Widgets Magazine

Avalon: It’s time to eliminate the NBA draft

If you’re okay with dropping $100 of your hard-earned money to watch Tim Quarterman and Axel Toupane commit seven turnovers in the fourth quarter, this column isn’t for you. Likewise, if you get your jollies from watching impoverished 19-year-olds make life-ruining decisions, you can stop reading now. Still here? Good. It’s time we finally have a talk about eliminating the NBA draft for once and for all.

Tanking is out of control, and the draft lottery is nothing more than a Charlie Brown bandage on a gaping wound. Because of the lottery, being the worst team in the league does not guarantee you the top pick, but it does secure a top-four selection. This jockeying for position means we see teams like the Suns and Lakers shutting down starters for the last couple months of the seasons in a race to the bottom.

Worse still, we see teams like the Sixers who are afraid to incrementally improve over the course of an entire season for fear of missing out on high picks. No one wants to watch a starting backcourt of TJ McConnell and Isaiah Canaan for months at a time. It’s bad basketball, and it’s downright anti-competitive.

The rookie contract scale is set a couple years ahead of time, meaning a player’s draft year and position greatly impacts his future earnings. There are a lot of negative side effects of this process; an obvious one is that there are victims of deep drafts, while players like Anthony Bennett benefit from weaker classes. It also mandates restrictive contracts like the one Chris Bosh signed, which keeps players in a bad franchise for far too long. Of course, such a scale also artificially suppresses the wages of gifted rookies like LeBron or Anthony Davis.

One unintended side effect, though, is players demanding to not be drafted in the second round, as the scale prescribes a multi-year contract at the league minimum with the draft team. Going undrafted means the player becomes a free agent and can sign whatever deal they like with whomever they like. The second round has turned into a complete sham because of this phenomenon.

The biggest drawback of the NBA Draft, though, is the amount of young men who miscalculate their preparedness and draft stock, leaving school before they’re ready. The league has tried to combat this issue by allowing players to exit further into the draft process. They also banned high school players from declaring. Still, many early entrants will be picked near the tail end of the draft or not at all, and will be forgoing a free education for a spot in the league that isn’t actually there. It’s absolutely heartbreaking to watch each year.

Eliminating the draft is the best solution for these problems. Instead of this dated system, I propose having every player enter the league as a free agent. No team will be incentivized to tank, so we won’t have to watch years of the Sixers “processing” or Ryan Kelly play 30 minutes per game in April. Rookies can go to the team that gives them the best chance to succeed on a deal that offers them flexibility and a fair wage. Most importantly, though, any collegiate player who is not offered an enticing enough salary can return to school and maintain their amateur status.

Proponents of the draft argue that it helps small-market teams stay competitive. After all, how else would Oklahoma City be able to assemble a dynasty-caliber roster of Westbrook, Harden, Ibaka and Durant, if not for the draft? As a long-suffering Portland Trail Blazer fan, I can see this argument. That’s why I’m not stopping at eliminating the draft, but also at reforming the max player salary.

The max player salary is one of the worst things in the modern NBA, and it has allowed for the creation of super-teams. Essentially, there is a maximum amount of money each player can make, so someone like LeBron, who is, in reality, worth well over $50 million on an open market, made just $30 million this year. In a league with a salary cap, that creates an extra $20 million of space that can be used on star players like Kyrie Irving and role players like Tristan Thompson. Without a max salary, Cleveland would not have a roster with so many current and former stars, and the Eastern Conference would be much more competitive with a more equitable spread of talent.

If we combine the eradication of the draft with the elimination of maximum salaries, we still allow teams with lesser rosters to have the best chance to sign star amateurs. After all, young players do not have the luxury of a David West or Ray Allen to take a pay cut in order to chase rings. They’re chasing money, since there are no guarantees of longevity. In a salary cap league, small market teams can absolutely compete in this structure.

The NBA has made great strides over the past couple decades, but until it makes these reforms, there will continue to be glaring issues with the league.


If you’ve been trusting the process in recent years and feel Grant’s pain, you can contact Grant Avalon at gavalon ‘at’ stanford.edu.