Mark Cuban and the D-league

Jonathan Weiler is back again (and just to let you know, he will be back again tomorrow)!  As noted yesterday (and the day before yesterday, and the day before yesterday…), Jonathan is Director of Undergraduate Studies in Global Studies at UNC Chapel Hill. His first book, Human Rights in Russia, was published by Lynne Rienner Publishers in 2004. His second book, Authoritarianism and Polarization in American Politics, co-authored with Marc Hetherington, was published by Cambridge University Press in August 2009.  Jonathan is a frequent contributor to Huffington Post.  He also has a blog, theESPNwatch.  Like yesterday (and the day before, and the day before, etc…), the following story appeared at Jonathan’s blog:

None other than Mark Cuban himself chimed in this week (editors note: in this forum) to disagree strongly with my arguments regarding the NBA’s age limits.  He said that numbers don’t tell the whole story, suggested that younger players do “stupid shit” more than players who enter the league at an older age and that this was all bad for business. You can see from Ced in comments from the previous post (who criticized it), one stab at answering the question: are early-entry players more likely to be reckless and irresponsible?  (this is one of the arguments that Cuban and other supporters of increased age limits are making).

What I’d (continue to) say is that the shrill arguments for why we need to raise the age minimum aren’t based on any serious evidence. They’re mainly just assertions about how bad the NBA product is today and why this must be the fault of the 19 year olds (Barkley made precisely this argument two days ago). In any event, Cuban wants players to wait longer to enter the NBA draft, but doesn’t think they should have to go to college first, since it’s not for everyone and the one-and-dones in particular have made a mockery of college basketball and its pretenses to providing its participants with a real education.

Cuban’s been pretty widely pilloried for this suggestion. One noteworthy example is Mike DeCourcy, the Sporting News longtime college basketball writer, whose work I enjoy. DeCourcy fairly notes that it’s wrong of Cuban to blame the NCAA for the 19-year age limit. That rule, as DeCourcy points out, is Mark Cuban’s rule – his and other owners, collectively bargained with the players.

But DeCourcy’s on shakier ground in touting the supposedly extraordinary training ground that colleges have provided for players on their way to the NBA.

He says:

“The coaches who Cuban suggests talented players should avoid have developed the likes of Grant Hill, Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Danny Manning, Chris Webber, Anthony Davis, David West and Lance Stephenson for the league. There are three active Hall of Fame coaches in the ACC alone. They and their colleagues have years of experience with training players who often have minimal introductions to team defense and offensive structure and turning them into presentable teams. NCAA rules have been changed substantially in recent years to allow these coaches to do more work in developing the skills of their players.”

This is line of argument is a questionable basis for DeCourcy’s larger claim. You want to argue that Grant Hill and Danny Manning learned a lot in four years playing for Coach K and Larry Brown respectively, I won’t argue.  But as I said the other day, I consider it laughable that Kevin Durant is the player he is because he spent one year with Rick Barnes. I have little to zero doubt that had Durant come directly out of high school to the pros, then by his second season – after having played 82 NBA games against NBA competition in year one – he’d  have been, at an absolute minimum, no worse in year two (what was, in actuality his rookie season) – than he was coming out of college. And that’s already conceding more than I think is warranted. Likewise, while I think Steve Fischer has evolved into a fine head coach over the years at San Diego State, I do not buy that Webber’s two years at Michigan made him the NBA player he was. Again, I have no doubt that he could have played in the league at age 18, and would have progressed farther playing 164 (or so) NBA games in those two years than he did playing college ball (there was no formal rule against Webber entering the draft sooner; it had happened previously. It just wasn’t done when Webber was first coming out of high school. Only with Kevin Garnett’s decision to forgo college in 1995, did that particular dam break open). Similarly, as I have previously said, I consider it highly dubious to contend that Anthony Davis is a meaningfully different player because of the three dozen or so games he played at Kentucky.

DeCourcy also says:

What Cuban neglects, in addition to the extraordinary history of talent development the colleges have achieved, is the marketing job they have done on behalf of the league, turning barely-known high school basketball players into household names. More stars will be minted by the end of this month, in the way that Gordon Hayward became known in 2010, or Derrick Rose in 2008, or Dwyane Wade in 2003.

The colleges get no money from the NBA for this service. Mostly, they get criticism.

This too, is giving credit where it isn’t due. First, the colleges may not receive direct payment from the NBA for talent development, but those coaches who DeCourcy so praises aren’t working pro bono. They’re making millions. Second, I can think of certain players who came straight to the NBA who managed to do very well for themselves in the endorsement marketplace without the benefit of a college coach. Derrick Rose, it seems to me, is a particularly obvious (recent example) of a guy whose star trajectory cannot seriously be said to have been meaningfully altered by his one-year stop in Memphis. And, of course, the bogus SAT test that resulted Rose’s team forfeiting its final four run is inextricably linked to the all-too-frequently farcical nature of big-time college sports’ educational pretenses.  On this point, Cuban is undoubtedly right and this fact cannot be separated out from the corruption that is an inescapable aspect of the enterprise. He’s just wrong that 19-year olds are ruining the NBA bad for business.

– Jonathan Weiler

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