Lets all be honest here, its a fairly safe bet that most of us reading today have never watched a single NBA D-League game, nor do most NBA fans really care about the D-League. Can you name more than three teams without the assistance of Wikipedia? How about a key player in the league? There are no legitimate websites or news networks that cover the D-league because lets face it, it has fallen well short of its potential and the public interest in the league is evident with the lack of any relevant coverage of the games.
When the NBA announced just a few short years ago that it was expanding the D-League and had intentions of utilizing the league as a “Minor League system” of sort, I was very excited. I am a baseball fan and I will admit that I sometimes enjoy watching minor league games more than I do major league games; partly due to the fact that the kids in the minors care more about the game and you can see quality ball for great prices. In the minors you can see the future of the MLB with a more intimate and inclusive experience for fans. I saw potential for this in the NBADL with its “new” commitment to the league from the parent company.
Since then, little has changed with the NBADL. The league is still littered with irrelevant players that will never see an NBA floor, the function of using the league as a place to groom rookies has failed miserably thus far, with the NBADL becoming a place where potential role players go to die, never to make any noise in the league again.
How many times have the Celtics signed a guy from the NBADL who were putting up good numbers, only to come here and look out of place? Has the D-League helped the development of Fab Melo’s post game? Remember Stephane Lasme? Greg Stiemsma? Chris Johnson? Oliver Lafayette? All players who had some success in the NBADL that became vastly overwhelmed with outrageous expectations by fans due to this. Have you heard from any of these “top D-League” players since?
So what can be done to change this troubling trend? Well, to that we must look at a different rule the NBA has put into place in recent years. The “one and done” rule as it has been unofficially re-named forces players that normally would have entered the NBA Draft right out of High School to choose between spending a year in college or playing internationally before becoming eligible for the NBA Draft.
Lets face it, the rule is flawed at best. Are there any players that we know of that followed this rule and became a better player because of it? Did they earn their degree in that one year? Did they really become NBA ready after one year? Have NBA teams been able to weed out the Shaun Livingston’s of the world out from this rule? The rule forces players that really are not interested in school to take up a valuable spot that otherwise would have been used by someone who could really use the class or cares about the subject matter, all for the sake of basketball. It makes a mockery of the education system and the concept of scholarships at the very least.
The players that skirted this system have managed to find a bit of success for themselves with Brandon Jennings and Jeremy Tyler the most notable names of the bunch who managed to play overseas for a season before entering the draft. But the NBA has failed to recognize that they are missing out on a major opportunity to develop its NBA D-League by revamping the draft rules. So in a basketball discussion with a friend recently, a revamped rule change came about:
Under the new NBA Draft rules, High School players would have the option of:
1.) entering a college program for two seasons before becoming eligible for the NBA Draft
2.) choosing to enter the NBA Draft out of High School. Those players would be required to spend the entire first season in their drafting teams NBADL affiliate with a standard rookie contract being in place (close to NBA league minimum) . Should the player be called up from the NBADL the player will have a revamped contract similar to how the NFL pays its rookies based on draft selection. Those not called up after year one would then become a free agent, free to sign with any NBA or NBADL team.
The proposed rule change would allow High School players the chance to still make a living playing under the standard NBA rookie contract, all while playing in a more NBA-style program. It would give motivation to the player to progress and play hard to earn their call up. Teams would likely spend more time focusing on the operations of their sister team, getting more involved with coaching changes, game plans, and other aspects of the organization all in the name of developing their new investments. This would also give teams an out clause on a draft bust by being given the opportunity to sniff out a bust and not calling that player up, releasing them from the responsibility of being stuck with a long big money contract on a bust. This would also give the NBADL a bump in relevance in the eye of the public with some of the games premier future talent facing off against one another.
How exciting would it have been to see Brandon Jennings, Lebron James, Kevin Garnett, or Kobe Bryant play at this level before they became a part of the public eye? Would we have seen that Sebastian Telfair wasn’t “The Next Big Thing” long in advance? The rule also would save players who had no interest in graduating from college the potential career ending injury, or at the least an injury that will cost that player millions in the draft (see: Nerlens Noel). Forcing a highly talented player to play for free, potentially ruining their career is unjust. This option gives the players a chance to make some money all while boosting the popularity of the NBA D-League. On the contrast, players who truly were interested in college would at the very least get a real education, having to pass four semesters of class rather than just one and a half as currently constituted.
The NCAA will never pay its players in any sport, and with its rules nazi’s violating players on petty technicalities (which also in turn cost the player millions in the draft See: Shabazz Muhammed , Myck Kabongo) the NCAA knows it has players by the ankle and can do what it pleases. The Kabongo investigation cost the Texas star half his season and a drop likely into the second round all while the NCAA tried to find anything it could to justify his suspension. Muhammed was held for a handful of games in a similar situation only to be cleared after he had already missed the games, costing his team one of the largest drops out of the Top 25 in NCAA history. Both players would have likely entered the draft and had been a top 20 pick had this petty rule not been in place.
So in a wrap up, lets look at the facts should this be put into place. The rule would protect teams from investing in a draft bust, it would protect the player from a career ending injury while playing for free, it would also protect the player from having millions stolen from them by the NCAA rule nazi’s. And above all, it would save the integrity of the concept of scholarships by using them on players that will actually attend and put effort into classes.
The only groups that lose in this proposal are international teams that latched on to the likes of Brandon Jennings and such, and the NCAA who already make millions off the names of its players yet refuses to pay them. It is not the NBA’s responsibility to pad the pockets of schools or international teams. It IS the responsibility of the NBA to protect its teams from being stuck with bad investments. So the NBA can kill two birds with one stone in this move, protect the teams and boost its D-League program, a solid business decision to say the least.