It's been a long basketball road for Robert Carter Jr., the No. 27 recruit in the class of 2012, who will finish his fourth year of college in May after spending two with Georgia Tech and two with Maryland. He sat out last season from basketball per NCAA rules and has one year of eligibility remaining.
The likely question for Carter isn't whether he will declare for the NBA Draft or not, because he along with almost anyone who's interested in joining the league has good reason to declare. That's because of the NCAA's new rule that allows players to participate in the combine and team workouts without losing their eligibility. Players have 10 days to make their final decision from the end of the league's scouting combine, which means a May 25 deadline this year. That applies to everyone, not just the 60-or-so players who get combine invitations.
The rule will benefit the nation's true underclassmen, but it probably won't help Carter, or Jake Layman or Rasheed Sulaimon for that matter. Almost any freshman or sophomore who would have been on the fence any other year will now declare, widening the field to more 19- and 20-year-olds -- who now enter with no consequences -- and, based on history, younger players generally are more appealing than older ones. There's also the assumption that NBA teams may make more "draft promises" than usual to lure athletes away from school.
Carter is a week away from turning 22, and simple addition lands him at 23 for the next draft. Age affects draft stock to a point, but Carter can overcome it with a stellar senior season in which he shows improvement on the defensive end. There's also a chance the new CBA raises the age limit to enter the draft, which would weed out the freshman competition to possibly boost Carter's stock. That is, of course, if he wants to spend a fifth year in college with 18- and 19-year-old classmates. Remember that players do maintain a social life before, during and after the season ends.
There is the financial end as well, and as unique as the new rules for the combine are, so is the situation players entering the 2016 draft will face. The NBA is a year away from an opt-out in its collective bargaining agreement, which will take negotiating to a whole new level after the league signed a multi-billion dollar television deal that will bring a ton of money to teams and, from there, boost the league salary cap. The 2015-16 cap sits at about $70 million, but next season's is projected to hit as high as $90 million. The rookie scale doesn't go up with it, making 2016 a pretty unlucky year to be a top pick, as the players union will likely fight for higher rookie wages in the following season.
The rookie scale situation isn't likely to affect Carter, as his chances of getting selected as a first-round choice don't appear to be high. But things can change fast, and they often do.
Still, as a second-round pick, Carter could potentially lose out on sizable money if he were to be in the same draft position a year from now. But again that's a big if that he'd have to gamble himself on. There's also no guarantee that player salaries will jump substantially, as it's all speculation until negotiations actually begin.
Most second-round picks sign contracts under what amounts to at or slightly above the rookie minimum. The rookie minimum number is set for next season at $543,471, and like the rookie scale for first-round picks it runs independent from the unexpected salary cap jump.
Like first-round picks, second-rounders could also lose out on a ton of money, as the minimum scale wouldn't change until a new CBA is a agreed upon. Carter could get around this financial rule if he were to play a season in Europe, as the team that drafted him would retain his rights and he could sign the following season when there is potentially a much higher rookie minimum salary available. He could also gamble on himself in another way and sign a one-year tenure that open him up to free agency again the following year.
There are a lot of ifs and confusion for college-aged students to make on one of the biggest decisions of their lives. First-round draft picks are only guaranteed a maximum of two years in the league, and while it may seem like a lot of cash in the short-term, it can go fast.
Second-round picks' contracts are structured in a similar but potentially worse way, and players continue to face a tough choice: Wait too long and don't get picked at all, or don't wait long enough and stunt your development.
It's a hard choice to make, so give these players – and especially Carter – the proper time to make it.