If he turns out to be a success what keeps future guys from doing the same thing. Instead of the lone KGs and Kobes of the world we're going to see a lot more of the Dorrell Wrights and Amir Johnsons. Even the straight to the pro guys who have succeeded needed a couple years to pan out. Look at Bynum, everyone says if he would have been there in the Finals LA would have won. This was his third season, in the off-season Kobe was complaining about Bynum specifically not being productive. It's just going to further slow down their development they would get in college.

-How does Jennings coming in effect the European game? The European game is definitely more team based, everyone will be looking for Jennings to make noise, how will his teammates react?

Luckily for Jennings he is a point guard. In order for him to be successful by anyone's standards he needs to learn how to get his teammates involved. If this was a SG or SF the transition might be tougher. For instance, Carmelo Anthony would have had a lot of adjusting to do even though he's a beast. Plus Carmelo might have a hard time translating idioms like "stop snitchin'" into Italian.Best case scenario: BJ learns how to distribute and he becomes an athletic version of CP3.Worst case scenario: BJ can't ditch a me-first philosophy and gets benched in favor of a more team oriented PG. [note: he would still probably be a late first round pick in the 2009 draft if he didn't get many minutes in Europe]

But the question was how it would affect his teammates. They aren't going to be big fans of some young American kid stealing the show. Remember Americans aren't the most liked by other countries. The American stereotype shows them in a Egotistical light. What happens when Brandon makes that a reality?

-Jennings has a history of selfish moments. He wants a points record so he shoots constantly, he wants an assist record so he passes the ball every time down the court, making errant passes. How will this play when he goes to the Euro leagues?

Umm…../scratching head I assume some coach with a Romanian accent will BUUHHH-RAAKKKEE him of this in his first week of practice?No but in all seriousness this is an obstacle he would need to overcome wherever he plays. The Euro Leagues are as good of a place as any to learn how to pass and play unselfish…

That's precisely my point. He sees the bench and doesn't see the floor, doesn't get the minutes, and doesn't get the teaching he would get in college ball with a more understanding coach.

-He is already being courted by many teams, does he become a HUGE celebrity over there? How does that affect him?

He will garner quasi-celebrity status over there. He won't be followed by the paparazzi or anything but he will be a topic for European sports fans to debate about in pubs. In other words: if you were Europe, you would know who he was but your girlfriend probably wouldn't.I think that kind of attention would be very similar to what he would have had at Arizona.

What about when Jennings then comes to the NBA in a year. How will he feel about carrying luggage for 82 games when he used to be THE big deal in Portugal.-

Coupled with the above, he will be of legal drinking age making vices much more readily available. What happens when this fun loving youngster hangs out at the bars? Isn't that worse than visiting Compton or drinking at a Frat party in Tucson?

Absolutely not. I've never been to Arizona but I know that in the part of the USA I'm from any 16 year old with an IQ over 50 can figure out how to get alcohol pretty easily. If anything, being in a bar protects him from absolute idiocy since bars (at least in theory) will cut you off once you get too drunk.Also, I'd much rather be drunk on grapa in a bar in Rome than getting drunk in Compton or waking up after a long night at a frat party at any college. Both of those scenarios sound way more dangerous to me.

You're right and wrong, it's easy but it's still easier if you're of age. And as far as the dangers of Frat parties and the being cut off thing. I worked at a bar that catered to the UA basketball team a few years ago. My boss said to me the second RJ and Luke walked in that whatever they said goes. Jason Terry then proceeded to buy 500 shots for the bar. They aren't getting kicked out anywhere. Hell Coach KO was in another bar I worked at and he was beyond smashed. He also was not asked to leave.

Side Note (from Jeff): I didn't mean the other "Compton-Entourage question" to be a racial thing. I would have the same point if it were a white guy coming from a poor neighborhood. Once people coming from the bottom blow up there are always old "friends" and hangers-on that will try to bring them down. You could be from Compton or Appalachia and have that problem.

The bottom line is the precedent. The Cats were in the running for Larry Drew but they went with Jennings. Do future players use Letters of Intent as leverage when trying to get a fat deal in Lithuania. This will futher dilute the NBA in the long run, and it really isn't good for any of the parties involved. The short term paycheck for Jennings is not worthe the long term reprecussions for himself, Arizona, the NCAA, the NBA, Europe, or the kid who signs with an agent only to waste away in Poland instead of getting the proper tutelage needed in college under a great coach.To see Jeff's side of things Venture over to JVsports. Feel free to comment and make sure to vote in our poll on the top right of the page.