The National Basketball Association's G League will begin offering "select contracts" worth $125,000 next year to elite prospects who are not yet eligible for the NBA, a move that could slightly lessen the handful of one-and-done players at the college level.
There is no determination yet on how players will be identified as potential targets for such a contract. The G League, which serves as the NBA's minor league, announced Thursday that it is establishing a working group to develop that process and other criteria, and that there will be no cap on how many players could be signed to a select deal.
"We recognize that talent assessment is inherently subjective," G League President Malcolm Turner said. "But as the name would suggest, this working group will be charged with identifying the relevant pool of players who may be offered a select contract. It's not as if any player can unilaterally raise their hand and dictate that they will join the league playing under a select contract."
Players will be eligible to sign the select deal if they turn 18 by Sept. 15 prior to the season that they would spend in the G League. The move follows recommendations released earlier this year by the NCAA's Commission on College Basketball, a group that was chaired by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and tasked with reforming the college game.
The commission report said "elite high school players with NBA prospects … should not be 'forced' to attend college."
Turner said the move addresses that concern.
"We've tried to answer the basketball community's call for an alternative in a timely and thoughtful way," Turner said.
Players who receive the select contracts all will become eligible for the NBA draft the following year. Their rights would not be retained by an NBA club beforehand, no matter which G League affiliate they wind up with.
Under current rules, players are not eligible to enter the NBA draft until they are a year removed from high school—though that is expected to change through an amendment to the collective bargaining agreement between the NBA and its players in time for the 2022 draft.
The G League has allowed 18-year-old players in the past, but never before under any elite designation.
While it is apparent there are still details to be ironed out—such as how these select players will be allocated to G League teams—NCAA President Mark Emmert said he appreciates the G League's plan.
"Obtaining a college education continues to provide unmatched preparation for success in life for the majority of student-athletes and remains an excellent path to professional sports for many," Emmert said. "However, this change provides another option for those who would prefer not to attend college but want to directly pursue professional basketball."
And this could put the G League and some big-name NCAA programs on a collision course.
Players can sign letters of intent to play for a Division I school in the 2019-20 season starting next month, and there's nothing to suggest that some of the top recruits—whether they've signed or not—won't consider going to the G League for $125,000 instead of college next season. That means the potential is there for some awkward situations if a player signs with a school, and later backs out of that commitment to turn pro.
The G League's working group is expected to be formed and functioning within the next couple of weeks, but it's unclear when the process of players contacting the league and vice versa will begin. It is expected that there will be an advisory council to tell athletes who contact the G League about their potential eligibility for a select deal, much like how college football players can ask about their potential NFL draft status.
"There might be some collision points, but our role and what we intend to do is educate and inform the marketplace," Turner said. "We're also not going to be targeting those who have already made their decisions."
Earlier this year, Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James called the NCAA model "corrupt" and said he would suggest to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver a plan to expand the G League and turn it into more of a farm system with an eye on truly preparing young talent for the NBA.
"As the NBA, we have to figure out a way that we can shore up our farm league," James said in February, when he was still with the Cleveland Cavaliers. "And if kids feel like they don't want to be a part of that NCAA program, then we have something here for them to be able to jump back on and not have to worry about going overseas all the time."
Through the first two nights of this NBA season, 35 rookies—most of them having left college early—made their debuts. Of the 35, only five scored more than 10 points in their first game.