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The Works: Fixing the One-and-Done Sham

Aug 19, 2010 – 9:00 AM
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In The Works today, Carmelo Anthony names names and Jerry West doesn't separate himself from Kevin McHale as a decision-maker in the new era.

But first, on the newest idea to fix the age minimum rule.

The NBA's age minimum has reared its misshapen head once again, and not a moment too soon. New NCAA president Mark Emmert has endorsed Major League Baseball's draft system, where prospects can declare for the amateur draft right out of high school but still attend college if they so choose. If they do so choose, they can't leave school for three years or until they turn 21, whichever comes first.

The NBA was a tiny bit like that decades ago; Larry Bird, after all, spent his Final Four season at Indiana State already having been drafted by the Boston Celtics, as players could be selected following their junior collegiate season without having declared for the draft. Clearly, though, as Eric Freeman writes, the fundamentals of talent development in baseball and basketball are so different the comparison's almost useless.

But what Emmert proposes is diametrically different from the current system, which both the NBA and NCAA have manipulated for completely selfish reasons. (The age limit makes good financial sense for NBA owners; the NCAA has continued to tinker with its eligibility rules relating to prospects testing the NBA waters at the expense of its college's student-players.)

There's another way Emmert's plan is diametrically different from the current system: it is the worst of both worlds for the NBA.

By making some prep stars draft-eligible right out of high school, NBA scouting expands once again. A major driver behind the adoption of the age minimum in 2005 was the cost and peril of teams being forced to scout the high school and AAU circuits. LeBron James came into the NBA a bit sullied because of an ill-timed Hummer purchase; David Stern wanted no part of the NCAA's well-developed "taint" market. Perhaps the high school scouting issue is secondary to the brand development of young players the NCAA provides, but it's still a serious factor. Emmert's plan reverses the fix the NBA established. That's not a good start.

Under the age minimum system, the NBA does give up a year of capitalization of sure-thing stars, players like John Wall, who would have sold some tickets right out of high school. LeBron didn't need March Madness to make him a Day-One marketing superstar, and over the years there will be more like him. But by keeping the age minimum to one year, these walking dollar signs are property of the NBA before long. If you extend the standard college stay to three years, that's a lot of potential revenue the NBA would be forfeiting to CBS and the universities. Perhaps all these stars, under the Emmert system, would jump straight to the NBA from high school. But there are always stars who can't jump straight to the league (Evan Turner, for one), and the NBA, by adopting the baseball plan, would forfeit those players an extra two seasons.

Essentially, there's disincentive for the NBA to adopt the system Emmert suggests. It'd probably help the NCAA dramatically -- programs would become more stable, the issue of constant churn would be reduced, the product on the court would be improved. So kudos to Emmert for suggesting it. But I dare him to present it to Stern and keep a straight face.

Of course, the age minimum has been a monumental failure (even according to no less an authority than U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who called the rule a "farce" in January). The rule saves NBA owners (almost exclusively white millionaires and billionaires) a few bucks at the expense of 18-year-olds (almost exclusively low- or middle-income blacks), who then have to navigate the extremely dirty water that is American college basketball recruitment or the possibly more perilous journey to Europe. DeMar DeRozan had to spend a year under the guidance of scandal-magnet Tim Floyd in a sham of an academic experience at USC while his family struggled to pay for lupus treatment for DeMar's mother Diane, all so guys like Paul Allen and Donald Sterling can save some money on scouting and marketing. It's shameful.

But the age minimum is a collective bargaining issue, the union membership actually likes it because it protects veterans' jobs, and there's little chance it will disappear unless the NCAA makes a move to neuter it. (Cue Clay Travis' nutty but brilliant "red shirts for everyone!" plan.) Emmert's plan would demand age minimum reform, so perhaps that's a reason to root for it.

In the meantime, the NBA has to address the unintended anti-Americanism embedded in the age minimum rule. Ricky Rubio, a Spaniard, is younger than all four of the University of Kentucky's high profile 2009-10 freshmen -- John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe and Daniel Orton. Yet Rubio, thanks to the nuances of the age minimum, was eligible for the 2009 NBA Draft. The Wildcat Four were not, and had to spend a season in college, the NBA D-League or abroad, delaying that first NBA paycheck. The age minimum as currently structured makes it a disincentive to be an American. I know the NBA is becoming a global league, but this seems excessive. (TZ)

In the King's Army: LeBron is taking names? Pfft. Carmelo Anthony is naming names. Earlier this week, Melo called radio host and writer Bomani Jones (@bomani_jones) a hater. The exact phraseology Anthony used is actually worse, somehow: "Hey twit fam. Let's make a toast to another hater, Bomani Jones. Yaaaaayyyyy." Melo followed that up with "Men lie, women lie. Numbers don't." And finally, a tweet to his friend LeBron: "always remember, a hater is nothing but a fan. They just don't know how to express it."

The ironic thing about it is that Jones actually is a Melo fan. On Wednesday's Morning Jones podcast (direct link to mp3), Bomani explains that he thinks Melo is a top-10 NBA player, but isn't worth $22 million because he can't lead a team with his performance or stature. (Of course, being called a hater gives Jones moral clearance to rake on Anthony with a bevy of jokes about the infamous Madison Square Garden "brawl" and Melo's odd night in jail. Well worth the laughs, if you can take a listen.)

If Bomani Jones is a hater for calling Melo top-10 but not worth $22 million, Anthony should really stop reading the internet. Many would argue Jones is being charitable. Tom Haberstroh, writing for Insider, recently described in painstaking detail why Carmelo is not an elite player. And that's a numbers guy. And numbers don't lie. It's clear that what Anthony is getting at with that particular tweet is that because he's one of the three or four most prolific scorers in the league, he's one of the three or four best players in the league. Haberstroh explains why that's just not the case: first of all, basketball is more than scoring (defense, rebounding), but also, Anthony is effectively a gunner, with just average efficiency but a massive volume of shots taken. He needs way more shots to put up scoring numbers similar to those of LeBron or Kevin Durant. That's obviously a problem for his team.

But, of course, some NBA GMs, coaches and writers actually side with Melo here -- he was on the All-NBA second team over the far more complete Brandon Roy. So Anthony will get his $20 million. And perhaps there's an argument to be made that Melo isn't worth $20 million, but should still be paid $20 million because of the way the max salary rules mess up the value scale at the top of the league -- that's a question for another time. In the meantime, Melo should expect far harsher questions about his ability and production. If he's going to call out every person who won't list him with LeBron, Kobe and Wade at the top of the league, it's going to be a looooong summer for Melo's Twitter followers. (TZ)

The West, Fraught With Peril: On Monday, in noting that Jerry West wanted to return to an NBA front office near you, I puffed up his record in both Los Angeles (where he created the Showtime teams and the Shaq-Kobe squad) and Memphis (where he directed a moribund franchise to its only playoff berths).

Our friend M. Haubs of The Painted Area (@mhaubs) makes a compelling point, though: West wasn't really that much better in Memphis than (gulp) Kevin McHale had been in Minnesota. West's Grizzlies went to the playoffs three times in his five years in charge. McHale's Wolves did it eight times in 14 years. Minnesota had a .490 winning percentage under McHale; Memphis went .473 under West.

Of course, it's not that simple. McHale shot himself in the foot repeatedly, starting with the Joe Smith debacle that cost the Wolves three first-round picks and ending with the Sam Cassell-Marko Jaric swap in 2005 that still requires Minnesota to send a first-round pick to the Clippers (likely in 2012, when it's unprotected). But McHale did draft a future MVP in Kevin Garnett; West arrived with Pau Gasol and Shane Battier, the core of his playoff run, already in place.

Jerry WestMcHale's bad moves were worse than West's missteps, but the Wolves' highs were far beyond what West's Grizzlies reached. It's hard to give the nod to either, really. Neither deserve it.

And that's just the problem: we all knew McHale was a failure by the time he had been canned, but West left quickly enough that his reputation as a team-builder didn't take the hit in probably deserved. Is it because West started off with a pristine reputation based on his time in L.A.? Is it because his mistakes -- dealing Battier for Rudy Gay stands out, as do the bizarre but hilarious mid-level contract for Brian Cardinal and the canning of Hubie Brown in favor of Mike Fratello -- are so low-profile compared to something like the Smith debacle? Is it better to fail quietly and slowly than loudly and fast? Certainly, McHale's successor David Kahn proves that point. If you make bad moves and the whole world knows about it, your reputation will take an immediate hit. If you make bad moves that take a few years to reveal themselves, you can work again in this league.

This isn't to say hiring West as a consultant is akin to hiring McHale. For one, West is old enough that he truly seems not to have designs on a GM job; McHale didn't go down willingly, and he talks a good game, one NBA owners like to listen to. But on the substance of their decision-making and current basketball intuition, this might be a toss-up. That make West sound a lot less encouraging than he'd otherwise be. (TZ)

The Works is a daily column written by Bethlehem Shoals (@freedarko) and Tom Ziller (@teamziller).
Filed under: Sports