NBA AM: Not Easy To Break Into The NBA With Baggage

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Breaking In With Baggage:  Making it into the NBA is not easy to do. While it’s often assumed that being talented and skilled is enough to get you considered, history has proven that a lot of super talented players simply don’t have what it takes for NBA teams to make a commitment to them.

This surfaces a lot among fans, who openly question, “Why hasn’t this guy been signed?”

There are a lot of factors that go into a player getting the chance to play on the big stage and, while talent is one of the biggest, it’s not the only one and it’s usually not enough to trump red flags or known baggage.

During the summer, reports surfaced that the Los Angeles Lakers were on the verge of signing undrafted rookie Robert Upshaw to a deal. Fans clamored over Upshaw during the draft process, viewing him as a first-round talent. The problem with Upshaw is that he had as much public baggage as anyone in recent draft history and while he’s an immensely talented player, the stories surrounding him were downright scary from a team point of view.

Upshaw was kicked out of two NCAA college programs amid reports of heavy drug use and personal issues that had most executives in the NBA removing him from their draft board.

There was no one doubting Upshaw’s ability as a player, what scared them away was all the things they had heard from the programs he was a part of and despite having enough talent to play in the NBA, he simply was viewed as not worth the risk, even on a non-guaranteed deal.

The Lakers invited Upshaw to Summer League and, according to sources, Upshaw stayed out of trouble and was under camp consideration; however, a lot of time has passed and Upshaw still remains unsigned.

Our own Eric Pincus recently tweeted an update of sorts on the Upshaw situation, basically saying that the Lakers are still considering Upshaw, but they have some very clear goals they would like to see Upshaw achieve before they would be willing to sign him to a deal, even a camp deal.

Now Upshaw is an extreme case, because his baggage was excessive and public and well researched by teams. But Upshaw is far from alone in how the NBA talent machine works.

Teams are fearful of introducing chemistry problems into their locker room, they also have brand sponsors and owners that are reluctant to risk the PR hit having a bad guy on the roster could open up.

One executive commented recently on a known guy with a bad reputation, saying he would be willing to take a flyer because of the player’s talent but knew his owner would never sign off on it because of the risk associated.

Not everything in the NBA is about talent. Keep in mind the 48 minutes of game time you see on the floor is the smallest portion of the commitment a team makes to a player. Teams spend more than 170 days together, virtually every day, all day when you factor in travel, practice and shoot-around time. A bad apple can not only divide a locker room, it can destroy a team and a program.

So the next time you ask why a certain guy hasn’t been signed, keep in mind it’s not easy to break into the NBA when you have baggage, and it’s even harder when the risk-reward ratio isn’t overwhelming in the player’s favor. It’s not just about talent at this level, there are a lot of other factors that matter too.

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