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G League: A New Alternative to Dorm Food?

By Zach Epstein:

In a move aimed at giving players an alternative route to the pros, the NBA’s G League announced the creation of a new contract that will allow teams to sign would-be college freshmen to $125,000 deals for a single season.[1] While a cynic might point out that this merely puts the G League on par with the salaries elite college programs are already “paying” players, the change will not only give at least some top recruits something to consider, it is the latest step in creating a true minor league system for the NBA. [2]


The G League’s “Select Contracts” will be available starting next summer to players who are at least 18 years old but not yet NBA draft-eligible.[3] At first, the G League is unlikely to attract more than a small handful of the country’s best graduating high school basketball players. The value of playing regularly on national television—not to mention amenities like traveling by charter jet—are probably worth more in the long-run to most players than a six-figure salary, especially when more lucrative deals await them as professionals, either in the NBA or overseas. For players like Zion Williamson or RJ Barrett, the ability to build their brands and reputations at a school like Duke is more valuable than the short-term gain of a professional contract.


The level of competition in the G League also provides challenges. The league’s top draft pick this season, Willie Reed, is a 28-year-old NBA veteran.[4] It will be difficult, even for the nation’s best 18-year-olds, to thrive in a league where many players are a decade older.

That is not to say the Select Contracts will not be appealing. The NBA has invested more heavily in the G League in recent years, and each team is now singularly affiliated.[5] Because most G League teams are owned outright by their NBA counterparts, instead of multiple NBA franchises sharing control of affiliates (as was the case just a few years ago), many G League players have access to NBA-level resources and facilities. For example, the Lakers’ G League team shares a new, state-of-the-art training center with the parent club. It is not a stretch to think that there will be players who would rather be paid to play and train next to LeBron James for a year than to attend college.


But Select Contracts are just the latest step in creating a system more akin to the way Minor League Baseball operates. Last season also saw the advent of two-way contracts, which allow NBA teams to sign two players to deals that pay them $75,000 in the G League and an NBA-minimum salary when players are “called up.”[6] Not only did this effectively increase the NBA roster size to 17 players, it allowed teams to sign developmental prospects to deals that allow them to progress in the G League as well as contribute, when ready, to the parent club.


The G League still has a long way to go until it functions as a true minor league. Players on regular G League deals can still be signed to NBA contracts by any team, no matter which G League team they play for. Likewise, it will be odd when a Select Contract player is picked in the NBA draft by a franchise other than the one that just spent a year investing in him. However, Select Contracts and a continually improving G League will, at the very least, provide elite young players a valid alternative to college basketball.


[1] Jonathan Givony, G League to offer $125K to elite prospects as alternative to college one-and-done route, ESPN, (Oct. 18, 2018) http://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/25015812/g-league-offer-professional-path-elite-prospects-not-wanting-go-one-done-route-ncaa

[2] Shaker Samman, Sean Miller Reportedly Caught on Wiretap Discussing $100K Payment for Deandre Ayton, The Ringer, (Feb. 24, 2018) https://www.theringer.com/2018/2/24/17047788/college-basketball-fbi-investigation-recruiting

[3] Jonathan Givony, G League to offer $125K to elite prospects as alternative to college one-and-done route, ESPN, (Oct. 18, 2018) http://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/25015812/g-league-offer-professional-path-elite-prospects-not-wanting-go-one-done-route-ncaa

[4] Willie Reed picked No. 1 overall by Salt Lake City in G League draft, Associated Press, (Oct. 21, 2018) http://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/25037082/nba-veteran-willie-reed-goes-no-1-overall-g-league-draft

[5] Frequently Asked Questions: NBA G League, G League, https://gleague.nba.com/faq/

[6] Tim Cato, How the NBA's new 2-way contracts work and why some agents are worried about them, SB Nation, (July 18, 2018) https://www.sbnation.com/nba/2017/7/18/15985262/nba-two-way-contract-2017-summer-league-agents-worried-about-them

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