Strictly on the DL

Ladies and gentlemen, we finally have a basketball minor league. As part of the CBA, rookies and second-year players can now be "farmed out" to the NBDL, pending their development into the lottery caliber performers they were thought to be on that fateful June night. And while there are still only two rounds in a draft of basketball, this should certainly raise the NBDL's profile, making it of remote interest and, unintentionally, giving kids even less incentive to stay in school. What remains to be seen, however, is whether teams might not still go the other DL route, so they can keep their prize prospects close and make sure they're getting NBA-caliber coaching. I suspect it will vary from player to player; what's the point of sending someone down to dominate when they can be learning in practice at the highest level? Again, though, the NBDL could turn into what people wish college ball still was: all the future stars fighting tooth and nail against each other to earn the right to get called up to the big leagues. And, with more of a vested interest in NBDL, perhaps you might see teams sending some serious coaching assets down there to oversee the developlment of their draft picks.

A lot of this hinges on whether or not NBDL teams are explicitly affiliated with pro franchises, something I probably should know but don't. If not, does this mean that NBDL teams get in petty bidding wars over who gets to supplement some high schoolers gigantic lottery contract?

My sense is that, at first, teams will be reluctant to make use of this new option. But as soon as some raw player spends one year there and then turns up as ROY the following season, it will become more and more common for anyone who isn't clearly capable of holding their own in the Association. Telfair and Josh or J.R. Smith would probably never end up there, even though they've got a lot of growing to do still. But Chandler, Curry, or Kwame have NBDL written all over them. Someone like Al Jefferson or Travis Outlaw, who weren't totally lost but, because of position issues and their teams wanting to win now, could probably have stood to spend year one putting a little more polish on their game.

Though introducing this and the age limit seems a little redundant. A year of college for any of the aforementioned players and they'd probably be starting for the wrecks of teams that drafted them. It will probably be used most with good teams who take a chance late on "project" picks, and who can't afford to have them develop as their franchise is trying to win now.

One point of clarification on the age limit: it's a year after your high school graduation that you become eligible for the draft. I suspect it's only a strict calendar thing for international players, or high school drop-outs (something we'll see from time to time and people try to get into the league sooner rather than later?)

UPDATE: Okay, this is huge and possibly totally moronic. Just read over Chad Ford's take on the CBA (I'm sure you can find it without a link); turns out that the NBDL minimum age is now eighteen. Meaning, players could opt to skip college and go directly to the NBDL. Of course, they'd be getting paid next to nothing, and they'd have no clear connection to any NBA team (how does this work: NBDL teams are sort of connected with pro franchises, but can harbor fugitives from the league?). So there's now the alternative of bypassing college for a year of NBDL, where at least there's some money involved. Not as attractive as trying to win an NCAA title in your spare time, but for second-tier prospects and over-eager high schoolers, it might become common practice.

Bottom line is, things just got a lot more complicated for all the non-lottery players in this world. We'll get to see Oden, Mayo, etc. in college, but this might result in preps with less certain futures facing something far less dire than the current "first round or bust" scenario.

And, weirdest of all, this new NBDL system will be in place next season, so this current crop of high school hopefuls are no longer as much of a risk as they were a few days ago. For one brief, spiritual year, eighteen year-olds are both eligible for the draft and pose less risk than ever to teams who didn't want to waste a roster spot on them. Maybe that's what Miles, Ellis, Williams, et al. were hearing that lead them to keep their names in.


At 6/22/2005 2:58 PM, Blogger elandfried said...

Yeah, it seems that Chad Ford was wrong about that...he didn't find out that it was 19 AND one year out of high school. Oh well, I think we can forgive him on that. I don't think any NBA team is gonna be drafting high school dropouts...at least not when they are 19.

I'm glad you started this thread though - I posted a comment a couple threads, so forgive me if I repeat myself a little. I am fascinated with this idea though and am really curious how this is all going to play out. Apparently, there will eventually be 15 NBDL teams with 2 NBA teams sharing one NBDL team. What I still don't get is how the rosters will be formed in the future. One or two spots on any given team may be taken up by the Skitas and Kendrick Perkins of the world...which I think is a terrific idea...but what about the others? Couldn't you see a problem is a top NBA assistant is down at an NBDL team working with a drafted player and also gets to work with some kid right out of high school? I mean, if you're Greg Oden, it might be just as beneficial to work with a Mike D'Antoni-back-in-the-day type guy as it would to go to college or prep school for one year. But that gives the NBA team whose assistant is working with Oden a huge advantage because he may forge a relationship with him. Right? I feel like I must be missing something here...I'm sure there is a lot we don't know.

I think ultimately the NBDL will be like the baseball minors where some players have major league contracts and get sent down (the rookies, etc.) and some players have minor league contracts and whose rights are owned by a specific NBA team and can be called up at any time. But who knows. What's funny is that it is now conceivable for someone like Skita to never put on an NBA uniform. He could be in the NBDL for two years and they reduced the guaranteed rookie contract to two years (the team has the option for years 3 and 4). So if the team dropped him after year 2, he'd never even sit on an NBA sideline. Interesting.

Anyways, this is a fascinating development...the other parts of the new CBA are interesting in their own right, but after the first two years or so, they won't significantly alter the game (everyone will get used to the age limit, new free agency rules, cap room, etc.), but the NBDL is truly a work in progress. Me likey.

At 6/23/2005 11:15 AM, Blogger elandfried said...

Interesting quote in the NY Times:

"It will be the end of foreign players coming to the N.B.A.," said Marc Fleisher, whose foreign clients include Tony Parker, Mehmet Okur and Gordan Giricek.

That seems a little doomsday to me (imagine that, agents speaking in hyperbole...), but I do think it could be the end of the Darkos and Skitas entering the draft when they are undeveloped players for the exact reason I stated earlier: they may never see an NBA game! But to say it's the end...that's just silly - they'll just have to be prepared to play right away. That's actually something I like about the new CBA. If Darko had spend 3 more years developing in Europe, maybe by the time he entered the draft, he'd be NBA-ready.

Other thoughts (I have no idea why I am so fascinated by this):

- I understand why they set the "only 1st and 2nd year players can be sent down to the NBDL" rule, but they should allow vets to go down on a voluntary basis if they are recovering from injury or something. How awesome would it be to find out the day before that KG was gonna play a game in Tulsa or something to get his legs back? That's one of the best things about the minor leagues in baseball is when you randomly get to watch stars recovering from injury!

- With the "no straight out of high school" rule in effect, it will be difficult to truly develop a minor league system where every player in the NBDL is under contract (either NBA contract or minor league contract). Why? Because kids straight out of high school who want to play in the NBDL couldn't sign with specific teams before they were even eligible for the draft. They would have to have a special clause to randomly assign non-draft eligible players to NBDL teams without a minor league contract.

- I think you guys (the Masters of the Klondike) should officially sponsor the NBDL. It's gonna be high schoolers who are too dumb to go to college, foreign players not good enough to play in the NBA yet, and street players (like Skip to My Lou) who are trying to prove they belong. In other words, this is YOUR league.

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