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Points in the Paint: NBA fires the first shot in the war over one-and-done talent

Man, is John Calipari’s business model ever gonna’ be busted.

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It was a story that seemed of relatively little importance earlier this week the No. 2 overall recruit, combo guard Jalen Green, announced that he was forgoing his collegiate eligibility and was instead heading to play in the NBA’s developmental G League. We have seen LaMelo Ball and RJ Hampton do as much in the past few years, and several other players have threatened to do so.

But, as far as actually taking the plunge? Green’s decision was not a one-off affair; the news of his defection to the G League coincided with another Top 15 player, Isaiah Todd, breaking his Michigan commitment and also announcing that he would be going to the minors.

The COVID-19 pandemic and uncertainty of a 2020 season aside, one factor in their decision is that for a league with a $125,000 hard salary, both Green and Todd will be signing so-called “select contracts,” which pay $500,000. That is irrespective of endorsement deals, which will push the pair into seven-figure compensation packages. Not bad money for 18-year-olds who don’t have to pretend to care about school until their 19th birthday and the arrival of the 2021 NBA Draft.

Two players may not quite be enough to declare a trend. However, when up to a half-dozen Top 20 prospects are expected to follow suit this season? That is a trend And there are two other data points that would indicate an end to the 15-year-long NCAA-NBA detente. The first, is that league opened up the piggy bank for select contracts. That keeps players like Todd and Green to stay at home, and prevents the overseas defection we saw with Ball and Hampton. The second is that concurrent to the Green signing, Adam Silver fired a shot across the bow of the NCAA, putting words in their mouth that directly contradict the organization’s long stance on players jumping straight to semi-pros.

“This was more a function of our relationship with the NCAA,” Silver said, in response to a question about Australia’s NBL. “In the United States, the NCAA has made it clear that they would prefer that these so-called one-and-done players be on a professional path, either come directly into the NBA or are playing in some professional league.

“It had much less to do with the international league and more to do with how can we put them in the best position to become the best possible NBA players they can be.”

How do we know? Because the NCAA, and specifically President Mark Emmert, has said on no less than three occasions over the last 8 years, that the NCAA opposes such a scheme and that collegiate eligibility is their primary concern. He said so in 2012, and 2015, and 2018. To the NBA’s credit (shame?) they have no obligation to play along with the NCAA eligibility game and have only done so in abundant good faith. But the NBA is capitulating no longer to the sham of one-and-done amateurism. After a decade of listening to Emmert and Co. swear the NCAA will find a way to manage the situation, Adam Silver has now taken that decision out of their hand: We’ll pay you; we’ll put you in front of domestic advertisers; and we’ll make sure momma can watch you play, not a random group of Lithuanians. And all of those are worth more, in a very real pecuniary sense, than the strongest-ass offer that the college game’s rogues can promise.

Show me the money, indeed. With the money shown, the demise of one-and-done is now fait accompli. Emmert can only mouth his acquiescence to a situation that has already been decided by third parties far outside his sphere of influence and control.

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Why now?

You really have to look at it from the league’s vantage point. Now is as good a time as any. There may not be a collegiate season, or at least one as we know it. If Adam Silver is intent on backing away from the onerous one-year/19-year-old requirement, and he has signaled that he will, then to do so in a time of national uncertainty and transition may make more sense than ever. When everything is changing, why not this? Moreover, it makes sense from a talent point of view as well. The NBA is driven by its star power, not necessarily teams. As NBA agents indicated following Green’s defection, poaching the high school ranks, and transitioning to a year in the G League, allows the NBA to take possession of that talent pool and lay claim to the players’ development.

In 2005, following several high profile high-school-to-NBA bustsKwame Brown, Sebastian Telfair, and DeSanga Diop come to mind — and upon the pleading of the NCAA, the league agreed to rescind its high school pipeline. But, the one-and-done scheme is a system that the Rice Commission report found has led to both a destabilization of the college game and has taken an already-corrupt sport into Snidely Whiplash territory. The NBA’s willingness to offer select contracts indicates that much as Adam Silver threatened in 2017, and then again in 2018, the NBA is easing away from eligibility rules that have fostered such corruption...and deprived the league of a year of those superstars. Do you think Adam Silver would have liked to have a full season of Zion Williamson and those two years of Ja Morant to build the G League and grow the NBA’s market? Bet your life on it.

Now, he can.

And, despite some high-profile, high school washouts, Silver had to realize as he was inducting the 2020 NBA Hall of Fame class, he was staring at the bronze busts of two of the best to ever suit them up, Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant. Both were straight from the high school pathway. And, another such player, a man who is a strong contender for the singular greatest of all-time, LeBron James, was in the middle of leading the Lakers to a probable NBA Finals appearance. Where does the next Garnett or Kobe come from?

If Green and Todd’s decision is any indication, and if Silver’s willingness to allow select contracts is a harbinger, then it very likely they will be coming to a Nike ad and mid-sized American city near you this fall.

Detente over.

The NBA and NCAA are now direct competitors for an already-dilute talent pool.


Will the elimination of one-and-done be good for college basketball?

This poll is closed

  • 51%
    (191 votes)
  • 10%
    (39 votes)
  • 21%
    It’s a mixed bag
    (80 votes)
  • 16%
    It will have little or no change on the landscape; top teams will still be top teams
    (63 votes)
373 votes total Vote Now