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Doc Rivers, Clippers players oppose raising NBA’s age limit

Mar 16, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT

Los Angeles Clippers Introduce Doc Rivers Getty Images

NBA commissioner Adam Silver said over All-Star weekend that raising the league’s age limit to 20 was something on his list of priorities. But there are plenty who will argue against that, including several members of the Los Angeles Clippers.

It’s a tricky topic, because from the league’s perspective, they would like to see players further along in the developmental process — both in terms of basketball as well as from a standpoint of emotional maturity. But on the flip side, limiting a person’s right to earn a living if there is a willing employer is difficult to justify.

That is the argument of Doc Rivers, and DeAndre Jordan and Chris Paul added their thoughts in this piece from Dan Woike of the Orange County Register:

“I just have a philosophical view about it, that guys should have a right to earn a living,” the Clippers coach said. “I can go and fight in Iraq at 18, but I can’t play in the NBA? That’s silly to me.” …

“I think that’s the dumbest idea ever,” center DeAndre Jordan said. “For what? Why make those guys, those college phenoms, stay in college for two years? Some of our greatest players, Hall of Famers, Top 50 players are going to be guys who came out of high school. Why should we put an age limit on it?” …

“Every situation is different,” said Paul, who left Wake Forest after two seasons. “… I knew I wasn’t ready after my freshman year. But, that’s not everybody’s situation. I think you should have the option or opportunity to decide if you think you’re ready. … If you feel like you’re ready, it shouldn’t be someone else’s decision.”

Again, tricky. But there are reasons that a higher age limit may make some sense.

There are certainly going to be players every year who will be ready to play at the NBA level right out of high school or after only one year of college. But that’s a small minority. The rest who clearly show a certain level of potential will need to be drafted as soon as they decide they are ready, and that forces teams to give precious roster spots to guys who won’t be ready to contribute for potentially a couple of years.

Now, the developmental opportunity is theoretically better for a player practicing with an NBA team or getting some minutes in the D-League. But there’s hardly any real practice time during the grind of the NBA season, and the D-League level of talent drops off rather quickly once you get past the top couple of players on each team.

But if the basketball argument doesn’t get you, the emotional maturity one should. This is the point Rockets head coach Kevin McHale makes when arguing in favor of raising the age limit, and take a look at these comments from Gerald Green — now in the middle of a breakout season with the Suns, but who flamed out of the league earlier in his career due to an admitted inability to mature quickly enough to become a professional.

From Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe:

While in Boston, Green was expected to make an immediate splash, but he clashed with coach Doc Rivers, who gave the high school product strong suggestions about how to play the game and carry himself. Those lessons did not always translate well.

“Yeah, he was [tough on me], but if I knew then what I know now, the things that Doc was telling me were all the right things,” Green said. “He wasn’t telling me nothing that was incorrect. All Doc was trying to do was help me and I just didn’t understand the fact . . . I just didn’t know how to be a pro. When you’re coming from a situation where you’re the man and shooting 20 shots a game — in high school, I could sub myself in. I went from that to getting sent down to the D-League. It’s tough for a young kid to go through it.

“I was going from a very poor kid to paying all the bills. So, it was a big difference from all angles. I just didn’t know how to handle it. I wish I could turn back the hands of time but I kind of don’t because it wouldn’t have made me into what I am today.”

If you want a current example of this, look no further than the stories that have emerged this season about Bucks rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo, a 19-year old from Greece whose anecdotes seem cute on the surface, but are actually a little sad. This one, about taking a cab to a Western Union office to send money back home and then not realizing he wouldn’t have any left for a return trip isn’t adorable, it’s ridiculous. His is a great case of someone struggling to acclimate to NBA life (and life in another country), and an extra year or two of real world experience could only help that transition.

It’s not an easy topic, and it’s one the players union and the league will have to battle over when the time comes. The NBA has valid reasons for wanting a more mature player and person entering its ranks, but the high school or college player who would be drafted sooner if it was allowed has credible reasons on his side of the dispute, as well.

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