How do you tell a kid who just watched two teammates tear their ACLs not to go pro?
For those who don’t know, it’s official. Donte’s outtie.
I have sympathy for Donte Greene, and although I believe he’s making the wrong choice, it’s not extremely wrong. I have a standard operating procedure when it comes to underclassmen (and, formerly, high school players) declaring early for the NBA draft: if you’re definitely a lottery pick, I will not judge you negatively for your decision. Granted, there’s a difference between the #3 pick and #16, but still, if you can get into that upper echelon, you have to jump at your chance. You’ll be an instant millionaire, have a guaranteed 3-year deal, a locked-in roster spot, and a coaching staff and management that’s determined to give you as many chances as possible to develop and contribute. If you’re a top ten pick, you also have guaranteed playing time. No one could reasonably be expected to turn that down. The point of college is to prepare young people to excel in their professional life, and if you’re lottery-worthy, that means you are prepared. College has little more to offer you, and the risk of injury is too great just for the chance at amateur glory or some minimal improvement in your draft stock. I admire kids who choose to stay to help their team pursue a championship or get their degree, but I would never demand it.
Concurrently, the right choice is an absolute no-brainer if you are projected to go in the 2nd round of the draft, or below. Barring a catastrophic family financial situation, there is no reason to turn pro if there’s the slightest risk of dropping to round two. You don’t get the guaranteed money, you have only the slimmest shot at a roster spot, and you’re giving up years of potential seasoning in the college ranks. You’ll end up in Europe, at best, or on some developmental bench somewhere, instead of receiving a free education and constant attention from a devoted coaching staff. If you’re a 2nd round talent, or a European talent, you can wait a year or two to get there. The money is not that huge, and it’s worth staying for the chance to improve your skills and make a better run at the NBA.
Then, lastly, there’s The Donte Greene Zone.
The murky middle ground where life is not so black and white. The bubble, if you will. Those players projected to go in the latter half of the 1st round. (I know some people are projecting Donte possibly as high as 15, but we all know he’s a lock for that 17-32 range.) These kids have a real conundrum on their hands, and I can’t honestly say what the best move is for them. There’s big money on the table, but not huge money. There’s a decent shot at playing time and a solid career, but it’s a tough road, and you have to beat the odds. I ask myself: what would I do? And I’m not sure of the answer. It’s a lot to ask a kid to sacrifice a million bucks just for a minuscule shot at a national title. On the other hand, you have to take each case separately: Donte is the type of player with enough 1-year upside that he could get a significantly better contract if he stayed in Syracuse another year. The $$ math might actually favor him over the life of the contract–even subtracting the money he could make in 2008–if he shows considerable improvement on the court and then leaves in 2009. This is an issue for agents and accountants to figure out; unfortunately Donte probably has access to neither.
Donte is probably not a late-20’s type of pick; if he were I’d say he’s way off base with this decision. Instead, he’s probably in the upper echelon of the non-lottery. That’s encouraging for him because it allows the possibility of earning his way into the lotto with a few excellent workouts. It also shrinks the amount of good he could do himself by staying. Lastly, and this is specific to Syracuse, how can you ask a unique talent like Donte Greene to risk so much potential future earnings when he just witnessed the devastating ramifications of serious knee injuries to two of his own teammates? ACL tears, or other catastrophic breakdowns, are abstract notions to a lot of players on a lot of teams, but not to anyone around SU. Eric Devendorf once had an outside shot at the NBA, but that’s probably gone now. Why would Donte Greene risk a lifetime of future paychecks, his only marketable talent, and the only road to riches he will ever have, just for another 30 games in a Syracuse uniform? If the NBA will take him now, I can see why he’d go.