NBA missed chance to make Draft Combine optional in new CBA

The NBA Draft Combine, held annually in Chicago, has historically been a minor event in the offseason, but a new memo could change that by making attendance mandatory for all invited prospects after the league’s new collective bargaining agreement is ratified before the 2023-24 season. The memo stipulates that eligible prospects who refuse to participate will be ruled ineligible for that year’s draft. The memo is intended to discourage healthy prospects from skipping the combine, but it could also be a missed opportunity to enact ground-breaking change by allowing top prospects to skip the employment draft and become undrafted free agents. By excluding themselves from the draft and negotiating a short-term contract with their chosen franchise, prospects could receive offers as high as $100 million over four years in restricted free agency, while prosperous rookies would be eligible for a potential max extension much sooner than their drafted peers. However, the memo includes a segment explicitly prohibiting prospects who skip the draft combine from even being roster-eligible until the following league year. The amendments benefit the league office by propping up the NBA’s G League Ignite program and their annual Draft Combine, but the NBPA got squeezed. They would be much better off creating a loophole for players willing to take the risk and burrow out of the draft. The league anticipates that patching up this loophole will make their invisible developmental program more appealing than the NCAA route where players can retain their draft eligibility for multiple seasons. The NBPA should create a blueprint for a future where the draft is a choice, and tanking is even less incentivized.

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