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NBA Draft Age Limit: Blessing Or Blunder?

The influx of high school players entering the NBA draft in recent years has yielded both positive and negative returns.  Every team hopes to find their superstar out of high school with the hope of possible decades of contribution.  It is also no surprise that the commissioner has had his worries and problems with this recent trend. David Stern got his wish in instituting an age-limit for the NBA Draft in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement.  The official NBA press release regarding the new CBA states:

?Beginning in 2006, the age limit for entering the Draft will increase from 18 to 19 years of age.  U.S. players must be at least one year removed from high school and 19 years of age (by the end of that calendar year) before entering the draft.  An international player must turn 19 during the calendar year of the draft.? (www.realgm.com)

Stern has made it clear during the last few years that it has been his desire to implement an age limit on players entering the NBA draft, but it was never certain exactly what the ruling would be.  Now it?s crystal clear, no more preps to pros.  No longer can a player like Kevin Garnett, Tracy McGrady, Kobe Bryant, or Sebastian Telfair jump straight to the League.  What is yet to be determined is if this is a detriment to the NBA, who thrives on having marketable players, or a benefit with more developed and polished players entering the league.  Many of the leagues top-flight stars have managed to jump straight from high school to the NBA lifestyle, but there have also been those who haven?t been as successful.  For every Jermaine O?Neal, there is a DeSagana Diop.  For every LeBron James there is a DeShawn Stevenson.  

There is no question that this age limit will benefit the NCAA.  Imagine former teammates and current rival centers Tyson Chandler and Eddy Curry battling it out in the NCAA tournament, or the point guard battle if Shaun Livingston had attended Duke and Sebastian Telfair played for Rick Pitino at Louisville.  Of course, there is no guarantee that these match-ups would ever happen, but there is no telling what kind of collegiate battles fans would enjoy.  

The age limit also benefits players that choose to attend college.  It is apparent that college greatly benefited the four UNC first round draft choices.  Not only did they gain the experience of living the college life, but they also increased their draft stock while winning a national championship.  On the other side, Randolph Morris, a 6-11 center for the University of Kentucky, averaged 8 points per game in his freshman campaign. This is after seriously entertaining thoughts of going pro after high school.  Now, players have to take some responsibility for their actions.  Most draft experts agreed that Morris had sub-par pre-draft workouts, and it was a stretch for him to be considered in the late second round.  Instead of returning to the SEC powerhouse in Kentucky and improving his game for a possible lottery selection in the 2006 draft, Morris kept his name in the hat only to end  the draft night without a team.  Morris fought an uphill battle against the NCAA which resulted in a season-long suspension due to receiving payments during pre-draft workouts.  The center successfully appealed the suspension and will join his teammates for the SEC conference slate.

Players need to take ownership of their career, they need to know when they have a chance at the first round, or if it?s their goal, the second round.  What makes the process exceedingly difficult is people around them telling players how great they are and what an impact they could make in the NBA.  How can a person who has the best interest of the athlete at heart, honestly tell Morris that he had a legitimate shot at being drafted in the first round after averaging 8 points, and 4 rebounds a game in college.  At some point the player must take a step back, assess the situation, and realize that even if the rules allow for an early-entry into the draft, it may not be in the player?s best interest.  

I see this new rule as having very little effect on the NBA game, and a major impact on the college game.  If David Stern wanted to really alter the trend of watering down the NBA with unprepared players, he should have implemented a high school plus 2 years, or even followed the NFL?s lead and drafted up a high school plus 3 years limit.  Instead of players like Randolph Morris jumping to the NBA after his senior year in High School, they are now stuck with Randolph Morris jumping to the NBA after a less than stellar freshman season in the SEC, that is, of course, assuming that he even makes an NBA roster.  

The NBA will have a much better idea of a player?s readiness for NBA basketball when they are 20, after two seasons of high-level collegiate basketball.  It is debatable as to which is more beneficial, to sit on the end of an NBA bench getting acclimated to the temperature of the NBA, or to play quality minutes in a different league.  

Mike Dunleavy Jr, decided that the NBA could wait, and chose to spend three seasons at Duke University.  Duke, and their coach Mike Krzyzewski, had a stellar track record of players coming to Duke in order to prepare for the NBA, but after a few seasons with the Golden State Warriors, Dunleavy offers a different view.  In an interview with ESPN the Magazine, Dunleavy stated that, ?it sounds silly to say the college game isn?t good for guys, but there may be some truth to it.  If you?re good enough to play 10 to 15 minutes a night and practice every day, you?ll get dramatically better being in the NBA compared to staying in school.?  

The NBA is making great strides towards improving the league, but there is more that can be done.  The National Basketball Association Developmental League (or NBADL) is a step towards developing a workable ?minor league? system for the NBA, and it offers players a different alternative if the can?t make it into school, or don?t want to.  This system must become a priority of the NBA, much like it is for baseball.  The coaches can keep a closer eye on their players if they are in a NBA team organized farm system, than if they were overseas playing ball.  Major college teams are the big winners from the new age limit, but the NBA is not far off from developing a structure that could benefit everyone: the players, the coaches, the teams, and eventually the fans.

Let?s Make a Deal: Chicago Bulls Edition

The Chicago Bulls enter this holiday season in a much more favorable situation than last year?s version of the team.  But the 2005-2006 Bulls squad is still marked by its inconsistency and lack of depth.  GM John Paxson has two possible courses of action, he can either ride out the season and take his chances with plenty of cap room and two first round draft picks, or he can make a move or two that can bring the Bulls closer to contender status.

The patient approach of holding his assets seems to be a good one, but it is not without its risks.  The Bulls do have nearly $22M free after this season, but the 2006 free agent class is one of the weakest in recent memory.  The top two big names, Al Harrington and Peja Stojakovic, would most likely be second tier free agents in any other year and may not be the best investment for Paxson and the Bulls.  The draft picks appear to have great value though, especially the possible top lottery pick that came over from the Knicks in the Eddy Curry deal over the summer.  This draft is not considered very deep especially when you consider how many of the top prospects don?t fit into the Bulls? system or play positions already locked up by great young talent.  With most of the Bulls core players being under the age of 25, these draft picks appear to be ideal trade bait for a blockbuster deal.  

With expiring contracts, possible lottery picks, and great young talent the Bulls would appear to be the ideal trading partner for a team looking to make a change.  Here are three trades the Bulls should consider, some long-term and some short-term, in order to improve this team.

Bulls: F Malik Allen and G/F Eric Piatkowski

Nets: C Marc Jackson

The Nets have been rumored to have interest in moving both Marc Jackson and guard Jeff McInnis, but due to their recent turnaround a deal may be unlikely.  This deal would provide the Bulls with a short-term fix to help out Sweetney and Chandler underneath.  His 6-10 255 pound frame would add considerable beef to a front court in desperate need of help, the Bulls? big men are constantly in foul trouble and Tyson Chandler lacks the bulk to play solid defense for 30 minutes per game.  Malik Allen has caught the Nets eye as a possible addition due to his shooting touch from the outside and veteran leadership.  Eric Piatkowski would be thrown in to make salaries work, but his expiring contract, three point shooting and NBA experience would be valuable for any team.  Although this deal may not have a huge shock effect around the league, it would be a good deal for the Bulls and wouldn?t cripple their future cap space, or cost them to lose any of their draft picks.  

Bulls: G Ben Gordon, PG Chris Duhon, F Tim Thomas and Chicago Bulls? 2006 1st

Celtics: G/F Paul Pierce and C Mark Blount

The Bulls should be wary of any blockbuster deal that would bring in a potential chemistry killer.  It is hard to determine the actual amount that it would take to pry Pierce out of Boston, but this is roughly what it would take. This deal also seriously inhibits the idea of the Bulls using their $20M cap room in the summer of 2006, although it still leaves the Bulls roughly $8-10M to spend on free agents and Pierce is far better than anyone in the free agent class of 2006.  Paul Pierce has been the center of trade rumors for years, but this may be the one that makes the most sense.  The Bulls need a consistent 20 ppg scorer, as well as a tall shooting guard that can play defense on the Kobe Bryant and LeBron James type players of the league.  This season, the Bulls have also been getting dominated at the free throw line.  Opponents are getting to the line 29.7 times per game compared to the Bulls at 23.2.  Paul Pierce averages 11.6 trips to line per 48 minutes.  Michael Sweetney is the only Chicago Bull who averages over 6 trips to the line, and he isn?t much help when he gets there shooting just 62%.  This would leave the Bulls a little short on depth in the back court, but would deliver much needed help in the front court.  Mark Blount is a 7 footer who has picked up his play immensely this season.  This trade would give the Celtics cap relief, a true point guard in Chris Duhon, and an explosive young player in Ben Gordon.  They would have great young players to build around in Gerald Green, Ricky Davis, Gordon, Duhon, Al Jefferson, Kendrick Perkins, and Marcus Banks.  Talent-wise this core would be attractive for any GM to manage, with a point guard in Chris Duhon who will be able to distribute the ball to the playmakers.  This would be a very high profile trade that would bring excitement for both franchises, but there will be fans critical of the move on both sides.  

Bulls: F/C Tyson Chandler and G Ben Gordon

Charlotte: G/F Gerald Wallace, C Primoz Brezec, F Melvin Ely, Conditional 1st round pick in 2007

John Paxson is not ready to let two former top 5 draft picks leave for nothing, but it is no secret that Tyson Chandler has underperformed especially considering the amount of money he is being paid.  This trade gives Paxson an early out to the bad contract he has given Chandler as well as addresses the Bulls shortcomings.  Gerald Wallace is a superstar in the makings, a tall (6-7), athletic scorer who has emerged as a leader for the young Bobcats team.  Primoz Brezec is a big, athletic 7 footer who has a nice shooting touch which extends out to just inside the 3-point line, which compliments his solid back to the basket game.  Melvin Ely is thrown in to make salaries match, but he also happens to fill the need for front-court depth.  The Bulls receive their consistent go-to scorer and tall defender on the wings, as well as front-court toughness and depth.  Charlotte does this trade due to the unlimited potential in two former top 5 picks.  Charlotte star forward Emeka Okafor is reunited with teammate Ben Gordon for the first time since the two led the University of Connecticut to the national championship.  Gordon, fresh off a rookie season that included the NBA?s sixth man of the year award, has proven to be a clutch player by bailing the Bulls out in numerous fourth quarters last year.  Gordon is the odd-man out with the Bulls because they have three talented, albeit short, guards.  A rejuvenated Tyson Chandler matched up with Emeka Okafor provide one of the best defensive front-courts in the NBA, as well as one of the youngest.  It would be hard to find a team that wouldn?t want to gamble on an athletic 7 footer such as Chandler, and the chance to match him with the players in place already would be too much to pass up for Charlotte.  Though the deal sounds like it makes sense to both sides, it is unlikely to go through.  The Bulls will be hesitant to trade away top prospects after watching Elton Brand, Ron Artest, and Brad Miller leave only to become stars elsewhere.  Charlotte is still a small market team who may not be able to pay long-term deals for Okafor and Gordon when their contract is up, as well as hometown heroes Sean May and Raymond Felton when they are off of their rookie contracts.  This trade would give the Bobcats great young talent, mostly on rookie contracts, and would put an exciting product on the court for the fans to enjoy.

 

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