NBA lifts 'big middle finger to the NCAA' with move to secure top hoops prospects

Yahoo Sports

The comeuppance of the NCAA’s leadership void, lack of vision and overt greed came with blunt force on Thursday afternoon. Think NBA commissioner Adam Silver channeling his inner-Vince Carter and dunking on NCAA president Mark Emmert, whose entire tenure has been spent as a metaphoric Frederic Weis.

The news that Rivals.com No. 2 overall player Jalen Green is headed to an NBA G League development program for more than $500,000 per year marks an inflection point for college basketball, a sport that’s spent the last decade retreating from the American mainstream. College basketball is becoming the typewriter company, newspaper conglomerate or phone book, eroding because of its lack of ability to evolve and innovate.

The symbolic loss of Green is much more important than the singular loss of Green, as the creation of a new avenue for top prospects by Silver is a crushing blow to the sport of college basketball. Make no mistake, the NBA announced with alacrity today that they’re in the business of courting and developing the top American basketball players. This is a distinct pivot point in the history of American basketball.

“I think the NBA is doing it as a big middle finger to the NCAA,” said a prominent NBA agent. “This is how it’s going to be, we’re going to take control of the development of top players.”

Green is going to make more than $500,000 in a so-called Select Contract with the G League, as reported by Corey Evans of Rivals.com. This money doesn’t include a shoe contract or other endorsements. The news of Green’s move coincided with the news of top-15 recruit Isaiah Todd doing the same. (He’d de-committed from Michigan this week to play professionally, while Green hadn’t chosen a school.)  

Are more coming? You bet. The NBA has thrown down the gauntlet, as Evans expects a half-dozen of the top high school players to end up in the G League developmental program this year. What will it look like? Think of a domestic version of foreign academics where players prepare full-time under high-end coaches for the NBA draft for a year. There’s expected to be a team with the high school players that scrimmages various teams, but it’s not going to be a traditional G League team.

The March Madness logo is shown on the court before a NCAA tournament game on March 22, 2019. (Brian Rothmuller/Getty Images)
The March Madness logo is shown on the court before a NCAA tournament game on March 22, 2019. (Brian Rothmuller/Getty Images)

Combine this trend with the general expectation that the NBA draft will begin taking high school players in 2022, and it’s all bad news for college basketball. A sport that’s seen elite star power like Carmelo Anthony, Derrick Rose and Zion Williamson the past two decades will instead be led by Luka Garzas, Malachi Flynns and Payton Pritchards.

“The product in college basketball has been getting worse,” a G League head coach told Yahoo Sports on Thursday. “And it’s going to be worse than it is now. College basketball is already watered down.”

Combine the lucrative routes available for top players with a pervasive apathy many top high school players are showing toward college and it’s bad news for the sport’s landscape. In many ways, Silver was smart to do this to keep top players like LaMelo Ball and RJ Hampton from going overseas. The NBA realized that no good business would ship its biggest stars to another continent. Meanwhile, the NCAA hasn’t figured out a way to court and accommodate basketball’s top stars, but we can look forward to a committee to assemble so they can announce nothing of particular note sometime in 2029. That’s the NCAA way: Keep the status quo and hope the issues go away. (The NABC isn’t much better, as outgoing president Jim Haney combined no-show leadership as the sport crumbled with a million-dollar salary — a con that even Christian Dawkins would be in awe of.)

Now, the talent is fleeing the sport before it arrived. The NCAA has lost its cachet and relevance among high school players, and neither of those issues can be solved by a blue-ribbon panel.

“It’s all about being a professional and making money,” Evans said. “I don’t think there’s a desire for the elite prospect to go to school, especially if it’s only for six or eight months. Those players feel like there’s diminishing returns.”

The talent drain from college basketball comes after decades of the NCAA overlords refusing to share their billion-dollar television contract. This is the biggest failure of the tenure of NCAA president Mark Emmert, as his presidency has been a decade of watching the quality and regular-season relevancy of college basketball fade away. The golden goose is still squeezing out eggs with that NCAA tournament contract, but the health of the sport has gotten precipitously worse.

“I think it’s going to change the landscape for the NCAA,” said the prominent agent. “Most of the top kids are going to go through this [G League] process. It’s going to change the ways colleges are recruiting. They’re not going recruit the top seven to 10 guys.”

During Emmert’s time, the NCAA has done nothing to evolve and lure the top prospects to the sport. The warning signs have been there, starting more than a decade ago when Brandon Jennings spent a year playing professionally in Rome in 2008. They’ve reappeared in force recently, as three projected NBA lottery picks this season chose alternate routes, including Memphis’ James Wiseman sitting out the majority of the season.

The Wiseman situation at Memphis helped set the stage for this G League decision. As the NCAA dragged its feet in announcing some type of Name, Image and Likeness agreement to let stars capitalize on their fame, Wiseman told the NCAA to get lost. He ditched the school after the NCAA announced his suspension for improper benefits, an unofficial declaration of how valuable college basketball is to a prospect.

This decision by the NBA simply hastens the talent drain everyone saw coming in 2022. The NCAA tournament will still be a vibrant part of the sporting calendar because of gambling on brackets, the buzzer beaters and the tradition of skipping work on Thursday and Friday when the tournament opens. But the quality of the teams and talent took another hit. And there continues to be fewer reasons to bother paying attention until after the Super Bowl.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has been preaching for years that the sport was getting outflanked because of the leadership void.

And Thursday was Adam Silver’s checkmate to hoard the country’s top talent. It was both predictable and inevitable, the NCAA standing flatfooted and helpless as its most important revenue producer took another blow that long could have been prevented.

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