It takes a bold person to be the first revolutionary. Apparently Darius Bazley is bold.
A five-star post star committed to Syracuse, Bazley instead announced Thursday that he would be a trail blazer for a new way forward, agreeing to play in the G League, the NBA’s minor league circuit, for a season before he is eligible for the NBA Draft. No details have been released about the compensation Bazley will receive in the G League, but Bazley is likely to earn a salary within the standard bandwidth for G League players, somewhere near $75,000, though it could be as low as $26,000.
Naturally, that isn’t the kind of sum that usually would motivate a young athlete, particularly when Bazley could surely earn more by spending the year playing in China, Italy, another European country or even Australia. The difference is that by playing the G League, Bazley will ensure that he’s directly under the nose of all the NBA’s top scouts. He’s technically eligible to play in the G League because he will turn 18 before its October Draft, and can sign an official contract with the league in September. Until then he will remain nominally a free agent, even though he has committed to playing in the league.
Bazley’s maiden voyage into pro basketball may be the ultimate litmus test in a new way forward. There’s no question that Bazley isn’t the only teen who would go directly to the pros if the option was available — just days earlier, E.J. Montgomery told USA TODAY, “It would be different if I had the chance to go (pro) right now. If I had the opportunity, it wouldn’t be that hard (a decision).”
Well, now Montgomery knows that he does have the chance. That hardly means he’ll take it.
Make no mistake: Bazley is making an enormous bet on himself. If he doesn’t perform in his lone season in the G League, his NBA Draft stock will crater. If his performance is too subpar to justify a slot in the 2019 NBA Draft, what does he do? Obviously his potential would be enough to keep him on a G League roster, but at that point does he become a permanent G League player without a potentially lucrative two-way contract? If Bazley is playing in the G League after the 2019 NBA Draft he’s then a domestically-based professional player eligible to be signed by any NBA franchise for a minimum contract, or whatever he can negotiate.
Then there is the risk of motivation on the part of Bazley’s future franchise. Shaker Samman of The Ringer pointed out the institutional motivational risk Bazley is taking by entering the G League now, presumably for a single year:
Any G League team that drafts him won’t own his rights until he becomes eligible for the NBA draft, and once he turns 19 and declares, the team will lose all ownership rights to him. Because he can’t be called up to the next level, and doesn’t seem to be the kind of immediate, professional-level contributor that his peers will be, there may be little incentive for his future G League team to help him develop and give him minutes over players they have under long-term contract.
The implication is simple: Play well, and Bazley will be well positioned to be drafted as highly as he certainly believes he should be. Scuffle and the teen could cost himself millions of dollars.
That’s precisely what makes Bazley’s professional decision so bold. Make no mistake: he may be making the decision now so he can get paid something above the board, but he could cost himself so much more in the process.