NEW ORLEANS — Adam Silver opened his NBA commissionership with a full agenda, and one lingering, highly charged item left over from David Stern’s tenure: raising the age required to enter the league, to 20 years old.
The NBA currently requires that players be at least 19, and a year removed from high school, to enter the draft. League officials proposed raising it to 20 during the last round of labor talks, in 2011, but the issue was scuttled—along with many others—as owners and players wrangled over money during the lockout.
Silver remains strongly in favor of a 20-year age limit, a position he reiterated Saturday, in his first press conference as commissioner. (For more on Silver, see our profile of him.)
“It is my belief that if players have an opportunity to mature as players and as people, for a longer amount of time, before they come into the league, it will lead to a better league,” Silver said.
When should players be allowed to play in the NBA?
That position, he said, has been reinforced by NBA coaches, “who feel that many of even the top players in the league could use more time to develop even as leaders, as part of college programs.”
Any change to the age limit is bound to be controversial. The creation of the 19-year rule, in 2005, kicked off what is now known as the “one-and-done” era of college basketball, with the most talented players enrolling in school only because they have to—and leaving as soon as they can, to cash in on a multimillion-dollar contract. The rule’s critics also contend it is wrong to prevent players from earning that salary at age 18.
Raising the requirement to 20 would at least end the era of one-and-done, although it would hardly quell the debate over the rule’s fairness. Silver argued that keeping players in college for two years would also improve the college game, by keeping teams together longer.
“If those teams could have an opportunity to jell, to come together—if those players had the benefit to play for some of these great college coaches for longer periods of time—I think it would lead to stronger college basketball and stronger NBA ball as well,” he said.
Any change to the age limit will require the consent of the players' union. That presents its own challenge.
Big Vacancy Atop Players' Union; Candidates Interviewed
The union is still without a permanent executive director, 12 months after firing Billy Hunter amid charges of nepotism and abuse of power. Union leaders interviewed two finalists for the job here Saturday, but they said there is no timeline for making a hire.
The two finalists, according to multiple sources, are David White, the national executive director of the Screen Actors Guild; and Michele Roberts, a partner at the Washington law firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP.
White and Roberts made extensive presentations Saturday to a group of 30-plus players, including the union’s executive committee. All-Stars Carmelo Anthony and LaMarcus Aldridge also attended the meeting. A video of those presentations will be sent to all 30 teams, for viewing by the rest of the union’s membership.
“We want to be transparent with the process,” said Roger Mason Jr., a union vice president.
If there is enough enthusiasm for one of the candidates among the players, a new executive director could be hired in the next few months.
But many agents and players are thoroughly disillusioned with the process. Some are even advocating that they start the search over. That is considered unlikely, but it was telling that union leaders refused to use the term “finalists” or to state a goal for making a hire. There is some concern that both candidates could be rejected, leaving them back at square one.
The union has been wracked by dysfunction for years, much of it due to Hunter’s mismanagement. His ouster left a power vacuum, with a number of people trying to fill it, all with competing agendas.
Union leaders, including president Chris Paul, say they have pursued a careful, methodical search for a new director, led by the Reilly Partners consulting firm.
“We considered more than 200 professionals, with a wide range of experience—sports, law, labor, business,” Mason said.
One of those candidates was Danny Schayes, a former NBA player, who blasted the search process in a recent column for SheridanHoops.com.
“I found the process to be secretive, manipulative and full of conflicting agendas fighting for control,” Schayes wrote.
Asked to respond, union vice president James Jones said, “He has a right to his opinion. Those sentiments we don’t share, individually, collectively. But this is about our search, our process, our union. All those outside have a right to feel however they feel about the process.”
The executive director role is currently being filled on an interim basis by Ron Klempner, the union’s longtime general counsel. But the union cannot make major policy decisions until it chooses a permanent new leader. That means issues like the age limit and HGH testing will continue to go unaddressed.
“It is a hindrance to a certain extent,” Silver said, “and I would love to have a partner across the table from me that had the backing of the entire players association and with whom we could do business with.”
Silver did praise Paul, who was elected president last September. The two have already forged a solid relationship; according to Silver, they regularly text and email each other.
“And I think he's in a little bit of a difficult situation, too, largely because he's got a full‑time job,” Silver said, alluding to Paul’s starring role with the Los Angeles Clippers. “And that's the reason why you need an executive director at the union to focus on those issues."
Howard Beck covers the NBA for Bleacher Report.