NBA: Changing draft eligibility age to 18 the right call

Brooklyn Nets Shawn Livingston. Mandatory copyright notice: Copyright NBAE 2014 (Photo by Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images)
Brooklyn Nets Shawn Livingston. Mandatory copyright notice: Copyright NBAE 2014 (Photo by Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images) /

According to a report, the NBA submitted an official proposal to the National Basketball Players Association to lower the age for draft eligibility to 18. It’s about time.

Drafting players right out of high school was all but unheard of in the NBA until the mid-1970s and after two players were chosen in 1975, the tap shut off until 1995. It remained until 2006, when the league and its players union negotiated a new minimum-age standard for the draft.

That could be changing. According to Jeff Ziligitt of USA Today, the NBA has submitted a formal proposal to the National Basketball Players Association that would lower the age limit back to 18 from 19.

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It’s time.

Including the unique case of Reggie Harding, who was selected by the Detroit Pistons in 1962 after graduating from a Detroit high school, there were 42 players selected directly out of high school, with 39 of those coming in that 1995-2005 window.

The Brooklyn Nets, then known as the New Jersey Nets, were one of just a handful of teams not to select a preps-to-pros player.

But nine such players have at one time or another been members of the Nets, most recently Shaun Livingston and Andray Blatche. Both of the 1975 picks — Darryl Dawkins and Bill Willoughby — played for New Jersey.

So too did DeShawn Stevenson, DeSagana Diop, Travis Outlaw and Gerald Green, while Kevin Garnett — one of the greatest preps-to-pros success stories — suited up for Brooklyn.

Additionally, Dwight Howard was a Net for a day or two last summer.

There have been some major successes in the process — Garnett, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James have taken their places as NBA legends. But there were also some big misses, and the National Basketball Players Association agreed to the age restriction that took effect in 2006.

It’s interesting to note that the last player drafted directly from high school in 2005, 56th overall pick Amir Johnson from Westchester High School in Los Angeles, is still alive and kicking in the NBA as a reserve for the Philadelphia 76ers.

Before anyone leaps to conclusions, this opinion that it’s overdue for the age limit to be dropped has nothing to do with the incident on Wednesday involving Duke University freshman Zion Williamson, who sprained his knee in a game against North Carolina.

Williamson is expected to be the No. 1 overall pick in June’s edition of the NBA Draft, if he declares himself eligible after playing his obligatory one year outside of the NBA before being eligible to do so.

And he’s also a terrible argument against the NBA age limit, which was crudely dubbed the “one-and-done” rule by someone in the media whose belief in their cleverness far exceeded their actual level.

As Joseph Nardone points out in a column at CBB Today, Williamson wanted to go college and said he would have done so with or without the age limit.

Whether that’s a deep level of acceptance of his situation or a real desire to experience college life is anyone’s guess, but the fact remains — he’s the wrong hill upon which to fight the battle.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has said the age limit isn’t helping the game, either at the NBA or collegiate level.

Getting back to the Williamson incident Wednesday for a moment, because it is an example of the many things wrong with the collegiate game at the upper echelon of Division I.

Williamson was hurt when his left shoe simply exploded when he attempted to cut sharply. He was not wearing a Nike shoe because of his fondness for them.

Rather, it is because the Swoosh pays Duke University and legendary coach Mike Krzyzewski embarrassingly large stacks of cash to outfit Duke players in the brand.

A look at Krzyzewski’s career shows how far the pendulum has swung in collegiate basketball at its elite level.

He’s been head coach at Duke since 1980 and from the time he arrived through the 1997-98 season, not a single player voluntarily left the program to enter the NBA Draft.

Elton Brand, Corey Maggette and William Avery in 1999 were the first underclassmen from Duke to declare themselves eligible for the NBA Draft while they still had remaining collegiate eligibility.

Now Krzyzewski, along with Kentucky coach John Calipari, is the poster boy for players coming to a program for a year before passing “Go” and collecting an NBA contract.

One problem with the players coming directly from high school in the 1990s and early 21st century was one of readiness … as in, those players in the majority of cases simply weren’t ready to contribute at the NBA level.

Since the 2005-06 season, however, roster sizes in the NBA were fixed at 15 players and at the same time, the old “injured list” designation was abolished. Players could instead, on a game-by-game basis, declare three players inactive.

That is part of the reason why the time is right for the age limit to be abolished.

The other is the growth of the NBA G League.

There are now just three teams in the NBA that don’t have their own G League affiliate and one of those, the New Orleans Pelicans, is launching an affiliate in Birmingham, Ala., next season.

That will leave only the Denver Nuggets and Portland Trail Blazers without an affiliated franchise in the developmental league.

Rather than having to develop not-quite-ready-for-prime-time players in practices, teams now have the very viable option of sending those players to get actual game minutes with a G League affiliate.

The Brooklyn Nets have been doing this most of the season with their first-round pick in 2018, Bosnian guard Dzanan Musa. He’s played more games with the Long Island Nets than he has with Brooklyn, and he’s doing so:

  • In a system identical to what is run by the parent club in Brooklyn.
  • Using terminology that is identical to what is run by the parent club in Brooklyn.
  • Under the watchful eye of assistant general manager Trajan Langdon, who is the GM of the Long Island club in addition to his duties as an assistant to GM Sean Marks in Brooklyn.

So the players who opt into the NBA Draft after getting their high school diplomas have the two-fold advantage of (a) being able to get paid — above the table rather than under it — right away and (b) have a place to play competitive minutes and learn the pro game outside the spotlight of the NBA.

The only sticking point in the informal discussions between the NBA and the union has been the league’s desire to require agents to provide medical reports on draft-eligible players and to make attendance at and some participation in the draft combine mandatory.

Some agents have voiced opposition to this, but it is likely the NBA and NBPA will come to an agreement to end the age limit and could do so in time for the 2022 NBA Draft by agreeing to amend the current collective bargaining agreement, which doesn’t expire until July 1, 2024.

The only people who seem to want to push back on this are either people directly involved with college basketball’s money-printing operation that benefits everyone but the players or fans who closely follow programs who benefit from the shamateur system currently in place.

With a true minor league now in place to give teams a place to let their teenage players learn and develop, there’s just no reason to keep a bad rule in place any longer.

Next. 7 Hall of Famers many forget were Nets. dark

Let’s put the “one-and-done” name and concept out of its misery already.