Is G League initiative a threat to NCAA basketball?
The G League, the NBA’s official development league, introduced a new initiative called the “Select Contract” for elite players age 18 who are not yet eligible for the NBA draft. Players who are invited will make $125,000 for the G League’s five-month season, well above the $35,000 paid to players on regular G League contracts, before becoming NBA draft eligible. G League President Malcolm Turner discussed how Select Contracts came about, and how they will work.
Why is now the right time to introduce the Select Contract?
TURNER: A lot has happened that’s enabling the G League to be part of the conversation today. Each of our 27 teams has a direct affiliation with an NBA team. We’ve launched 10 teams in the last 36 months. We’ve introduced two-way contracts. And if you look at our footprint, the average distance between an NBA team and its G League affiliate is 100 miles. So, the timing has a lot to do with where we are as an emerging growth property. … Meanwhile, there’s an adjacent college basketball space that’s evolving and that’s been asking for an alternative path. In many respects, we feel like we’re answering that call because we can now. Yes, we’re here to grow the G League, but we’re also cognizant of where we sit in the greater basketball community.
Who was involved in the decision to create the Select Contract?
TURNER: There were several points of engagement throughout the process with the NBA labor relations committee, general managers, an internal working team of operations people, and a player development team. There also was just a process of seeking input at the gym. This topic has been out there for some time.
Did NBA Commissioner Adam Silver have a role?
TURNER: Adam is always involved, especially knowing that there’s a runway to 2022 for one-and-done. (Silver is negotiating with the union to change the one-and-done rule, but the league says it could be 2022 or longer before that happens.) That presents an opportunity for us to create a solution in the meantime.
Was the NCAA involved?
TURNER: Certainly, there are lines of communication. We’ve always had a productive relationship.
The G League has 27 teams. Does that mean there will be 27 Select Contracts?
TURNER: That will depend on the player evaluations. Talent scouting is fundamentally subjective, which is all the more reason we’re putting together a working group that’s charged with identifying eligible talent that may be offered a Select Contract. The working group will assess readiness on the court and off. It may be that we’re talking about a small handful of players. It’s hard for me to imagine that we’ll start out with a player per team.
How many people will be on the working group?
TURNER: We’re looking at anywhere from six to 10 people. The working group is charged with identifying players and offering a contract. Soon, we’ll hire a manager who will educate families about this alternate option.
How did the G League decide on $125,000?
TURNER: We asked a lot of constituents across the NBA family — GMs, agents — and we just settled on $125,000 as an appropriate point for the first year. We always reserve the right to adjust as this program rolls out.
This is a program based on player development. What if the Select Contract player is stuck on the bench behind a 28-year-old? Are there guarantees for playing time?
TURNER: For starters, our teams are fully supportive of the G League path. There will be an ongoing dialogue with teams and GMs. But there’s also a practical reality of our league — you have guys at different stages of their development. That’s not a new dynamic in our locker rooms. Our coaches and GMs are accustomed to tailoring the approach or minutes, but there is a component that part of the professional path is becoming a student of the NBA game — style of play, coaching, training. We feel very prepared.
The perception of the G League is difficult travel and a demanding lifestyle that might be challenging for an 18-year-old. How do you combat that?
TURNER: Travel has improved a great deal. It’s still a grind. It’s commercial flights, early morning travel, but there are also a lot of misnomers out there about 18-hour bus rides. But our travel standards have been enhanced significantly. Ultimately, you have to ask, “What is the value proposition for our players when you look at travel, practice environment and pay scale?”
How will you gauge success?
TURNER: Players transitioning to the NBA is always our ultimate measure of success. The same applies to Select Contracts. It’s about providing an opportunity for players to transition to the NBA, and we’re going to be focused on elite prospects.