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NBA AM: Can They Really Pay College Players?

It is easy to say “pay college players” but can the system in place really make that happen without killing off other things?… Lakers deny deal with John Calipari.

Steve Kyler

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Unintended Consequences:  Congratulations to the University of Connecticut and all their fans and alumni on their National Championship win over the University of Kentucky. They were truly the better team last night, and for UConn coach Kevin Ollie, it was a sweet victory for one of the nicest guys to grace a NBA locker room.

As the curtain closes on the college basketball season, there is a looming threat to the Madness of March and the outcome of some actions taking place away from basketball might change forever how we view the college sports world.

If you have not been following the story of the Northwestern college football players, they are nearing a decision that could change the landscape of collegiate sports fairly significantly. After successfully winning a ruling by the National Labor Relations Board, the group at Northwestern has won the right to unionize, which is the first step towards having collective bargaining power and ultimately winning a path to compensation for players.

The NLRB ruled that an athletic scholarship is two separate situations. The student portion, which comes with a requirement to attend classes and maintain a certain grade point average, while the athlete part is in essence a 50-60 hours a week job and that athletes are in essence employees of the school they play for, which would entitle them to the right to unionize and receive compensations and benefits.

»In Related: The Top 100 NBA Draft Prospects.

On the surface it’s easy to say that paying players is only fair, especially given the billions that are generated on college athletics, especially in football and basketball. Pulling out $10 to $20 million for a general compensation fund wouldn’t cripple the sport, especially when you have coaches and athletic directors earning high six and seven figure salaries.

However, the fight and debate over compensating college athletes is complex, there are a couple of unintended consequences looming that could have a spiral effect.

Some schools use their athletic revenue to fund all of their sports programs as well as back fill education and facility initiatives. For every power house athletic school like LSU or Kentucky, there are Grambling States. Last year Grambling made news due to the horrendous conditions of their facility that included crumbling buildings filled with mold and mildew. The school cited a lack of funding for the state of their program and their facility.

Not every school makes money and a lot of the smaller lesser talked about programs lose money on athletics, even at the dollar amounts generated. The big schools get a larger share of the pie (that’s been negotiated) and the bigger conferences get more of that pie as well (also negotiated). Taking dollars out of that system would have a cascading effect that would take some programs out of the picture entirely.

Some schools have already said if compensating players comes to reality, they would consider dropping out of Division 1 sports or shuttering their programs all together.

Equally, if compensation for players is tied to profitability of a program, you’ll see an amassing of players at the power schools that would make the inequities in some sports even worse than it is now. If you think school are doing unscrupulous stuff to win players now, wait until there is money on the line.

If schools are forced to compensate players, and that’s how it will happen, there is no doubt that secondary programs that are not profitable will get shut down.

It’s easy to say pay the players, there are millions on the table, but those millions go to fund golf programs, swimming programs, lacrosse, sports that don’t generate the interest or the revenue that the major programs do. In turn when the “next level” goes away, will that kill those programs at the high school level? Is there any point in having a High School Lacrosse team, if there isn’t a next level to obtain?

»In Related: Could Indiana Pacers Lose in First Round?

How many non-professional athletes have gotten their college education by way of an athletic scholarship for a second tier sport? Is that what the goal is? Kill the other sports and the other opportunities they provide to compensate players that generate revenue?

Universally, the players who are saying they want compensation are not saying they want professional level compensation. Most are saying they want the gaps in the current scholarship system closed. They want the ability to have some money in their pocket and to have the same level of benefits that non-student athletes have in terms of earning money in a job while attending school.

So is the answer that every student athlete gets to punch the clock at minimum wage?

This is a massively complex situation that is bigger than just pay the players. Despite the money generated, all of that money is accounted for. Recreating the system is a scary proposition because of all of the things we don’t know about how it’s applied.

If the professional side of sports has taught us anything, it’s that no matter how much you make, there is always a desire to make more. Can the college economic system survive what may start as a small stipend to players without destroying the entire system at some point?

It is easy to say pay the players. That sounds fair. That sounds like something that should happen. The problem is all the things that will cause elsewhere.

If players unionize eventually we’ll get to the point where players strike to get the leverage they need to gain ground in negotiations.

Are we ready for our college athletes to strike, to sit out the National Championship game in order to gain compensation? That’s what comes next in the conversation about how to pay players.

On the surface it’s a great idea, but at the next level its vastly complex and will impact other things in ways no one has envisioned yet.

The Northwestern players are expected to vote on becoming a union on April 25. If they vote yes, the college world is headed into a scary and uncharted place. The unintended consequences could change college athletics forever.

Lakers Shoot Down Calipari Rumors:  Former Kentucky star Rex Chapman caught the twitter world by surprise yesterday suggesting on Twitter that win or lose, that Kentucky head coach John Calipari was leaving UK for the LA Lakers and that it was a “#DoneDeal”. What makes the tweet more interesting is a few hours later Chapman tweeted a picture of himself and longtime Calipari power broker William “Worldwide Wes” Wesley.

While the story was fun and certainly created some intrigue, both Calipari and the LA Lakers have tried to shoot down the notion that Coach Cal was headed to LA.

»In Related: NBA Rumors: Calipari and the Lakers?

The Lakers told inquiring reporters that there was zero truth to the report, throwing their support behind current Laker coach Mike D’Antoni.

Calipari was asked to comment about the report during his post-game press conference last night; he also sort of denied the report, with his standard answer regarding the NBA.

“The Lakers have a basketball coach. Kentucky has a basketball coach. I have the best job in the world,” Calipari said. “I’m not even going to dignify that.”

»In Related: NBA Power Rankings: One Week Remaining.

Calipari signed a multi-year contract extension in 2011 that locked him into to Kentucky through the 2019 season. Calipari’s deal pays him roughly $4.6 million per season with an additional $850,000 a year in bonuses and incentives. Calipari’s buyout is only $1 million.

By way of comparison, the LA Lakers signed Mike D’Antoni to a three-year deal worth $12 million in 2012, which has a team option on a fourth year. D’Antoni has one more fully guaranteed year left on his deal.

Six Things You Need To Know:  Every day we try and give you the six thing you may have missed. Here are the six things you need to know today:

More Twitter:  Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @AlexKennedyNBA, @TheRocketGuy, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @SusanBible @TommyBeer, @JabariDavisNBA , @NateDuncanNBA , @MokeHamilton , @JCameratoNBA and @YannisNBA.

Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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NBA Daily: Antonio Blakeney Hoping For A Big 2nd Year

After an impressive rookie stint, Antonio Blakeney gives us a tale of hope and potential.

David Yapkowitz

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The Chicago Bulls are in the midst of a rebuilding project. This summer, they held on to one of their key young players in Zach LaVine and drafted two guys in Wendell Carter Jr. and Chandler Hutchinson whom they’re hoping can be part of that rebuild.

But there might be one player on the roster already who could play a big role in the team’s future. A year ago, Antonio Blakeney used a big summer league performance in Las Vegas to earn a two-way contract with the Bulls.

This time around, with his NBA future a little more secure, he’s working on becoming more familiar with the team.

“Just learning and getting better,” Blakeney told Basketball Insiders his goals are. “Obviously being able to play through my mistakes, go out here and learn and get familiar with the coaching staff. Keep building our relationship with the coaches and stuff.”

Blakeney went undrafted last summer after declaring for the draft following two years at LSU. He lit up Las Vegas to the tune of 16.8 points in four games before the Bulls signed him. Under the two-way contract, he split time between Chicago and the Windy City Bulls, their G-League affiliate.

His summer success carried over to the G-League where he exploded on the scene averaging 32 points per game and being named the G-League Rookie of the Year. Being shuffled back and forth between leagues was a bit of an adjustment for Blakeney, but it was an experience he ended up learning a lot from.

“It was an up and down roller coaster from the NBA to the G-League and stuff like that. Starting in summer league, going to the big team, going to camp, preseason games and going to the G-League. It was an up and down experience,” Blakeney said.

“Overall, it was great. I think I learned a lot in the G-League. A lot of rookies play in the G-League now. Going down there it’s kind of tough. For some guys, the travel is different. It’s just staying motivated and working hard.”

It’s no secret that Blakeney can put up points in a hurry, as he was the Tigers third-leading scorer his freshman year behind Ben Simmons and Keith Hornsby with 12.6 points per game. His sophomore year, he led the Tigers in scoring with 17.2 points.

He knows though that he’ll have to be able to do other things if he wants to stick in the NBA. While he’s been lighting up the stat sheet scoring wise this summer in Vegas, he’s been working on other aspects of his game. He’s been charged by the Bulls summer league coaching staff with initiating the offense.

“Obviously I got to be a combo. I got to be able to move over to the one and make plays and stuff like that. So just working on making that simple play,” Blakeney said. “Obviously, I’m a natural scorer so I’m not really a pass-first guy, but I’m more when the simple play presents itself, to make it.”

While his future may be more secure, the majority of the guys in summer league don’t have that luxury. The two-way contract Blakeney signed last summer was for two years and based on his play this summer, it would be shocking to see the Bulls let him go.

For his summer teammates who don’t have that security, he understands what they’re going through. Having been in that situation a year ago, he’s got plenty of advice for them.

“Just go work hard, learn from the veteran guys, but compete,” Blakeney said. “Go at the guys that’s supposed to be the best. If you think you’re that good, go at guys. Just compete, that’s the main thing I did, I just competed.”

And although nothing is ever guaranteed in the NBA, especially regular rotation minutes, Blakeney is confident that he can be a regular contributor. The league is filled with guys who come off the bench and provide instant offense. He knows if, given the opportunity, he can do that too.

“I think next season my goal is to try to crack the rotation and just be a guy who brings energy off the bench,” Blakeney said. “I can get buckets fast, get it going, bring energy and get buckets off the bench, just do my thing. That’s something that in my young career I’m trying to get in to.”

He’s certainly off to a good start.

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NBA Daily: Harry Giles, Just What the Doctor Ordered

It’s been a long time coming for Harry Giles, but judging by his showing in Las Vegas, he might be worth the wait.

Shane Rhodes

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It’s been a long time coming for Harry Giles. But, if his performance this summer is anything to go by, he will be well worth the wait for the Sacramento Kings.

The Kings knew they were taking a risk with Giles. After he was selected 20th overall in 2017, he missed the entire season due to injury concerns. Originally projected to return in January 2018, the Kings pushed his return back to this summer, giving Giles the opportunity to further rehab his knees, both of which have dealt with serious injuries since his time in high school.

But now, with his chance to finally show what he can do on the court, Giles has shown, in more ways than one, he is just what the doctor ordered for the Kings. He’s shown that he can be a and wants to be a leader as much as a dominant force on the court.

“Me being a little older, being a little more experienced, I’ve just got to go out there and lead by example,” Giles told Basketball Insiders during his stint at the Las Vegas Summer League.

Sacramento has desperately lacked a franchise leader for years. They haven’t topped 35 wins in a decade. They haven’t made the postseason in 12 years, the longest active drought in the NBA. Since shipping out DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento has done well to stockpile good, young players: De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Willy Cauley-Stein, Marvin Bagley III, Giles and others are all building toward the future, but no one has stepped up to fill that void. Every young team needs a leader, especially when they play in the brutal Western Conference.

And Giles has taken that role upon himself personally.

To start, Giles has been a force on the court for the Kings, both in the California Classic and the Las Vegas Summer League. Across seven games he has averaged 10.1 points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.8 steals and shot 44.2 percent from the floor while playing hardnosed defense on the other end. The Kings ranked dead last in scoring last season, were 28th in rebounding and 22nd in field goal percentage, so his contributions will definitely be welcomed in all of those areas and more. He has been praised by coaches and fellow players alike as well.

“The coaches trust me to go out there and do what I’m supposed to do and I do a good job of not trying to overdo it, just play my spots and my position.”

“I’m starting to put myself together,” Giles said.

Giles also told Basketball Insiders that he feels like a leader “more and more each game” and that his job is “about making everyone feel comfortable” on the court. That, he noted, starts with talking to one another on the floor.

“I learned from my vets that you have to talk to get yourself comfortable,” Giles said. “You’ve got to let guys know that it’s okay to talk, it’s smart to talk, it helps to talk, it gets you comfortable.”

True to his words, Giles has been one of the more vocal Kings this summer, whether he be on the court or watching from the bench. That, combined with his maturity, cultivated during his time lost to injury, makes him one of the better candidates to become that guy for Sacramento, someone that can lead them back to contention.

Still, Giles reiterated that a leader must lead by example and that that is what he’s tried to do all summer.

“You really can’t be a leader unless you lead by example,” Giles said. “You’ve got to show to prove, and that’s what I try to go out there and do.

The Kings hope Giles can do just that, for this season and for many others. He’ll have to if Sacramento wants to return to the postseason.

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NBA Daily: Jackson and Ayton give Phoenix hope

After years of dwelling in mediocrity, Josh Jackson and Deandre Ayton give the Suns their first glimmer of promise since the Steve Nash era.

Matt John

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Since ending the Steve Nash era back in 2012, the Phoenix Suns have struggled to find a clear direction to go.

In the last six years, the Suns have been on an unpredictably wild ride to put it delicately. There’s been rebuilding, there’s been overachieving, there’s been re-tooling, there’s been bridge burning, and then there’s been trading that valuable Lakers pick for $70 million of Brandon Knight.

At the height of their wild ride has been their recent draft history.

Following a season in which they were tanking, the Suns whiffed when they took Alex Len with the fifth overall pick in 2013. Two years later, following a season in which they were not tanking, the Suns struck gold when they took Devin Booker with the 13th pick.

Their other picks leading up to 2017 have ranged from solid (TJ Warren) to highly questionable (Marquese Chriss) to long-term project (Dragan Bender). While not bad, it’s fair to say that, up until recently, the Suns’ drafting hasn’t exactly gotten them out of the mess they’ve created since Nash left.

However, their recent lottery picks—Josh Jackson and DeAndre Ayton—have given the team reason to believe that the new glorious new era they’ve been waiting for post-Nash has finally arrived.

This of course started the second Ayton was drafted by the Suns on draft night, but the hype has only grown stronger since the summer league began.

That starts with Jackson. The fourth overall pick from 2017 did not have the best start to his rookie season, but as he got more reps, his numbers vastly improved across the board, indicating that there should be plenty of optimism surrounding what next season holds for the sophomore.

His numbers have not been very pretty so far in the summer league, but Jackson continues to show more and more glimpses of the all-around player that scouts pegged him to be coming into the league, highlighted by his “Welcome to the league” swat of Marvin Bagley during the team’s second game against the Kings.

Even with his struggles, Jackson believes that there has been a notable difference playing in this year’s summer league compared to last year’s for him.

“I’m a lot more comfortable,” Jackson said. “Coming in this year, I feel more like a leader, like I’m more knowledgeable about how things are supposed to go out there so I’ve been trying to be a little bit more vocal with the guys out there, trying to make sure that they are in the right position on offensive and defensive sets.”

Jackson also noted that, since being in the summer league, that his biggest lesson he’s taken is to consistently work hard on the parquet floor.

“The biggest thing I learned is to come out and play with effort,” Jackson said. “Each and every time you step out there, you gotta come with it, or the guy across from you will get the best of you.”

Jackson’s skills have been on display in the summer league, but all eyes have been on this years’ first overall pick in the draft, DeAndre Ayton. Expectations are sky high for the young big as he entered the league. Hence, he wasted no time showing the big leagues what he could do. In only 22 minutes of action against the Dallas Mavericks, Ayton put up an efficient stat line of 10 points and eight rebounds in his first game in the summer league.

Ayton later capitalized on his promising start in his next game against the Kings. The University of Arizona alum made it look too easy out there as he put up a stat line of 21 points and 12 rebounds in just 29 minutes of action. Ayton has continued his electric play since and has looked every bit the player Phoenix believed he could be when they took him.

As far as first impressions go, Deandre Ayton could not have started his career off any better in the Las Vegas Summer League. Though he has met (or arguably even exceeded) expectations so far, Ayton has taken the note of the differences between college ball and NBA ball.

“Transitioning from college to the NBA, everybody is physical,” Ayton said. “Some dudes might not look strong, but they are pretty strong.”

As impressive as he has been, Ayton prefers to remain humble in regards to his performance as he continues to get more experience under his belt as a pro.

“I could do better, but overall I thought I did alright,” Ayton said. “I just think forgetting one or two plays and not really staying vocal with the fatigue, I gotta work on those, but I thought I did alright.”

The Suns have struggled to figure out their identity since they went for the rebuild six years ago. With Jackson and Ayton leading the way among their other youngsters on the roster, the Suns now have a great foundation of youth to work with for the next decade.

For their sake, these young gun Suns will hopefully lead the Suns to more success than the Steve Nash era, but that’s easier said than done.

Much easier.

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