Springing A League
NBA execs say they plan a minor league for 2001, but they're suspiciously vague about it
From the beginning the details have been hazy. The NBA, which doesn't undertake any venture halfheartedly, began discussing in February its intention to start a developmental league in 2001. NBA officials said there would be eight teams, maybe 10. Last Friday deputy commissioner Russ Granik, who usually speaks with crystal clarity on the league's plans, was vague when pressed for particulars. What cities will be getting franchises? "Well, we're not completely sure," Granik said. "We wouldn't go into a market like San Diego or Cincinnati or Pittsburgh. We'd be looking at smaller cities, with a few hundred thousand people."
How much will the players be paid? Unclear. How will they be assigned to teams? Unclear. "You have to remember," Granik said, "we're in very preliminary stages."
When commissioner David Stern decides to pursue a deal, he knows only one speed: breakneck. When he determined that money could be made on the women's game, he rammed the WNBA down the throats of the NBA' sponsors and fans and drove the ABL out of business. When Stern decided that his league needed to do more with the Internet, he threw his energy into NBA.com spending most of All-Star week end hyping his sport's on-line potential while virtually ignoring the coming-out party of his new superstar, Vince Carter.
So if Stern is hell-bent on having a minor league up and running next year, why are so many issues unresolved? Could it be that the NBA's latest project is merely a ploy to squeeze a better deal out of CBA owner Isiah Thomas, as a number of NBA sources suggested last week?
When Thomas approached Stern last year with his plan to buy the CBA, spruce up its image and develop a formal association with the NBA, Stern said thank but no thanks. Thomas, who sparred with Stern as president of the players' union from 1988 to '94, decided to buy the CBA anyway. He figured that sooner or later the CBA would formalize its role as the NBA's minor league. "I don't want to fight with the NBA," Thomas says. "I believe there's an opportunity here for the CBA to service the NBA as well as the NCAA. If we all put our heads together, we can work it out."
Granik insists the NBA isn't out to bury Thomas. "I continue to have conversations with Isiah," Granik says. "I'm hoping we'll reach an agreement." But asked if a deal with the CBA would eliminate the need for a developmental league, Granik says, "Not necessarily. I envision blending the two."
The proposed developmental league was a hot topic at the McDonald's All-American Game on March 29 at Boston's Fleet-Center, where five players who are considering the jump from high school to the pros were on display: forwards Darius Miles of East St. Louis, Ill., Darius Rice of Jackson, Miss., and Gerald Wallace of Childersburg, Ala.; and guards Jerome Harper of Columbia, S.C., and DeShawn Stevenson of Fresno.
Miles, a wiry 6'8" small forward with exceptional open-floor skills who is projected as a Top 5 pick if he comes out, considers "the junior varsity?," as he calls the projected league, a great idea. "I wouldn't need something like that, but it would help guys like Korleone Young, who went out too soon, got messed up and had no options," Miles says. (Young, a high school player who was picked in the second round by the Pistons in 1998, was released after one season and is now in the IBL.)
"No high school kid is ready to go to the pros, but that doesn't mean I won't do it," Miles continues. "I think I can hit a nice 10 to 15 points a night [in the NBA] right now, with a couple of blocks and some steals. I don't think I'm ready yet to be Vince or Kobe and knock down 30 or 40. But I figure I've got time for that."