Lockout unsettling for rookies
NBA commisioner David Stern has threatened hefty fines if teams talk with players
Rookie players are being forced to train on their own until the lockout is over
Former Laker Mychal Thompson says rookies like his son Klay need to keep busy
LOS ANGELES -- Cue NBA commissioner David Stern: "And with the second pick of the NBA draft, the Minnesota Timberwolves select ... Derrick Williams."
(Cheers heard from Minnetonka as Williams approaches Stern on the Prudential Center stage.)
"Congratulations, kid," Stern says cheerfully before a harsh look crosses his face. "Now don't talk me or anyone who works for me."
The lockout script didn't play out exactly like that for the Arizona star and his fellow draftees last month, but it was close. There was one week between their commencement and the league-wide censoring on July 1, with Stern threatening coaches, executives and all other employees with fines as great as $1 million should they communicate with the players or even speak their names publicly.
The landscape created by the labor situation isn't ideal for anyone, but it's especially unsettling for the rookies who are so desperate for direction. In any normal year, they would be playing in summer league right about now, getting to know their new coaches and teammates while learning the ins and outs of the NBA. Instead, they're left on their own to train while the waiting game that no one expects to end anytime soon continues.
"All you can do is stay in shape [and] make sure you stay injury-free since nobody has signed a contract yet," said Williams, whose situation is slightly different because his team recently fired coach Kurt Rambis. "I'm just trying to do what I can."
But working with his trainer in near-solitude at Loyola Marymount five days a week was already getting boring. And while Williams was about to head back to Tucson to take two of the 16 summer league courses he needs for his communications degree, he was looking for some end-to-end action before skipping town.
He played in the famed Drew League in South Central L.A., where the rookie treatment was already in effect even if the season was not. Williams struggled to get touches while playing on a team that included DeMar DeRozan (Toronto guard entering his third season), fellow Raptor Ed Davis (power forward entering his second season) and -- for good measure -- rapper/reformed gangbanger The Game.
The fans at the McKale Center in Tucson might have stormed the floor had they been on hand, but Williams was forced to accept this alternate hoops reality. Besides, he had already learned this lesson of life in a lockout the week before. Williams' Drew League debut was unexpectedly delayed on July 3, when he left without playing because an influx of fans caused so much of a stir that they couldn't stay on schedule.
"The game was supposed to start at 2:30 [p.m.] and it started at 5," said Williams, who has no interest in playing overseas. "There were too many [fans] on the court. It was like a fire hazard and I had to go. I had some meetings to do."
Golden State rookie Jeremy Tyler thought he was done flying solo. The 6-foot-11 center didn't handle it well the first time around, having left San Diego High School after his junior year on his own to play professionally in Israel and later in Japan. His maturity and work ethic were questioned by his teammates and coaches in Israel (read story), and he eventually moved on to a lesser league in Japan after a short stint back at home. He was no longer considered lottery pick material.
Now, Tyler -- who said he will spend most of his summer training in San Antonio -- finds himself unable to utilize the sort of support system and facilities that he so badly needs. And the Warriors, who paid $2 million to get the 39th pick and select the 20-year-old as a promising project, have to helplessly hope he has the discipline to avoid another setback.
"I know I've got to get in crazy good shape," Tyler said while at the Drew League. "That's the first thing, to go into training camp with a solid body, solid frame, and hopefully I'll get into the routine of everything and it won't be too hard of a transition.
"I want to be in the best shape of my life, to definitely get my body fat down to probably about eight or nine percent." It was 13.4 percent at the pre-draft camp in May and Tyler said it was 11.8 percent as of last week. "Everything needs to be worked on," he continued. "My jump shot, making quick decisions, just everything."
Making that happen, of course, is entirely up to him now.
"Right now, I'm just trying to stay focused, stay on track, stay professional off the court and just go through every single day working out," Tyler said. "I'm trying to get with some veteran guys to try to see how they prepare for the upcoming NBA season."
A swell idea, it would seem. Except for one problem.
"I'm still getting guys' numbers," he replied sheepishly. "I haven't really found any [vets] yet."
Klay Thompson is lucky in that regard. The Warriors' first-round pick and former Washington State guard has a vet of his own, as his father, Mychal, was the No. 1 selection out of Minnesota in 1978 and played 12 seasons in the NBA. Klay can always find a reliable teammate, too. His brother, Mychel, played four years at Pepperdine and is looking for his next hoops job after going undrafted.
Mychal, who is the color commentator for Lakers games on ESPN radio, is doing all he can to help Klay bridge the gap between the lockout and the actual start to his professional career.
"He's frustrated because he knows, like all these other draftees and free agents know, that if it was business as usual they would be in Vegas playing in the summer league and having fun and getting acclimated to NBA-style basketball," Mychal Thompson said. "On that end, he's very frustrated about that -- and very bored, because like everybody else they've got to find time now to keep themselves entertained and busy.
"They go out on their own and work out, but they miss that team camaraderie that they would have been going through right now."
Klay has never had trouble connecting with NBA types. En route to his Division III state championship in 2008 with Santa Margarita High School, his longtime shooting coach, Joedy Gardner, frequently brought in L.A.-area natives like Tayshaun Prince, Kevin Love and Tyson Chandler for workouts.
Gardner -- whose father, also named Joedy, played alongside Lakers legend and Golden State consultant Jerry West at West Virginia in the mid-1950s -- is Klay's head-coach-by-default at the moment. He was drafted by Houston in the seventh round in 1984, then went on to play overseas and is now the head coach at JSerra Catholic High School in the Southern California town of San Juan Capistrano. Gardner, in fact, will likely help Tyler meet the kind of veterans he's seeking as well.
"[Klay] will just work out four or five days a week down in Orange County, working out with [Gardner] down there, getting together with Jeremy Tyler every now and then because Jeremy is in San Diego," Mychal Thompson said. "Whenever they can find games, he'll come up and play. You just try to find basketball to occupy your time, but it's very disjointed."
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