J.A. Adande, who lives in L.A., and Israel Gutierrez, who lives in Miami, are teaming up this season for a look at the NBA from two perspectives.
Israel, have you seen the schedule for the next three weeks? If you check it out, you can't say the NBA never does anything for college basketball. There's a whole lotta Wizards-Magic and Raptors-Pistons type of games in what would normally be the national TV showcase windows on Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays. And then there's the annual dark Monday night in April so the college kids can have the stage to themselves for the national championship.
Awfully nice of them not to counterprogram with a little Heat-Thunder Finals rematch. It's the one and only thing the NBA does to help out its free farm system. The minimum year of college (aka "one-and-done") policy forced upon high school players seven years ago has helped exactly one coach and program to this point: John Calipari's 2012 Kentucky Wildcats. And a year after cutting down the NCAA nets Calipari's Wildcats are heading to the NIT.
The fact is, the desire to step to the NBA at the soonest possible moment has drained college basketball of too much talent. March Madness is still a great event; that doesn't mean college basketball is still a great product. College football is much healthier, and for that you can thank the NFL regulations that keep players in college for three years.
When I watch these TV documentaries about the Fab Five, Duke, UNLV and now Jim Valvano's 1983 Wolfpack, I wonder if we'll ever see another college basketball team that resonates as deeply and as long as those teams from the 1980s and early 90s.
There have been mini-dynasties (such the back-to-back champs at your alma mater, Florida) and underdogs reaching the Final Four (Butler and George Mason) in the past decade. I can't imagine spending two hours watching movies about these teams 20 years from now. The Davids aren't so inspiring when the Goliaths aren't as intimidating.
My question to you is: Has the NBA's hoarding of the great players diminished your enjoyment of college basketball, and if so, is the NBA obligated to do something about it?
See, I don't see it in those terms. While I agree that the quality of college basketball would be better if true superstars played for multiple years, I think college basketball is about pride of the program. It's about fans of schools cheering for their teams, which they would do regardless of how good the actual basketball is.
That UConn-Butler final a couple years back was one of the ugliest Final Four games I can remember, but that didn't matter one bit to fans of either program. And the rest of us were watching anyway because, well, it'll take a lot more than sloppy basketball to get fans to ignore the NCAA tournament.
And despite the fact that most of the great college players leave after one season, you still get enough late bloomers or players like Joakim Noah who forgo the NBA just because they enjoy the college experience that much. As a result, you'll get teams like the back-to-back Florida champions, or the Tyler Hansbrough-led UNC title team.
To me, that's enough to keep me interested.
Besides, when I see a talent like Rose or Kevin Durant play in college, I don't want to see him play another year in college, because it's a waste of his talents. I want to see him play against the best as soon as it's obvious he's capable of it.
It's not the NBA's responsibility to care for the NCAA game, regardless of if it's seen as a farm system. The league was doing itself a favor, not the college game, when it implemented the one year out of high school policy. The league wanted to avoid unprepared high school students from entering the league.
Plus, these days, if kids were forced to wait three years to enter the NBA, too many would go overseas, make money, truly refine their game, then enter the NBA.
The NBA simply isn't responsible for the quality collegiate game.
It's not the NBA's responsibility to grow the college game, but it's in the NBA's best interests. If players have incentive to stay in school for an extra year or two they will enter the league as more mature, better developed players with higher profiles. The Magic-Bird rivalry that elevated the NBA in the 1980s began when they met in the 1979 NCAA championship. Michael Jordan had a college championship and an Olympic gold medal before he played his first game with the Chicago Bulls. These days only the NFL enjoys that kind of prepackaged exposure; Robert Griffin III and Tim Tebow were stars long before they shook Roger Goodell's hand at the draft.
Of course, the largest flaw with college sports --- the outdated fallacy of amateurism -- is not the NBA's fault. But the league could play a role in the solution.
First, the NCAA needs to let players get paid. That's not the same as paying players. If the athletes became employees of the university it could bring messy issues ranging from worker's compensation to Title IX compliance into the mix. And just wait until the first time a tournament was canceled by a lockout.
Avoid all of that by letting shoe companies, agents, boosters or anyone else pay the players. Let the free market dictate how much they make. Scholarship limits would serve as a de facto salary cap.
Of course there would be agents pushing players to leave school early and get the clock ticking on their rookie scale contracts in order to get the slotted salaries out of the way and enter true free agency -- and the big paydays -- as soon as possible. To counter that the league could offer sliding bonuses for each year a player remained in school. Currently, rookies can sign up to 120 percent of the predetermined salary. What if that were bumped up to, say 150 percent for players who were two years out of high school, 180 percent for three years and 200 percent for four years?
If players stayed, if they developed team identities and personal rivalries, we would have a better NCAA tournament, a more interesting NBA draft night and ultimately a better pro league. If you think about it, a better March would make for better Junes down the road. It wouldn't be altruism by the NBA. It would be an investment in its future.
Let me get this out of the way first. A more interesting draft night does nothing for me. The NFL draft is nothing but white noise during naptime for me, so the NBA draft is just fine as it is.
Now, back to the important stuff.
It's not necessarily in the NBA's best interest to force players to stay in school multiple years.
LeBron James needed zero help from colleges to build his profile. Kevin Durant needed about a month of college basketball to be recognized as a great player. Same with Greg Oden, and he probably would've been hurt by spending another day in college, because his knee issues were an inevitability that would've kept him from being paid as a No. 1 pick. But the NBA would be in the same place it was today if both had stayed in school a bit longer, with Durant starring and Oden hurting.
You tend to know the superstars right away, even with just a year of school.
You could say that an extra two years would weed out some of the phony stars, therefore keeping NBA franchises from trusting a supposed talent like, say, Michael Beasley and investing a No. 2 pick on him. But there were still plenty of busts before early entrants were the norm. That won't solve much.
Besides, it's not as if only the one-and-done players turn out to be superstars.
A Magic-Bird type of rivalry is a once-in-a-lifetime type of situation. Again, it's not as if one-and-dones started in the 1980s. There was an entire generation, almost, of collegiate athletes between 1979 and 1995, when Kevin Garnett came straight out of high school, but nothing close to a Bird-Magic rivalry developed in that time.
We can't ask for the good-ole-days to repeat themselves just by going to the old rules. There's no guarantee anything will be better or different, other than young players being forced to play at a level they've clearly outgrown.
Of course some players will enter the league more prepared and experienced if they stay in school for three or four years, but with more NBA teams these days, the league also needs as much talent as it can get to spread across 30 franchises.
Besides, these same players that only spent one year in college have been preparing their entire lives for their NBA opportunity, honing specialized skills and training their bodies more intensely than they ever did 30 years ago.
Now, you're definitely on to something with that sliding pay scale incentive. Paying college kids is such a monster of a discussion, it would take weeks to thoroughly examine. But telling players that they can make significantly more money right off the bat if they stayed in school an extra year or two, well, that would at least keep the fringe NBA talent from blindly making the early leap.
That would also do wonders for the collegiate game. They don't need the mega-stars to stay put, necessarily, but keeping any NBA-level talent for another year or two will still improve the college game.
The truth is, some players are ready for the NBA before others. And who are we to say they have to stay in school longer? The NCAA will survive. And the NBA is in a pretty good place right now -- with a player who never played a second of college basketball lifting it to supreme heights.
Come on, man. How can you not love the NBA draft? It's the event that brought us Jalen Rose's zoot suit, Karl Malone's tie, Joakim Noah's seersucker, and the Lopez twins. I'll admit it's gotten boring. And I blame the lack of familiarity with the players who just pass through college like it's a toll booth. We really have no idea which teams drafted well because we haven't seen this guys play enough.
Forget what's best for us or the NBA or NCAA and shift the focus to where it really belongs: What's best for the players. I've come to believe the ideal scenario would be for them to get paid to stay in college and save some wear on their bodies -- a difference of around 100 games if they stay through their junior year. I see guys like Tracy McGrady and Shaun Livingston, who were reduced to fractions of themselves before age 30, and wonder if they would have been better served delaying their entry into the pros.
Yes, Kobe and LeBron have carried the league for the past 10 years. They're also exceptional physical specimens, even among the genetic lottery winners who populate the NBA. It's more common for the high school guys to fade early. Jermaine O'Neal came to the pros out of high school the same year as Kobe, and O'Neal's been with four teams the past five years, just trying to stay in the league.
To recap: I want to see players paid in college, paid more as rookies to reward them for staying in school, then last in the league long enough so they can still have a chance to draw NBA paychecks when they're 40 (most likely with the New York Knicks).
I don't know how I got from college kids to the senior citizens of the NBA. Let me go refocus on the NCAA tournament and double-check my brackets.