National Basketball League commissioner Jeremy Loeliger is confident the Next Stars program will remain an attractive proposition despite changes to the NBA's G League pathway, specifically its increased financial incentives.
The NBA moved to curb the loss of rising talent to the NBL -- LaMelo Ball and RJ Hampton both headed Down Under last season -- by increasing the potential G League contract to $[US] 500,000. It has proven successful, too, with five-star recruits Jaylen Green and Isaiah Todd both opting to sign with the NBA's pathway program.
Loeliger admitted to having held discussions with both players, but said he was never overly confident either youngster would join the NBL. Interest from Green, in particular, had waned even before the onset of the coronavirus, which has made international travel and relocation problematic.
But Loeliger doesn't see the revised G League wage offering as a threat to the Next Stars program, instead suggesting it will help the NBL hone their potential targets, those players who really want to fast-track their professional basketball development.
"The bright side of it all for me is that it's adding further weight to the point-of-view that there is an alternative to the NCAA, which I think is helpful for the Next Stars program in that it adds legitimacy that there is another route," Loeliger told ESPN.
"And then there's the fact that it [the G League] can be clearly distinguished from what we're trying to do with the Next Stars program.
"The G League's program, as its been described to me, is very much like an academy program or a finishing school, where a group of these kids will train on the same team with a handful of veterans perhaps, and some very good coaches, and then will participate in some exhibition games against G League teams.
"I think that's quite a different experience to being taken out of your comfort zone, placed into a professional team that is [full of] hardened veterans and where you are expected to fit into that team, play your role and contribute to a roster on a way to contending for a championship. In terms of life experience and what it offers the players, they're quite different."
While admitting players like Green would command the G League's top salary, Loeliger believes the money for the majority of recruits would be comparable to what they would earn in the Next Stars program.
Such a player would then be left with a choice, and the outcome of that decision could prove particularly illuminating for NBA general managers who might be taking a longer-term view of a player's scope for an NBA contract proper.
"We always said that the Next Stars program was going to answer questions in the minds of the NBA general managers and scouts," Loeliger said. "And the questions that arise in respect to each individual player are going to be quite different, depending on their performances over the last couple of years.
"And if the question hanging over your head is whether you can transition from being a high school basketballer to being a professional, who can play a role in a team where you are not necessarily the superstar, where you are not necessarily the most gifted athlete; rather than going into another academy program where you are the superstar from day one again and is not that different an experience from actually going to college, the main difference being that they're getting paid for it.
"The guys who are coming to play in the NBL as part of the Next Stars program, they weren't just coming for the money, they were coming for the experience because it gave them the opportunity to play in a different context and therefore answer those questions that existed in the minds of general managers in terms of their ability to transition."
Loeliger last week told ESPN that the NBL was interested in Todd, but the American then informed Sportscenter on Friday of his decision to follow Green to the G League.
Todd said he made his decision based on what was best for his family and his basketball career, but there is no doubting the coronavirus will remain a problematic hurdle for the NBL to overcome as it tries to lure future NBA stars Down Under.
Still, Loeliger said the league would continue to scan the basketball world for top young talent suited to its Next Stars program.
"We are definitely still in conversations with a number of players; those conversations are ongoing and we're very pleased in the meantime to have signed Mojave King and Josh Giddey," he told ESPN. "I think the fact that the coronavirus has complicated everything makes it all the more pleasing that we know that we've got two Australians signed to the program who will be here and will be able to participate.
"And I certainly hope that as we become more and more certain of what the season looks like in the coming months that we'll be able to sign up some foreign Next Stars players as well, and I don't anticipate that they'll be exclusively from America either. We're exploring a number of very interesting options from other countries as well."