The G League celebrated its 20th season of competition this season but is only on its second of genuine interest to NBA fans. Instead of the occasional player who makes the leap from AAA to a rotation player or a raw draft pick trying to hone their skills, there wasn’t too much to get amped about until last year with the creation of the G League Ignite.
The idea of it is a select team for promising prospects looking to get paid during their pre-NBA career. Last draft’s No. 2 pick Jalen Green and No. 7 pick Jonathan Kuminga were guinea pigs for the inaugural season, and the Ignite features a couple lottery picks again this year. Guards Jaden Hardy and MarJon Beauchamp are your headliners and wing Dyson Daniels is slotted as a late first rounder. Finally, the NBA has a reason for fans to pay attention to its lesser league, and maybe even reason enough to catch a Stockton Kings game when the Ignite is in town.
If you’re not an NBA junkie, the thought was the age limit rule was about to be rescinded soon. A number of media outlets reported on it, but that seems to be shelved for now, per Adrian Wojnarowski, over a sticking issue with the player’s union involving access to physicals.
That was over a year ago, and no mention of lowering the age has been made because I guess they’re still at a standstill over physicals.
Yup, that’s exactly the reason. (I just overtly winked.) A year after the Ignite experiment proved fruitful — I think it did a tremendous job of providing adequate scouting of players who would otherwise have made the jump straight to the NBA — and the negotiations have mysteriously disappeared despite commissioner Adam Silver saying this about the rule in 2019:
“My personal view is that we’re ready to make that change. … When I’ve weighed the pros and cons, given that Condoleezza Rice and her Commission (On College Basketball) has recommended to the NBA that those one-and-done players now come directly into the league, and in essence the college community is saying we do not want those players anymore. That sort of tips the scale in my mind that we should be taking a serious look at lowering our age to 18.”
As someone who followed Martell Webster’s D League box scores, I can understand holding off on reopening that joyless ride. There are still players who could’ve made the transition without a year of experience against slightly better competition, but these teams need to be saved from drafting Robert Swift, Kwame Brown and the like.
Silver certainly can’t say, “My employers are vastly incompetent, the G League matters now, and this is the best outcome for us because now we can pay prospects less for a season of professional basketball while making sure they’re good enough to play in the NBA. The fact that our other, struggling league now matters by benefiting from an unfair rule is a glitch we’re not going to correct. I’m not taking the cherry off the sundae”
He wouldn’t be entirely wrong, though. It’s incredibly fucked up that the next Kobe or LeBron has to mess around in college, the G League or Overtime Elite before getting NBA money, but teams can barely draft correctly when they have adequate scouting let alone have to evaluate solely via high school and AAU tape.
If you’ve never heard of Overtime, it’s a sports startup funded by Jeff Bezos with investors like Drake, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Trae Young, Devin Booker and others that will pay about 30 teenage prospects large sums to play in a prep league that includes perks like access to shoe deals, a percentage of the company, profits off their likeness, NFTs, among others. It seems like an altruistic endeavor, but I’m too cynical to buy that. There has to be a benefit to investing in commodities as volatile as college-age athletes other than simply “doing in for the kids.”
Those keeping tabs at home, that’s three different amateur competitions to scout and follow, and I haven’t even mentioned the international leagues. Prep basketball is so convoluted and greasy at this point that who cares, just go full international soccer with it and start signing children as soon as they can dribble. Let’s take it one step further and start inking prospects before the seed is even fertilized.
The 2022-23 drafts were rumored as the years when the high school rule could be lifted, but that same Woj piece said discussions probably wouldn’t be picked up again until the next collective bargaining talks in 2025. Enter health access jargon … blah, blah, blah … the impetus isn’t there for executives … passive aggressive email … and voila, high school rule still in effect.
I’m used to sports leagues operating in their own self-interest, so the disregard for what’s right only bothers me on a corporate America soul-sucking kind of level that I’m numb to. I’m strictly upset because I want anarchy.
I want Process-heads selecting 14-year-olds and stashing them so they can lose 68 games for improved draft odds. Give me Travis Outlaw, Webster and Sebatian Telfair. Well, maybe not the Trail Blazers specifically, but another team that I can laugh at while half their roster plays in the G League.
The Ignite is the NBA’s version of athlete exploitation, and relenting on the age limit would hurt that business. It’s never about what’s right or what’s fair, it’s about the bottom line.