The NBA’s One Year Problem: Forcing Some High School Athletes to get Creative

In professional sports, athletes are effectively bound by the terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the players and the league. CBAs govern the decisions made by both sides, and confine the options of both athletes and management on how they respond to the issues facing their respective league.

One of the biggest issues the National Basketball Association’s CBA in particular has had to address is the desire for individuals to go straight from high school to the NBA. As it stands, a player has to be a year removed from high school in order to enter the NBA draft, a rule that has frustrated both players and fans alike. Throughout the years, we have seen examples of players that ultimately lose out on countless amounts of money when they are forced to go to college for a year, and their professional stock drops either from injury or from subpar performance. Fans of the National Basketball Association saw this as recently as last season, with the conundrum of Michael Porter Jr. According to the ESPN100, Porter Jr. was the second ranked basketball player in the high school class of 2017, and would have been a very high lottery pick in the 2017 draft if he had been able to enter his name into the draft pool right after high school. However, due to the CBA rule, Porter Jr. decided to attend Missouri University, where he was injured in the first two minutes of his college debut. This ultimately led to many teams being scared off by the potential of a reoccurring back injury and caused Porter Jr. to fall to the fourteenth overall selection by the Denver Nuggets, effectively costing him around $8.5 million. This is just one extreme example of the hazards of the “one-year removed” rule, but there are several other examples that reinforce the frustration of high school basketball players.

This frustration has led high school players to seek other alternatives. In the past, many players decided to go overseas and play for a season, instead of having to sit through college for a year. Some famous examples of this are: Brandon Jennings, Emmanuel Mudiay, and Terrance Ferguson, to name three players that are still currently in the NBA. However, after some of these players have gone on to tell horror stories of their time overseas, such as: language barriers, not being paid on time, unfair treatment, etc., this option has actually seen decreasing interest over the past few years.

With the overseas option showing its flaws, high school players have begun to get creative. The latest example is Darius Bazley, a 6’9 forward from Cincinnati who was ranked in the top 10 of the 2018 recruiting class. He was committed to Syracuse University, and was touted as the next great player in the program’s history. However, deciding he did not want to play college basketball, Bazley decommitted from Syracuse this past March, and decided instead to go straight to the G-League, the NBA’s Developmental Minor League. The G-League had always been used as a developmental mechanism, and never as an alternative to college. This move was shocking, mainly because Bazley seemed so adamant about starting a “trend” with his decision. There was debate among fans and experts about whether this was a genius move to skirt around the CBA, or a kid who was being given bad information, and would be forgotten about after a year in the G-League.

Well, this story has taken yet another turn. Bazley has now decided not to join the G-League either, and will instead take part in an internship with New Balance, in a deal set up by his agent Rich Paul. The internship will pay Bazley a $200,000 annual salary for 5 years, with the stipulation that he is on an NBA roster in the second year, and that he will be sponsored by New Balance when he begins playing. According to Rich Paul, he wasn’t sure the move would start a trend, but he did think it was a “pioneering leap out of an institutionalized process that needed to change.” Rich Paul is arguably the most powerful agent in the NBA, representing players like Lebron James and Ben Simmons, and clearly has a good feel for the pulse of the NBA. For him to speak so strongly about the antiquated nature of the NCAA, and the complete control that it has over its athletes should go a long way towards depicting how “broken” the system has truly become.

The fact that Bazley would rather work for a shoe company than play and provide “free labor” to the NCAA makes it clear how he must also feel about the system of college basketball. Whether this starts a trend or not, it should force the NBA and NCAA to come together and figure out the best possible solutions for the “one-year removed” rule. The CBA needs to be changed, and eventually there will be no choice but to return to allowing players to enter the NBA straight out of high school. It has worked out very well in the past for players like Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, and countless others, and it should at least be an option in the modern NBA.

Bazley’s actions have already spurred some movement from the NBA. After thinking that Bazley was skipping college, the NBA created a new program, known as “Select Contracts.” These contracts are complex, but essentially allow “elite” prospects to be given developmental opportunities and be paid $125,000 for the five-month season. These contracts have been met with both interest and scrutiny, and need to be unpacked completely in order to gauge their merit.

[We will continue to track this story as more information is released on these contracts, as well as early insights into players who may be contemplating them, so stay tuned for that!]

This issue of whether the NCAA and NBA are forcing individuals to provide free labor, or covering its bases on the health risks of allowing high school players to go straight to the Association is no easy task and will continue to be debated. However, something needs to be done sooner rather than later, because both entities run the risk of missing out on talented players like Darius Bazley for a year, or possibly even longer. As an NBA fan, I think I speak for the rest of us when I say that is the worst-case scenario, and the time for action is now.

-William Hython

Photo Credit: Gregory Payan (Associated Press)

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