Should Anthony Davis skip the draft?

Anthony Davis is a college phenom and a lock for the #1 spot in this year’s draft lottery. This means he will likely play on a bad team like Charlotte or Washington. These teams aren’t just bad because they lose games; they’re bad because they’ve been poorly managed. Playing on a rookie contract also means Davis will be getting paid far less than his market value. Thanks to the new CBA, when his contract is up he will have to make the choice of making more money to stay with a poorly managed team — unless something drastic happens in the next four seasons — or taking less money to move on to greener pastures. What if there was a different route? We think there is. We’ll lay it out for Davis and explain our steps.

Anthony Davis needs to sit out two seasons

Davis has been playing top ball for no pay (I’m sorry, but getting free college tuition for one year of Mickey classes — while your university makes tons off of you — is not a fair shake). We’d like to ask him to continue not getting paid for two season. I asked renowned NBA salary cap guru Larry Coon (@LarryCoon) about this on his recent Hoopsworld chat. Here is what he had to say:

The whole idea of the draft is that it provides a controlled means through which players can enter the league. In fact, the first sentence of the first rule in the section of the CBA that deals with the draft reads, “No player may sign a contract or play in the NBA unless he has been eligible for selection in at least one NBA draft.”


The only way a player can get around this is if he’s willing to go two years without playing organized basketball. He can get drafted, sit out the entire year, and re-enter the draft. If he’s drafted a second time and sits out another year, then he becomes a rookie free agent. Note that if the player plays organized ball during one of these years, the team that drafted him retains his rights.

The NBA has made it pretty much impossible to join the league without first going through the draft. If no team wants you, then you can sign as a free agent. Of course, as no one wants you, your salary options are limited. A player like Davis couldn’t possibly make it through two drafts without some team taking a chance on him. So he’d have to sit for two years. That would also mean playing no other organized ball. Why do this?

The rookie payscale sucks

Kyrie Irving “won the lottery” and was picked first this last season, which gave him the absolute best rookie contract possible. Let’s take a quick look how that works out pay wise:

  • Two years for a total of $10.7 million guaranteed
  • Two years (team option) for a total of $13.4 million (not guaranteed obviously)

There’s some other considerations we’ll get to in a second. By being drafted first, Irving will probably make out with around $24 million dollars after four years. For their first six years of service, a non-rookie-scale free agent can sign for up to $9 million annually or up to 25% of the salary cap, whichever is greater. For the 2010-11 season, that would amount to $13.6 million annually. Note these are for 2010-2011 numbers, if someone has updated 2011-2012 numbers I would appreciate it. 

In his first four years of eligible service, Davis could either be the number one pick and get $24 million across four years, or he could sit out for two years and potentially get $27.2 million across two years as a free agent. While this second option isn’t 100% fool-proof, the free agent market is certainly a much better place than the rookie scale. Let’s get to another point.

Bird rights and the rewards of loyalty

After three years of a player’s services, a team gets their Bird rights in an attempt to encourage players to stay with their teams. Here are the basics:

  • If a player signs with the team holding their Bird right they can get up to 5 years with 7.5% raises annually
  • If a players signs with a new team (including sign and trades) they can get up to four years with 4.5% raises annually.

There is a difference of several million if a player chooses to fly the coop. This was well thought out as it’s well known stars would never take less money to leave their teams. Regardless, this means the team a player signs with initially is important. If they believe the team is not in their five year plan then they should sign with someone else instead!

Playing where you want to play

A last important point in all of this is the ability for Anthony Davis to play where he wants to play. Signing a rookie contract commits him to four years with a sad-sack franchise. When that time is over that team still has his qualifying offer, which means they can keep him around. Once upon a time Elton Brand tried to take his talents to South Beach before Shaquille O’Neal or LeBron James and was blocked. That means that Davis could be trapped with a team he doesn’t like for eight years under the current rules.

Putting it all together

The full plan:

  • Davis enters the 2012 NBA draft. Regardless of who picks him he sits out.
  • Davis does not play ball anywhere for the 2012-2013 season.
  • Davis enters the 2013 NBA draft. Regardless of who picks him he sits out.
  • Davis does not play ball anywhere for the 2013-2014 season.
  • In 2014 Davis signs a good three year deal with a team of his choosing.
  • At the end of his three year deal Davis is available for a 5 year max deal.

This plan is definitely risky. It’s possible teams would respond negatively to this move and not sign Davis after his time sitting out was up. However, if it could work the long term benefits for Davis would be huge. My suggestion as to what to do in his two years taking time off from basketball? Maybe he could start a lawsuit against the NBA’s unfair labor practices towards rookies? Other NBA greats have done similar things. Food for thought.

-Devin and Dre

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