All it took for the NBA to finally convince a five-star prospect to play in the G League instead of picking college -- or overseas -- basketball was
That and a $500,000 salary guarantee, of course. Show Jalen Green that money, yessir.
Congratulations to the young Mr. Green, a joyous talent who -- and this opinion is from multiple NBA evaluators I spoke with this week -- was a lottery lock for 2021 no matter if he played in the G League, the NCAA, the NBL of Australia or never touched a basketball for the next 16 months.
Green is special, and because he's special, he has rare opportunities and leverage. In the eyes of many who are paid to evaluate basketball talent, he's the best prospect in 2020's class. While the G League will be offering contracts and roster spots to more 18-year-olds soon, it will not be offering half a million dollars -- not even close -- to those whose abilities are a stage or two away from Green's. It's true he just became the first elite basketball prospect in history to bypass college hoops in favor of the NBA's constantly changing developmental organization, but his choice.
Green's decision to do this, coupled with the expectation that five-star forward Isaiah Todd will follow him (Todd balked on his Michigan pledge earlier this week), has some already mocking the NCAA for having lost the war with the NBA. That's a flawed presupposition. It's true this is a crucial moment for the NCAA to stop living in the 1960s, to step up and deliver robust name, image and likeness legislation -- effective starting in 2021 -- that will sweeten the college experience and give players more empirical rights they've long deserved.
And that process is expected to take its next official steps in the coming weeks.
But the NBA is not at war with the NCAA.
As much as anything else, the NBA and the G League are doing this to fight off other professional leagues. And the bigger question tied to Thursday's big news: What's Adam Silver overseeing here and why is he doing this? Is this even worth it? Those questions are being asked by NBA general managers and scouts right now. This isn't just a $500,000 investment in one player. When-- the academy-type setup, the accommodations that will have to be made, the financial investment in paying for college scholarships down the road -- it's millions and millions of dollars.
For a league now tightening its belt because of lost revenue due to COVID-19 restrictions.
And almost nobody even watches the G League.
What's the return on investment? College basketball -- an entity that makes more than $1 billion off its games -- has for decades afforded NBA scouts and decision-makers the best stage and ideal conditions to track talent before the on-ramp every spring that is the pre-draft process. Now the NBA's deciding that persuading X-number of top high school prospects to play an abbreviated schedule (much shorter than a college season) against varied competition (are these guys going to play actual G League teams some of the time, and if so, how are those other players going to feel about the paycheck differential to some teenagers who haven't proven a thing yet?) is all worth the time, money and management.
Which is to say nothing of how this plan is put into place in the coming season; we're all waiting to see what the coronavirus pandemic does to sports everywhere. The G League firing up the buses falls very, very far down that list.
The G League's strategy is also a potential escape-hatch to a bigger story: going from high school to the NBA might not be coming soon after all.
ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reports there is no pending amendment to the collective bargaining agreement that is going to allow the NBA's age minimum to reduce from 19 to 18. The Players Association is fighting that because there is no shortage of vets in the league who have no interest in being booted off a roster, and potentially out of the NBA forever, a year ahead of time. The NBA created this problem. Now it's making its first inspired effort to fix what it broke to begin with.
So yes, most of what we're discussing here has fallen on the shoulders of the NBA, not the NCAA, which has never thwarted one person from turning pro at 18 if they so desired. This is a battle the NBA put upon itself.
It'd be dumb to say or even suggest that the Green news is good for college basketball. Obviously it's not. The sport would be better off having him, and we have the past 15 years worth of one-and-done talent to prove that. But this is not an arrow to the heart of the sport, and any college hoops doomsdayism commentary you see or read is lazy. Alumni bases are in the tens of millions: fans are going to root for their schools and be obsessed with filling out a bracket every time there's an NCAA Tournament. That's never going away.
Beyond that, let's look at the talent pool and actually bring facts into this discussion.
There are nearly 90 schools attached to the major seven conferences (AAC, ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC) alone. Let's say the G League really taps into something big here and can afford to successfully lure 10-12 out of the top 25 elite/five-star guys in a year to bypass college basketball. The age minimum stays at 19 and this is now the most lucrative option. OK.
Guess what? There are still going to be lottery picks and five-star players emerging from college! And there are still going to be star players who evolve over two, three and four years. The "preps-to-pros" era happened from 1995-2005, when going straight to the NBA out of high school was allowed and eventually got messy. If we return to a facsimile of that, I promise you college basketball will still be a major American sport.
Here's an off-the-cuff list of notable college stars in that '95-05 era, most whom played at least two years: Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Jay Williams, Paul Pierce, Vince Carter, Allen Iverson, Marcus Camby, Elton Brand, Chris Paul, Ron Mercer, Chauncey Billups, Lamar Odom, Baron Davis, Ron Artest, Jamal Crawford, Mike Miller, Zach Randolph, Luol Deng.
I can already hear the counterargument. But if those players came up and played in 2020 and had the chance Green has, they wouldn't have gone to college to begin with. That might be true of some, but not necessarily of all, because of where they were ranked coming out of high school. But, fine, take all of those players, the biggest names and flashiest of guys, and say college basketball would have never gotten them.
Lookie here, I've got another two dozen players -- from one decade alone -- who still would have played in college and ultimately became stars. All of these men were All-Americans and/or lottery picks, most of them made the Final Four at minimum, most of them at least three-year guys: Shane Battier, Joe Johnson, Mateen Cleaves, Emeka Okafor, Ray Allen, Tim Duncan, Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler, Kenyon Martin, Jason Richardson, Juan Dixon, Dwyane Wade, T.J. Ford, Kyle Korver, Jameer Nelson, Andrew Bogut, J.J. Redick, Adam Morrison, Tyler Hansbrough, Brandon Roy, Andre Iguodala.
There are No. 1 picks and national players of the year in there. That's what college basketball looks like when elite high school players are allowed an easily accessible chute to a pro career.
Then you have the Ja Morants, Jarrett Culvers and Obi Toppins: top-five-pick talents who were not even rated coming out of high school. Morant's a borderline NBA superstar and he played in a town of fewer than 20,000 people. Projected 2020 lottery picks Isaac Okoro, Saddiq Bey, Aaron Nesmith and Tyrese Haliburton would have not come close to being under consideration for this G League arrangement coming out of high school. Neither would have projected first-round picks Jahmi'us Ramsey, Daniel Oturu, Robert Woodard, Zeke Nnaji and Devin Vassell. .
What's more, there are already top-five players opting for college in spite of being offered the G League opportunity. This has never been an either/or proposition. Enough with the doomsdayism. College basketball is going to be fine. It's under . That can undercut the sport's overall appeal just as much, if not more than, missing out on guys who'll never get seen in a college uniform to begin with.
I ask: is this worth all the effort and investment for the NBA and the G League? It's going to be an interesting next 18 months, and because of what the coronavirus has wrought, the landscape of basketball in America has never been this intriguing or uncertain.