The commission declared that players spending one year in college before matriculating to the pros “has played a significant role in destabilizing and corrupting college basketball,” among other things. The NBA has announced various initiatives pointing to its increased interest in being involved in the game at the youth level, and both the league and its players have signaled they are going to agree to eliminate the rule barring high schoolers from entering the NBA sooner rather than later.
Thursday’s announcement sets the table for such a move.
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“Select Contracts are an answer to the basketball community’s call for additional development options for elite players before they are eligible for the NBA,” NBA G League President Malcolm Turner said in a statement. “The supporting infrastructure surrounding these newly-created Select Contracts is designed to provide a rich offering of basketball and life skills developmental tools for top young players to grow along their professional paths from high school to the pros.”
The announcement left many gray areas. NBA observers wondered if $125,000 would be enough to entice elite prospects to leave the comforts of high-level Division I basketball. Trading in a life filled with charter flights, luxurious facilities and games played in front of tens of thousands of fans and millions more on television for one dominated by bus rides, connecting flights in economy seats and games in half-full arenas that are being streamed online will undoubtedly be a tough pill for many to swallow.
But the league believes this isn’t really about enticing elite prospects to no longer be “one-and-done” players. It is thinking past that, to the day when the option is no longer on the table. The NBA wants to bring younger players into the G League to ease the transition for when high school players have no restrictions about going straight to the pros — which, inevitably, will mean more young players winding up in its minor league. Some believe the NBA will remove its age restriction by 2022, which would give the G League three years to gear up for its new reality.
After spending years declaring that the league isn’t interested in pulling teenagers out of high school gyms, preferring instead to see its youngest employees spend at least a year in college before being eligible for the draft, returning to the prior model of players jumping straight from high school has gained steam. Both NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and Players Association Executive Director Michele Roberts hinted back in the summer that such a move could be coming.
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The NCAA’s continued involvement in the scandal surrounding shoe executives being caught in “pay-to-play” schemes has only highlighted the inequities in the system from the player perspective. And while college basketball has long sought to profit off its players while preventing them from doing so, the recent scandals have led many involved, including Rice’s commission, to declare the days of players moving in and out of college should come to an end. And soon.
The G League announcement is just part of a more ambitious NBA plan to take control of the sport at its grass roots. Young basketball prospects in this country have to navigate through the murky waters of both AAU ball and, eventually, recruiting pitches from Division I programs — a journey packed with intermediaries who often don’t have the players' best interests at heart.
Slowly, though, the NBA is moving the American basketball world closer to where that will no longer be the case. Eliminating the one-and-done will be one step in that direction. The creation of the Junior NBA World Championship, a youth basketball initiative launched this year that is drawn off a similar model as the Little League World Series (including being nationally televised) is another.
Point by point, the NBA is taking control of the game at all levels. For years, this was something the league avoided. But since Silver took over, it has recognized the value of more involvement in the development of prospects.
The actual mechanics of how all of this will work, though, still remain to be seen. The league is going to have a separate program for the players on “select contracts,” but how will G League teams with their own developmental goals feel about coaching up players who won’t move on to their parent organizations? There will be year-round instruction provided to players, but it’s unclear who will be providing it.
Still, there will be nothing preventing players from simply spending the year working out and working on their games — as Darius Bazley, a top recruit, opted to do this season after initially flirting with the idea of playing in the G League. Of course, Bazley also wasn’t looking at making six figures to play in the G League. Perhaps under this scenario, he’d have chosen differently.
Sometime in the next few years, the NBA will have 30 G League teams and the ability to implement a true minor league, something akin to what baseball has. Golden State Warriors General Manager Bob Myers said recently that this is the direction he eventually sees things heading.
Gaining control over youth basketball is just one step in that process. Thursday’s announcement was another significant one taken in that direction.
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