Fans might be surprised to learn that the ongoing NBA labor negotiations have covered topics other than "how do we split up all this money?" Like the potential expansion of the NBA draft. As first reported by Chris Sheridan of SheridanHoops.com, the owners want to add a third round. The union has countered with a number of proposals that would give additional picks at the top of the draft to the teams with the worst records.
Why expand? Theoretically, more draft picks would mean more players with rookie contracts - and rookie deals tend to be some of the least-expensive for teams.
On the other hand, you could argue that even the second round of the existing draft isn't particularly relevant. Early second-round picks tend to be used on high-upside players with major question marks and "project" big men with size but without much skill. Savvy teams use second-rounders to lock up the draft rights of foreign players with potential, with the intention of leaving them overseas to develop.
By the bottom of the second, teams have to dig even deeper for prospects. That's not always a good thing. In the 2011 draft, the Minnesota Timberwolves acquired the 57th overall pick with the intention of selecting Targuy Ngombo - a native of the Congo that had been playing professionally in Qatar. Unfortunately, the organization didn't learn until afterwards that he's actually 27 and was ineligible to be drafted in the first place.
Of course, there are exceptions. Carlos Boozer, Monta Ellis, Gilbert Arenas and Michael Redd were all second-round picks, and the Spurs nabbed Manu Ginobili - a key member of three NBA champions - with the 57th overall pick in 1999.
But it's fairly rare for a player to slip through the first two rounds of the draft and even reach the NBA. Joel Anthony of the Heat, Timofey Mozgov of the Nuggets and Gary Neal of the Spurs are recent examples. Longtime Detroit Pistons big man Ben Wallace - a four-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year - is probably the best undrafted player in league history.
A Third Round and the D-League
The possibility of an expanded draft could also be a reason for what seems to be a greater emphasis on the D-League. Several NBA teams, including the Knicks, Nets, Cavaliers and Warriors, have taken control of the basketball operations of their D-League affiliates in recent months or bought teams outright.
That could be further evidence that the NBA's roster rules - as they relate to use of the D-League - will be relaxed in the next collective bargaining agreement. As Ridiculous Upside's Scott Schroeder points out, some teams - most notably the Oklahoma City Thunder - have had success sending draft picks to their D-League affiliates for seasoning. But many other teams have preferred to stash players overseas while retaining their draft rights.
A liberalization of NBA roster rules, combined with an expansion of the draft, could make the D-League a more important player development pipeline. Currently, NBA rosters are capped at 15 players, with 12 active on any given night. What if the max was expanded to 18 or 20, and teams given more freedom to call players up or send them down? That would give NBA franchises a better option for developing players and additional flexibility to deal with injuries. And give the NBPA some new members.
NBA Draft History
The last NBA draft to go three rounds was held in 1988. Anthony Mason - an NBA all-star and Sixth Man Award winner - was the most notable player selected in that third round, by Portland with the 53rd overall pick. Of course, 53rd overall would be a late second-rounder today; in '88, the NBA had just 24 teams.
Also worth noting: Mason never played for the Blazers. He played in Turkey and Venezuela and multiple lower-level leagues in the United States before reaching the NBA with the New Jersey Nets. And he spent two seasons as a journeyman before emerging as a key player for Pat Riley's Knicks.
The 1986 and 1987 drafts went seven rounds, and prior to that there were as many as ten.