The Inbounds: It’s time for NBA teams to embrace the D-League future

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The 2012-2013 NBA D-League schedule will be announced Thursday to little fanfare and by little fanfare I mean no attention whatsoever. It will be a footnote passed along at the end of columns, random bits tweeted here and there. It will not drive traffic, move the needle, or sell tickets, outside of the occasionally rabid fanbases (and there are are, shockingly, a number of them in the league).

But what will be lost in all this hoopla is the complication for teams keeping an eye on their affiliate, if they don’t own their own. From the official release back in Joo-Lie:

AUSTIN TOROS (TX)
San Antonio Spurs

BAKERSFIELD JAM (CA)
Atlanta Hawks
Los Angeles Clippers
Phoenix Suns
Toronto Raptors

CANTON CHARGE (OH)
Cleveland Cavaliers

DAKOTA WIZARDS (Bismarck, ND)
Golden State Warriors

ERIE BAYHAWKS (PA)
New York Knicks

FORT WAYNE MAD ANTS (IN)
Charlotte Bobcats
Detroit Pistons
Indiana Pacers
Milwaukee Bucks

IDAHO STAMPEDE (Boise, ID)
Portland Trail Blazers

IOWA ENERGY (Des Moines, IA)
Chicago Bulls
Denver Nuggets
New Orleans Hornets
Washington Wizards

LOS ANGELES D-FENDERS (CA)
Los Angeles Lakers

MAINE RED CLAWS (Portland, ME)
Boston Celtics

RENO BIGHORNS (NV)
Memphis Grizzlies
Sacramento Kings
Utah Jazz

RIO GRANDE VALLEY VIPERS (TX)
Houston Rockets

SIOUX FALLS SKYFORCE (SD)
Miami Heat
Minnesota Timberwolves
Orlando Magic
Philadelphia 76ers

SPRINGFIELD ARMOR (MA)
Brooklyn Nets

TEXAS LEGENDS (Frisco, TX)
Dallas Mavericks

TULSA 66ERS (OK)
Oklahoma City Thunder

That’s 19 teams crammed into five affiliates. Now, this is not any sort of failure for the D-League. On the contrary, this is amazing. Eleven teams have one-to-one affiliations with their D-League squad, more than a third of the league. This is nothing short of a miracle, considering that five years ago, there were…two. And this is after the Utah Flash which had a close relationship with the Jazz folded.

The league is not coming. It’s here. The D-League is a legitimate part of day-to-day NBA business and more and more teams are figuring out the advantages and how to use the clubs effectively to find and develop talent. This is not the small piece of packaging it’s made out to be by some. The league operates under conditions where so many players with legitimate talent flame out simply because they’re not ready, and simply disappear. Having a development system that’s legitimate will allow for those players to have successful careers in some cases. Even if it’s just a handful of players saved over a decade, isn’t that worth it, both for the lives of the players and for the teams to get return on investment?

And yet still, we’ve got 19 teams dragging their feet on this. The D-League has maintained it’s not ready for rapid expansion, that it’s honestly handling the most it can at one time. But it’s not like this situation can’t get resolved pretty quickly. It just involves the team throwing some money to get this thing moving. You can set up and establish a D-League team for less than it costs to pay Johan Petro for a year. Think about that. There are costs to run the club, which is going to be more than having a player on squad. Bu there’s also the hybrid option, first pioneered by the Houston Rockets, who own their affiliate, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers’, basketball operations, while local ownership owns the rest of the team. It’s a cost-effective model for both sides that allows the NBA team to maintain complete control over coaching, training, equipment, and direction.

Why are the Wizards, who have been using D-League talent to fill out their roster for years, not a single-affiliate? Why are the Heat, with gobs and gobs of money, not setting up somewhere to send Norris Cole to work on his patience? Don’t the Clippers need a joint to send players for rehab, for crying out loud?

The more broke teams, you can understand. Charlotte needs every penny it can get.

But we’re approaching a breaking point. The quality of these teams could go up if multiple teams start sending down second-round picks. It could be great for the league. But it could also cause a mess with four teams with different agendas upset over the direction or minutes being distributed. No one’s going to freak out, this is the D-League we’re talking about. But teams should take how their players are treated seriously, how that development goes seriously.

We’re rapidly getting to that point. The league has been very careful not to expand during the shaky economy, nor before nor after the lockout. President Dan Reed has been about as considerate as you can be with growing the league at a steady rate without ballooning too fast. But at this point, it’s beyond the D-League’s control. They’ve built a respectable system that provides talent the league is using. They’ve gotten some of the best teams in the league to buy-in. (The Spurs, the Mavericks, the Lakers, the Thunder, the Knicks, the Nets all have their own affiliate.) At some point the rest of the league needs to get its head out of the sand and quit holding up progress.

The NBA D-League needs to become a true minor-league system, a goal its had since its inception, and one that it’s moved much closer to over the past half-decade. But to get there, the rest of the league has to get over its phobia and understand the potential that’s there. It doesn’t need to be a joke for a top-ten pick to get sent down. If it’s a project big man (*COUGH* ANDRE DRUMMOND* COUGH*) spending a year dominating inferior competition and working on his strength training might be better than throwing him to the wolves right off the bat. The league needs to wake up and realize what’s happening and quit allowing its competition to run circles around it. You’ve got assets. Use them.

Heat’s Justise Winslow fined $15,000 for stepping on Embiid’s mask

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NEW YORK (AP) Miami’s Justise Winslow has been fined $15,000 by the NBA for attempting to damage Philadelphia center Joel Embiid‘s facemask during Game 3 of their playoff series.

Winslow intentionally stepped on Embiid’s mask after it had fallen onto the court with 7:51 remaining in the second quarter of the 76ers’ 128-108 victory on Thursday night.

The NBA cited Winslow for unsportsmanlike conduct in announcing the penalty Friday.

Embiid was wearing the mask for the first time after returning from a 10-game absence caused by a broken orbital bone around his left eye.

Philadelphia leads the series 2-1. Game 4 is Saturday.

Defense found: Bucks overwhelm Celtics for 116-92 win

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MILWAUKEE (AP) — Khris Middleton scored 23 points, Giannis Antetokounmpo added 19 and the Milwaukee Bucks used a dominating first half to overwhelm the Boston Celtics 116-92 on Friday night, narrowing their deficit in the first-round playoff series to 2-1.

Eric Bledsoe and Jabari Parker each added 17 for the energized Bucks, who held the Celtics without a field goal for nearly an 11-minute stretch of the first half.

Milwaukee found its defense after a disheartening 14-point loss in Game 2, getting contributions from up and down the roster.

Backup center Thon Maker scored 14 points and had five of the Bucks’ 12 blocks. Pesky guard Matthew Dellavedova, a veteran of a championship run with the Cleveland Cavaliers, helped hold young Celtics point guard Terry Rozier to nine points on 2-of-7 shooting.

“The activity, if you take the stat sheet out of it, the activity and the energy that we brought … as you go through the game, that’s what you need, is the energy first,” coach Joe Prunty said.

Al Horford scored 16 for the Celtics, who fell behind by 23 at halftime and got no closer than 76-62 with 3:06 left in the third quarter on Jayson Tatum‘s 3-pointer.

The game was so well in hand that the Bucks closed out the victory even with Antetokounmpo on the bench for much of the fourth quarter with five fouls. Middleton had eight points in the fourth.

Game 4 is Sunday in Milwaukee. The Celtics will need to get off to a much better start if they want to avoid going home for Game 5 with a 2-2 series tie.

“We got into a hole. This is new for our group,” Horford said. “They had it going … and we really didn’t have an answer for them tonight.”

Milwaukee hustled for loose balls and stayed active around the paint, used its length to get deflections and disrupt Boston in the lane.

The 7-foot-1 Maker, in particular, provided a huge boost to help Milwaukee counter what had been a decisive edge off the bench for the Celtics. Maker got extended minutes only because starting center John Henson missed the game with a sore back.

Nearly everything else went Milwaukee’s way, too.

Parker, who voiced displeasure this week after playing just 24 minutes over the first two games, was 7 of 12 from the field and played 30 minutes. Bledsoe, outplayed by Rozier in the first two games, shot 8 of 13.

“Good win, lots of positives tonight. Quick turnaround … so we’ll have to do it again on Sunday,” Prunty said.

 

Wizards show some fight, top Raps 122-103, get series to 2-1

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WASHINGTON (AP) — All of about 2 1/2 minutes into the game, Washington forward Markieff Morris and Toronto’s OG Anunoby needed to be separated after a near-fight that drew in other players.

Early in the third quarter Friday night, Raptors guard Kyle Lowry was called for a flagrant foul when he swiped a hand across Bradley Beal‘s forehead as the Wizards guard went in for a breakaway layup. Later in that period, things really came close to spiraling out of control, but John Wall‘s bodyguard interceded when Washington’s All-Star jawed with Toronto’s Serge Ibaka.

As that scene unfolded on the court, spectators directed “U-S-A! U-S-A!” chants at the opponents from Canada, and Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” blared over the arena’s speakers. Amid all the ruckus, Beal and Wall kept their heads and helped the Wizards pull further and further away for a 122-103 victory.

What was once a dull, lopsided series is suddenly quite interesting.

Beal heeded his coach’s plea to “do his job” by scoring 21 of his 28 points in the first half, Wall delivered 28 points and 14 assists, and the eighth-seeded Wizards cut their Eastern Conference first-round playoff deficit to 2-1.

“We’re not going out to try to box every game,” Beal said, before describing Morris as “a bully with a smile.”

Added Beal: “We came out tonight with an edge about ourselves.”

After letting the Raptors grab the first 2-0 series lead in franchise history, the Wizards came home and checked off every box coach Scott Brooks presented. They got Beal more involved after he made only three shots in Game 2; they actually led after the first quarter, 30-29; they produced 19 turnovers that led to 28 points.

“They came out and punched us,” Toronto coach Dwane Casey said. “And we allowed them to.”

He meant that figuratively, of course, but the choice of words sure seemed apt.

The Raptors did appear to take the worse of the physical nature of the game.

DeMar DeRozan, who led Toronto with 23 points, wore a Band-Aid under his right eye afterward. Reserve Pascal Siakam held a bag of ice over a cut on his lip that required three stitches.

“Ain’t nobody fighting out here,” said Lowry, who had 19 points and eight assists. “I mean, it got physical, but ain’t nobody fighting. It’s a heated moment, but that’s the game of basketball.”

Each team boasts a pair of elite, All-Star guards. This time, Washington’s pair came out on top.

The start initially had the look of “Here we go again,” as Toronto moved ahead 27-18. The Raptors, after all, outscored Washington by an average of 11 points in the first period over Games 1 and 2. But this time, Washington responded with a 12-point run capped by Beal’s 3 with under a minute left.

Beal scored 12 in the quarter a day after he, Wall and Brooks met to discuss ways to get Beal more involved in the offense. Entering Friday, Beal was averaging only 14 points in the playoffs, well below his 22.6 average during the regular season.

“We need both our guys to step up,” Brooks said about Beal and Wall. “It was good tonight.”

 

Pacers erase 17-point deficit to take 2-1 lead over Cavs

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Bojan Bogdanovic scored 30 points, leading the Indiana Pacers back from a 17-point halftime deficit for a 92-90 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday night for a 2-1 lead in their first-round series.

Cleveland was 39-0 during the regular season when leading after three quarters and kept that perfect mark intact with a Game 2 win.

The incredible second-half charge came exactly one year after Indiana blew a 26-point halftime lead in a historic playoff collapse against the Cavs.

This time, the Pacers delivered a devastating blow to the three-time defending Eastern Conference champs – on a night LeBron Jones joined Michael Jordan as the only players in playoff history to record 100 double-doubles. James finished with 28 points and 12 rebounds, but it wasn’t enough to prevent Cleveland from losing its first game this season after leading following the third quarter.

The biggest reason for the collapse: Bogdanovic.

After charging back with striking distance, he completed a four-point play to finally give the Pacers an 81-77 lead with 6:10 left. Bogdanovic followed that with another to make it as seven-point game.

Then James answered with the next seven to tie it.

Bogdanovic came right back with a layup and another 3 before Thaddeus Young scored to give the Pacers a 91-84 cushion with 53 seconds left.

James knocked down a 3 to cut the deficit to four, and the Cavs got another 3 from Kevin Love with 7 seconds left to make it 91-90.

Darren Collison made 1 of 2 free throws with 5 seconds left, giving Cleveland one more chance. But J.R. Smith‘s long desperation heave came up short..