The NBA’s age limit currently stands at 19, but Adam Silver has made his pitch more than once that he’d like to see it raised to 20.
NBPA executive director Michele Roberts is adamantly opposed to the idea, which could make it a potentially hot topic during the next round of collective bargaining agreement negotiations.
But there may be a way to avoid the issue entirely — by expanding the D-League in order to create a true minor league system.
Agent Arn Tellem broke down how he envisions something like this happening over at Grantland:
• No prospect would be required to declare, making everyone eligible, much like baseball’s amateur draft. Prospective picks would be asked to sign a “memorandum of understanding” as a condition for consideration, whereby they would agree to forgo college if drafted. If they declined to sign, they would effectively be choosing college over pro ball and couldn’t be drafted for two more years. If they declare but never get drafted, they should be allowed to retain their eligibility and attend school. Currently, they aren’t. The crucial point here: Players shouldn’t be penalized for an ill-informed decision. Draftees should be given the option of signing in the NBA, going to the minors, or playing overseas.
• All early-entry players would be given the same declaration date. Right now, foreign prospects get almost two months more than their American counterparts to decide whether to remain in that year’s draft.2 By locking everyone into the same date, the NBA would rectify one of the great competitive inequities of pro hoops.
• All first-round picks would be paid NBA rookie scale regardless of whether they played on the parent or farm team. To encourage a franchise to sign a first-rounder and farm him out for more seasoning, the team should get a year of cap relief. That would prevent any team from doing what the Thunder did to Josh Huestis, who was drafted at no. 29 overall only after he agreed to spend his rookie year in the D-League (and be paid accordingly).
• Today’s second-round draftees have no salary protection. Teams can decide against signing them and still retain their rights. An NBA team is required only to offer a minimum non-guaranteed contract; that’s it. Under my plan, teams would be required to offer second-rounders a guaranteed minimum split3 contract ($253,500) or forfeit their rights. Teams could still negotiate multiyear contracts with players; they’d also have the right to send those prospects to the minors without their salaries counting against the cap for two years. This would encourage NBA franchises to draft the best available players in Round 2 and develop them. For free agents or players who have been released, the minimum D-League salary would be raised to a more livable $50,000, a figure more commensurate with their relative contributions.
A lot of this is in relation to younger players, as Tellem proposes once again lowering the age limit to 18 at the very same time. The other key here is that the D-League expand to 30 teams, with each NBA franchise having a single affiliation relationship in order to create a place to develop talent according to the organization’s exact specifications.
The biggest obstacle, of course, is money. Taking some of the windfall from the latest broadcast rights deal and investing it in making the D-League a true minor league would make complete sense, but would require some short-term sacrifice in order to achieve what should be the NBA’s long-term vision.