The NBA infamously doesn’t allow players to enter the league straight out of high school. The FBI is cracking down on college basketball players earning an income. The NBA’s minor-league doesn’t allow potentially eligible college players.
Where can young American basketball players earn money?
As part of its new “Next Stars” program, the NBL will be adding an extra roster spot next season intended strictly for draft-eligible players such as Ferguson, the league told ESPN. Sources told ESPN those players will be paid 100,000 Australian dollars gross guaranteed (approximately $78,000 U.S.), funded directly by the league.
“Unlike other countries where players and agents deal with clubs, the NBL will directly contract the players,” NBL owner and executive chairman Larry Kestelman said in a release provided exclusively to ESPN. “We will make sure the players get the development they need as part of the program with our clubs, giving them the best chance of success.
“The NBL provides strong visibility back to the U.S. Our league is closest to the NBA in terms of style of play and game day presentation. We will work to build a program to provide the right access to NBA teams and scouts alike.”
Terrance Ferguson signed in the Australia’s National Basketball League out of high school then got drafted by Thunder in the first round last year. The unusual path mostly worked, and this plan addresses shortcomings in Ferguson’s experience.
NBL (and European) teams are trying to win now. They’re often uninterested in using a roster spot on a teenager who needs development. Ferguson wasn’t quite ready for professional basketball, and it strained his team at time.
But with this new plan, the roster spot is reserved for only young players. Teams can’t save it for a veteran.
Will the money lure major American prospects? It’s far more than the NBA’s minor league pays, and forgoing college basketball opens the opportunity for above-board endorsements. Australians speak English, making the transition overseas easier.
It could work, and good for the NBL recognizing a market inefficiency.
The Australian league is also running an impressive gambit. Expect these contracts to include an NBA buyout. NBA teams will be able to pay $725,000 toward international buyouts in 2019 without it counting toward the cap, and that amount will increase $25,000 annually. NBA teams are generally cool with paying that for their draft picks, and the money will go to the NBL (and trickles down to the young players whose signing with the NBL is necessary for the scheme).
The NBA has relied on college basketball for a free minor league for years. Now, the NBA might essentially have to pay the NBL to handle some of that responsibility.
It’s a small price and one that makes sense right now, but this could ultimately push the NBA toward emphasizing its own minor league.