The possible future of the Celtics franchise, perhaps the primary reason president of basketball operations Danny Ainge eagerly dealt Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, will spend a few hours at Conte Forum Saturday night. It may be the lone opportunity for area fans to catch Jabari Parker as an amateur.
Dozens of NBA scouts are expected to closely scrutinize Parker’s performance as his Duke Blue Devils face Boston College in what is expected to be the most heavily attended game in a putrid season for the Eagles.
Parker might leave Duke after one season, and with the exception of Kansas center Joel Embiid, Parker is considered the most NBA ready of this highly-touted freshman class. After a recent Duke win in Coral Gables, Fla., Parker casually socialized with the likes of Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, and Shane Battier.
LeBron James called him over for a quick chat after the final buzzer. Parker is polished, mature, and a legit 6 feet 8 inches of versatility. He is perhaps a more skilled Carmelo Anthony, a player who could immediately aid a downtrodden team such as the Celtics. Parker is a potential franchise-changing superstar.
That’s if he decides to leave Duke, which isn’t a given. There is a perception that every freshman considered an immediate NBA starter is supposed to enter the draft.
Yet, instead of rushing these kids to stardom, placing undue pressure on their shoulders because we selfishly want the NBA brimming with elite players, why don’t we let them make the decision. If Parker enjoys college, feels as if another year under Mike Krzyzewski’s structured system would make him a more polished player and he actually would like another year of education, then he should stay and we should applaud his decision.
Assuming Parker, Embiid, Andrew Wiggins, Aaron Gordon, Julius Randle, and Tyler Ennis will all become All-Stars is unreasonable. At least one of these college standouts will have wished he stayed in school and at least one will leave because he feels obligated. Why? Because outside forces are convincing him to capitalize on his once-in-a-lifetime chance.
Parker is a pure small forward with a mean streak. He is averaging 18.7 points and 8.2 rebounds. After reaching double-figure rebounds just four times in his first 18 games, he has averaged 11.4 in his past five contests. There are times when Parker is a man among boys, but there are a lot of those in the NBA.
“Does his skill set translate to the NBA?” TNT analyst Kenny Smith asked. “That’s going to be different. In the NBA, what his skill set is, there’s a lot of guys with that skill set. So he’s going to have to create some new opportunities for himself if he comes to the next level at some point. I don’t know if it’s this year or next year.”
When the subject of Parker leaving school after this season arose, Charles Barkley chimed in.
“Just because your family and these scumbag agents want you to leave after one year, you don’t have to leave college after one year,” Barkley said. “It’s all right to stay in college for a couple of years like Marcus Smart [of Oklahoma State] did last year because he wanted to work on his game. Just because of your family of freeloaders want to get in your pocket and these scumbag agents want their percentage, you don’t have to leave school.”
Parker said he hasn’t decided whether he’s leaving school nor should he be asked following each game. It’s funny, we blame the NBA for lack of skill development, we criticize the league for the number of draft busts, and yet we subconsciously push these kids out of school because we thirst for the next LeBron.
If the memo hasn’t yet been distributed around the entire basketball public, LeBron is a once-in-a-generation player. Is it fair to ask Parker, Wiggins, or Randle to have the same impact? No. Because the moment they slip, they become the next Anthony Randolph, Brandan Wright, or Marvin Williams. They get branded with the “bust” tag. We are going to laugh like we do at Anthony Bennett. We are going to lament college kids for chasing NBA riches like the 8-year-old flagging down the ice cream truck. We are going to blame them for their anxiety.
So instead of treating Parker’s arrival in Boston as if it were the Beatles Farewell Tour, why don’t we savor his talent and lessen the anticipation for his NBA arrival and hope he makes the critical life decision to declare for the draft when he’s comfortable, not when we are.Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.