The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The one-and-done rule is on the way out — because of NBA money, not NCAA morals

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver (Trevor Ruszkowski/USA Today Sports)

The first recommendation in the Commission on College Basketball’s anticipated report in response to charges of corruption, which was released to the public Wednesday, was one that virtually everyone knew was coming from the moment the commission was created: the elimination of “one-and-done” from the sport’s lexicon.

But even the commission, headed by former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, acknowledged that it isn’t in college basketball’s power to change the rule. Instead, it would require the NBA and its players’ union to remove the age restriction on players declaring for the draft.

Luckily for the commission, though, it seems as if the NBA will do just that.

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The reason has little to do with the commission’s findings or the state of college basketball. It’s because it makes business sense.

The NBA’s developmental league, the G League, has grown to 26 teams, each tied to an NBA parent club. Next season, that number will increase to 27 after a Washington Wizards affiliate begins play. It shouldn’t be long before the Portland Trail Blazers, Denver Nuggets and New Orleans Pelicans — the final three NBA franchises without G League teams — will get them, giving the sport a true minor league akin to those in baseball and hockey.

The NBA is in the business of making money. If it has a fully developed minor league, the best way to make money on it is to increase the talent pool. The best way to do that? By having more talented collegiate players decide the G League is a better career path.

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Change won’t happen overnight; the league and the union won’t change the collectively bargained draft rules for 2018 or 2019. The sides won’t discuss the issue in earnest until after the playoffs are over, at a minimum, because the players understandably will not negotiate while competing for a championship.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and Michele Roberts, the executive director of the National Basketball Players Association, put out a joint statement that said both sides “will continue to assess [draft-eligibility rules] in order to promote the best interests of players and the game.” The statement itself was a sign the sides are working together.

The expectation, though, is that the rule eventually will go away in what would be the league’s latest step to get more involved at the youth level.

“We’ve had some meetings with the players’ association where we’ve shared data on success rates of young players coming into the league,” Silver said at the All-Star Game in Los Angeles in February. “We’ve talked a lot about youth development in terms of whether we should be getting involved in some of these young players even earlier than when they come into college.

“On the other hand, I think the question for the league is, in terms of their ultimate success, are we better off intersecting with them a little bit younger? And there is also recognition that for some of these elite players, there is no question that they can perform in the NBA at 18 years old.”

The one-and-done rule began in 2005, when Silver was deputy commissioner under David Stern. It stipulated one of two age requirements a player must meet to be eligible for the draft: Either the player must turn 19 before or during the calendar year of the draft, or the player must be one year removed from high school graduation unless he met the criteria for international players.

There had been a handful of players since the 1970s to jump to the NBA directly out of high school, most notably Moses Malone and Darryl Dawkins. It became a trend beginning in 1995, when Kevin Garnett was taken fifth overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves. Three high schoolers — Kwame Brown in 2001, LeBron James in 2003 and Dwight Howard in 2004 — were selected No. 1 overall.

When eight of the top 19 picks in 2004 were high schoolers, Stern began a push to get an age requirement into the next collective bargaining agreement. Stern’s initial proposal was to require that players turn 20 before entering the draft, but he eventually settled for what became known as the “one-and-done” rule.

The NBA no longer would spend its time scouting in high school gyms and would have a more physically and mentally mature group of players coming into the league every year.

Seven players were drafted out of high school in 2005, the final year they were eligible to do so. Three of them — Lou Williams of the Los Angeles Clippers, Amir Johnson of the Philadelphia 76ers and Gerald Green of the Houston Rockets — remain in the league.

The question now is whether more players coming straight out of high school will begin joining them soon. And, more likely than not, the answer will be yes.

Given the league’s announcement late last year of a partnership with the online streaming platform Twitch to broadcast several G League games a week, it is clear that it sees a pathway to making money off the league — not to mention creating a better pipeline to the NBA, with G League teams already playing within the offensive and defensive systems run by their parent clubs.

In addition, the announcement last month by top 10 recruit Darius Bazley that, instead of fulfilling his commitment to Syracuse, he would enter the G League, was a sign that players are beginning to see the idea of making money professionally as preferable to playing in the college ranks even with the rule in place.

If things play out as anticipated, though, the rule may not stop them from doing so much longer.