Pushing the limit

NBA commissioner, Jazz owner strongly support raising minimum age

Published: Sunday, June 19 2005 12:00 a.m. MDT

Martell Webster, a recent high school graduate, is expected to be a high draft pick on June 28.

Tyler Sipe, Deseret Morning News

The suggestion may seem ridiculous, especially coming from someone who needed just six weeks to determine college was not for him.

Yet Jazz owner Larry H. Miller is firm in his belief that there should be a minimum age requirement in the NBA, and he does not stop where even most of the issue's most-ardent proponents do.

"I'm a strong advocate of a 22-year-old limit," Miller said. "I'm about the only one that is, I think."

Miller won't get his way on the admittedly far-reaching 22.

Soon, though, even the brightest of high school stars — regardless of their maturity, physical or otherwise — might be banned from jumping straight to the NBA.

"We have proposed a raising of the minimum age beyond its present 18," NBA commissioner David Stern has said.

Heading into Friday labor talks between the league and its players association, the NBA was proposing 19.

Even if accepted by the union, the rule wouldn't go into effect before the June 28 NBA Draft.

That is why the Jazz had one prep sensation, Martell Webster of Seattle, in to audition Friday, and why they plan to have another, Gerald Green of Houston, in on Tuesday.

An increased age provision is hardly the only topic being discussed in current collective bargaining negotiations: Divvying of revenue, contract lengths, maximum annual raises, payroll limits and drug testing also have been on the table as a new agreement is sought before the current one expires June 30.

But, perhaps even as early as today, a proposal could be submitted for ratification from both constituencies that would drastically alter drafts in 2006 and beyond.

Age has long been a subject of great debate, boiling during the 2004 All-Star Game break.

"I have always promoted the fact that if a guy was physically and mentally capable of playing in the league, he should come," Players Association chief Billy Hunter said then.

It's been simmering ever since.

Stern went into the on-and-off talks pushing for an age minimum of 20, dropped to 19, and, for a time, "thought we had a deal on that issue." Later, the union altered its stance, pushing to permit the draft's first 14 picks to be as young as 18.

"We foresee a lot of complications in that solution," NBA deputy commissioner Russ Granik said last Sunday.

Whatever the eventual agreement is, what's certain is that men like Miller and Stern feel strongly there should be some sort of minimum requirement — and that not everyone does.

"In principle," said four-year University of Florida product David Lee, a potential late first-round pick in the upcoming draft, "I think what they're talking about is a pretty good idea."

Lee understands the notion of "trying to weed out guys that try to come out of high school that aren't prepared to go to the league."

"But, at the same time," he said, "if you've got a guy like a LeBron James, I'm not sure there's any way you can force a guy that's that talented to go to college."

The LeBron Factor

Anyone attempting to argue that high school seniors aren't ready for the NBA with at least one year of seasoning in college must overcome the reality that is LeBron.

James made the leap two seasons ago, going No. 1 overall to Cleveland. Today, he stands as a poster-boy for those who argue there should be no above-18 minimum.

"Every year," said Webster, a potential lottery pick this year, "there might be that one guy that could make it."

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