Why Potential No. 1 NBA Draft Pick Cade Cunningham Declined $500K

When you’re young and have ungodly talent like Cade Cunningham, navigating your options can be difficult. Do you take the Kevin Garnett route and plunge right in, or do you take your time and develop your game like LeBron James? That’s precisely the question that the potential No. 1 draft pick recently faced. 

The hottest prospect

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If you’re an NBA fan, Cunningham is a name you should know, details 247 Sports. He’s in close contention for the No. 1 draft pick in 2021 without ever playing a college game. Coming out of Montverde Academy in Arlington, Texas, Cunningham is running neck-and-neck with 18-year-old Jalen Green from San Joaquin, California. The two are, however, on different career paths

Cunningham’s talent stems from his solid frame and mature on-court insight. The 18-year-old stands at 6-foot-6 and some change, weighing 215 pounds. That’s a decent size for a point guard, making him maneuverable yet solid enough to stand his ground in the lane. 

Part of Cunningham’s mystique is the fact that for such a young player he’s the total package. He has the athleticism to drive to the rim, the agility to play effective defense, and the awareness to pass the ball when it’s in the team’s best interests. What makes him so scary is that much of his play style is instinctual. The game comes easily to him. 

Cunningham just wrapped up a senior year for the ages, leading Montverde to an undefeated season which bought him options for the future. So where does the top NBA prospect go from here?

The G League

Basketball player Cade Cunningham
Cade Cunningham in 2019 | Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Coming off his incredible college career, Cunningham has options. He could just declare for the 2020 NBA draft. He’d follow in the footsteps of some of the game’s greatest players: Amar’e Stoudemire, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard, Dirk Nowitzki, and the late, great Kobe Bryant. It’s not the worst decision in the world. 

He could also go for the more traditional route and play college ball, at least for a year or two in order to help develop his skills. College gives young, emerging athletes a safe(ish) place to develop their athleticism, as well as their maturity and restraint. College also provides a backup plan for some, whose time in the NBA is cut short, and a retirement plan for those with a long, storied career. 

There is a third option, however: the G League.  After the boom of young, high-school-aged players entering the league in the late ’90s, the NBA established the G League, which was originally known as the National Basketball Development League (NBDL), in 2001 to help give young players a taste of adulthood similar to college, while further developing their skills.

The G League’s other goal was to establish an NBA equivalent to minor league baseball. That means that unlike college, G League players draw a salary. Sometimes that salary is pretty lucrative.  

Money on the table

Green had no trouble making his choice. The NBA snagged him away from college by offering a $500,000 dollar contract to play in the G League. According to Bleacher Report, Cunningham had a similar offer to play “farm team” basketball based on Green’s contract.

Cunningham, however, doubled down. Back in November 2019, he signed a letter of intent with Oklahoma State where his old coach, Michael Boynton, and his older brother, Cannen, comprise the current coaching staff. 

There’s a problem with Oklahoma State, however. In the postseason, the team’s coach was found guilty of taking bribes, and the school’s basketball program received one of the harshest sentences in collegiate history: a one-year suspension for the entire program. That means Cunningham wouldn’t begin his collegiate career until 2021. 

Still, as of June, he’s maintained that he still wishes to play for Oklahoma no matter what. For him, it is a matter of honor and integrity, traits that will serve him well in his professional career.