Why Stan Van Gundy Cannot Get Rid of the NBA Draft
Many want to improve the NBA. Ideas range from simply changing some of the rules to going through the complex process of overhauling the league’s playoff system. Then there’s Detroit Pistons Head Coach and President of Basketball Operations Stan Van Gundy, who represents a fairly novel school of thought on how to fix the NBA: eliminating its annual draft.
"I'd get rid of it, just get rid of the draft altogether," Van Gundy told reporters. "We'd just deal with the salary cap. Make all [rookies] free agents coming in, and if I want to go give a guy $50 million a year, good, but I got to do it under the cap."
That is a bold statement by SVG. Could this really work in the NBA? Potentially, but there’s an entire assortment of pros and cons to get through. The problem with the Association’s current system is that most players come from the college ranks. Even though this works well for Van Gundy’s idea, there remains a better, alternative system than his.
First, Van Gundy suggested that the NBA should get rid of the draft. If that was the case, teams would be able to pursue any prospect coming out of college or international waters. It would be similar to what Major League Baseball does with international prospects. The salary cap would still be in place, meaning that teams could not just sign whoever they want. Big prospects would elicit bidding wars, creating a free market atmosphere consistent with unrestricted free agency.
If this actually happened, NBA prospects would probably be few and far between. The draft gives every team the opportunity to select young players and give them a chance to play for their team at a reasonable salary (for NBA standards). If there was no draft would most of these players get signed? Realistically, most of the players drafted do not spend too much time in the NBA. Sure the top 10 picks have a long shelf life and the rest of the first round ends up having NBA careers, but second round picks sometimes never step foot onto NBA hardwood. This idea would still probably not change how many college players make it into the NBA though.
A pro is that dynasties would be easier to build. Teams would not have to tank to get draft picks. Van Gundy is interested in getting rid of tanking in the NBA and this system would probably do that. Prospects will have no interest in signing with a team that does not give them an opportunity to win — thus eliminating the incentive to tank. Teams would also be able to build dynasties faster. A team like the Knicks would not have to completely break down their roster to get top players. It would make it easier for NBA owners and general managers to stay relevant.
Would all of the prospects try to sign with the same teams though? There are only a few major markets in the NBA. Areas like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Boston would be top targets for incoming NBA players. However — the recent free agency and transaction trends prove that location does not seem to matter. The top teams in the NBA are in the Bay Area, Cleveland, Oklahoma City, Boston, San Antonio, Houston, Portland, Toronto and Minneapolis. Players seem to be interested in going to the teams that will give them the best chance to win instead of big cities. The fact that both teams in New York, both teams in Los Angeles, and the team in Chicago are not current draws for free agents proves that. Even though the big cities are not major draws these days — winning is. That means that no matter where the top teams are they will attract the best young players.
Much like teams are doing with free agency, young players will want to team up with the best players in the world. This idea will keep the good teams good and give the bad teams no hope. The only way bad teams will be able to get top players is by offering them huge contracts. Offering huge contracts will lead to a lot of young players getting overpaid before they even see an NBA tip-off. The NFL had a similar problem before they changed their contract structure for the NFL draft. If rookies start getting overpaid, NBA teams will end up in some severe cap trouble.
The benefit of eliminating the NBA draft is that it would create a free market for NBA free agents. A free market is not always good because there is a possibility for monopolies or oligopolies. Meaning that the powerful organizations will have the opportunity to be the most successful. Although there will be a salary cap, players would be more likely to congregate on teams that already have top talent. This idea helps prospects the most. They will be able to hold more power. The contracts could really become gigantic. As free agency has tended to show, a free market always benefits talent.
The solution to this problem is adapting a concept similar to what European soccer does. In Europe, soccer teams scout players at young ages and sign them. These players are brought up in a team’s academy and then signed to the professional ranks. If the NBA used this system it would create better competition. When kids are between the ages of 12-16 they are more concerned about going pro then they are about which team they go pro with. Doing this would potentially ruin the NCAA basketball system, but would be a good way to keep a level playing field. This would also give NBA teams the opportunity to nurture players from a younger age. These players would benefit from stronger develop with the right direction from professional coaches. The NCAA makes too much money off of basketball to ever let the NBA do this, but it would benefit the league nonetheless.
Overall, the NBA draft is a really useful tool for teams to rebuild. It makes sense that the league would want to limit tanking, but rookie free agency is not practical. Teams would run up rookie contracts. Every player will want to be on the same team. Less prospects will get opportunities in the NBA. While teams would not have to tank to rebuild, dynasties could be built quicker, and a free market for rookies would open — this idea will most likely never come to fruition. The NBA draft has become a media spectacle that draws fans from around the world. Since the draft is more of a show than anything the NBA will surely not want to eliminate it. Stan Van Gundy has an interesting idea that would make for a change in the NBA landscape. Money is key for Adam Silver and the NBA. Therefore, the NBA Draft is not going anywhere.