Posted 04/24/2008 at 01:46 PM
I’m sure few people have noticed or care, but the NBA D-League Finals are taking place right now. The Austin Toros beat the Idaho Stampede (yes, Idaho) in front of just over 2,200 people last night. Idaho is actually the higher ranked team and will host the next two games of the three game series. The Stampede had a 26-14 1st quarter lead but Austin was able to rally for the victory. There are some familiar names playing in the game, including former lottery pick Luke Jackson, NBA veteran Darvin Ham, as well as many recent college standouts that are hoping to eventually crack an NBA roster.
I won’t admit to following the D-League action closely but it would be beneficial for both college and professional basketball to see the league succeed. The age-limit for the NBA has some issues and I don’t envision that lasting long-term. It is also is painful to see the college game dominated by 1-and-done players. This year’s Final Four featured two prominent players Derrick Rose and Kevin Love that will be moving on after 1-year stays in college. Recent All-American players like Michael Beasely and Kevin Durant are other examples. I can’t fault the players for taking off and clearly many of them are ready to contribute and succeed in the NBA. Having the best players leave after one year hurts the overall college game and also can destroy the academic integrity of the programs involved.
Eventually a system similar to baseball would probably be the most beneficial, where players could be drafted out of high school and then given the option to sign or attend college. The NBA draft could be expanded an extra round or two, or there could be separate college and high school drafts, with perhaps a higher pay-scale for rookie contracts out of the college draft to encourage players to give college ball a shot.
Baseball prospects can choose to take the money and toil in the minor leagues or be required to play at least three years of college before re-entering the draft. Players like LeBron James have proven that the truly exceptional high school players can enter the league immediately have a great impact and the NBA should not be robbed of the top talent. Yet the problem in the last decade became that too many teams were taking chances on high school players with upside even though they clearly were not ready to make an instant impact. Players like Jermaine O’Neal and Tracy McGrady flourished in the league after sitting on the bench for a few years but the teams that drafted them did not realize their success. Some players pan out, but many players like Ndubi Ebi and Gerald Green were left clogging rosters and not getting playing time yet being paid big-time money and are now out of the league.
The NBA already has a rookie contract cap in place which will eliminate baseball’s problems with high draft picks holding out or teams being scared to draft certain players represented by certain agents. For this to work, the D-League needs to continue to grow and eventually serve as a reserve talent pool for the NBA teams. Right now the NBA teams hold the rights to a few players that are compiled together on teams, eventually every team could have a minor league affiliate and more players would get the opportunity to stay and play in the states with the hopes of someday cracking the NBA roster. Right now, too many great college players end up overseas and are never heard from again. Playing overseas is a successful and lucrative path but it would be better for the NBA and better for American basketball in general to keep those borderline NBA talents in house.
With the NFL draft this weekend, envision the excitement of a five round NBA draft. The first round would be a combined high school and college draft and players drafted in that round would earn guaranteed contracts much like today’s first round draft picks. What would follow would be two rounds of college-only drafting and two rounds of high school only drafting. The high school players drafted could decide to take a modest contract to play in the D-League and hope to make it big someday or could consider continuing with a college commitment to improve their stock when they re-enter the draft. A system similar to this would benefit the players and the teams and would provide an outlet for the top college talent to stay in the U.S. and work towards an NBA career. For this to work the D-League needs to grow and succeed, so let’s start taking it more seriously.