Shortly after Adam Silver took over for David Stern as the NBA’s commissioner, it was reported that Silver would seek to bump the NBA’s minimum age from 19 to 20. The league and the union discussed that idea back in 2011 during the last collective bargaining agreement negotiations but the disorganization of the NBPA prevented that from going through. Now that things appear to be settled for the union, the issue of raising the age minimum could go right back to the top of the pile.
There are multiple reasons behind the NBA’s push to raise the age minimum. For starters, teams believe that they will reduce their odds of drafting a bust if the are choosing from a pool of older players who have more high-level basketball experience on their resume. After all, while the likes of Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and Kevin Garnett were ready to go pro straight out of high school, players like Kwame Brown, Robert Swift, and Sebastian Telfair would have either benefitted from some seasoning in college (or, at the very least, they would have had their weaknesses exposed before turning pro). Anecdotally, the idea makes sense, but whether a raised age minimum would actually makes GMs jobs easier is debatable.
Also, boosting the age minimum will keep costs down on stars as players would have to wait an extra year before shedding their rookie contract and the subsequent second contract. Strangely enough, the history of sports labor unions would indicate that the union might actually be on the same page as the league when it comes to this issue. While the union wants to see its stars paid well, there are more players in the lower tiers than at the very top, as Tom Ziller of SB Nation noted earlier this year.
Of course, an age 20 minimum for the NBA wouldn’t necessarily drive everyone to spend two years in college. Players can pursue overseas opportunities as Brandon Jennings did before the 2009 draft and top 2015 prospect Emmanuel Mudiay will do this season. Players might also opt to join the NBA’s ever-growing D-League. While it doesn’t pay well, it’s still something in terms of compensation and would allow players who aren’t all that interested in education to focus solely on playing basketball. The NBA would like to turn the D-League into a full-fledged farm system that can draw significant TV money and adding the nation’s top teenage talent would go a long way towards making it a reality.
The NBA and the NBPA will duke this out down the road, but we want to know what your thoughts on the issue are today.