Analysis: The hat game takes away from the NBA draft


By TIM REYNOLDS - AP Basketball Writer



De'Andre Hunter, of Virginia, leaves the stage after being selected with the fourth pick overall by the Los Angeles Lakers during the NBA basketball draft Thursday, June 20, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

De'Andre Hunter, of Virginia, leaves the stage after being selected with the fourth pick overall by the Los Angeles Lakers during the NBA basketball draft Thursday, June 20, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)


Texas Tech's Jarrett Culver eaves the stage after the Phoenix Suns selected him as the sixth pick overall in the NBA basketball draft Thursday, June 20, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)


When the careers for players like De’Andre Hunter and Jarrett Culver are long over, when they look back at the scrapbook of their basketball lives, they will more than likely see photos of draft night.

And they’ll have the same reaction.

“Why did I have that hat on?”

It’ll be a fair question.

A plea to the NBA: Going forward, do everyone a favor and let common sense prevail.

The NBA has some fairly strict rules that get followed on trades, and there are a lot of reasons why trades that were agreed to in recent days can’t be executed until the new league year starts on July 6. It’s why Anthony Davis is still a member of the New Orleans Pelicans. While everyone believes he is a Laker, he really is still a Pelican and will be until his trade to Los Angeles can become official in a couple weeks.

But since everyone knows the trades are happening, why pretend otherwise?

The draft — a five-plus-hour ordeal on Thursday night — had so many great moments with players crying, rejoicing for college teammates, and so many confusing moments as well. Hunter was talking about joining the Atlanta Hawks while wearing a Lakers hat. Culver is going to Minnesota, and wore a Phoenix hat when he walked across the stage.

This went on all night long. Guys were getting traded left and right, and very few of the deals could be officially announced — or even spoken about by teams — because they aren’t “finalized” yet.

“It’s a little weird,” Hunter said.

It’s a domino effect, too. The Lakers-Pelicans trade affects certain other deals, like the Pelicans-Hawks trade, and so on, and so on. Not having a mechanism in place for these trades to be done on draft night — or even the ability to pretend that they’re done — not only can be confusing for fans, but it even can deny some players their ideal welcome-to-the-NBA moment as well.

After all, they’ll never be drafted again.

“It’s kind of different,” Culver said. “I’m just happy to be in the NBA and have this opportunity. It’s a lot of work to be done. So wherever I end up, I’ve got to stay true to myself and give whatever team I’m playing for everything I’ve got.”

What makes this worse is that it isn’t just affecting draft night.

There are summer leagues starting in Sacramento and Salt Lake City on July 1, and then the full-scale NBA Summer League starts in Las Vegas on July 5. Miami is playing in the Sacramento league, and it would have been a nice perk for former Stanford forward KZ Okpala — California born and raised, went to college there as well, an All-Pac-12 player last season — to get his first taste of pro ball in his home state.

Can’t happen.

Okpala is going to be a member of the Heat, but not until July 6 and long after the start of summer play. He’s not alone. Plenty of other hopefuls around the league will be in the same boat.

Okpala is a second-rounder who will wind up in Miami through trades with Phoenix and Indiana. He will likely face an uphill fight to make Miami’s opening-night roster, and now he misses out on an opportunity to impress the Heat brass because he will not be able to play in any of the three summer games in Sacramento and probably the team’s opener in Las Vegas — at minimum.

“That’s the way it goes in the game today,” said Heat President Pat Riley, speaking generically about because by league rule he couldn’t talk about Okpala since he isn’t actually on Miami’s roster yet.

A solution would be to push back the start of summer leagues, to avoid things like this happening in the future. But that will take cooperation from television partners, as well as the teams, since the later summer goes the less downtime there will be before the beginning of training camps.

Making a change like that won’t be easy.

And that won’t address the issues on draft night either. So maybe in 2020, let’s start small and give players the right hat.

“I don’t necessarily know what I’m going to do with it,” Hunter said of his L.A. cap. “Probably give it to a Lakers fan. Have them wear it.”

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Tim Reynolds is a national basketball writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at treynoldsap.org

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De’Andre Hunter, of Virginia, leaves the stage after being selected with the fourth pick overall by the Los Angeles Lakers during the NBA basketball draft Thursday, June 20, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
https://www.wnewsj.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/2019/06/web1_123076078-349d006316c7477692a55453b2184809.jpgDe’Andre Hunter, of Virginia, leaves the stage after being selected with the fourth pick overall by the Los Angeles Lakers during the NBA basketball draft Thursday, June 20, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Texas Tech’s Jarrett Culver eaves the stage after the Phoenix Suns selected him as the sixth pick overall in the NBA basketball draft Thursday, June 20, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
https://www.wnewsj.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/2019/06/web1_123076078-61dd8a4556df4553833caabe70867b73.jpgTexas Tech’s Jarrett Culver eaves the stage after the Phoenix Suns selected him as the sixth pick overall in the NBA basketball draft Thursday, June 20, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

By TIM REYNOLDS

AP Basketball Writer