- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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Did Steve Kerr just spark serious progress on the NBA minimum age requirement? It certainly appears that way.
On Tuesday, Grantland published Kerr's essay on the reasons why a change to the NBA's current rule, which has spawned the current one-and-done environment everyone knows and hates, would be beneficial to the league and its players. As a 15-year former NBA veteran, Kerr blended experience and common sense into a borderline unimpeachable argument.
His point: All that really matters is whether the NBA and its players can agree on why an extra year in college would be good for the entire business. The arguments about fairness and freedom to pursue a career and why it isn't Eddy Curry's fault if a GM drafts him No. 4 overall don't apply, not when we're talking about business. Even better? A rule change in the NBA could have positive trickle-down effects on the entire basketball culture, from high school to AAU to the collegiate level. It could be good for everybody, not just the NBA's bottom line. That's my hope, anyway.
Which is why Andy Katz's Thursday afternoon report is so potentially exciting. Two days after Kerr published his essay -- and more than a month after NBA commissioner David Stern weighed in on the issue after the Final Four -- the National Basketball Players Association at least publicly addressed the issue. From Andy:
“The NBPA's position on the age limit has been consistent,’’ said NBAPA spokesperson Dan Wasserman after consulting with NBAPA director Billy Hunter on Thursday. “An overwhelming majority of the NBPA’s members support the ability of potential NBA players to freely pursue their livelihood by allowing high school graduate age players to apply for the draft. As a practical matter we recognize that any change to the current rule must sufficiently balance both the league’s and players’ interests.’’
The NBAPA wants the owners to give rookies a quicker path to free agency if they stay in school longer. The NBAPA wants the players to have more money up front as rookies if they have stayed in school longer.
“In our view, an increase in the age limitation benefits the teams and owners in a variety of ways,’’ Wasserman said. “These benefits include a reduction in compensation paid to some of the league's best players over the course of their careers. Although we are always willing to discuss any topic with the NBA, it will be difficult to make any progress in this area if the league seeks unilateral concessions from the players."
Last winter, many expected the one-and-done rule to be a hot topic during the collective bargaining discussions. At the very least, it was a chip -- something the NBPA could (theoretically) have used to extract a different demand from NBA owners.
As it turned out, last winter might have been the worst possible time to expect this sort of change. Both sides spent months fruitlessly bickering about the basic fundamentals of their agreement; the NBA owners were after far more than a one-year bump in the minimum NBA draft age requirement. The whole environment was poisoned. By the time the sides announced their agreement, discussion of the age limit was nowhere to be found.
As Wasserman's quotes show, the tone between the two sides is at least slightly less poisonous now. And believe it or not, there might even be cause for hope. At the very least, the NBPA is acknowledging the discussion. They are providing some sort of outline for an agreement. And their demands are reasonable: If the NBA wants its incoming players to spend not one, but two years out of high school not playing in the league -- whether in the lowly D-League, on a European club, or most often, on a college campus -- the league should be willing to give those players the benefit of fewer years on their free agency clocks. Based on the current rookie wage scale (which could be subject to some scrutiny in any age limit negotiations) that seems fair.
There are other concerns, like hardship and medical loans, which Kentucky coach John Calipari has evangelized repeatedly in recent months. But they, too, seem reasonable. Besides, as Calipari is quick to point out, we are really talking about 15 to 20 players per season. Most college basketball players are not going pro in basketball, let alone after one season. It's a minority group, and that makes the logistics much easier.
In any case, at least we're talking about this -- and not in vague and whiny terms, but in tangible and reasonable ones. Maybe it doesn't mean much, but I'm choosing to be hopeful. Part of it is selfish: I want college basketball to be better, and more good players on campuses for two years means better college basketball. But as a fan of the college game, and the NBA, and pickup basketball, and local high school games and you-name-it-as-long-as-it's-hoops-I'm-watching, I do think there are legitimate, unselfish reasons to get behind this idea.
The NBA will have to give the players something, and the players will have to respond in kind. What are the chances of that? I don't know. But maybe, just maybe, the right people have finally been persuaded.
Steve Kerr, take a bow. The rest of us will be crossing our fingers.