The commission proposing reforms to college basketball wants 18-year-olds to be eligible again for the NBA draft, and the NBA Players Association would make that deal today.
Change will take longer than that.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver senses the league’s age limit isn’t working. Requiring U.S. players to be 19 years old and one year removed from high school has sent many of them to a year of college they don’t want, and delayed the full-time basketball instruction pro teams prefer.
But whether the league would agree to allow players to come straight from high school again, or want them to wait two years before becoming draft eligible, has been a sticking point practically since the age limited was enacted in 2005 and remains unclear now. Before the age limit was in place, some stars flourished straight from high school including LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett.
The league and union were non-committal about change in a joint statement released Wednesday.
“Regarding the NBA’s draft eligibility rules, the NBA and NBPA will continue to assess them in order to promote the best interests of players and the game,” Silver and union executive director Michele Roberts said.
The age limit once loomed as the biggest fight during the 2011 negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement. The league had signaled its desire to raise the age limit to 20, and the union wasn’t going to agree to that. But the league shifted its goals toward extracting financial concessions from the players, and the age limit moved to the back burner and has stayed there.
Now could be the time to finally move it forward. Change has to be bargained by the NBA and NBPA, but they don’t need to wait for the next CBA to do it. And with nearly every team having its own G League affiliate, there is a legitimate minor league where 18-year-olds could play without having to do it on campus.
WHY IT COULD WORK: Because the timing may be right. With now 27 teams, two-way contracts allowing easier paths to the NBA and a fresh increase in salary, the G League has never been closer to being an option on par with college. As shown recently when high school All-American Darius Bazley chose the G League over his commitment to play at Syracuse, even top players may consider it.
WHY IT WOULDN’T WORK: Ending the age limit doesn’t necessarily end one-and-done. Players who know they aren’t going to make an NBA roster out of high school might prefer a tuition-paid year of being the big man on campus at Duke or Kentucky over a year in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Fort Wayne, Indiana, or some other G League city.
WHY IT’S KEY TO THE SCANDAL: The report cries out for help with one-and-done, noting that “only the NBA and the NBPA can change this rule.” The commission says it may have to recommend ending freshman eligibility or mandating that all scholarships be for three or four years if the age limit can’t be ended in 2018.
Silver may agree it’s time for change, but it will come on the NBA and NBPA’s timetable.
“We’re not by any means rushing through this,” he said during February’s All-Star break. “I think this is a case where, actually, outside of the cycle of collective bargaining, we can spend more time on it with the Players Association, talking to the individual players, talking to the executive board and really trying to understand the pros and cons of potentially moving the age limit.”