Check out those salaries. In case you were unaware, players selected in the NBA draft have pre-determined salaries. They are assigned 2-year contracts with 2 more years as team options. Derrick Rose, last year's #1 overall pick, will average under $5 million a year over the first four years of his career. Corey Maggette, a career 16.3 point-per-game scorer who's thirty years old and hasn't started 70 games in any of the past five seasons, signed a contract last offseason that will pay him an average of $9.5 million a year over next five years. Rose, by the way, is averaging 16.6 points per game in this, his rookie, season.
The discrepancy here is that incoming college players don't get to negotiate their contracts; they're assigned a value. In this small part of the American economy, capitalism is completely ignored. In the sport where one player can make the biggest difference, and where the teams at the bottom of the draft are in more desperate need of superstar talents, those superstar talents are not being allowed to negotiate within the market to try to obtain their true value. I believe that this is contributing to the exodus of great college players from college basketball. How? I'll try to draw you the line.
I am a very good college freshman basketball player. I'm not the best player around, but everyone likes me and I'm sure to go around pick #15. In the current draft system, I'll make about $1.7 million a year for the first couple of years, then be eligible for free agency. As long as I play well and show promise, I'll get at least $5 million a year, and potentially a good deal more if I can really excel in my role. I don't have to be a superstar, because I'm young, and it takes time for people my age to grow into their NBA bodies.
I could stay another year and improve my draft stock to around #8, but the advantage is only $700K per year for those first four years. Sure that's a lot of money, but it keeps me another year away from my big payday. A little chart to compare (option A is to stay in college another year; option B is to leave now):
- 2010: A - $0, B - $1.7M
- 2011: A - $2.1M, B - $1.85M
- 2012: A - $2.35M, B - $2.0M
- 2013: A - $2.5M, B - $2.55M
- 2014: A - $3.2M, B - FREE AGENCY
Do I think this is the only factor? No, of course not. Lots of players don't want to go to school at all, but end up doing so for a year because the NBA created a rule requiring players to be 19 to be eligible for the draft. This rule again is artificially skewing the market. Who exactly is our cautionary tale among high school players? Certainly not Dwight Howard, LeBron James, Kevin Garnett, or Kobe Bryant, for these players are all superstars. Then perhaps it's the ill-fated 2001 crop of high schoolers: Kwame Brown, Eddy Curry, Tyson Chandler, and Sagana Diop. Well, each of them is making at least $4 million this year.
No, this isn't for the good of the players. It's an image thing. The average, ignorant American thinks that it's "wrong" for an 18-year-old to be making millions of dollars, so they shout about how these kids should be forced to go to school, "for their benefit." All of the cries were that these kids should be forced to go to school because, hey, maybe they actually want to go to school; we're just giving them an easy way out. Turns out they all stay one year and then head to the pros anyways. So now, the discussion has moved to a 20-year-old minimum age.
If your goal is to have a greater number of people enrolled as freshman in college, then the 19-year-old limitation is a great idea. But if your idea is to re-establish the continuity that made college basketball great for so many years (which is really all I care about), then allowing elite high school players to enter the NBA draft will prevent them from being the one-and-done players who skew college basketball from year to year (see the aforementioned Rose).
Do I wish the best 18- to 22-year-old basketball players were all playing college basketball and helping to make the NCAA tournament as good as its ever been? Of course I do. But I'd rather watch the same sons of bitches at Duke for four years than get annoyed at a new bunch of bastards at UNC every year. So open up the contract negotiations, and let high schoolers go into the NBA draft. We'll get over ourselves eventually.