LAS VEGAS — NBA commissioner Adam Silver said Tuesday he is “hopeful” there will be a change in the NBA’s age limit in the next collective bargaining agreement, calling it “the right thing to do.”
“I think there’s an opportunity [to change it],” Silver said during his annual news conference at the conclusion of the league’s board of governors meetings during summer league.
“It’s [based on] larger conversations than just whether we go from 19 to 18, but I’m on record: When I balance all of these various considerations, I think that would be the right thing to do and I am hopeful that that’s a change we make in this next collective bargaining cycle, which will happen in the next couple years.”
This isn’t the first time the idea of changing the age limit has come up in recent years, including negotiations between the NBA and National Basketball Players Association a few years ago that ultimately broke down.
But Silver said changing the age limit will “clearly be on the table” in the upcoming collective bargaining talks, which have gotten underway between the league and players’ union, led by a new executive director in Tamika Tremaglio.
Silver noted the talks are still in their early stages.
The two sides both have the ability to opt out of the current deal this winter, which would set up the potential for the CBA to expire next summer. That said, both sides have expressed plenty of optimism that, like in 2016 — the last time the league was in this position — an agreement will be put into place before that opt-out deadline.
Silver himself admitted that, in the past, he favored increasing the age limit to 20, in theory meaning players would spend two years between high school and the NBA. But, after seeing how things have evolved over time — including, he said, the proliferation of NIL deals and “a lot of societal changes,” and the recommendations of the NCAA committee led by Condoleezza Rice on the subject — he has changed his mind.
“It may be the case that it’s in all of our interests that we start impacting with these young players, especially because in our sport they are identified at such a young age,” Silver said, “and begin working with them on their development then, not just basketball skills but increasingly there’s a focus on their mental health, their diets, just helping them build character and all of the important values around the sport.”
The NBA changed its age limit from 18 to 19 in 2005, after a run of high-school-to-NBA prospects that included Hall of Famers Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant and Tracy McGrady, in addition to LeBron James and Dwight Howard, in the 10 years before that.
Silver addressed a number of other topics on Tuesday, including:
Transition take foul penalty
The NBA has completed the process of changing the transition take foul rule, ending years of discussion about what to do with the long-maligned tactic.
The league’s board of governors finalized the matter Tuesday, approving a plan to award one free throw when teams are disadvantaged by the take foul.
“Generally, it was upbeat coming out of our meeting,” Silver said. “People are thrilled that as we head into next season, it looks like we’ll be on our normal track in terms of when the season starts, in terms of our protocols around the game, particularly around the health and safety of our players.”
It wasn’t a surprise that the league changed the penalty on take fouls; Silver told The Associated Press in early June that it would change, though he cautioned that the new rule might still be tweaked in future years.
The take foul — in which the defender does not make a play on the ball — is what the league classifies as one that occurs either “during a transition scoring opportunity or immediately following a change of possession and before the offensive team had the opportunity to advance the ball.” The exception is in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime.
The new penalty for such a foul is one free throw — which may be attempted by any player on the offended team in the game at the time the foul was committed — and continued possession.
The NBA is coming off a massive financial year, with revenue topping $10 billion for the first time and basketball-related income reaching $8.9 billion, another record.
Silver said the numbers are particularly strong considering the league is still dealing with a pandemic, and it wasn’t that long ago when some questioned whether sports could survive the virus — at least in the sense of whether people would want to gather again.
“The numbers did surprise me to a certain degree because it exceeded projections, and the projections represent where we think our business is going,” Silver said. “I think it’s quite remarkable from where we came 2½ years ago.”
It hasn’t been one that Silver has particularly enjoyed.
“This needs to be a two-way street,” Silver said. “Teams provide enormous security and guarantees to players, and the expectation in return is that they’ll meet their end of the bargain. There’s always conversations that go on behind closed doors between players and representatives and teams, but we don’t like to see players requesting trades, and we don’t like to see it playing out the way it is.”
The play-in tournament has generally been considered a success, so it was no surprise that the league is keeping it around.
The play-in tournament — in its current form — has been used in each of the past two seasons, with the teams that finish seventh, eighth, ninth and 10th in the East and West meeting to determine the final two playoff spots in each conference.
The No. 7 team plays the No. 8 team, with the winner clinching the No. 7 seed in the playoffs. The No. 9 team plays the No. 10 team, with the loser eliminated and the winner moving on to face the team that lost the 7-8 game. The winner of that matchup is the No. 8 seed.
It has been a hit, primarily because it tends to give a March Madness feel — four elimination games before the playoffs even begin — and gives more teams incentive to not tank for better odds in the draft lottery.
There was a play-in element in 2020 during the restart bubble at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida, where the Portland Trail Blazers beat the Memphis Grizzlies for the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference. Memphis could have gotten the No. 8 seed that year by beating Portland twice; the Blazers had to win only one game to claim the spot.
Load management — the term given now when a player gets to sit out a game to rest — has been a challenge for the league and its teams in recent years. Silver said it will continue to be discussed with the players’ association as the sides get more into negotiations for the next collective bargaining agreement.
The league has taken steps, driven by sleep science and other data, to try to make the schedule more player-friendly in recent years. The stretches of four games in five nights have been eliminated, instances of back-to-back games have dropped, and the league has even tinkered with keeping teams in the same road city for consecutive games in an effort to limit travel over the course of a season.
That said, sometimes a player still sits. Silver suggested it might be time to consider adding money as an incentive for playing more often.
“I’m all in favor of guaranteed contracts,” Silver said. “But maybe that on top of your typical guaranteed contracts, some incremental money should be based on number of games played and results of those games. I mean … that’s how most industries work, where there’s financial incentives — even among highly paid executives for performance.”
The NBA and the NBPA announced a new program — jointly funded — to provide payments to approximately 115 ABA players who played at least three seasons but didn’t qualify for NBA pensions. They’ll get “recognition payments” of $3,828 per year of service.
“Our players have a genuine sense of appreciation for those who paved the way and helped us achieve the success we enjoy today,” NBPA executive director Tamika Tremaglio said. “We have always considered the ABA players a part of our brotherhood, and we are proud to finally recognize them with this benefit.”
Silver said the league and the players “felt a need to act on behalf of these former ABA players who are aging and, in many cases, facing difficult economic circumstances.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.