The NBA’s age-limit seems all but assured to disappear at some point.
The NBA sent out a memo this spring indicating that the age limit, the restriction of players under the age of 19 being drafted by NBA teams that created the one-and-done rule in college basketball, will be in effect through at least the 2021 draft. Last week reports suggested that the 2022 draft is more likely. The question isn’t if the rule will be changed, but when, which will be sure to create a contentious debate in the coming years over whether or not the one-and-done rule, which will have sent more than 100 stars through the college basketball ranks since its 2007 inception, was actually a good one.
If you’ve read this space over the years, you should know my stance by now: I’m staunchly against the idea of those in power — who are often old, rich and white — creating barriers to entry for young, often black, people from being able to capitalize monetarily on their value. It’s why I believe amateurism in college sports is reprehensible, and it’s why, with that rule in mind, I believe that the one-and-done rule should be abolished.
But I’m also not naïve.
Three months before the FBI’s investigation into corruption in college basketball opened the eyes of some folks that wanted to remain in the dark I took a deep-dive into amateurism, the one-and-done rule and why going to college was still a pretty damn good option for college kids even with the knowledge that the money they accept could get them into trouble.
Read that before you read this, because I’m not here to today to talk about whether or not the one-and-done rule works.
I’m here to talk about Michael Porter Jr., who has managed to become the posterchild for people on both sides of this debate.
Heading into his freshman season at Missouri, Porter was considered by many to be a contender, if not the favorite, for the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. A 6-foot-11 athlete that plays the wing, that in theory has the tools to be a multi-positional defender and that is known for his ability to shoot the rock? Of course he’s going to ride that hype train in an NBA dominated by small-ball, pace-and-space and 7-footers trying to be Kevin Durant.
We all know what happened.
Porter had surgery on his back in November. He tried to return in March and it was clear he wasn’t back to being himself. He went through some workouts this spring, but suffered setbacks — at one point he reportedly couldn’t get out of bed — and has since undergone a second surgery on his back, according to a report for NBA.com.
That surgery came after Porter fell all the way to 14th in June’s draft, after Boston College’s Jerome Robinson.
If you’re an advocate for the players, Porter is the perfect example of everything that is wrong with the one-and-done rule. He lost nearly $20 million in guaranteed money dropping from the No. 1 pick to the No. 14 pick, which bloated NBA salaries might have made you forget is, quite literally, a fortune. You could make the argument that, if his back was so messed up, he would have fallen in the draft once NBA teams got a glance at his medicals, but he also could have withheld those medicals. He’s not required to give anyone anything pre-draft, and also ignores the red flags that were raised as intel leaked out about the kind of teammate he was at Missouri. Would he have been drafted higher than 14 had people close to the Missouri program called him something other than entitled and arrogant? Maybe? Probably?
Porter is the perfect example of the risk, for players, that comes with giving NBA decision-makers more information to make a decision.
And he’s also precisely why NBA owners wanted this rule in the first place, and why they likely wouldn’t complain about keeping players in college for another year if they could get that rule passed.
The one-and-done rule exists because NBA owners were tired of drafting high school kids that they couldn’t properly evaluate. Giving them a year to compete in college, where they play on national television every night against 22-year olds that have been coached by some great basketball minds, gives owners more data to analyze. Can the kid play a role? What happens when they play people the same size with comparable athleticism? Can they handle the rigors of league play? In Porter’s case, are they actually healthy?
Owners also didn’t want to give an 18-year old millions of dollars and let then loose in America’s best party cities with NBA celebrity attached to his name, and they didn’t want to pay a seven-figure salary to develop these kids as players only to see them bolt for greener pastures when they hit their prime. By delaying things for a year on the front end they are able to keep those players under contract and reap the benefits of their investment for an extra year on the back end. In other words, instead of paying an 18-year old to learn, put on weight and ride the bench, you send them to college for a year and then pay them to, hopefully, help your team win a lot of games as a 27-year old.
But it’s the former that was arguably the most important, because so much can be determined at the top of an NBA draft, especially for small-market teams that can’t attract big free agents. If, say, Milwaukee doesn’t draft Giannis Antetokounmpo, would they ever be able to sign a player of his talent? It’s why Sam Hinkie developed The Process. Drafting accuracy is so important in the NBA (see: Warriors, Golden State), and by sending the best prospects in the world to college for a year, NBA teams believe they will be more accurate.
And I can’t blame them for that.
The NBA is a business, and that’s just good business sense.
It’s why I’m starting to come around on the one-and-done rule.
I don’t want to see it go because I don’t think it’s necessarily the problem. Don’t listen to what Mark Emmert or Condoleeza Rice tries to tell you, college basketball is better for having the likes of Marvin Bagley III and Deandre Ayton on campus for a year. NBA teams are probably better off getting another 12 months to evaluate those prospects.
The issue, to me, isn’t that the kids have to go to college.
The issue is that they can’t get paid (legally) in college, and that heading to the G League is, by just about any measure imaginable, a lesser option.
Porter was compensated with one-year’s worth of an education that he may never actually use for a season that cost him $20 million.
It’s amazing how much in the sport of basketball can be solved if we stopped pretending that players getting paid was a bad thing.