By A. Sherrod Blakely
These are times of mixed emotions for players expected to be selected in the first round of the NBA draft on June 23.
To hear Commissioner David Stern call their names would be a dream come true for many.
But with the league in the midst of labor issues that are expected to delay the start of the season - a new Collective Bargaining Agreement has to be reached by June 30 in order for a lockout to be avoided - there's no telling how long after the draft when players selected later this month will actually play their first NBA game.
Boston's Paul Pierce can relate to what they're going through now.
Pierce was selected by the Boston Celtics with the 10th overall pick in the 1998 draft, just on the eve of the league's last work stoppage.
While he can relate to the anxiety future NBA players are dealing with now, Pierce said today's crop of incoming talent is more informed about the potential lockout issues than the players who came into the league with him.
"Me, I had no knowledge of it (potential lockout)," Pierce said. "So I got drafted, and I was like, 'Oh, there's a lockout.'"
Not only did it put young players like Pierce at a disadvantage in terms of adjusting to the speed of the NBA, but it also impacted their conditioning.
The conditioning program that most NBA teams put incoming rookies through began later than usual because of the lockout, which only added to the struggles that a number of first-year players endured as rookies.
The lockout wiped out summer league that year as well.
Today's players often spend time after the draft, but before training camp, working out with a private trainer along with other players represented by the same agent.
It wasn't like that when Pierce was coming into the league.
"I was pretty much on my own," Pierce said. "I didn't have a trainer or nothing. It was just, stay ready."
Fortunately for the Celtics, the lockout had little affect on Pierce's play as a rookie.
He averaged 16.5 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game and was named to the NBA's All-Rookie First Team.
Pierce, who serves as the Celtics' player representative, spent time throughout this season keeping his teammates - especially the younger ones - abreast of what they need to do in case there is a lockout.
"You definitely have to save your money," Celtics rookie Avery Bradley said. "That's important, especially for young guys like me. Even if there wasn't a lockout, or the possibility of one, you still need to be smart with your money."
And your body, Pierce says.
For younger players, they're going to be playing games or working out in the summer regardless of the league's labor situation.
But for veterans such as himself, conditioning becomes even more important with a potential lockout looming.
"That's the thing about lockouts," said Pierce, who will be 34 in October. "I've seen a lot of guys end their career during the lockout, pretty much by weight gain. They couldn't get back to the level of play. It's always about staying ready. Even at my age, I think a lot of guys, they go through the lockout in October. November comes, guys my age get lazy probably and don't work out. And then it bites them when they lift the lockout."