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.

Remembering Notre Dame, Laker legend Tommy “the hawk” Hawkins

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Tommy Hawkins passed away recently at the age of 80.

The former NBA player was the first black athlete to earn All-America honors in basketball at Notre Dame (he still holds the school’s total rebounds record), was drafted in the first round, and went on to have a 10-year NBA career playing for the Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers as well as the Cincinnati Royals. Los Angeles fans may also remember him as the long time director of communications for the Los Angeles Dodgers after his playing days ended.

The NBA put together this well done video look back at Hawkins’ career.

Celtics’ Brad Stevens said early September tests will show if Thomas ready for camp

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Isaiah Thomas said he expects to be ready for the Celtics’ training camp next month. The guard’s All-NBA season came to an early end in the playoffs when he aggravated a labral tear in his right hip initially suffered back in March. At least the injury did not require surgery.

Players are also about the worst judges of when they will recover from an injury. They pretty much all think they are invincible and will be healthy faster than doctors predict.

Coaches tend to be more pragmatic. Take Boston’s Brad Stevens, who told Chris Mannix on The Vertical Podcast that tests in a couple of weeks will show if Thomas is ready for camp.

“He has another follow-up and another scan in the early part of September. Obviously, it’s been a lot of appropriate rest, a lot of rehab. There have been some good strides here certainly in the last month or few weeks, but we’re not going to know that until after that early September timeframe.”

The Celtics are understandably going to be cautious with Thomas, while Thomas wants to prove he is healthy and has no ill effects from the injury as he enters a contract year (one where he expects to get PAID). Also, the Celtics could use him in camp as they start to figure out how he and Gordon Hayward can share playmaking duties.

Still, from the outset, the timelines have suggested he should be ready for camp in late September. Coaches are just cautious on these things by nature.

Allen Iverson predicts LeBron James will win MVP

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LeBron James has four NBA MVP trophies in his case. (Does he keep that case in his home in Akron or the one in Los Angeles… that’s a question for another day.) Only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (six) and Michael Jordan (five) have more.

Could LeBron James add a fifth to his case this season?

Allen Iverson said yes at last weekend’s Big3 playoffs in Seattle.

LeBron was fourth in preseason odds to win the MVP at 15/2, behind Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, and Kawhi Leonard.

To me, LeBron could be a good bet. If/when Kyrie Irving is traded, the chances of LeBron getting the MVP go up. If LeBron puts up impressive numbers (again) and leads a depleted Cavaliers team to a top two seed in the East, he is certainly going to be in consideration. And should be.

It’s a long season, and personally, I think you need to get midway through the season before seriously considering the year-end awards. But history says LeBron will be in the mix, and Allen Iverson could be proven prophetic.

Phoenix Suns with quality solar eclipse joke on Twitter

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With the cooler-than-I-expected solar eclipse on Monday came a lot of bad solar eclipse jokes on Twitter. Because that’s what Twitter does. Especially the NBA Twitterverse. We knew a lot of “where on the flat earth will Kyrie Irving watch the eclipse?” jokes were coming.

There were a couple of good ones, however.

Appropriately, the Phoenix Suns won the day.

One personal favorite here, an old meme that never goes out of style.