Monday, March 25, 2013

Fixing the NBA System

Carmelo Anthony
While casually glancing at games during the NCAA tournament this past weekend, I had my memory jogged to an idea from years past.  See, I am an avid fan of the NBA game and not a fan of collegiate ball.  The 35 second shot clock, the usage of zone defense, the mediocre shooters, the constant passing around the perimeter right before jacking up a poor shot with a few seconds remaining on the clock are all examples of things that simply drive me crazy to the point where I can’t watch.  People get excited about “upsets” in the tournament, but really, when there is so much parity and inexperienced players on the court, is anything really an upset?

The real crux of the issue really lies in the players themselves, though.  For me, it’s virtually impossible to become invested in the college game knowing that so many players will be here one day and gone another.  The game has shifted from players staying with their schools for 3-4 seasons to being “one and done” and off to the NBA, whether they are ready or not.  There’s no continuity.  There’s no growth.  The worst part is the collegiate game is diminished as the quality goes down.  The young players often come into the league with much fanfare and hype, which puts an unnecessary level of pressure on them.  Look, there’s only one LeBron James.  He was so unique in that he came into the league ready to carry a franchise.  Very few 18-20 year old players are mature enough to handle that burden.

So how exactly do we fix this?  The NFL requires players to be 3 years removed from their high school class to be eligible for the NFL draft, which is a concept shot down by the NBA players association.  The NCAA doesn’t want to pay players as that would open the floodgates to many more possible problems (other than not being able to pad their own pockets).  I think the solution is pretty clear, and somewhat obvious; utilize the NBA D League far better than they currently are.  The solution not only would give younger players the option of staying in college but would also allow them to ease into the pro game.  I believe it to help the collegiate game and the pro game in the long run.

- If a player forgoes college, or declares eligible for the draft after their freshman year, they would be required to stay with the D-League affiliate of the team that drafted them for 2 seasons.

- If a player declares for the draft after their sophomore year, they would be required to stay with the D-League affiliate of the team that drafted them for 1 season.

- Juniors that declare for the draft would be able to enter the NBA immediately.

This is a win-win for all involved.  Allow me to explain.

2012 Kentucky Wildcats
- From the NCAA standpoint, more players will be likely to stay in school as the riches and playing time of the NBA would still be a few years away.  They would be able to hone their craft against their peers, which only improves the quality of play as players grow.  The schools would also be able to see the re-emergence of possible dynasties, which have disappeared from their game.  For example, the Kentucky Wildcats won the National Championship last season, only to be bounced from the first round of the NIT this year.  Had they been able to retain Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marquis Teague, Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb it is likely they would have made another deep run during March Madness.  Instead, they were embarrassed in the NIT.

Michael Beasley
- From the standpoint of a general manager, it makes the pressure of a failed pick lessen.  Instead of dropping millions of dollars on potential, and risking that as a failure, the GM would be able to see the growth of the drafted player.  In 2008, the Miami Heat used the second overall pick to take Kansas State freshman Michael Beasley.  He cost the Heat $4.3 million in cap space and is perceived as a bust for them.  Had they been able to chart his growth (or lack thereof) in the D-League, they would have been able to let him walk when the mandatory 2 years expired allowing them financial flexibility and not crippling them with the cap.

- From the player standpoint, the advantage comes in multiple ways.  They have the option to stay in school or take a gradual step up to the professional level.  They would be given the time to grow their game, while learning about the NBA lifestyle.  While the financial aspect isn’t as lucrative in the D-League, they are still paid a decent amount that can help educate the younger generation in money management.  Taking a broke college kid and giving them millions is simply asking for trouble.  Giving them a step in between allows them to mature and learn about the business aspect of the game.  Additionally, the player would learn about the rigors of an NBA travel schedule and the physical demands of the job.  It would also continue giving them motivation to reach that elite level of basketball.

Just imagine an Iowa Energy
hat in this picture...

- From the NBA corporate level, this is an absolutely slam dunk (pardon the pun).  The quality of the game increases as you filter out the players not good enough or ready for the pro game.  The D-League can be used to market younger stars, increasing the marketability of players in all markets (given the D-League teams are located in small markets and will set up roots in those communities).  It adds another revenue stream for the league.  D-League games are not as marketable as they could be.  Can you just imagine if Carmelo Anthony declared for the draft after his freshman year at Syracuse?  The Denver Nuggets could still draft him third overall and place him with their affiliate, the Iowa Energy.  Immediately, the Energy becomes a destination attraction simply to watch Anthony take the court.  The league could utilize NBA TV to broadcast games and generate more interest.  Merchandising opens up and more money starts to flow, which is exactly what the league wants.

There really is no loser in this situation.  While it is unfortunate the players have to wait a little longer to reach their NBA dreams, the 3 year window hasn’t adversely affected the NFL. It can work for the NBA too.

If you’re good enough to reach the league, an extra couple of years is not going to prevent that from happening.



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