The NBA lockout has caused a strange disconnect between players and their teams. Players who are friends with coaches, owners, or team employees cannot even call their buddies, and vice versa. Players and their NBA-affiliated friends cannot go to the mall together, compete against each other in laser tag or paintball, or take long walks on the beach while holding hands. Heck, I’m pretty sure Mark Cuban lost 99% of his social life the day the NBA locked out.
For draft picks, though, the lack of discussion between players and teams hits hardest. The Celtics cannot contact E’Twaun Moore or JaJuan Johnson in any fashion. Rather than beginning their NBA careers with a support system in place and a Grade-A coaching staff to work with, Moore and Johnson are on their own — unable to pick Doc Rivers’s mind, unable to use the team’s Waltham training facilities, unable to work out with Brian Doo (the strength and conditioning coach), and, though Ray Allen and others have stated a desire to coordinate team-wide workouts during the lockout, incapable of working out with their veteran teammates daily.
Before the lockout, Moore and Johnson met with Danny Ainge and the Celtics brass for just a week.
“Everyone (with the Celtics) was very straight up with me while I was there for that week,” Moore told the Boston Herald. “They were very straight in telling me what they thought.”
What was that?
“Danny and Doc told me to stay in shape, and to be able to shoot the NBA three,” said Moore.
And then Moore was on his own.
It’s probably a good thing he signed in Europe with the Italian team Benetton Treviso. There, Moore can stay in shape, continue the process of becoming the best basketball player he can, learn how to play a role on a professional team, and do it all in a coordinated fashion, with practices and coach-led workouts and even games. Moore says he is already hitting many of his NBA three-pointers, a shot he has been practicing “with a lot of repetition lately.” Barring an injury overseas, he should return to Celtics training camp (whenever that occurs) an improved player. Which makes sense, considering that he improved during each of his four seasons at Purdue and should gain valuable experience playing in Italy’s top professional league, widely regarded as the third-best domestic league in the world (behind the NBA and the Spanish ACB).
Young players have used overseas basketball as a learning experience before, and the results are divergent. Brandon Jennings got his ass kicked in Rome, but returned to the NBA a candidate for Rookie of the Year. Jeremy Tyler got his ass kicked in Isreal and Japan, and I assume he will also get his ass kicked in the NBA. Would those players have been better off going to college? Who knows. But that wasn’t an option for Moore. He was either going to work out by himself, play in pro-ams, and maybe find some barnstorming games here and there, or he was going to join a professional team overseas. Signing in Italy made sense, especially since Moore can return to the States whenever the lockout ends.
But JaJuan Johnson won’t follow suit and sign in Italy and or anywhere else overseas. At least, that’s what the Boston Herald hinted at today. Hopefully, Johnson will spend his days lifting, eating and smacking himself with steel crowbars instead, to prepare himself for life in the NBA paint. All of that would have been easy if he were listening to Bryan Doo, chatting with Doc Rivers and playing pickup with Kevin Garnett. But when left alone, it’s more difficult to keep up with workouts and stay on task. Boston’s top-flight organization, a valuable resource to all young players, can’t make a difference for the rookies until the lockout finally ends.
Benetton Treviso should provide a similar support system for Moore. But Johnson will need to fend for himself. Hopefully, they’ll both return to training camp (again, whenever that occurs) ready for their first extended NBA lessons.