Well, we all saw this one coming.
The NBA have struck a potentially critical blow to the NBL's recently rolled out Next Stars program by creating their own version, currently known as the professional path initiative, set to roll out during the 2019 off-season.
According to ESPN's Jonathon Givony, the NBA is going to offer a legitimate alternative to college basketball for potential one-and-done athletes. The program would reportedly sign players to 'Select Contracts', that would offer a wage of US$125,000. The only stipulation for eligibility is the players be 18 years old but not eligible to be drafted until the following year.
On top of that monetary figure, the most attractive part of the equation would be the athlete's ability to hire an agent and seek endorsement deals that would otherwise be in violation of NCAA rules. For a top NBA prospect, this could spike potential earnings by hundreds of thousands.
“Select Contracts are an answer to the basketball community’s call for additional development options for elite players before they are eligible for the NBA,” said NBA G League President Malcolm Turner in a press release. “The supporting infrastructure surrounding these newly-created Select Contracts is designed to provide a rich offering of basketball and life skills developmental tools for top young players to grow along their professional paths from high school to the pros.”
On announcing the Next Stars program back in March, Larry Kestelman had this to say.
“While they are in the NBL we will work with the players to help them develop an acute understanding of the life of a professional basketballer on and off the court and ensure they are equipped to make the transition to their professional careers," Kestelman said.
There are some setbacks that come with heading straight to the pros and skipping college. Potential candidates would forgo the opportunity to play high level college basketball on the national scene and instead become a role player among a squad that will likely not be focused around them.
Terrance Ferguson, now of the Oklahoma City Thunder chose to play in the NBL over college ball, and while he eventually became a first-round draft pick, he was relegated to becoming the definition of a role player for the Adelaide 36ers.
Ferguson, who would have been a star in college, averaged just 4.6 points and 15.2 minutes per game, while coming off the bench in 17 of Adelaide's 30 contests. For teenagers moving straight into professional ranks, that's the reality, and will certainly be a sticking point for a large number of prospects.
With NCAA corruption scandals running rife and the pressure to pay student athletes stronger than ever, Adam Silver and the NBA have been openly discussing abolishing the one-and-done rule. The recently revamped G League, in which the NBA hopes will soon provide a feeder club for each franchise, is central to these discussions.
According to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, the NBA’s plan involves a serious of focus points: fostering direct relationships with talented high school basketballers, providing skill development, increased remuneration and another potential pathway to the NBA.
“We’ve talked a lot about youth development in terms of whether we should be getting involved in some of these young players even earlier than when they come into college,” Silver said. “And from a league standpoint, on one hand, we think we have a better draft when we’ve had an opportunity to see these young players play an elite level before they come into the NBA. On the other hand, I think the question for the league is, in terms of their ultimate success, are we better off intersecting with them a little bit younger?”
That story was from March 5, just three days after the NBL announced their bold attack on young US talent.
According to Adrian Wojnarowski, the NBA has informed teams that no changes to the one-and-done rule will take place before 2022, which further cements the importance of the professional path initiative kicking off for the 2019/20 season.
In the months leading up to the 2019/20 season, the NBA G League will have a dedicated program manager, and also establish a group responsible for identifying eligible elite players who may be offered Select Contracts. The same group will also be in charge of rolling out the professional path initiative.
While further discussions about eligibility rules take place, this will allow the NBA to bring elite prospects into their system earlier, and importantly, keep them in the US.
At the time, it felt like the Next Stars program was going to force the hand of the NBA. While this new venture was in all likelihood in the works either way, one now has to question what it means for Kestelman's grand plan.
Realistically, the NBL is not going to attract the very top echelon of the year's draft class to Australia. The scales will likely stay delicately poised, with Aussie hoops remaining an attractive alternative for fringe NBA prospects. For that reason, it's certainly possible that the Next Stars program remains legitimate, and one that still could prove fruitful.
Contingent to those hopes may be the success of Brian Bowen, who is the lone Next Star in the NBL this season. If Bowen forges his path to an NBA franchise via the Kings, it will provide a significant shot in the arm for the Next Stars right as the NBA's professional path initiative is looking to get off the ground.
Today's announcement is a certainly a blow to the NBL, but it might not necessarily be a fatal one. With further time and a few minor tweaks, Next Stars remains with its head above water. For now.
Over to you Larry, your move is next.