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While everyone’s focus on the NBA labour negotiations is on player salaries, another battleground will be the rookie age minimum, a source close to the players tells us.In the 2005 CBA negotiations, the league instituted a rule that American players must be one year removed from their high school graduating class and at least 19 years old (during the calendar year of the draft) to be eligible for the NBA draft.
The players hate this rule, not just because it forces them to spend a year in college when they don’t want to, but because it limits their lifetime earnings.
Drafted players are under team control and subject to the terms of their rookie contract for their first four seasons. However, the NBA also established limits on earnings for players who sign contracts that extend beyond their 36th birthday, to protect teams from overpaying ageing stars.
As a result, there’s a very narrow window for players who seek two six-year, maximum contracts over the course of their careers. Even non-max players feel the affects, as their total earning power is limited by the restrictions at the beginning and end of their careers.
That’s one reason approximately 85 per cent of players are against the age limit. While some have argued that players actually like the age restriction because it limits competition for their spots, that’s not the case.
The union recognises that competition is at the NBA’s core and teams don’t do any favours, or adhere to a sense of loyalty when they distribute contracts. Whether it’s a foreign star, a D-Leaguer, or a college draftee, if an available baller can do a better job than an employed player, teams will quickly make the switch.
Plus, the competition argument is already moot, because the high school restriction is in place year after year. Under the current rules, ageing players are simply replaced by last year’s high school phenoms – rather than this year’s.
While this issue alone won’t determine the fate of the lockout, it could be one change that the players fight for in the event that they do have to take pay cuts.
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