By this time next year, a handful of 18-year olds may have yet another choice taken out of their hands: they will no longer be eligible for the NBA draft.
The NBAs collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the players association and the league expires after this season and NBA commissioner David Stern is proposing that the new CBA (which will be in effect during the 2006 draft) include a clause that imposes a 20-year old minimum age limit on players entering the league. Thats right: The next LeBron James or Carmello Anthony may have to wait a couple of years before gaining superstar status in the NBA.
At first glance, this appears to be a curious move for both the union and the NBA. Why would you deny league access to some of your most prolific stars? The past two NBA Rookie of the Year winners have been straight-out-of-high-school players (James and Amare Stoudemire). Moreover, a whopping seven players on this years NBA All-Star rosters never attended a single college class, including such players as Kevin Garnett, Tracy McGrady and Jermaine ONeal.
High school players forgoing college basketball to go pro has been an issue of some controversy ever since Garnett was drafted fifth overall by the Timberwolves in 1995. That trend has only accelerated in recent years. In the 2004 draft, one-third (10) of the players selected in the first round came straight from the prep ranks, including first overall pick Dwight Howard.
Preps have traditionally been a high-risk, high-reward proposition for NBA general managers. For every James, who immediately became the best player on his team, there are a dozen Ndudi Ebis, the 2004 Timberwolves draftee that has only seen about 50 minutes of floor time in his 164 games with the team. The majority of these high school projects are being paid NBA salaries and consuming valuable roster spots while contributing next-to-nothing in terms of actual production on the court.
In no other professional sports league are both the major league and minor league rosters one and the same. In the NFL, very few players are even considered for the draft until they have played at least three years in college, and teams also have a small practice squad roster on which they can keep developing players.
Baseball, where about half of the players drafted each year come straight out of high school, has an extensive minor league development system that has been in place for over 75 years. Each major league team has four full-season minor league teams and at least two short-season teams, encompassing well over 100 players.
Hockey draws players from both the college ranks and a well-established system of junior leagues, and draft choices often play for league-affiliated minor league teams.
Stern wants not only to keep these young future stars from rotting on the bench for two or three years, but also to improve both the overall quality and marketability of the NBA. Hes hoping that high school players choose to go to college for at least two years before turning pro. Two years spent in the national limelight at a major college program will only serve to make these young players that much more more recognizable when they finally make it.
The players union, of course, would never agree to such a limit if it did not benefit them as well. In essence, they are preserving the jobs of their current members at the expense of future members a no-brainer for any union.
In the end, imposing an age limit should have a positive impact on the slowly fading NBA. The league has been losing market share to other sports for a few years now, and Stern sees this age limit as one way to help revitalize the game. It appears to be a win-win situation for almost all involved: current players, owners, and fans (especially college fans).
The only losers? Yep, you guessed it those second-class adults themselves, 18 year-olds.