OAKLAND — Everyone agrees there’s a problem.
Nobody agrees on the solution.
The NBA and players union came together pretty quickly and (relatively) harmoniously on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement in the past year, but the two sides agreed to put the age limit issue aside and return to it later. At his annual pre-Finals press conference, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said he expects to discuss the issue over the course of the next season.
“I think it’s one of those issues that we need to come together and study,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said at his annual pre-Finals press conference. “This year the projection is that we’re going to have 20 one-and-done players coming, actually being drafted this year. When we first changed the minimum age from 18 to 19, the following year in 2006 we had two one-and-done players.
“So my sense is it’s not working for anyone. It’s not working certainly from the college coaches and athletic directors I hear from. They’re not happy with the current system. And I know our teams aren’t happy either in part because they don’t necessarily think that the players are coming into the league are getting the kind of training that they would expect to see among top draft picks in the league.”
The challenge is that the owners — who Silver works for — would like the age limit raised to 20. While they preach player development, the factors of another year of college helps build a player’s name and brand, plus teams like to think that with another year to watch a player they will make better draft decisions (studies suggest that’s not true).
On the other side, the NBA players union wants the limit lowered to 18. Their argument is simple: If a player is good enough to play in the NBA at 18, why should we force him to go to college and wait to years to be a professional?
There are no easy answers. I favor the “baseball rule” — players can be drafted out of high school, but if they choose not to enter the draft or are not chosen they must go to college (or overseas) for two or three years — but has flaws as well.
“To be honest, I’m not standing here today saying I have the perfect solution,” Silver said. “I do know that as I talk — increasingly the veteran players in this league, as well, who feel that the young players are not coming in game ready in the way that they were when they were coming out of college. And we’re also seeing a dichotomy in terms of the international players. They’re coming in when they come in at 19, many of them have been professional for up to three years before they come into the league and have a very different experience than what we’re seeing from American players coming through our college programs.”
What Silver said, and everyone agrees on, is the changes to the system need to be more systemic than just what the NBA does with an age limit.
“As I said, when we now have 20 members of a 60-person two round draft coming directly from one year of college, I
think then from a training standpoint we really got to rethink this process,” Silver said. “And as I’ve said before, I don’t think we should just focus on 18 to 19, I think we got to look younger, at the whole AAU system. And, again, I understand I shouldn’t use a broad brush to criticize the entire AAU system, because parts of it are excellent, but also parts of it are very broken.
“Especially this relates to injuries in the league. What we’re seeing is a rash of injuries among young players. What our orthopedics are telling us is they’re seeing wear-and-tear issues in young players that they didn’t used to see until players were much older. We know that these young players — now, this is before college — are playing in AAU programs, sometimes eight and 10 games in a weekend. Of course, Little League has pitch counts. AAU does not have the equivalent.
“So we got to look at the whole system holistically. That’s why the question before about the timeline. I think Kiki Vandeweghe, Byron Spruell, our president of league operations, are very focused on it, Kathy Behrens, head of our player programs, is looking at it. But we’re going to put together a task force of people and spend a lot of time on it over the next year.”
Can that group find a consensus? We all wish them luck.