With speculation running wild as to the future of Jabari Parker's basketball career, The Chronicle's Bobby Colton and Daniel Carp debated whether the standout freshman will return to Duke for his sophomore season, or whether he will make the leap to the NBA.
Bobby Colton: Dan, the question that is on every college and professional basketball fan's mind right now: will Jabari Parker declare for the NBA Draft or will he stick around for his sophomore season?
Daniel Carp: Not the answer that most Duke fans want to hear, but I think he goes to the NBA. Don't get me wrong, I think he's thinking long and hard about staying. The sting of the Mercer loss has something to do with that, and overall Jabari has enjoyed his time at Duke and still sees this program as a place he can grow as a player and a person.
Ultimately, he would be passing up too much by staying. He's all-but-guaranteed to be a top-three pick in this year's draft. He is probably the most NBA-ready player in this year's potential draft class. But most importantly, every time he sets foot on a basketball court he is risking an injury that could derail his career. I think the argument could be made for him staying or going, but right now my gut tells me that the NBA makes more sense for him.
BC: All good points, but signs are starting to point toward the freshman phenom sticking around to become a sophomore sensation. I'm not guaranteeing Parker will be back next season, nor is there overwhelming evidence that he will stay, but there is precedent for returning to school. Marcus Smart was a potential No. 1 overall pick just a season ago, and yet he went back to Oklahoma State. A few years ago Harrison Barnes wasn't guaranteed a top-three pick the way Parker is, but he was a surefire lottery guy and he returned to North Carolina.
The Mercer loss stung, but you didn't get to see just how hard it hit Parker. You didn't see his face following the loss the way I did. Didn't see him gulping and holding back tears. It's not a fool-proof measure—Rodney Hood was distraught and yet he's likely taking his talents to the NBA—but for a kid who was already considering sticking around, it may be the impetus he needs to stay in Durham for another season.
DC: Guys like Smart and Barnes are exceptions to the rule. More and more players are choosing to go one-and-done than ever before and it is beginning to shape the way teams evaluate young talent. We saw that last year when a 23-year-old Mason Plumlee slipped through into the bottom portion of the first round because he was considered old by industry standards.
Observers of the game always have this moralistic view of college basketball. They think that one-and-dones are polluting the sport. Staying for one year at a place like Duke is different from what it would be at other programs. Parker is still committed to academics and walked onto campus with a long-term plan to earn a Duke degree—regardless of whether he played one, two, three or four seasons with the Blue Devils.
Ask yourself what you would do if you were in his shoes. Parker is in line to make somewhere in the range of $5-6 million next in the first year of his rookie contract, not including the massive shoe deal he is likely to sign as well (LeBron James got $93 million all the way back in 2004, before he had ever played an NBA game). Even if Parker doesn't get LeBron money, his endorsement potential is massive. If you offered me somewhere in the range of $20 million to not come back to Duke next year and that turning down that money involves risking my entire future for another year, I would take the deal in a heartbeat—anybody who said they wouldn't is kidding themselves.
Jabari Parker is never going to forget that Mercer loss. In a way, it will always be unfinished business for him. Ultimately I think that he is going to let his rationality supersede his pride.
BC: There's a big diference between a 23-year-old Mason Plumlee and a barely 20-year-old Jabari Parker. By next June Parker will be just a few months older than Tyler Ennis will be in this draft. Plus Plumlee isn't the transcendent talent that Parker is. I agree 23 is old by industry standards, but 20 is not.
I don't think there's any question that Parker wouldn't pollute the NBA. He's a kid who will be an impact player the second he steps foot on an NBA court. He's that good of a player. But he has room to grow. He can improve defensively. He can learn to boxout better. He can fine-tune his post game, tighten his handle, cut down his turnovers and perfect his 3-point shot. It just may not be as easy to do all those things in the NBA. You're right. Duke is different from other programs. But that's why it could be so beneficial to stay with Mike Krzyzewski. There's just no way you can convince me Parker learns more from Larry Drew, Brett Brown or Jacque Vaughn—the coaches of the teams projected to have the top three picks—than he can learn from Coach K.
Yea, the money is really, really nice and a bigger incentive than anything. But the money will be there. Nerlens Noel tore his ACL and he still was a top-six pick. Blake Griffin was the No. 1 overall pick and didn't play a single game his rookie season. Even if the worst case scenario came true and Parker suffered an injury, he's still going to get paid and be a top pick. Griffin is KIA's poster boy, and Noel is one third of the most puzzling trifecta ever to appear in an Adidas commerical, joining Isiah Thomas and Jason Terry. (Side note: who decided those three were the key to selling shoes? Does the average NBA fan even know what Isiah Thomas looks like? Or that I'm talking about the Kings' scoring guard and not the Pistons' Hall of Famer?). And that's without ever playing an NBA game either.
Parker will never forget Mercer. And that is very real unfinished business. But what's better than exacting revenge next season alongside another Chicago product in Jahlil Okafor, who will finally give Parker a post presence to work with? The money can be deferred to the next year. The shot at redemption and a spot in the annals of Duke history cannot be.
Want to weigh in on the debate? Tweet at @dukebasketball, @Bobby_Colton or @DanHCarp with #JabariDebate to have your voice heard!
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