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The NBA wants to strengthen its relationship with high school players

The league is inching closer toward eliminating the one-and-done rule

NBA All-Star Game 2018 - Commissioner Adam Silver Press Conference Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

In the aftermath of the FBI’s sweeping investigation that has identified star NCAA basketball players — both past and present — who have taken under-the-table money in exchange for committing to programs, the NBA is looking to strengthen its relationship with the top high school basketball players in the country.

That process would begin with repealing the 19-year-old age limit that ex-NBA commissioner David Stern instituted in 2005. But according to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, current commissioner Adam Silver has held meetings with the National Basketball Player’s Association and is focused on positioning the league into the two periods which they are absent from young prospects careers:

  • During their high school career
  • During the time between high school graduation and the moment they feel they are ready to play in the NBA, both physically and emotionally

How did we get here?

Former president Barack Obama made an appearance at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in late February, and in an off-the-record portion of his speech that was leaked and published by Reason, Obama said he would revisit the relationship between high school athletes and the NBA if he was commissioner for a day.

“This is on my mind, just because of the morning’s headlines and it’s not solely the NBA -- the need to create a well-structured D-league, so that the NCAA is not serving as a farm system for the NBA with a bunch of kids who are unpaid but are under enormous financial pressure,” Obama said, referencing the ongoing federal NCAA hoops scandal.

“That’s just not a sustainable way of doing business. And then when everybody acts shocked that some kid from extraordinarily poor circumstances who’s got potentially 5, 10, 15 million dollars waiting for him is going to be circled by everybody in a context in which people are making billions of dollars, it’s not good.

His comments came after several college basketball head coaches and programs, notably Arizona and head coach Sean Miller, were named in an FBI investigation that uncovered illegal payments from universities to basketball recruits.

Here are a few concepts the NBA has toyed with, according to Windhorst’s report:

Doing away with the age limit

Silver has met with the NBPA about adjusting the “one-and-done” age-limit rule that would allow players to enter the NBA Draft from high school, rather than attend college for one season before going pro. But he is also expected to present a plan to the NBPA that would pitch the idea of starting relationships with the top teenage basketball players while they are still in high school. The goal is to present a path to the NBA that doesn’t include college or going overseas, but provides an opportunity to earn a salary from an NBA team while developing as a basketball talent in the G League.

The Australian National Basketball League has announced its Next Stars program that will pay young players about $78,000 to develop their game in Australia next season. That could be an attractive offer for high school graduates given the current G-League max salary is $26,000 a season and $75,000 for two-way G-League/NBA players. According to Windhorst, a revamped plan that competitively pays 18-year-olds and gives them NBA-level coaching could be launched. Silver, according to Windhorst, may accelerate his action on the matter.

Basketball academies shelved

According to Windhorst, league officials played around with and pitched teams the idea of creating NBA academies that would train dozens of the best high school players in the country. It wouldn’t be anything new for the league: They already run three such academies in China, one in India, one in Sengal and another that recently opened in Mexico City.

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban likened his ideal basketball development program to the way his soccer team, FC Dallas, runs its youth development operations. In a September 2017 report by The Ringer’s Jonathan Tjarks, FC Dallas had 120 players who play on different teams in age groups ranging from Under-12 to Under-19. Those players are the cream of the crop of youth competition and development that includes more than 1,500 high schoolers and 2,500 elementary and middle school students.

“I think [FC Dallas] is doing it right,” Cuban said in the story. “That is our future. We have to get AAU out of the mix.”

For the moment, though, academies aren’t going to happen. According to Windhorst, officials discussed the idea of academies with teams and stumbled over challenges and “possible unintended consequences” of establishing academies within the country.

Some other ideas?

The one-and-done rule has been a topic of conversation for awhile now, and back in October, our own Tom Ziller ran through five ways to fix the league’s problem. Those ways include:

  • Straight-up repealing the rule Stern implements over a decade ago
  • Repealing and replacing the one-and-done rule with something more progressive
  • Starting an NBA G League University (ooooooh)
  • The idea of the Two-Way Plus player
  • Implementing basketball academies like Cuban cited above

You can read Ziller’s breakdown of each of these ideas here.