Thankfully, it appears that Billy Hunter was good on his promise to make one final phone call to NBA Commissioner David Stern before the June 30th expiration of the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
After marathon negotiations on Friday as well as over the weekend, the Players' Association has come to an agreement with the NBA Owners and struck a deal on a new CBA. At the head of the line to show their appreciation for avoiding the second work stoppage in NBA history is the NBA's Public Relations staff, thrilled that their services will not be necessary to rebuild the reputation of the league only seven years after having had to do it before.
Plenty of others should laud the two parties for coming together nine full days before the old agreement was over and over three months before the start of training camp. Players will be happy they won't have to forfeit any salary. Players who could qualify as the 11th-15th players on rosters will be thankful that they'll have a chance to play in the Summer Leagues to audition for an NBA job. Fans will be glad they don't have to hear about millionaires arguing about millions of dollars. And believe me when I tell you that writers will be thrilled to write about the wooing of free agents and the possibility of trades instead of mundane labor talks and obvious power plays.
When it comes to the new agreement, everyone will be talking about the new 19-year-old age minimum for players entering the NBA draft. Until this agreement expires in 2011, any player not 19 on the day of the draft or who is not a year out of high school will be ineligible for the draft. Doubtless, we will start to hear about how we would have had to have waited for the likes of LeBron, T-Mac and Amare if this rule had been instituted several years ago. To this we say: quit your whining.
Everyone always says that for every LeBron there are ten Kwame Browns coming out of high school. When it comes down to it, though, it's not so true. Look at this list of high school players drafted from 1998-2003: Brown, Darius Miles, DeShawn Stevenson, Eddie Curry, Tyson Chandler, Jonathan Bender, Travis Outlaw, Al Harrington, Stoudemire, Ndudi Ebi, Kendrick Perkins, James Lang, and, of course, James. Not all of these players are stellar, though some certainly are, but most, aside from maybe Brown and Lang, cannot be called unmitigated disasters, either.
The problem lies in their first year in the league. Yes, James and Stoudemire were obvious studs from the get-go, but that's pretty much it. Miles was alright, but nothing special. Al Harrington didn't average double figures until his fourth season. Chandler, forced to play almost 20 minutes a game in his inaugural season averaged just six points and less than five boards. His teammate Curry averaged 6.7 and 3.8. Stevenson showed he wasn't mature enough to be in the league yet with his legal "issues" and Perkins played 30 minutes his entire rookie year.
James and Stoudemire are the poster boys for high school players coming into the draft, along with last year's number 1 pick, Dwight Howard and the reigning slam dunk champ, Josh Smith. But most of these guys would be better served going to school for a few years and learning the game instead of languishing at the end of the bench and practicing their 3-point shots or highlight reel jams. The league would be better for it, too. Imagine if players came into the NBA with a mid-range game and the knowledge of how to set a proper screen. Or if they could start the maturing process before getting their shoe contracts, excessive "bling" (as the kids say), to go with the millions being thrown at them. Then maybe players such as Brown and Stevenson would've known better. And perhaps the scouting would improve a tad so GM's would know not to let players like Al Jefferson slide to 15 and Rashard Lewis to the second round.
If you ask me, a 19-year age minimum is just a decent start. If they want to leave after their junior year in college, I'll allow that concession, but I won't be happy about it.
As for the rest of the deal, it's all splitting hairs, if you ask me. Cleveland and a few other teams will celebrate for the raising of the salary cap. Owners will have to deal with those burdensome long-term contracts for a year less than before and raises will be 2% less than before. Players will receive more basketball related income and will have four drug tests a year instead of just one. Everyone should benefit from the development of a real minor league.
When it comes right down to it, this deal is a rather small improvement over the old one, but it does demonstrate the continued strength of the owners, a good thing if you're a paying customer who hates the rising salaries in sports. That the owners decision not to pursue a "super luxury tax" is considered a concession on their part when it wasn't even in the old CBA demonstrates that they were negotiating from a position of power.
The crux of this issue, though, is not the rising salaries, the age minimum or who gets what money. All that really matters here is that, instead of discussing the continued selfishness in sports, we'll be talking about what teams will be taking the court in October.
Sounds like a win-win situation for everyone involved.