DALLAS -- Commissioner David Stern is appalled by the state of the game.
Not the NBA game, mind you, but the game as it is played by a significant percentage of young Americans who aspire to make it into Stern's league.
"There is something totally wrong with the development system for young basketball players."
-- David Stern, NBA commissioner
"There is something totally wrong with the development system for young basketball players," Stern said Friday at his annual NBA Finals news conference. "It historically has not been the place for professional leagues to do [something about] it, but on the basis of the consistent failures of everyone else to do it, we are at least thinking about it, and we'll be getting some dialogue with some interested parties to see if there's something that can be done here."
The subject came up at a Finals in which the Dallas Mavericks have become the first NBA team since the Houston Rockets a decade ago to be led into the championship round by a foreign-born player.
International players are flooding the league and now make up almost 20 percent of the NBA's player population, and scouts are increasingly turning to Europe and South America to find young players who have been developed with a focus on fundamentals rather than flash.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich summed it up recently by noting how his team usually has a choice on draft night between picking an American player who has been coddled by sneaker companies throughout his teenage years and a foreign player who has spent six or more years playing for his country's national program. And as we've seen with San Antonio's recent drafting patterns, the Spurs have been making the latter choice nearly every time.
NBA officials first broached the subject with other interested parties last winter at a meeting in Chicago that included: officials from Nike; current and former college coaches Mike Krzyzewski, Dean Smith and George Raveling; NCAA president Myles Brand; and representatives from AAU programs. A follow-up meeting was held recently, but no consensus has emerged as to how to address a problem that has been festering over the past two decades.
"We just don't want to bury our heads in the sand and pretend [that] somehow players will arrive miraculously as fully developed adults when there's a screwed-up system all along the way."
-- Adam Silver, incoming deputy commissioner
Twenty years ago, players typically honed their basketball and life management skills in college, then came into the NBA in their early 20s. Nowadays, however, the best American players are often identified before they even reach high school, and sneaker companies and AAU coaches often have a greater influence on those players than their high school coaches and hometown mentors. The end result has been a generation of players entering the league with enormous skills and potential -- but with a lack of comprehension of many of the intricacies of the game that are so important at the highest level.
"The roster of NBA teams is going to be enriched by huge numbers of international players, and it's going to happen," Stern said. "But I also believe that the production of American players and their development is going to go through a renaissance. If we have to fuel it ourselves, OK. Maybe we're viewing it as our obligation to become involved in something we never wanted to touch because it was both unpleasant and possibly deleterious to their academic health, but we're talking about it internally."
Incoming deputy commissioner Adam Silver expounded on Stern's statements in an interview with ESPN.com.
"As David said, from a college and NBA standpoint, it's often too late -- by the time the rules allow us to first engage the players -- to do anything in terms of skills and personal development," Silver said. "There's a morass of rules, some Byzantine, that we're just beginning to understand. We've never done that kind of a thorough investigation into the layered rules and don't yet have an understanding of what we could do, or what others could do.
"We're not as concerned that we get involved, as long as there's a system that produces American players that can compete at the highest levels by the time they're of NBA age. That's what our concern is," Silver said. "We just don't want to bury our heads in the sand and pretend [that] somehow players will arrive miraculously as fully developed adults when there's a screwed-up system all along the way."
Chris Sheridan, a national NBA reporter for the past 10 years, covers the league for ESPN Insider.