The news of the NBA lockout became official when the clock hit midnight, unfortunately, leaving a lot of questions unanswered. After looking at how the lockout would affect the D-League on Thursday, the next question relevant to this site is what the lockout means to those players selected in the 2011 NBA Draft.
Technically, if the players didn't sign their contracts -- and I don't believe there were any rookie signings reported -- they wouldn't be bound by the lockout and therefore would be able to sign with any non-NBA team interested.
This would include Europe, of course, but also the D-League if the NBA's official minor league is going to keep going with its 'business as usual' approach. If the players' union will allow the rookies to sign in the D-League is a whole other story, but would seem to be a viable alternative if the lockout causes any regular season games to be missed.
Again, I have no knowledge of how the rookies plan to navigate this situation -- and the D-League wasn't an option during the last lockout which causes a lack of precedent now -- but the Development League would seem to offer plenty of positive benefits for those not under current NBA contract, especially those new to the NBA.
"If you don't have veteran guys, the rookies are going to struggle [in a lockout]," coach Larry Brown told Sports Illustrated's Sam Amick. "You have to have leadership that has everyone ready to go when the time comes because you can't afford to have guys playing into shape in training camp."
Assuming the lockout lasts into the season -- and possibly the entire season as Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski predicts -- players would be able to play alongside the former NBA veterans that sprinkle D-League rosters as well as under coaches who've almost all been associated with an NBA team in some form or fashion in the past. That would alleviate the staying in shape problem, at least, but let's take it one step further and look at how having their rookies play in the D-League would help the teams.
Considering NBA teams picked up a new infatuation in owning their D-League affiliates this offseason (the Warriors, Nets and Knicks all bought into the D-League while joining the Lakers, Thunder, Spurs and Rockets in owning at least the basketball operations of their D-League affiliate), they're surely trying to find ways to use the Development League to their advantage.
If an NBA team were able to stash their incoming rookies on the D-League affiliate, that player would then be able to learn the big club's system as well as be developed by coaches hiring by big club. Under the D-League's current transaction rules, however, it's going to be rather difficult to optimize this opportunity for the rookies.
Since the rookie draft picks won't be under NBA contract, they wouldn't automatically be property of their NBA team's D-League affiliate. To put it in real world terms, if Jeremy Tyler were to sign a D-League contract tomorrow, he would be inserted into the annual draft and could end up on 15 teams not owned by the Golden State Warriors -- suffice to say, that's not going to help anyone.
There are ways at getting around this, however, as the Oklahoma City Thunder showed last season with second round pick Ryan Reid. Reid obviously was not ready to contribute to the NBA and therefore didn't sign his rookie contract, allowing the Thunder to keep his rights.
Knowing Reid would benefit greatly from working under Tulsa 66ers coaches Nate Tibbetts and Dale Osborne, the Thunder brass were able to find a loophole to send Reid to the D-League affiliate even though they knew they he'd be gone before the 66ers came on the clock with the 13th pick in the D-League Draft. Instead, Oklahoma City simply had Reid sit out until the 66ers moved high enough on the waiver wire before he signed his contract, allowing him to join Tulsa in time to play in 48 of the team's 50 regular season games.
This obviously isn't an ideal way of going about things, and it might even somehow be blocked by the numerous restrictions involving communications between the teams and players. If teams are going to find a loophole to get their incoming rookies in shape, however, that seems to be the way they'd have to do it.