Radical changes are occurring on the NBA’s prep-to-pro landscape, but there are still many questions and issues before anyone can declare victory over draft overhaul.
The NBA announced the G League will have “Special Contracts” available for top prep stars who wish to forego college that pay $125,000 per season. It’s not quite ending the so-called “one-and-done rule” that was implemented over 10 years ago, but the road has been paved for reform.
Around the NBA, executives are excited about the possibility of having those top players under their professional umbrella, giving them ample time to evaluate the prospects before the next year’s draft.
And at the very least, it can provide a path for those who’d rather play in the states than go overseas for a year to play professionally, as was the case with Brandon Jennings and Emmanuel Mudiay.
“Everybody wants to stay at home. That’s natural instinct,” National Basketball Players Association executive director Michele Roberts told Yahoo Sports. “Going overseas is lonely. The G League, at least historically, has been a more profitable option … most of the time, guys are making more money, having access to family and friends.”
Roberts wasn’t in charge when the one-and-done rule was put in place, but it seems as though she’s optimistic about changing things. Whether the G League option is a step in that direction remains to be seen as both the NBA and NBPA are negotiating the one-and-done rule.
“I don’t know how many slots we’re talking about [for elite G League players with special contracts], I don’t know what additional conditions are attached to it,” Roberts said. “This is not something we’ve [the NBPA] negotiated. [The prospects] are not members of the union. I have more questions about that contract. The six figures will get some guys’ attention.”
Roberts believes, though, even the promise of the money may not be enough to sway the best players to go that route.
“You’ve seen some of these practice facilities and arenas these Division I players have access to, not bad. Not a bad life. The training, the coaches,” Roberts said. “The G League is making it a harder decision for kids to make, to have the option of going to a Division I school, but if I had to bet, I’d think kids would still go to a Division I school.”
Roberts said in two years, though, the G League could be the preferred option.
“I think the G League is getting really close,” she said. “But I don’t know if it’s necessarily gonna be deemed a more attractive alternative than playing for a Division I school for a year. G League conditions have improved dramatically [though].”
With that said, Roberts told Yahoo Sports that unionization of G League players could be on the horizon — and whether that’s a byproduct of the incoming quality of players remains to be seen, but it’s something the current NBA players are pushing for.
Some executives told Yahoo Sports they believe the G League could better position the prospects for the transition into adulthood than a few months on a college campus, but so many more ideas have to be fleshed out in the coming months.
Even with all the talk of reform, the NCAA is getting let off the hook here as its sham of so-called “amateurism” is a mere excuse to keep the revenue-producing employees broke.
“Do I think [college players] should be paid? Absolutely, they should be paid,” Roberts told Yahoo Sports. “No question in my mind. Nothing I can do about it. I know college basketball purists say it would kill the game. No, it wouldn’t.
“When the university is making tens of millions of dollars on your back, you should be able to enjoy some of that revenue. I think it’s gonna happen. I’m not sure how soon, but I think it will.”
Caris LeVert a legit Net positive
Caris LeVert wasn’t quite going against his shadow, but as the clock ticked down Friday night in the battle for New York bragging rights, former college teammate Tim Hardaway Jr. knew LeVert’s game as well as anyone.
Hardaway Jr. hung with LeVert and forced a difficult shot, but Levert finished strong for the last two of his career-high 28 points, giving the Brooklyn Nets a 107-105 home-opening win over the New York Knicks. That career high came two days after setting his previous one, a 27-point showing against the Pistons.
For a young man who had a promising career threatened by a series of leg injuries in college, getting to this point wasn’t a given and quietly (maybe no longer so), Levert is on the verge of stardom.
“I always knew I’d have a shot,” Levert told Yahoo Sports. “I knew I’d have to make the most of it. Whether that was working my way up, going overseas, going to the G League, I knew I’d get a shot at this level.”
Scouts said Levert had a Tracy McGrady-type skill set at the University of Michigan, maturing in his first two seasons before a stress fracture, a broken foot and another lower leg injury marred his professional prospects.
In this league, there’s always another talented wing waiting in the wings, so Levert had to recover, rebuild and rediscover his game before it passed him by.
“You learn a lot about yourself,” Levert said. “I’m 24 years old. I’m maturing. Absolutely. I’m watching film. I’m noticing stuff I didn’t notice a day ago. I try to watch as much as I can.”
It’s safe to say not many have paid that much attention to the Nets in recent years with the franchise being devoid of draft picks following the Celtics’ fleecing of the desperate franchise. Levert, the No. 20 overall pick in 2016, has been solidly developing his first two years and looks ready to take a leap in Year 3. It’s not a stretch to say he’s the Nets’ best player — and their best bargain for the moment.
Even his drive on Hardaway Jr. could be looked at as gratifying, considering the leg injuries he’s sustained.
“That’s how I play. I can’t change the way I play,” Levert said. “I wouldn’t be myself out there.”
Fearlessly attacking the rim, he’s utilizing all the gifts his 6-foot-7 frame holds, scoring 24.7 points per game, shooting 65 percent from the floor, and averaging 4.7 rebounds and four assists. Small sample size, but it’s noticeable.
“Yeah, [but] it’s a lot more work to be done,” LeVert told Yahoo Sports. “I’m very blessed. I didn’t get here by myself. A lot of people helped me. I’m very blessed by God. He’s doing some things in my life, I’m very thankful.”
And with the Nets displaying competence in the front office and on the sidelines, finally emerging from the abyss with cap space on the horizon, they should be a free-agent or trade destination for players wanting fresh starts (here’s looking at you, Mr. Butler).
“Yeah, I think anybody who plays here, it’s a lot of great guys on this team,” Levert said. “The staff is great. The performance staff is great. Everybody cares about the players on the team. Everybody cares about our well-being. The older guys say it a lot, they wish they’d been here earlier. They’d have longer careers. So that says a lot.”
A Puma state of mind
Boston Celtics guard Terry Rozier joined the likes of promising rookies DeAndre Ayton and Marvin Bagley III in aligning with shoe company Puma as it tries to establish a foothold in the NBA.
In an industry dominated by Nike, Jordan Brand and Adidas, Puma hired Jay-Z (yes, that Jay-Z) as creative director and have signed a handful of athletes to bolster its brand.
Rozier spoke to Yahoo Sports about his decision to sign with Puma last week.
What drew you to Puma?
Crazy ideas. After the season I went into the office, had a meeting with them in Boston. They just, I liked them from the beginning because they had so many crazy ideas. Everybody paying attention to Nike and Adidas, we can get even crazier with our stuff. They sold me in the beginning. I wanted to commit right there. I waited it out but just the crazy ideas and a lot of the fun they had.
Were you a Nike guy?
I was just wearing Nike. I wore Adidas when I first came in.
[Puma] appealed to you that they wanted you?
Just the way they liked how I promote myself, the “Scary” Terry stuff. The way I carry myself. I don’t tweet much but when I do tweet, it goes viral. It works out perfectly.
Growing up, what did you have?
The people I looked up to, the stuff they wore — I started wearing the finger bands like AI [Allen Iverson]. I wore everything. And1’s, Carmelo’s, a little bit of everything. I already had that craziness with the swag and everything.
It’s definitely good because we can have a lot of fun. A lot of people focus on Nike. I do it for the young ones. You can be different, you can do crazy stuff. Sure enough, I have all the young’uns hit me up for shoes. It’s working out the right way. The other thing, the lifestyle stuff. A lot of the rappers are wearing it. It’s cool.
Talking the talk
“I don’t know what a fight is [anymore] … that was a fight last night. …
“There’s no love lost, no doubt on that. And it’s not all bad for our league, either.”
1. Accidental spit is bad enough. Spitting on purpose, though … that’s cause for more than a two-piece, right?
2. I can imagine Rondo’s conversation with the NBA was similar to this.
3. Will never make too much about the first few games, but … Nikola Mirotic, second in the NBA in scoring at 33 points per game? Didn’t see that one coming.
4. Kudos to the Toronto Raptors, laying all their vulnerabilities and insecurities for the NBA to see in their season-opening video.
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