The criticism of the draft's strength is due largely to the NBA's uncertain labor situation. With the collective bargaining agreement set to expire June 30 and owners and players far apart on a new deal, the possibility of a lockout and a shortened or canceled 2011-12 season remains.
Many of the players Wednesday were asked what they would do if their rookie seasons were placed on hold, but some likely lottery picks decided not to take the chance. Freshmen Harrison Barnes of North Carolina and Jared Sullinger of Ohio State are among the likely top-five selections who opted to stay in school.
So some guys who would have gone lower could end up in the top 10, but the players dismiss talk of a weak draft.
"If it's weak, then hopefully I should go higher," said Kemba Walker, who led Connecticut to the national championship.
"I think it's a great draft class, honestly," Walker added, while saying it's not like the 2003 class that put James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade in the top five.
"But we haven't did anything yet," Walker said. "We didn't get a chance to prove ourselves yet. So we're definitely going to this league with a chip on our shoulder and try to prove everyone wrong."
Walker and Kentucky's Brandon Knight rank behind Irving on the list of available point guards. Jan Vesely of the Czech Republic and Lithuania's Jonas Valanciunas are among the bigger options in a draft that could see the most Europeans taken in the first round since a record nine went in 2003.
Questions remained in the final hours before the draft. Potential lottery picks Marcus Morris of Kansas, Chris Singleton of Florida State and Klay Thompson of Washington State were unable to be in New York on Wednesday because they were still working out for other teams.
But Irving has no doubts about himself or his classmates.
"It's definitely a great opportunity," he said. "Honestly, I don't pay attention to what people are saying about this draft. I really am confident in this draft class in that we're all achieving our dreams. This is something a lot of people don't get to experience."
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