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NBA commissioner Adam Silver: 'I'm rethinking our position' on NBA age minimum

Silver initially pushed for a two-year rule in college and pushing the age limit to 20, but he’s since changed course.

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NBA commissioner Adam Silver joined FS1’s The Herd with Colin Cowherd on Wednesday where he said said he’s “rethinking” the league’s position on raising the age minimum from 19 years old to 20.

Raising the age limit again had been the league’s stance for some time, while the NBA Players Association has argued for dropping the age minimum back down to 18 years old.

Ultimately, the two sides tabled the issue for later as they hashed out the collective bargaining agreement midseason. Now, they’re working again on finding the right solution for every party involved.

“It’s [an issue] that I think we need to be more thoughtful on and not just be in an adversarial position, sort of under the bright lights of collective bargaining,” Silver said. “I think the top college coaches and (athletic directors) should be at the table. Obviously our union, we can’t move the age without an agreement with our union. I think it’s something that we’ve gotta step back [and ask] ‘What’s in the best interest of basketball?’”

It wasn’t too long ago Silver was a proponent of a two-year rule. Just as recently as 2014, he didn’t understand the player opposition, according to USA Today’s Sam Amick, citing that there wouldn’t be financial savings by moving the age limit up and forcing players to stay for their sophomore years in college. Silver also felt an additional year of college would help players’ maturity, developing into leaders as upperclassmen before jumping to the NBA.

But the commish has changed course recently, and seems to be more eye-level with the labor union’s mindset.

How did we get here?

Basketball players used to be able to declare for the NBA draft straight out of high school. Some of the greatest players of all time, including LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, and Moses Malone, came straight out of 12th grade.

But as part of the 2005 collective bargaining agreement, under then-commissioner David Stern, the labor union and the league agreed that players had to be at least 19 years old and one year removed from high school to enter the NBA. (This is why Thon Maker’s eligibility for the 2016 NBA draft was in question.)

In the draft class after former commissioner Stern raised the bar from 18 to 19 in 2006, only two players were drafted following just one year in college: Tyrus Thomas and Shawne Williams. Last season, 14 freshmen were drafted. That number is expected to balloon again, with 20 one-and-done players projected to be selected in the 2017 NBA draft.

But, many players don’t complete an entire year of school before declaring for the draft.

Silver referred to those guys as “half-and-done,” wrapping up their school year when the college basketball season ends — either at some point during the NCAA tournament or, in some cases, before March Madness altogether. With the millions of dollars available for top draft picks, some college basketball players put more value on their draft stock than winning basketball games.

That kind of half focus on their craft, Silver felt, can hamper a player’s growth.

“Selfishly while I love college basketball and I’m a huge fan of college basketball, I worry about potential stunted development in the most important years of these players’ career,” he said. “The coaches at college don’t have the same control they used to because these guys know they’re out of there.

“So all of a sudden now they realize ... their biggest concern unfortunately becomes not whether they win the NCAA tournament, but whether they drop in the NBA draft. So then they have to be worried about how their skills are showcased, how many minutes they get, of course whether they get injured. So, it’s not a great dynamic.”

The change of direction and rhetoric by Silver shows just how far the NBA has come.

The NBA Players Union fought against initially raising the age limit for a multitude of reasons. A year is a long time. A player can get injured, and his career can be over in the blink of an eye. A player can go back home for a summer to face the the tough socioeconomic conditions basketball served as an escape from.

You never know what can happen.

With the amount of money being thrown around as a result of the new television broadcasting deals, players have put a premium on securing the bag as early as possible. If you could secure a $153 million contract without becoming an All-Star, you’d leave college as quickly as possible, too.

But at the same time, the NBA’s line of thought mirrors that of the players’. Guys are attending college solely to broadcast their playing abilities and move up on the draft board. The new age minimum had been instituted, but it wasn’t serving its purpose.

Now, the players and owners seem to be headed toward coming together once more to find a solution amicable for each side. They did this during the regular season, fighting off a lockout in one of the least turbulent CBA negotiations in NBA history.

They’ll have to do it again, but with Silver and Roberts at the helm, the league will continue its upward trend.