A push for NBA change

A push for NBA change
by Steve Kerr, Yahoo Sports
December 7, 2004

Steve Kerr
Yahoo Sports
The current NHL lockout is a grim reminder to basketball fans that the NBA faces a possible work stoppage of its own next summer when the collective bargaining agreement expires.

While the league and the players' union will undoubtedly focus on various contentious financial issues, they would be wise to collaborate on a key measure that would help the overall product that the NBA puts on the floor.

Each side must focus on the importance of player development. The NBA has gotten younger and younger, and with teen-agers coming straight out of high school into the league, many players just aren't skilled or experienced enough to make much of an impact.

For every LeBron James, there are five Ndudi Ebis, Dorell Wrights and J.R. Smiths – talented young athletes who need wisdom and experience but are stashed away quietly on the end of benches around the league.

The NBA has mentioned the idea of using the National Basketball Development League as a farm system for its teams, but that will not happen unless the players' union agrees to it. Both sides need to work this idea into the next collective bargaining agreement so that young players who enter the league can have a place to play and grow.

If the NBDL could be expanded to 15 teams, then each franchise could serve as a pseudo farm club for two NBA teams. For example, the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers could each send a player or two from their rosters to play for the same "shared" NBDL team. Like baseball, each team would have the option to "call up" a player if they felt he was ready or if the team was beset by injuries.

The players who are placed on these NBDL teams would still receive NBA salaries and benefits, but they would be playing 40 minutes a night in an NBA-style setting and gaining valuable experience to raise their games. Right now, those same players are trying to improve by playing 2-on-2 with the other substitutes after practice and before games.

The NBA season is long and arduous, so most practices are short and relatively easy physically. Young players who aren't in the rotation don't get much opportunity for growth, and they have to work out alone or with an assistant coach. It is not an effective formula.

Ideally, I'd love to see an age limit added to the equation – anyone under the age of 20 would be barred from playing in the NBA. This idea will be tougher to sell to the union, but I believe it would help the overall product of the league.

Playing in the NBA is hard work. Yes, it's high-paying and glamorous, but young players find out right away that it is not easy. There are physical and emotional demands and an extremely high level of stress that come with the pressures of trying to perform well in a high-profile, competitive business.

My feeling is that the vast majority of high school athletes aren't ready for what they face in the NBA. With an age limit in place, more young players would go to college for at least a year or two, and they would benefit enormously from not only the extended playing time but also from the life experience. And if they chose not to attend college, these players would have the option of playing in the NBDL.

Yes, Kobe Bryant quickly became a star in the NBA, and he was physically ready to play right away. But if he had spent a year or two with Mike Krzyzewski at Duke, perhaps he would have had an easier transition into the league. That could have translated into better relationships with teammates and better decision making on his part. It's a theory, yes. But it's one that I believe is accurate.

The union has resisted an age limit so far, believing that it would shorten the length of a player's career and lessen his potential earning years. But of course, an age limit might add a few years to veteran players' careers. More importantly, the league would have a more mature, experienced roster of players.

Ultimately, the most important issue for both the NBA and the players' union is the product the league is selling. The better the game, the more fans will watch. More fans mean better TV ratings and more ticket sales, which means more revenue for both sides to divvy up.

Improving the quality of the game may not be the first item on the agenda when the two sides meet in negotiating sessions. But it should be.

Steve Kerr is Yahoo! Sports' NBA analyst. Send Steve a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.

Updated on Tuesday, Dec 7, 2004 3:07 pm, EST

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