Let's make this as simple as possible: The NBA has absolutely no reason — at least not a good one — to increase the minimum age for entry to the draft. Such a move would be completely arbitrary and totally unnecessary, causing needless harm and financial distress to NBA-ready 19-year-olds who want to begin their careers.
It's easy for NBA Commissioner David Stern to push for a bump to 20 years old. It's easy for Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban to go a step further, proposing that players be ineligible until three years after their high school class graduates. Stern and Cuban are grown men who have already pocketed millions of dollars; they couldn't care less about keeping money out of a young adult's pocket.
Never mind that some of the NBA's top stars entered the league straight out of high school, players such as LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett. Never mind that young talent has continued to flourish since 2005, when the NBA instituted the age limit and sparked a wave of "one and done" college freshmen stars such as Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose and John Wall. Never mind that players in virtually every sport except football (for relatively obvious reasons) can begin pro careers immediately after high school.
Cuban's line of reasoning is particularly irksome — the paternalistic notion that the NBA must protect youngsters from themselves. Kids leave college all the time, whether to take a job, take a breather or take a chance. But somehow, if you're skilled at playing hoops, you can't be trusted to make your own decisions.
"I just think there's a lot more kids that get ruined coming out early or going to school trying to be developed to come out early than actually make it," Cuban told ESPNDallas.com. "For every Kobe or Garnett or Carmelo or LeBron, there's 100 Lenny Cookes."
Cooke was a high school star from New York who declared for the 2002 draft and never played a minute in the NBA or college. He made a bad choice, just as college freshmen do who declare for the draft, don't reach the NBA and lose their NCAA eligibility. But those failures shouldn't dictate the terms for, say, University of Kentucky freshman Anthony Davis, the 19-year-old who's widely predicted to be the No. 1 pick this summer.
"It's not even so much about lottery busts," Cuban said. "It's about kids' lives that we're ruining. Even if you're a first-round pick and you have three years of guaranteed money — or two years now of guaranteed money — then what? Because if you're a bust and it turns out you just can't play in the NBA, your 'Rocks for Jocks' one year of schooling isn't going to get you real far."
As if they can't return to school with a fat bank account if the basketball thing doesn't pan out? Please. Attending college and playing basketball in college don't have to be synonymous. You can make a sound argument for freshmen stars leaving to get a head start on their earnings while continuing to work toward a degree over time.
Stern said that the NBA "would love to add a year" to the current setup, though the league already achieved its desired effect. "We're very happy to have improved from having our scouts all over the high school gymnasium," he told the Associated Press during a public appearance this week. "That was an important policy part of what we did as well, so we'll see what we can do."
Raising the minimum age works for everyone's interest except players such as Davis. The NCAA and its TV partners benefit from increased interest when star players remain in college. The NBA benefits from the additional development its future players receive by staying in college basketball. The individual conferences and schools benefit from the extra exposure and boosted attendance when their top performers stick around longer.
But players such as Davis risk much if they return to school for a second or third college season. They risk getting injured and risk being drafted lower, which could cost them millions of dollars, the same millions that the free market is eager to pay them right now.
Here's a novel idea for the NBA and its 30 teams: Instead of worrying about 19-year-olds, 20-year-olds or even high school students entering the draft, make all of them eligible. Then, if you don't like what you see in a player … don't draft him.