With the NBA lockout nearing the end of its first month, questions are swirling about the effect a prolonged work stoppage will have on the players. Without team activities or a summer league, will they stay in shape? Will many of them run into financial problems because they don't receive a paycheck in November? Because of these two issues, will they go play overseas?
While the lockout is painful for everybody, no one is left in a state of limbo more than the game's youngest players. Rookies barely know their new coaches or teammates, they've never experienced the intensity of a professional game and unlike their counterparts, they haven't been paid. Tristan Thompson, the fourth overall pick in the June draft, has decided to turn back the clock. The future Cleveland Cavalier has returned to the University of Texas and plans on enrolling in classes this fall.
"Once the lockout started, I talked with my agent and we decided I should go back to school," Thompson said. "The Texas doors are always open. I'm basically doing everything with the [Texas] team this summer."
Wary of pro-am leagues because of potential injuries, Thompson sticks to the school's Erwin Center. With former Longhorns D.J. Augustin, LaMarcus Aldridge and Kevin Durant periodically stopping by, Thompson has no shortage of high-quality opponents. Thompson is living on campus and plans to take communications classes when the school's semester starts in late August.
Thompson hasn't gotten a chance to meet all of his teammates though he knows fellow Cavs rookie Kyrie Irving well. His biggest complaint about the lockout is that he's only spoken briefly with Cavs coach Byron Scott and his assistants. This silence is especially tough on younger players who don't have as many contacts around the league. "Nobody from the players' association has reached out to me," Thompson said. "Everything I've heard has been through my agent and a few veteran guys like Baron Davis. I'm in the dark like everybody else."
While this summer hasn't been an ideal introduction to the NBA for the young power forward, he's diplomatic about his situation. "I've been living 20 years without NBA checks. It's not going to change my life. I'm not going to buy a house or a Bentley or anything. I'm just going to keep doing what I've been doing."
It's unlikely that any player has a better lockout distraction this week than point guard Stephen Curry. The Warriors guard got married in Charlotte on July 30, and several Golden State executives had to receive special permission from the NBA to attend. After the nuptials, Curry joined the waiting game with the rest of his peers.
"It's frustrating because we are such a young team and we want to build off what we accomplished last year," Curry said." The Warriors hired Mark Jackson as their new coach in early June but because of the lockout, he's only been able to meet with his players a few times.
Curry's plan to make the team comfortable with each other is one that's likely to be adopted by others around the league. Along with teammates Monta Ellis and David Lee, Curry is organizing meet-ups across the country so the entire Warriors team can play together. "It's tough for [Mark] as a first-time coach, so having all of us comfortable with each other will make it easier for him."
Although he's only been in the league for two years, Curry is already establishing himself as a rising star. He averaged 17.5 points per game his rookie year and improved to 18.6 per game this past year, shooting 48 percent from the field and 44 percent from behind the arc. The son of 17-year NBA veteran Dell Curry, Stephen was 10 years old during the 1998-99 lockout. "It was cool having Dad around at the time, but it was just a weird season overall," said Curry.
The sharpshooting guard is currently rehabbing from ankle surgery in May so he won't be able to play in any of these team gatherings for at least a few weeks. If he was healthy, Curry hinted that joining Deron Williams overseas could be appealing. He doesn't believe many of his colleagues will make the trek however, as many may not be ready for the realities of European professional basketball. "It's not a vacation over there," Curry said.
But if the lockout persists, he, too, may have to strongly consider his options elsewhere. For now though, he's in the same boat as the rest of the players, just waiting to see how the collective bargaining negotiations pan out.
"Everything this past year was so great, especially the playoffs," Curry said. "We had so much momentum. I just hope we don't lose that."