Sources: Age limit solutions weighed
While NBA owners and representatives for the players have a handshake agreement on the broad points of a new labor deal, there are a host of other elements that still need to be worked out before the league hopes to re-open.
One element that has repercussions beyond the league is its age requirement for eligibility, which currently requires a player to be 19 years old and, in the U.S., one year removed from high school.
While it has been widely held that the NBA would like to push the age limit to 20, sources familiar with the dialogue between the two sides now say it is expected to remain at 19 for at least the first two years of the new deal and possibly beyond that.
Several alternatives have been discussed, sources said. One option would be to allow players to enter the draft directly out of high school but have the option to withdraw and go to college, similar to the draft rule used by Major League Baseball. Under this concept, a player would next be required to attend at least two years of college before entering the draft again.
Another option would be to revise the rookie salary scale by adding incentives to stay in college longer, a source familiar with the labor talks said. Potential incentives would include increasing the salary range for each year a player stays in school or allow him to qualify for free agency sooner.
There are several ancillary reasons why keeping the age limit at 19 for the time being is desirable. The first is the limited time the owners and players have to complete a collective bargaining agreement by Dec. 9 -- the date commissioner David Stern has targeted for the start of training camp and free agency. All significant rules pertaining to league operations have to be in place by then.
"I'm not sure there's going to be a lot of time to thrash out B-list issues," said one source.
While time is clearly a factor, the possibility of re-stocking the league with young talent is also appealing.
The 2012 draft class is expected to be with a host of lottery-level collegiate players -- North Carolina's Harrison Barnes and Ohio State's Jared Sullinger among them -- who passed on the 2011 draft because of the labor uncertainty combined with a trove of NBA-caliber collegiate freshman such as Kentucky's Anthony Davis and Connecticut's Andre Drummond.
One league official opined that a star-studded draft and the hope that it offers the league's struggling teams could erase whatever lingering disenchantment fans might feel from the labor turmoil.
Ric Bucher is a senior NBA writer for ESPN The Magazine.