x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Silver, Cuban acknowledge it’s time for D League to take on greater role

Commissioner Adam Silver and Mark Cuban both implicitly and explicitly acknowledged over the weekend it's time for the NBA to take control over players' development and phase out the NCAA's outsized role.

Adam Silver succeeded David Stern as NBA commissioner at the beginning of February. Jennifer Pottheiser / NBAE / Getty Images
Adam Silver succeeded David Stern as NBA commissioner at the beginning of February. Jennifer Pottheiser / NBAE / Getty Images

Since basically their origins, football and baseball have sought to mine talent at its earliest possible stages and develop it within the sport’s structures.

In basketball, it’s always been just a little bit different.

The college system, administered by the NCAA, has ushered players toward the NBA, rather than franchise-operated development teams.

For a while, the NBA allowed high school players to jump straight to the pros and they would often have to (mostly) sink, or swim, against much more advanced veteran professionals. The NBA took on this problematic situation with a more problematic answer, instituting the one-and-done rule that forces talent to wait a year after their 18th birthday to enter the draft – effectively forcing them to spend a year in the college ranks.

Fortunately, a change may be on the horizon.

Adam Silver, the new NBA commissioner, said over the weekend in an interview with the writer Malcom Gladwell at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan Conference on sports analytics that he wanted the league to be ‘looking out’ for young basketball talent dealing with an NCAA rulebook that sometimes ‘just seems ridiculous’.

And Mark Cuban, the Dallas Mavericks owner, told ESPN he thought the NBA Development League (D League) would eventually be a better option for blossoming players than the college system.

The minor leagues in baseball and academies in football have long understood this basic truth – the best way to nurture and grow talent is to do it yourself. That basketball largely continues to farm out this fundamental aspect of team-building (and, for that matter, sport-building) to the NCAA is an anachronistic practice owing to the sport’s origins at the college level, much like with the NFL.

But unlike the NFL, the NBA has the D League, which is growing and forming into a legitimate minor league system in the mold perfected by baseball. That’s where they should be directing top young players that aren’t quite ready for the highest level of basketball.

The college game will always have its place, but top figures within the NBA appear to be recognising its status as basketball’s premier developmental level should be eased away from.

If myriad 17- and 18-year-olds can begin playing baseball professionally at more instructive levels, and even younger footballers can begin their pro careers, there’s no real reason basketball players can’t do the same.

Silver said he’d like to see ‘a better integration of AAU, youth, high school, college basketball and NBA basketball.

‘This is the sport of the 21st century. We have enormous opportunity.’

It’s on the NBA to make it happen.

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