California high school star Jalen Green, the No. 1 prospect in the 2020 ESPN 100, is making the leap to a reshaped NBA professional pathway program — a G League initiative that sources say will pay elite prospects $500,000-plus and provide a one-year development program outside of the minor league’s traditional team structure.
Green — a potential No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NBA draft — announced Thursday that he is bypassing college to become the professional pathway’s first participant, a decision that likely clears the way for more commitments from elite prospects.
His decision to join the NBA and G League’s development program for the 2020-21 season has broad implications for the future of the NCAA and NBA landscapes. NBA commissioner Adam Silver and G League president Shareef Abdur-Rahim have worked to eliminate two massive hurdles to convincing players uninterested in college basketball to pass on the lucrative National Basketball League of Australia by providing a massive salary increase and a structure that doesn’t include playing full time in the G League.
Once top 2020 draft prospects LaMelo Ball and RJ Hampton chose to play professionally in Australia this year, Silver became more determined in pushing Abdur-Rahim to explore a financial and basketball structure that enticed top American prospects. Green represents a massive breakthrough for the NBA’s long-standing goal of gaining access to top prospects who want an alternative to the NCAA.
“That’s a real program that the NBL has,” Abdur-Rahim told ESPN. “It’s appealing. We have kids leaving the United States — Texas and California and Georgia — to go around the world to play, and our NBA community has to travel there to scout them. That’s counterintuitive. The NBA is the best development system in the world, and those players shouldn’t have to go somewhere else to develop for a year. They should be in our development system.”
The NBA’s talks remain stalled with the National Basketball Players Association on an agreement to end the one-and-done draft model, leaving this revamped pro pathway program as a bridge to what is believed will be the eventual elimination of the rule requiring American players to wait a year after high school graduation before entering the draft.
Green is committing to become part of a yearlong developmental program with G League oversight that will include professional coaching, top prospects and veteran players who will combine training and exhibition competitions against the likes of G League teams, foreign national teams and NBA academies throughout the world, sources said.
The season could include 10 to 12 games against G League teams that wouldn’t count in standings, sources said. The primary objective will be assimilation and growth into the NBA on several levels — from playing to the teaching of life skills.
The salary bonus structure in Green’s contract, for example, is expected to include financial incentives for games played, completing community events and attending life skills programs coordinated by the G League’s oversight of the program, sources said.
The NBA’s plan is to stock this team with veteran pro players who would be willing to balance mentorship of Green and other prospects with the personal opportunities that might emerge because of the intense NBA scouting exposure that will come with these teams.
Former NBA Coach of the Year Sam Mitchell is expected to be considered as one of the candidates to lead the team, sources said.
Abdur-Rahim and G League executive Rod Strickland have spent over a year communicating with families of top prospects about changes that would be needed in the NBA’s original plan to deliver a viable alternative to college basketball and other global professional leagues.
Abdur-Rahim reported back to Silver on the factors that he believed needed altering for the program to become viable. First, the $125,000 salary lagged significantly behind mid-six-figure offers in Australia. Also, those advising players had a trepidation about top high schoolers losing draft value by getting overmatched on G League rosters against older, more mature players, as well as the mentally and physically taxing minor league lifestyle. The idea of getting dropped into remote G League cities as a teenager concerned families too.
“When you look around the world at the market that’s been created, where we started at $125,000 wasn’t enough — certainly not in itself,” Abdur-Rahim told ESPN. “There was also uncertainty about where I would be playing [in the G League]. There was uncertainty about whether an affiliated team would be incentivized to develop me. All of that made the program in its original form tougher. You can’t isolate any of that. For a top kid with options, that was a tough sell.”
Another prospect in discussion to join the G League professional pathway is McDonald’s All American Isaiah Todd, the No. 13 player in the 2020 ESPN 100. He decommitted from Michigan this week. Other uncommitted prospects, including Makur Maker, Karim Mane and Kai Sotto, could be candidates to join Green in the program, sources said.
With the NBA season shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic and the league losing significant money by the day, the timing of the financial investment in the program is an even more dramatic decision. With the uncertainty surrounding college sports environments for the coming year in a pandemic, the professional pathway program could represent a controlled environment that more ensures development and care for the NBA’s most prized resource: its young talent.
Without the restrictions of NCAA amateurism rules, players are free to hire agents, profit from likenesses and pursue marketing deals from sneaker companies worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Hampton signed a shoe deal with Chinese sneaker company Li-Ning as part of an endorsement deal he signed after committing to the Australian NBL.
Green is expected to be in line for a seven-figure shoe deal this year, sources said. He could have been the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 draft if he was eligible, and he already has a significant social media footprint and following.
A native of Fresno, California, Green won gold medals with USA Basketball at the FIBA U17 and U19 World Championship in 2018 and 2019. Auburn, Memphis, Oregon, Florida State, USC and Fresno State were some of the college programs vying for Green’s commitment.