Select Contracts: The NBA’s Newest Project has Many Asking “Why?”

The NBA’s New System of Select Contracts Brings about More Questions than Answers for “Elite” Players.

A few weeks back, in an article discussing the league’s one-year-removed rule, we briefly touched on the NBA’s introduction of Select Contracts. Introduced unexpectedly as a surprise to many, these contracts have been advertised as a “comprehensive professional path,” and will be available as soon as the 2019-2020 season. In its simplest description, these contracts are in place for elite prospects that, due to the NBA’s requirement of a player being one-year removed from high school in order to enter the NBA draft, are eligible to play in the NBA G-League but not yet eligible for the actual NBA. These contracts were effectively a response to the actions of Darius Bazley, the 6’9 forward from Cincinnati who had announced in 2018 that he was intending on skipping college and going straight to the NBA’s developmental league. Bazley has since decided to skip the G-League as well, but these contracts were implemented under the assumption that a 5-star recruit would be skipping college basketball and entering the G-League for the first time in the history of the league. The NBA saw this as their opportunity to put a plan in place for the future, in case this move became a trend for high school players down the road.

As discussed, the contracts are for elite players who are at least 18 years old and will ultimately pay $125,000 for the five-month G-League season. In addition, signing one of these contracts will provide the player with “robust programmatic opportunities for development,” prospects that are often found to be lacking for college athletes.

Among other solutions, these contracts have also been hailed as an answer to the “one-and-done” issue that so many fans have with college basketball. After the NBA included a rule in the 2005 CBA that prevented high school seniors from going straight to the NBA, these players expectedly began going to college for just one season, and then immediately jumped ship for the NBA. In addition to the clear disconnect that this would create between fans of universities and players that would not be around for any substantial amount of time, this also helped to create the extreme financial crimes that have dominated the headlines of college basketball lately. Recent FBI investigations in the last few years have uncovered illegal exchanges of money between several players and high-profile universities, such as the case between N.C State and Dennis Smith Jr. Adidas, the colossal athletic apparel company was also at the center of the FBI investigation, as it was found to have provided money to pay college coaches and the families of top-flight basketball recruits in exchange for these athletes attending universities that were sponsored by Adidas. The sentiment has become that these “one-and-done” college players are not attending school for educational purposes, but rather because the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement has effectively forced them to, and this desire for monetary gain while still in school is just further proof of that. With these issues in mind, the NBA felt that these Select Contracts would be the perfect answer to the problem; let elite high school players compete against professionals, while also paying them money that they would never see in college basketball, and give them a head-start on an NBA career.

However, these contracts may have brought about more questions than answers thus far. While the ideas being fostered by the National Basketball Association all sound great, there has not been much discussion about the issues that these contracts may bring about as well; issues that seem to jump right out to even an average NBA fan if given any considerable amount of thought. First, although a player may play for a G-League team with one of these Select Contracts, that does not mean that teams owns the players rights in any way. Regardless of how the 5-month season goes, the athlete will still have to go through the draft process the following season once they become eligible. So, the question then becomes whether or not these G-League organizations will truly invest the most time and resources possible to a player that more likely than not will not be a part of their team longer than the initial 5-month season. This creates a disconnect between the player and the top-notch treatment that is promised to these athletes when they are high school seniors deciding to forego college for the G-League.

Another concern of the Select Contract system would be the idea of seventeen and eighteen-year old boys playing against grown men, and then having their eventual draft stock determined by this. Obviously, one of the main draws of this setup is for these athletes to be able to play against better competition than they would in college, to put them ahead of the curve when it comes time to play in the NBA. However, since these players will still have to eventually go through the draft process, scouts will have to use their performance against grown veterans in the G-League as a barometer for where they should be drafted. Most elite prospects would go to college for a year and probably have a lot of their flaws masked against lesser competition, which would lead them to be drafted high and receive more guaranteed money, even if they do not ultimately pan out in the NBA. However, these players on Select Contracts will not have this luxury and could ultimately see their stock fall much lower than it would have if they would have just played college basketball for a year, with some players possibly not even being drafted if scouts believe that they have not proven they can play in the NBA after the 5-month G-League season. This is a scary prospect for many players who would most likely dominate if they were to go to the NCAA for a season.

Lastly, there is the notion that the age requirement is expected to change by the 2022 season, when the next CBA is bargained for. If this is the case, the Select Contract will no longer serve much of a purpose, because players could go straight from high school to the NBA anyways. In that instance, the Select Contract will most likely be abandoned completely, or will be so obsolete that it will be quickly forgotten about. Based on this, as currently constructed. these contracts seem to have only two or three years of relevance, and therefore it does not seem to be in the best interest of the NBA to pump resources into research and perfection of the system.

Select Contracts are a very interesting approach by the NBA, but as shown, seem to be somewhat of a “half-baked” scheme. Although the higher paycheck does entice high school seniors to forego the NCAA and join the G-League, that is essentially the extent of the guarantees for the athlete. The whole arrangement seems to bring about numerous questions that nobody seems to have found answers for yet, and that is a major issue when the contracts themselves only serve a purpose for a few more seasons anyways. The NBA can go all in and perfect the system immediately, or it can realize that the positives do not outweigh the negatives enough to implement the plan for such a short period of time. I would strongly suggest that it does the latter.

-Will Hython

Photo Credit: Adam Johnson; 2w10d

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