NEW YORK (AP) â€” In a sign that player movement is being curtailed in the NBA, 21 of the 29 first-round draft picks from 1998 had the option years on their contracts picked up by their teams.
None of them, including Vince Carter of Toronto, Dirk Nowitzki of Dallas, Mike Bibby of Vancouver, Jason Williams of Sacramento, Michael Olowokandi of the Clippers and Paul Pierce of Boston, can become unrestricted free agents until the summer of 2003.
The rookie salary rules that were added to the last NBA collective bargaining agreement gave teams the choice of picking up an option year for a player's fourth season. Under the previous labor agreement, first-round draft choices became unrestricted free agents after their third season.
``One of the things the new agreement provides is more stability,'' NBA deputy commissioner Russ Granik said Tuesday. ``The fact is, teams can now retain their top young players.''
Of the 21 players who had their options picked up, 12 remain with the teams that drafted them or traded for them on draft night â€” including eight of the first 10 who were selected.
By contrast, six of the top 10 picks in 1997 were traded before finishing their rookie contracts. A seventh â€” Tracy McGrady â€” forced a sign-and trade deal by refusing to stay in Toronto.
Of the top 10 picks in 1995, eight were traded before finishing their three-year rookie contracts.
``That was not a very comfortable situation, and I think the new agreement has helped deal with that,'' Granik said.
Those 21 players will become restricted free agents after the 2001-02 season, meaning their teams will have the right to match any offer they receive on the open market.
Only five first-round picks from 1998 did not have their options picked up by the Oct. 31 deadline. They are Bryce Drew of Chicago (No. 13 pick overall), Tyronn Lue of the Los Angeles Lakers (No. 23), Felipe Lopez of Washington (No. 24), Corey Benjamin of Chicago (No. 28) and Nazr Mohammed of Philadelphia (No. 29).
Drew and Lopez are currently starting for their teams, while Lue has been used sparingly. Benjamin is on the Bulls' injured list, and the 76ers are trying to trade Mohammed.
Three other first-round picks from that year â€” Mirsad Turkcan (No. 18), Sam Jacobsen (No. 26) and Vladimir Stepania (No. 27) â€” have been waived. All three are still getting paid for the third year of their rookie contracts.