Whose hoops?

By Matt Stacionis

Former Chicago Bulls NBA world champion Stacy King must be relieved.

After a week in limbo, the current Rockford Lighting head coach is now re-employed. He and the rest of the Continental Basketball Association all were thrown out into the cold when the league seized its operations last week. Rockford, the CBA’s oldest franchise at 15 years, has since joined the International Basketball League, a six-team start-up league based in Baltimore, Md.

The league’s demise came when NBA Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas bought the entire league. The league ran smoothly last season, but Thomas was offered a head coaching job by the Indiana Pacers in the NBA. Through this, Thomas was forced to sell the CBA. He hadn’t paid out anything on the league, so former owners were given a chance to get back into the game. Some owners, like the Quad Cities, decided to close down operations. Sioux Falls and Gary were the first teams to join the International Basketball League. Rockford made its decision after former owner Wayne Timpe decided to give another round at the basketball business.

“Obviously, we have a passion for professional basketball, myself, Judy (his wife) and our whole family, and we’re happy to say that we’re able to keep basketball in this community,” the eight-year owner told the Rockford Register Star on Sunday.

He has that passion, but does everybody else?

Only three of the teams are coming back. Other independent leagues across the nation are struggling to stay afloat. The NBA’s endorsement of a league-run, minor league system also puts teams like Rockford in jeopardy.

If the independent leagues are going to survive, then what they need is to unite against the NBA. The decision may seem illogical, but more seats would be filled if there were 18 non-NBA teams in one league. This also would help the NBA build a feeder program, something that many critics have been saying for years. The well-documented fad in the NBA the last couple of seasons has been for high school players to skip college.

When players do decide to attend a university, it may last for a year or two, long enough for their draft stock to rise well above simple first-round status. Then a team of 20-somethings gets paid millions upon millions to play.

In baseball and hockey, the two best minor league systems, players come straight out of high school and then wait for their shot at the pros. International players sometimes come as young as 16 to get a shot at the professional level. But they need to wait their turn to play. There is no farm system with basketball. And if a high school player is signed and cut, he really has nowhere to play. College eligibility is lost and he is forced to play in the CBA or go overseas.

“It’s disappointing because more college players will choose to go overseas now,” said NIU head basketball coach Andy Greer. “That will be an opportunity that will still be there. The International Basketball League is something that has just started so that will be good. A couple of teams have joined that.”

The NBA also has expressed some interest in sporting a new minor league system. With this, the league now enables itself to control the majority of the basketball talent. It also has been a driving force behind the break-up of the other leagues.

“I think that’s what the NBA is trying to do,” Greer said. “I think that’s one of the reasons that CBA folded.”

But if the NBA controls a minor league system like baseball and hockey, will that also eliminate the need for a college game? If Kevin Garnett already has started a trend to make kids think they don’t need college, what is going to happen when team scouts place dollar signs inside of 17-year-olds’ eyes?

“I’m concerned we’re going to have NBA people on the road recruiting these kids right out of high school,” Florida coach Billy Donovan told the Knoxville News-Sentinel.

The NBA needs to do something because either way it is losing. The minor league option may be the best bet, even if it comes at the expense of college ball.

If there was a developmental system in place, NIU forward Leon Rodgers could have been set for life after last season if he chose to be drafted. It will be tough for him to wait for two more years and have to be selected out of a two-round system now, though.

But for now he remains safe at his slot in the NIU lineup and the Lighting are safe in Rockford, at least until the International Basketball League gets bought out anyway.