The NBA Draft was born in 1947, when it was still known as the BAA, in an effort to evenly distribute the best amateur basketball talent across the League.
Aside from the intrinsic foundation of putting the basketball in the hoop, it is almost the only practice from 1947 that still exists in professional basketball today. But it has started to run its course.
On Friday, Lonzo Ball said explicitly what his father had been echoing for a while now – given his preference, he would like to stay in his home town of Los Angeles and play for the Lakers, even more than having the honour of being the number one draft pick.
This is interesting, and not in the least bit because it is widely tipped that the Los Angeles Lakers’ biggest geographical and historical rivals, the Boston Celtics, will hold that number one pick in the upcoming draft.
This time last year, it was reported that the Ben Simmons camp, led by agent Rich Paul, wanted to be drafted by the Lakers also.
Simmons wound up in Philadelphia, and was fine with that, but together, the two incidents are part of a changing trend within the NBA.
Historically a “players league”, top NBA prospects are starting to become less prejudicial about their desires and preferences heading into the draft. Clearly, the culture of the sport is changing.
Adapting to trends is what has kept professional basketball so fresh, relevant, and ahead of the curve for the past 20-25 years, despite being the third most popular sport in the United States.
With the current draft model now beginning to painfully bare its age, now is the perfect time to consider a radical change in the NBA – perhaps the biggest change the League has made since it introduced the three point line.
It’s time to change how our young players enter the League. It’s time to reverse the current model of the draft – or potentially scrap it altogether.
What I propose is full free agency rights to any school leaver, or international prospect over the age of 19. They can sign with whomever they want, whenever they want, for however much they’re offered.
Or, if you don’t wish to lose the drama of draft night, the best 15 prospects could be ranked 1 through to 15, with the player choosing their team the same way they currently get chosen on draft night.
At first, this might seem crazy. I know what you’re thinking. The annual draft gives the illusion of instilling parity and keeping the League from utter chaos.
But does it?
Time for some troubleshooting.
The first in a long list of frequently asked questions/rebuttals regarding this method would be that, “everyone would wind up in the same place” – either New York, Los Angeles or with Cleveland or Golden State.
People would worry that the new model would kill off small market teams.
After all, we’re not advocating for the death of the salary cap. It will still be there to ensure that all teams are operating on a level playing field on at least one level.
Under this system, don’t players already go to the same teams anyway? (See Durant, Kevin)
Besides, not all players think the same way at all.
Different players prioritise different things. Money, family, individual and/or team success, big markets. These all matter to a player, some mattering more than others.
The spread of talent across the League would naturally even out. After all, since when has the first pick in the draft assured that team success?
Anthony Bennett was picked first overall in 2013, the same year Giannis Antetokounmpo was picked all the way down at 15th. Today, AB is out of the League, yet both are still top teams in their conference.
Another popular argument would be that the League would be too top heavy.
But guess what: it already is.
This year, there are two to three teams jostling for the NBA title, another four or five battling for second place in their conference, and a whole lot of teams who ain’t playing for keeps.
As mentioned, Boston are a good chance to land the top overall pick in this years’ draft, after swindling the Brooklyn Nets for a bunch of their picks a handful of years ago.
But are the Celtics one of the worst teams in the League? Nope. Quite the contrary.
Outside of the draft, the League is a free market. The rich will get richer as the poor get poorer, and the rich have no problems whatsoever taking advantage of the poor to do so.
The draft doesn’t stop this from happening. If anything, it just provides another avenue for it to happen.
It’s been this way for 40 odd years now, and scrapping the draft isn’t going to make it any worse. Arguably, it’ll make it better. After all, this system would end tanking for good – something the league has looked to do for years now.
No longer could a bad team levy their badness and find ways to make themselves even worse to capture that top prospect. It would be the opposite taking place.
With every young prospect likely having one or two teams in his mind, the other 28 would have to sell themselves and their cause exceptionally well to change that young mans’ mind in order for him to commit his future to them.
If someone other than the Lake Show is able to sell their cause and their vision for Lonzo Ball better than his hometown team, I welcome it.
I am in the market for good basketball, and this makes good basketball infinitely more likely.
Respected NBA pundit Colin Cowherd came out in full support of this idea on his radio show ‘The Herd’ not long after Balls’ profession.
Cowherd has seen over 40 drafts, and he is fully on board with handing the power back to the players. After all, don’t they have it already? A player winds up where he wants to in the end.
For a League so open to trend, new ideas and leading the way, let’s do so again by adopting this new player entry scheme.
After all, isn’t good basketball what we all want to see?