Changing the Narrative
When the G league first started out, it was known as the D League and it looked like another failed attempt at a minor league. Fast forward 18 years later and it has become a legitimate route for players to develop their games for the NBA. The league has taken the next steps in focusing on player development and now has given these players the facilities, and some of the financial securities, that preceding players didn’t have. Overall, the salaries aren’t that much better than when it was the D league; but with the introduction of two-way deals and exhibit 10 contracts, it has allowed talented American players to makes a decent living while staying in the United States and developing their game for the NBA. The league hasn’t only been a revelation for the players but also a revelation for the coaches, referees, general managers, and women in the NBA. In 2001, I thought the D league would have been a success if only they could provide a few valuable NBA role players. Now it seems that the G league is much more than that. It has developed amazing coaches like Nick Nurse, and developed NBA players such as Pascal Siakam and Rudy Gobert. NBA teams are now allowed to use their affiliate to develop young talent, which has lead to better play. More players in the NBA have become accurate shooters and the overall skill of the game has greatly increased from the mid 2000’s. Guys like Kwame Brown and Tyson Chandler, who could of used a G league early on in their career, are now getting the chance to develop before being thrown against the best players in the world. Teams set on building a roster are able to do this with the G league. It can be argued that the Bucks without Kris Middleton, another G league standout, would not have been in the conference finals. Every year there is a former G league player who is not an integral part of playoff and championship level teams. What used to seem like a demotion and a far step below other minor basketball leagues globally has proven to be the best stepping stone to the NBA. It has even been used as a place for injured veterans to rehab and practice back to full strength. Demarcus Cousins and Tony Parker are some of the notable players who have used the G league as rehab assignments.
While the G league has taken many steps toward legitimacy, they still have a ways to go in order to reach the next level. What they need to do next is secure a television contract to air G league games. With their recent success getting the majority of teams to invest in a G league team, they have legitimate fan bases that would be interested in their product. They can pitch to established fans that their next star player or key role player might come from an affiliated franchise, which would draw more views. Former affiliate players making all start teams and playing valuable roles on championship contenders, has greatly improved the awareness of the G league. What they could do to make it even more appealing to players who aren’t in the NBA is raise the minimum salary to 100 thousand a season. If they were able to raise the minimum salary to that level, I believe they would secure the next crop of potential fringe NBA players who could also develop into better players if given the chance. John Calipari recently made the comment that the NBA adding rounds to the draft would ruin college basketball. To fully reach the next steps of its development, I think the G league should go to war with college basketball. For years, college basketball has tried to fool the public into believing that they where benefiting athletes by providing them scholarships despite the fact these same athletes where providing the NCAA with billions of dollars. The G league should go after the same T.V. slots as the NCAA and even fight for recruits out of high school. Take a look at what an established high school start like Lamelo Ball has done for the NBL in Australia. As soon as he signed the NBL, he had T.V. offers from the likes of ESPN and others. This reality could be the same for the G league. Imagine if Lamelo Ball would have joined the G league instead of the NBL. That would have been much watched T.V. and brought attention from a new fan base. Sometimes capitalizing off of a recruit’s fan base could be enough to launch the league into its next stages. At the moment, no notable high school basketball player has taken the route to bypass college and go straight to the G league and rightfully so. Without the T.V. exposure, high school athletes are better going to college or the NBL. For high school stars, it’s not just about playing basketball and getting paid: they also need an avenue to market their games for potential advertisement deals. Off the court deals with shoe companies and products can double and sometimes triple players’ on-the-court earnings. Michael Jordan doesn’t become a billionaire without the Nike contract. The G league also needs to be fighting to get rid of the one and done rule. While the one and done rule has improved the NBA game by allowing teams to draft more seasoned players, it is no longer necessary with the inclusion of the G league. What wasn’t around during the prep to pro era was a league for young players to get the attention and playing time needed to improve their games. With the G league, players that aren’t Lebron or Zion could be stashed with a G league affiliate and pan out better than the original prep to pro era. It can be argued that one and done has done more for the awareness of college basketball than the NBA. When a player goes to Duke or Kentucky and dominates and then gets drafted in the lottery, it markets that school for potential superstar athletes and students who want to go to Kentucky or Duke just so they can attend basketball games. The problem with college is that their aren’t courses in professional basketball. The G league is a course in professional basketball; and with a little T.V exposure and the right prospects, the G league could reach the next level.
NBA’s Next Labor Dispute
The key to the G league realizing it’s next steps is the NBA’s next labor dispute. During this time it will be important for the G league to further advance its brand. If somehow they could continue operating even with a lockout, it would be monumental. The brain trust of the G league also needs to be in communication with franchises now to try and persuade them to give up on the one and done rule. The negotiation this year is as much about the G league as it is about the players and franchises. Owners want the fair chance at developing a winning franchise and players want the right revenue sharing to ensure that they are compensated fairly. The G league should play moderator: helping both sides feel as if they won but really taking on the middle ground which will help them sell their products. If the next Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett suit up in the G league instead of Duke, the G league will have won the bargaining agreement and solved a potential lockout. If they sit back, do nothing, and allow a potential lockout without a G league season, everything they worked for in establishing legitimacy will be put on hold and their progress will be limited by the NBA.