Jan. 22nd, Youth movement


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Oct 3, 2002
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Some problems with getting this, but hopefully have it figured out.
David Stern already has saved the NBA once. Can he do it again?
In the 1980s, Stern turned a struggling league with a small fan base, tape-delayed Finals and serious image problem into one of great success stories of the past two decades.
Stern had help, of course, from guys named Magic, Bird and MJ. Since Michael Jordan & Co. retired, though, Stern has been on his own, and the league has experienced a small swoon. Attendance is down, complaints about the quality of the game are up. The league has been inundated with unknown, unprepared teenagers looking for a quick buck. Scoring is down. Salaries, despite a restrictive cap, are up. You have to be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company just to afford four tickets in the lower bowl.
As Stern begins his third decade as NBA commish, the folks he works for -- the GMs and owners of the 29 NBA teams -- have their own to-do list of things they want Stern to address.
At issue? The product the NBA puts on the floor. Arenas have never been more sophisticated. Retro jerseys have never been cooler. The league, thanks to ESPN, TNT, ABC and the league's own NBA TV, has never been more accessible. The product has never been better marketed. But what about the game itself? Does it live up to the hype?
The current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) expires June 30, 2005. The last time the CBA expired, it took a nasty lockout to get the sides to agree on a number of restrictive rules aimed at reining in the league's out-of-control spending. Neither the owners nor the players are completely happy with the result. Can Stern convince the Players Association to tweak the CBA enough to make the actual game more enjoyable?
Insider talked to several NBA GMs to get their take on what issues should be at the top of Stern's agenda this year. Not surprisingly, curbing the flood of young teenagers into the league is at the forefront of everyone's mind.
Start checking IDs

The NBA doesn't seem quite as "Fan-tastic" as it did a few years ago. Can Stern reverse the trend?
The problem, to everyone, seems very clear. "We're getting too young," one GM told Insider. "And it's hurting the quality of play on the floor. There was a time when teams focused solely on winning a championship. ... Our time is not equally divided developing talent anymore. That directly affects the product on the floor, and it's got to change."
Says another GM: "The flood of teenagers into the league is hurting the college game and the NBA game. We had a great farm system in college and Europe, and we're losing it quickly. I'm not sure we can go back, but something has to be done."
Wait a minute. Isn't LeBron James, a kid who just turned 19, turning the league upside down right now?
"LeBron is a one-in-a-million type player," another GM said. "He hurts our ability to curb the flood of teenage immigrants into the league. Now everyone says, 'If he can do it, why can't I?' The answer is that he can do things that no else can. He's not like any other teenager I've ever seen."
While GMs agree on the problem, the solution is much murkier.
Stern has been on record for the past several years favoring a minimum age of 20 years to play in the league. Most GMs aren't in favor of a hard-and-fast age limit, and many believe it wouldn't stand up to a legal challenge. Instead, the GMs Insider spoke with want the league to set up system that allows teams to develop young talent. Several years ago, Stern began the NBDL, an NBA-owned minor league system that was supposed to develop young talent not quite ready for the NBA, but the GMs Insider talked to all called it "irrelevant" to their current predicament.
GMs also want to firm up the rookie wage scale rules. Stern fought hard for a rookie scale in the last CBA, arguing it would discourage kids from leaving school early for the NBA. In many ways, the solution backfired. Young players felt the need to declare for the draft sooner so they could start the clock ticking on their rookie contract sooner and, ultimately, qualify for free agency and its potential big payday sooner. GMs feel it's time to close the loopholes there, as well.
Develop a real minor league system
Every GM polled was in favor of some system that allows teams to send young players to a farm team to gain experience. While most agreed that a 29-team minor league system modeled after Major League Baseball wasn't financially feasible, a reworking of the NBDL could help solve the problem. Currently, players under NBA contract are not allowed to play in the NBDL. Many GMs support a system in which each NBDL team serves as a farm team for four NBA teams.

Each NBA team would send three young players to the NBDL team, along with an assistant coach to monitor the players' development.

If the player was a first-round pick, he'd continue to be paid at the rookie wage scale. If the player was a second-round pick or free agent, he would have a split contract that paid him different amounts depending on whether he was in the NBA or NBDL.

Players with more than three years' experience under the NBA umbrella couldn't be assigned to the NBDL but could accept such an assignment at their choosing.

Teams retain the rights to all of their players and could recall them at any time.

No. 2 overall pick Darko Milicic can't get off the bench in Detroit. Is practice enough?
How would that make a difference? "Can you imagine how much quicker a player like Darko Milicic, Jonathan Bender, Kwame Brown or DeSagna Diop would have developed given playing time?" one GM asked. "It's no big deal when a college senior sits for a season; he's already had four years of big-time basketball under his belt. But it kills a kid who came straight from high school. We can teach, practice and spell it out to kids all we want, but what they really need is experience. Too many kids sit and watch and never play. It really retards their development."
Another GM says it also would help coaches and GMs get a better feel for their second-round picks. "We have guys sitting on the bench that we just don't know about. We're winning, so they can't really play. When it comes time to pay them, no one's sure what we've really got. A minor league would go a long way toward helping us get a better feel."
While GMs said they expected some objection from the Players' Association on such a proposal, most were confident the NBPA would go along, as long as the players' pay wasn't affected and veterans weren't forced to participate.
Restructure the rookie contract scale
GMs think the league can do a better job of encouraging young players to stay in school or with their international teams. Currently, first-round picks get a three-year, guaranteed contract with a fourth year at the team's option. That means first-round picks can't cash in on a big payday until after their fourth year in the league.
GMs would like to see the number of years a player plays under the rookie wage scale tied to their experience in college or overseas. Players who come to the NBA directly from high school would be under the rookie wage scale for six years. College freshmen would be under it for five years, sophomores for four and juniors for three. Players who play four years of college ball would be locked in for only two years before being eligible to negotiate a market-level deal. International players would be governed by something similar, likely based on age.
Such a change takes away any penalty a player suffers from staying in school. For the kids who decide to forgo college anyway, the rule gives NBA teams more time to develop and evaluate them before having to commit millions of dollars long-term.
Stern can expect a fight from the Players' Association over such a move, but all the GMs Insider polled felt such a rule was crucial to stemming the tide of teenagers infesting the league.
Take some of the guarantees out of contracts
Every GM Insider talked to is praying Stern addresses the length of guaranteed contracts a player is allowed to receive. Currently, free agents are allowed to sign six- or seven-year guaranteed contracts (depending on whether they are signing with a new team or re-signing with their old team). That's an awfully long time for a team to commit to anyone.

I'm not sure where the seven-year thing came from. I think it's pretty ridiculous. In other sports like the NFL, contracts aren't guaranteed, period. I don't think we'd ever get to that point in the NBA, but six and seven years is too long. Situations change. Injuries happen. The economy fluctuates. ”


"I'm not sure where the seven-year thing came from," one GM said. "I think it's pretty ridiculous. In other sports like the NFL, contracts aren't guaranteed, period. I don't think we'd ever get to that point in the NBA, but six and seven years is too long. Situations change. Injuries happen. The economy fluctuates. Meanwhile these contracts are going up at a rate that is triple that of inflation each year. It doesn't make any economic sense. It's an Adam Smith world. Our hands are forced right now. I just wish the long-term ramifications weren't as long."
Expect this issue to be one of the central bargaining points in the new CBA. GMs are pushing for a maximum contract length of three to four years. While that minimizes the risk for teams if a player were to get injured or flop, shorter contracts can also work out for the benefit of a player.
"If a guy signs a contract for a low amount and then blows up, he's stuck," one NBA agent said. "The move allows them [players] to revisit their contract situation earlier. In the end, I'm not sure who wins here. The owners will save some money on guys who will flop. But they'll also have to pay out a lot more cash to guys who play well. My guess is that there's no net increase on either side. With that said, I can tell you right now that players like the security."
GMs know that to get a change of this magnitude, the teams will have to give up something in the bargaining process. But management believes the flexibility it would gain is priceless.



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