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The Draft Deadline

With the NCAA Tournament coming to a close, the annual parlor game as to whether or not the best college players declare for the NBA Draft is in full swing. Some declare too early, others too late. The NBA is a fickle beast when it comes to the draft. Over the course of a player's NCAA career, the league can fall in and out of love with their game for no real rhyme or reason. Money that was there one year can be gone the next.

Few can resist the lure of being taken in the first round and the millions in guaranteed money that comes with it. With so much money on the line, it's hard to blame any top prospect who declares for the draft, regardless if they are "ready" for the next level or not. The developmental track for every player is different - some thrive around their peers in college, others benefit from being in a more professional setting.

Once they get to the NBA, everything changes. At that level, no one cares what a guy did in college or how high they were drafted - every player in the NBA was a star in college. The only thing that matters is how much they help their team in the minutes they are on the floor. For the most part, NBA coaches are hired to be fired. They can't afford to develop young players at the expense of the win-loss column.

An NBA draft pick is like a new car - they lose half their value the second they are driven off the lot. In the months leading up to the draft, teams focus on all the things a player can or could do in the future. In the months after the draft and going into their rookie season, teams start to focus on all the things they can't. While lip service is still paid to potential, the stats are the stats and there's no massaging them.

There's nowhere to hide in the NBA. Everything a player does on the court is exhaustively measured, analyzed and parsed for what it reveals about them. Things which a player could get away with on the college level are ruthlessly exploited at the professional level. People will rush to conclusions at the earliest opportunity - Otto Porter went from can't miss prospect to prospective bust on the basis of a few summer league games.

There's just not much patience at the highest levels of the game from fans or management. With 30 teams and 15 roster spots on each, the supply of young basketball players far outstrips the demand. If a team misses on a pick, there will be another next year. If a young player gets injured or comes up short in some way, there are a dozen guys in the D-League who would kill for the opportunity they have received.

Once a player gets into the league, the clock starts ticking. If a first round pick doesn't start showing something by Year 2, their third-year option might not get picked up. By the end of their third year, the team that drafts them has a good idea of whether they will offer them a second contract. If they get dropped by their first team, they become damaged goods and there's no guarantee they get a second shot.

The money from the rookie deal, meanwhile, slips through their fingers. No matter how much money a young player makes, it's never enough. Friends, family, agents, managers, Uncle Sam - the line of people with their hand out stretches around the block. Keeping up with the Joneses and maintaining an NBA lifestyle swallows up the rest. The things you own, as the saying goes, end up owning you.

The real money, like in most professions, comes once a young guy has paid his dues and moved up the ranks. Even the No. 1 overall pick isn't paid as much as an established veteran on a long-term deal. The second contract is where the real money is made in the NBA - that's the money that can set up a player for the rest of their lives and for the lives of their children. That's the money young players should think about.

The crucial earning years for a basketball player aren't their early 20's but their late 20's, when they are in the prime physically. At that point, it's not about whether they maximized their draft position but whether they developed their game and maximized their earning potential before they start to decline. It doesn't matter whether they are still in the league - the NBA isn't the only place in the world to make a living playing ball.

No matter where a player is drafted, they have to make it or not on their own. They will be cut a lot more slack and given a lot more chances at the college level than in the pros. Some guys are ready for that when they are 16, others are still figuring things out at 25. A basketball career is a marathon, not a sprint. How quickly you get off the blocks won't make a difference when you hit that second mile.

Being drafted in the lottery doesn't vindicate a player's decision to go pro anymore than slipping into the second round means they should have stayed in school. Whether or not they have game and are ready to be professionals will be sorted out in the wash soon enough. Draft position will only take a player so far - there are lottery pick who bust out of the NBA and second-round picks who get max contracts.

Coverage of the draft is like so much else in our society - no one has any patience anymore. Everyone is in a rush to get where they are going without any regard to how they are getting there. Whether a player stays or goes, if they work hard, stay in the gym and keep their ego in check, everything else will take care of itself. Far too many people act like being drafted is the end of a journey when it's really just the beginning.

Euroleague Interview: Justin Dentmon Of Zalgiris

Before the start of 13-14 season, Zalgiris had a limited budget to find a guard who could do it all - score, pass and guide the club in Euroleague. Zalgiris chose Justin Dentmon to lead the team to the Euroleague Top 16 stage and after few months it was obvious that the 28-year-old guard was a perfect fit for the extreme situation with Kaunas.

Dentmon didn’t blossom into an elite Euroleague point guard until a coaching change happened and Saulius Stombergas replaced Ilias Zouros. After that, Dentmon received a green light and complete freedom, which helped him become one of the best scorers in the league. Dentmon currently ranks second in scoring in Euroleague with 16.5 points per game, as he also averages 4.3 assists and 3.5 rebounds.

RealGM caught up with Dentmon in Panevezys, Lithuania during the Lithuanian cup Final Four event to talk about the current crisis in Zalgiris, his personal game, life in Kaunas and more. 

RealGM: First of all, what goes through your mind when you think about the seven months you spent in Lithuania?

Dentmon: With the first coach, he really tried to control me. I didn’t play well at that time and I almost left. Then coaching changes happened and the rhythm was good, but now we’re going downhill fast and I don’t know why. I’m out of the rhythm and to be honest, I have no idea what’s going on. But the beginning was rough and then it got better. It’s been a good seven months, but now we’re going downhill fast.

RealGM: Were you surprised about the coaching changes and Ilias Zouros' departure, which happened early this season? The main reason of was not giving enough playing time for young players.

Dentmon: If you want to win Euroleague games, you need play your veterans and guys with experience, talent that can play. And in the Lithuanian championship (LKL), you can use your young guys so they could prove they can play. I think that’s what he was doing here. There were misunderstandings and the team was losing. It’s a business and Zalgiris had to make a business move.

RealGM: The level of players on Zalgiris this season is very diverse. Some of the players are national team caliber guys, while some of them struggle to play in the LKL. How difficult for you is it to compete with others when some of your teammates are far away from their opponents in terms of talent?

Dentmon: It is very difficult and it is very different from the United States. The mentality is different and sometimes it’s difficult to explain. If you’re a professional athlete, you have to know how to motivate yourself and nobody should tell you about that. And it seems that sometimes we need to motivate our guys, which shouldn’t be a case. The excuse is always that they are young. When I was young, I had stuff to prove, to be better than the next person. I think that’s how young guys should take it; they should want to prove that they are better than other guys. Guys on other teams are looking at our guys like 'we can be better than you'. I think they should take it as a challenge and they should take it seriously.

RealGM: The situation in Zalgiris gave you lots of opportunities as well. Do you think Kaunas was a great place to showcase yourself?

Dentmon: All my hard work paid off, but I want to finish strong. Being the only American on a Euroleague Top 16 team, it feels like I’m doing too much work. I think it should be easier if you have a guard like me, you would want to make things easier for me. In other teams, they make it easier for their scorers. We struggle with our roles; we don’t know who plays what role. I’m trying to do the best I can, showcase myself and I also want to win the Lithuanian championship.

RealGM: Very often you seem to be frustrated with the calls you get or you would like to get from the referees. Does that cause any trouble for you to keep your focus on the game?

Dentmon: Mentally, it’s very difficult. Especially, when they see that and they don’t saying anything. They say that I’m a rookie, but that doesn’t mean anything. If you see a charge, call a foul. That’s really frustrating, when refs see it and they say nothing. When other defender feels that he can grab me, he does it. It’s not like I'm out my game, but I think 'what can I do? There’s nothing I can do about it'. They throw me off my rhythm in offence. Some of responsibility is on me, but most of it is on coaches because they have to figure out different strategy. We need to find stuff that would help us.

RealGM: You’re one of few players in Europe who whenever get fouled, always try to take a shot and get to the free throw line. It doesn’t matter is it inside the key or it’s the half court. Where did you learn that?

Dentmon: I always do that! I got that from Chris Paul. We have the Hack-a-Shaq thing in the U.S., so whenever somebody tries to foul Chris Paul, he takes a shot. So I’m always thinking, if they are going to foul me, I will shoot and get three free throw shots. Like I said, I got it from Chris Paul. Someday, they will give me a call and they will award me with three free throw shots. They don’t call it enough and they don’t want to give it to me yet, but I will keep doing it.

RealGM: Talking about your life in Kaunas, I heard that at first you had a hard time adapting there. With the time, did it get any better?

Dentmon: It was very tough. Now it got much better, I have my man Mindaugas (who works for Zalgiris). I know places where I can eat, so it is much easier. Going to shopping mall and playing video games on Xbox keeps my mind off basketball. Overall, now living in Kaunas is much easier for me.

Euroleague Interview: Malcolm Delaney Of Bayern Munich

Despite being only 24 years old, Malcolm Delaney of Bayern Munich quickly became one of the leading scorers in Euroleague in his debut season. Last summer, Delaney joined Bayern, which is best known for its soccer program, but the guard says that Bayern is serious about becoming an elite Euroleague team as they are in the UEFA Champions League.

Delaney is currently the sixth best scorer in the Euroleague, averaging 14.9 points (44 percent 3FG), 2.7 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game after Week 3 of Euroleague Top 16. The former Virginia Tech standout posted season-high 22 points twice against both last season’s Euroleague finalists, Real Madrid and Olympiakos Piraeus.

RealGM caught up with Delaney in Europe to talk about Bayern’s performance in the Euroleague, team’s affiliation with the soccer program, his future plans and much more.

RealGM: Bayern started the second round with a huge away win in Kaunas and are off to a good start in Top 16.

Delaney: That was a huge win for us. We went on a streak last round, we lost many games and we finished on a good win. At that time we didn’t play well in the German basketball league. We practiced really hard and coming out of win like that was huge for us. When we take teams out of what they are comfortable doing, it becomes tough for them.

RealGM: Talking about the regular season, Bayern had a strong 3-1 start and then lost five games in a row. How did that happen?

Delaney: It’s our first year in Euroleague. At first we won 13 out of 14 German basketball league games. The first round was tough. We lost to Olympiakos in a game that I thought we should have won. Also, we led Stelmet Zielona Gora at halftime and we just didn’t play well in the second half. We weren’t playing our best basketball at that time, but we showed that we can play with everybody. In the second game against Olympiakos, we had a lead, we played the toughest we could and then they won the game in the last nine seconds. But that was last year, now we’re on a fresh start. We have many good teams and couple great teams in this stage, therefore hopefully we could sneak in and get some wins. We’re pretty comfortable.

RealGM: Before moving to Germany, you’ve played in France and Ukraine in your first years in Europe. Could you compare the places that you’ve live?

Delaney: France and Germany are similar. The style of play is pretty similar as well. The economy and financial situation is the same. People don’t have to worry about the bad part of the business. It’s pretty equal, while Ukraine is pretty tough. Traveling, long bus rides. But I was on a good team, we played in Eurocup and I lived in Kyiv. I have no complaints.

RealGM: This year you’re a part of massive sports organization. Do you feel that Bayern Munich is much bigger than only a basketball team?

Delaney: For me, this is my first year really being a part of something like this. Before that, I heard the name, but I didn’t know how big the name was until I came here. Football (soccer) players showed us support and we have a family atmosphere here. Everybody in Bayern is so close. We play well because of that. In some organizations, people don’t talk to you and they are strictly about winning or losing games. Here is more than that; it’s not only about winning or losing. They make sure we take care and we are healthy and everything possibly to help us play the best that we can.

RealGM: Before moving to Germany, did you know anything about soccer?

Delaney: In the last couple years I was in the cities where soccer was not too big, while this year I watched about four games. I still don’t really understand it. But it’s fun, especially when you know how big it is. And even when we play on the road, fans hate us because our soccer team is really good. But we’re working to get our name up there. 

RealGM: Do you think that Bayern is serious about Euroleague and they could stay there for years?

Delaney: After they got invited to Euroleague, and we’ve been talking about it, they seem to be very dedicated to basketball. It’s their third year in the German top division. I think it’s going to take two or three years to develop and get those type of big players. Of course, if we can stick together and play well together because we like each other. I think in a couple of years we could be one of those high-level Euroleague teams.

RealGM: Do you see yourself staying in Germany in the future?

Delaney: It’s all about how comfortable I am and right now I feel very comfortable with the guys, coach, great general manager. Like I said, they take care of us. I haven’t been thinking about it, I was more focusing on the games, but I’m sure in a near future we will be talking about that kind of stuff. If everything is right and set in places, I would love to stay because it’s great here.

Europe Interview: Luke Harangody Of Unics Kazan

RealGM caught up with Luke Harangody to talk about his experience in Russia, playing under foreigner coach, NBA and more.

Euroleague Power Rankings (Mid-December Edition)

With less than two weeks remaining until the end of its regular season, RealGM presents the Euroleague Power Rankings. We evaluated and ranked all 24 teams' performance over their first eight games and their perspective for the next rounds.

D-League's Tre Kelley Driven To Turn Ruthless Past Into Success Story

Once the Grizzlies waived him in the 2010 training camp, Tre' Kelley played parts of two seasons overseas where he starred in Europe, and where he scored two 50-point performances in China. Through it all, his sights remained on finding a way back into the NBA, so he decided to return to the D-League with Austin.

Euroleague Interview: Alexis Ajinca Of Strasbourg IG

RealGM spoke with Alexis Ajinca to talk about the restart of his career, his plans to get back to the NBA, France's national team and much more.

Euroleague Power Rankings For Mid-November

Fenerbahce Ulker, Real Madrid, Olympiacos, Maccabi Tel Aviv, Barcelona, Anadolu Efes and CSKA are at the top of RealGM's Euroleague rankings.

Euroleague Power Rankings (End Of October Edition)

While Real Madrid, Fenerbahce Ulker, CSKA Moscow and Olympiacos are at the top of the table and our rankings, Alexis Ajinca has been playing like an MVP candidate.

Stephen Graham Hoping To Settle With NBA Team After Playing Overseas

As a career journeyman with seven teams, Stephen Graham had earned three multi-year contracts, but the NBA’s lockout in 2011 prevented him from working out for organizations in the summer and he eventually landed in the D-League and overseas.

Europe Interview: Jeremy Pargo Of CSKA

RealGM caught up with Jeremy Pargo to talk about his time in the NBA, his decision to join CSKA, the upcoming season in Russia and more.

Europe Interview: Petteri Koponen Of Finland

Right before the tip-off of EuroBasket 2013, Petteri Koponen talked with RealGM about Finish basketball, his NBA dream, first season with Khimki and much more.

The Euroleague Elite 50-40-90 Club

Nikola Mirotic, Sarunas Jasikevicius and Trajan Langdon are amongst the Euroleague players that have shot better than 50 percent from the floor, 40 percent from three and 90 percent from the free throw line.

Americans Winning Titles Abroad, 2013 Edition

In 45 European national leagues, there were 107 players from the United States on their rosters.

Europe Interview: Deon Thompson Of Alba Berlin

RealGM recently caught up with Deon Thompson to discuss his success in Europe, his game improvement and plans to make it to the NBA.

Europe Interview: Mindaugas Kupsas

RealGM interviewed Sabonis-alum Mindaugas Kupsas, the only potential NBA draftee from Lithuania this year, to talk about his development, the upcoming NBA draft, future plans and much more.

Europe Interview: Dirk Bauermann Of Lietuvos Rytas

RealGM sat down with Dirk Bauermann in Vilnius to talk about the changes in his life, time with Lietuvos Rytas, German basketball, Dirk Nowitzki, his new role with Poland national team and much more.

Euroleague Interview: Ettore Messina Of CSKA

RealGM sat down with Ettore Messina in London to talk about what the future holds for CSKA, the Euroleague Final Four format, Viktor Khryapa and things that money can't buy.

Euroleague Interview: President Jordi Bertomeu

RealGM sat down with Euroleague president Jordi Bertomeu to discuss the 2012-13 season, the new format of the competition, its biggest problems and the future of Euroleague.

Europe Interview: Nemanja Nedovic Of Lietuvos Rytas

RealGM sat down with Nemanja Nedovic in Vilnius to talk about his first season with Lietuvos Rytas, development in the Euroleague, his NBA dream and much more.

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