Sydney Kings' Next Star signing highlights unexpected tweak to NBL's Next Stars program

The Sydney Kings announced their own Next Star signing this morning, with Marcos Louzada Silva (Didi Louzada), who was selected 35th in the recent 2019 NBA draft by the New Orleans Pelicans.

The Brazilian guard will be playing in the NBA Summer League games, but will join the NBL after. ESPN's Jonathan Givony confirmed that the Next Star will receive English tutoring and will also have an NBA out clause, that allows him to rejoin the Pelicans when deemed ready.

At the same time, a rule change was announced in the same release.

"A recent change to the guidelines of the program permits players drafted in the immediately prior draft to be contracted by the NBL as a Next Star."

Liam Santamaria confirmed this change was included as part of the latest Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).

Update: Olgun Uluc got clarity from the NBL on the situation.

It does open things up for the NBL's Next Stars program, making it expand from its original branding as an alternative pathway to the NBA, to also being a draft-and-stash option for the NBA. The program comes back into direct competition with Europe, and obviously the G League's two-way deals as well.

It's a strong strategic move from the league that allows the Next Stars program to ensure its relevancy if (or when) the NBA scraps its one and done rule, but it also comes with repercussions. There's no question it now opens up talent from the NBA to flow into the league. But the Next Stars program now also functions as an import slot, that doesn't count as an import.

The Pick and Roll interviewed NBL CEO Jeremy Loeliger on Wednesday, which included the Next Stars program. The choice of words seemed to make it clear, that it would stay focused on athletes heading into the NBA draft.

"But in reality, we only have room for, at the moment nine Next Stars," Loeliger explained.

"Each team can only have one Next Star player, and the Next Star program is not about volume, it's about taking those individuals who we think need or would benefit from this pretty unique opportunity to come and answer some of the questions that need to be answered ahead of them going into the NBA draft."

The question on how the NBL's Next Stars program would evolve in response to the possible return of NBA's prep to pro in 2022 was brought up. It makes absolute sense to think that sensitive discussions would be kept in strictest confidence until they are rolled out. But it's interesting to note that there was absolutely no mention of the rule change during the chat --despite the fact that the rule change had already been applied in the CBA-- only that the situation could be revisited if needed in a couple of years.

"There are a number of responses to that. The first is that just because they lower the age, doesn't mean that guys who are younger are going to be any more prepared to take than on the NBA than they were, if the age is what it is now.

"It takes a pretty special athlete to go from high school straight to the NBA. We've seen guys do it successfully --LeBron James comes to mind as a pretty successful guy who transitioned from high school to the NBA-- but he's a pretty special athlete.

"Just because it's a possibility doesn't mean that every player is going to do it, that every player is going to be ready to do it, or indeed that every GM at every NBA club is going to invest in what is inherently a riskier proposition. The old adage that I come back to, is that a draft pick is a very valuable thing to waste.

"The truth is that you don't often know of a 17 year old or an 18 year old whether or not they're going to successfully translate from being good high school basketballers, to excellent professional basketballers. They're going through a very significant of growth, both in terms of physical growth, in terms of basketball IQ, in terms of personal development. There's a lot happening in the life of a 17 year old high school student that perhaps hasn't fully played out yet."

Loeliger correctly identified the transition challenges involved and that not every high schooler would be ready (we've seen this in the earlier generation of NBA prep to pro athletes). It's also logical to assume that the pre-draft talent pool would allow the NBL to grow in the immediate future, and that infrastructure would need to be built for those high schoolers, to allow them to ease into the professional NBA grind, where training time isn't always optimal. In short, there's time.

"So I think, even if they lower the age, there's still plenty of talent to go around, who won't necessarily be ready to go straight from high school to the NBA, that the Next Stars program can still stand on its own two feet as a very viable pathway for talent to the NBA draft.

"The second point worth making is, if teams do go down the route of drafting 17, 18 year olds, and acknowledging that a lot of those players won't necessarily be ready to take the on the very best players in the world.

"What do you do with them all? There's been talk of NBA teams establishing academies. There's been talk of signing those players to two-way contracts. That ecosystem will take quite a while to develop. While it may be a relatively short time before the NBA announces the change to the rule, that doesn't mean the ecosystem will be there in order to provide for the implementation of the rule immediately.

"So I still think there's a bit of water that can flow under the bridge, before we see what the environment looks like 2-3 years from now and we will adapt and adjust accordingly."

It sounds like the timeline got sped up, significantly. Again, the change makes sense from a long-term perspective. Perhaps opportunity struck, and the NBL chose to pivot quicker than originally planned, to become part of the ecosystem Loeliger mentioned.