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Analysis: Right hat or wrong hat, the confusion takes away from the spectacle of the NBA draft

UPDATED: Fri., June 21, 2019, 9:31 p.m.

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. (Julio Cortez / AP)
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. (Julio Cortez / AP)
By Tim Reynolds Associated Press

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 some 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 and rejoicing for college teammates, along with plenty of confusing moments. 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.

“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. A handful of trades, mostly ones where draft rights to soon-to-be-rookies or even future picks were exchanged, got done Thursday night and didn’t need to wait until the new league year. The biggest deals, like the Davis trade, cannot be completed until the new salary-cap year officially begins on July 6.

And the Davis trade is now a precursor to other trades. The Pelicans traded the No. 4 pick, which became Hunter, to Atlanta without technically owning it yet since it is part of the payoff in the Davis deal. Hence, the potential for confusion.

July 6 isn’t an arbitrary date. It represents the end of the league’s annual moratorium period, which is basically about a week to do some accounting and auditing for the previous year – including the determination of what the “Basketball Related Income” or BRI for the just-concluded season was.

That moratorium is also why players who agree to free-agent deals starting on June 30 won’t be able to officially sign until the league year starts on July 6.

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 puzzling 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 it 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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