NBA Should Drop the Age Limit, Send Prep Prospects to The D-League

It's time for the NBA to make the D-League a more useful farm system.

It’s time for the NBA to make the D-League a more useful farm system.

2016 number one overall NBA draft pick Ben Simmons said in his Showtime documentary One & Done, “I’m here to play…. I’m not here to go to school” when speaking about his one year in Baton Rouge at LSU.

That sentiment is one that many Division I freshman college basketball players from Lexington Kentucky, to Durham North Carolina, all the way to Los Angeles California share. Simmons went on to say “he felt like he was wasting his time.” It was clear to anyone with any basketball knowledge that he was going forego his college illegibility to enter the NBA draft immediately following his freshman season, seeing how he was projected to be the number one overall pick back when he was playing prep ball at Montverde Academy in Florida.

He is the first one and done player to openly defy the rule implemented in the collective bargaining agreement in 2005.

The NBA age limit, where a player must be one year removed from graduating high school or 19 years old before being allowed to enter the NBA draft, has been under attack since its inception.  It’s a joke, and needs to be abolished. It clearly isn’t good for the players, Association or college basketball.

My suggestion to fix all three, the NBA should let high school seniors enter the draft, but the teams that draft them have to send them to their D-League affiliate. But if prospects do go to college, they should have to stay for at least two years.

Commissioner Adam Silver and the 30 NBA owners have recently showed they’re serious about making their Minor League a more valuable asset. On Valentine’s Day, the NBA and Gatorade announced their multi-million dollar union with Gatorade.

The popular sports drink will now sponsor the league and rename it the G-League. Their logo will be on everything from the jerseys, the court and to the game ball. That should boost some revenue for teams to use to sign players.

Some D-League salaries will double thanks to the new NBA collective bargaining agreement. Two players per team will make $50,000 to $75,000. The rest of the players in the minor league get paid between $19,500 and $26,000. Hopefully with the influx of money coming from the new sponsor, salaries will raise even more, making playing in the G-League more attractive to young prospects who usually bolt overseas for higher pay checks, and create a more competitive environment for players to get accustomed to the professional game.

But those are just the start of the benefits for the players, NBA, D-League, and even NCAA basketball. Here’s how sending top draft picks to the developmental league will benefit all parties involved.

  • Helps grow interest in the minor League system, better marketing of players, attendance boost and media coverage would sky rocket.

Sending top prospects to the D-League increases the visibility of the minor league. Now that each NBA franchise is making moves towards owning their own minor league franchise, currently 25 teams are single affiliated, this would give them the opportunity to market their “junior varsity” squad by getting fans in those mini-markets to support the future stars of tomorrow.

Fans currently aren’t attending or watching development league games because they don’t like basketball, they aren’t paying attention because they don’t want to invest their time and money-watching players they suspect they’ll never hear from or see again in two to three years.

If the NBA used their D-League teams like Major League Baseball teams use their farm system, fans would go watch. You can’t tell me that if Ben Simmons was drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers straight out of high school and had to play a year for the Delaware 87ers, that fans wouldn’t pack the Bob Carpenter Center on the campus of the University of Delaware nightly to watch him play. Ben Simmons merchandise would be flying off the shelves upon his arrival as well.

This would also help with television deals. Currently NBA TV and ESPN air a couple D-League games a week on tape delay. Much like the NBA was back in the late 70’s and early 80’s. But only hardcore hoop fans – this author raises his hand – and scouts watch those games. I believe it would be as popular as the broadcast of NBA Summer Leagues have become in the last five years or so. Those games have to be drawing good enough ratings since they keep airing them each off-season. The D-League broadcasts would be more meaningful with many of the same players.

  • Better in helping players adjusting to the pro style on and off the court, and create an opportunity to better educate players on the importance of finances.

On the court players would immediately learn the rules of the pro game, which are drastically different from the college game. Prospects will also benefit from learning on the job in the system of their pro team. Development of top talent will likely be expedited since they’ll be taught by the best of the best.

Look at how effective the San Antonio Spurs use the Austin Toro’s to implement their sets and strategies. Greg Popovich and his staff have perfectly used to system to groom Jonathan Simmons, Danny Green and Kyle Anderson before getting their chance to make a championship impact on the big stage in San Antonio.

Off the court, the league can provide players with financial literacy courses and seminars to help them learn things like how to balance a checkbook, pay utility bills, and how to properly invest the millions of dollars they’ll eventually be earning. That may sound silly to some, but remember, we are talking about teenagers and early twenty-something’s. It also would be beneficial to help them learn the other perils of being a professional athlete like celebrity, drugs and alcohol.

Former players who have successfully navigated their careers and retired in great shape could construct the curriculum. You could also invite some who have failed to share their tales of mistakes not to make. The rookie symposium attempts to do this, but if we’re being honest, doing this type of stuff for a week in the summer isn’t going to really help. If you were able to make this a program they could go through over the course of their first season of professional ball, it would likely have more benefit.

  • College game improves because players will make the conscious decision to commit to being student-athletes.

There’s a lot that needs to be fixed in the college game that has nothing to do with players leaving early for the pro ranks. But one of the reasons fans don’t invest in the “amateur” game is because teams don’t stay together long enough to build on school tradition.

Before, players saw college basketball as a means to an end; they took pride in playing for their school and having success on the college level.

If prospects are allowed to enter the NBA via the D-league immediately after graduating high school, the players that do decide to attend college will be more likely to care about building something at their institution instead of having one eye on getting to the next level.

College coaches will be able to better recruit “their players” and put the best teams together because they’ll know the players they have WANT to be there, not FORCED to be there for one season. You could even make the age limit where if you choose college you’re choosing to be there at least three years like NCAA football.

I’m a die-hard basketball fan of all levels. I’d like to see all succeed. Something has to be done with this age limit because it’s hurting everyone. Even those collecting million dollar pay days.

 

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