April 3, 2014 Updated: April 3, 2014 at 9:37 pm
DENVER — It's 7 a.m. The Nuggets don't practice until 10.
Lester Conner, an assistant coach, enters the third-floor gym at Pepsi Center with a pre-practice workout plan for a young player. This is the NBA, so the basketball itinerary must be newfangled and advanced and above the rim, right?
Not so much.
"We'll work on a jump stop, chest pass, a pivot out of traffic," said Conner, a former Pac-10 Player of the Year and an NBA man for nearly three decades. "They may not know how to set a proper screen. They may not know which direction to roll off a screen."
These are millionaire pros, relearning the lessons once taught at Reggie Minton's summer camp for seventh-graders. The lack of fundamentals at the NBA level makes it easy to shout from the roof of AT&T Stadium, site of this weekend's Final Four:
The one-and-done rule is ruining basketball.
OK, that's the easy way out. Here's the tougher question: Then what's the solution?
The debate over one-and-done players is far deeper than it's made out to be. The issue is complicated enough to leave an NBA head coach without a concrete solution.
When I asked Brian Shaw for his theory on what should be done to regulate NBA early entries, the Nuggets coach offered a thoughtful response.
Basically, he said, there is no easy solution. He agreed with my belief that it's wrong to prevent a young man from earning a paycheck whenever he's able to.
"I would hate to put a limitation on who, once they're done with high school, wants to go out and earn a living," Shaw said. "You can go into the military right out of high school. Other sports you can go and make a living, with the exception of football."
Even so, Shaw said, the rush to reach the pros creates a dilemma for NBA teams that must draft the best talent or risk missing out on the next big thing. When a franchise invests a draft pick and big bucks in a promising teenager, they often commit to years of 7 a.m. workouts and dribbling around orange cones.
"We get guys who are fundamentally way behind," Shaw said. "And we end up having to spend a lot of time in practice just going over basic fundamentals that you would expect guys to have once they get on the professional level."
See, this debate isn't so easy.
I once attended Derrick Rose's college-announcement party on the south side of Chicago. Afterward, I started to write the newspaper article from a parking lot.
"You don't want to be out in this neighborhood at night," said his brother, Reggie Rose.
Derrick Rose spent one season in college — one season too long. The future MVP should've been allowed to escape that neighborhood with an NBA paycheck as soon as possible.
"There's only a small percentage of guys that can do that, though," Conner said.
The Nuggets assistant believes players are better served staying in college.
"If you're playing for Tom Izzo, Billy Donovan, those guys will make you better," Conner said.
That's true. At the college level I've seen redshirt workouts that would send some NBA players to the nearest trashcan to lose their lunch. But I've also witnessed so-called workouts that resembled a H-O-R-S-E game and wasted everyone's time.
With millions of dollars at stake, wasting time is a bad business decision.
Nuggets GM Tim Connelly, who is charged with making a wise selection this year in a draft thick with one-and-done prospects, prefers a modified baseball model. So do I. There, prospects can enter the draft out of high school. If they choose to attend college, they must stay in school for at least two seasons.
Perhaps that's the right way. Or it might lead to high school players entering the draft before they should. There's no easy solution.
With George Karl and now under Shaw, the Nuggets place high value in player development. Karl also once told me he felt obligated to use "G-rated" critiques in the locker room, fearful one of the rookies would break down in tears.
"I think Anthony Davis (for example) is mature way beyond his years," Shaw said. "I think some guys come in, one year removed, that are knuckleheads and haven't been socialized to have the freedom and responsibility to handle a professional lifestyle."
Nuggets forward Quincy Miller entered the draft after one season at Baylor.
"My question was: What's the best place for me to get better?" he said. "And that was playing against pros."
Miller is 21 and in his second season in the NBA. With the Nuggets, he has a diet plan (seven meals and 20 vitamins per day) and almost-daily individual workouts.
Would Miller have been better off staying in school?
"No way," Miller said. "You'd have school, obligations with the team, study hall. You wouldn't have time."
In a complicated debate, there's no easy solution.
"You're stuck between a rock and a hard place," Conner said. "You're caught between a guy trying to make a living and take care of his family. But a lot of times those guys are being sent down to the D-League, to learn how to play. Or they're forgotten."