Kurt Helin

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NBA D-League set to open 16th season with record 22 teams

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There was a time when the NBA Development League was just hanging on, a fledgling operation viewed as an outpost to be avoided at all costs.

As the D-League prepares to open its 16th season of operation on Friday, it does so having grown dramatically in recent years, and with the handful of remaining NBA teams who have yet to start their own affiliates clamoring to get in the door.

“We’ve already grown very quickly in a short period of time,” president Malcolm Turner told The Associated Press.

Three expansion teams – in Charlotte, Chicago and Brooklyn – begin play this season, bringing the league’s total to a high of 22 clubs. Every one of them has a one-to-one affiliation with an NBA organization, with the big franchises growing more and more comfortable using the minor league to develop young players, cultivate coaches and allow veterans to rehab an injury.

What started as an eight-team league in 2001, dipped to six teams in 2003 and hovered at 16 teams for five seasons between 2008 and 2013 has gradually evolved to become a part of the NBA’s ecosystem. The Atlanta Hawks announced on Thursday they will start a team in 2019, leaving just seven NBA franchises without a D-League affiliate of their own.

“We’re in active conversations with all of them about joining the league,” Turner said. “Knock on wood, we hope to have additional announcements sooner than later.”

Being on the outside looking in suddenly is becoming a competitive disadvantage.

“From a basketball perspective, this is critical to our growth,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said at the unveiling of plans for a 3,500-seat arena in the Atlanta suburb of College Park.

And it’s not just the teams that are growing. Fifteen coaches who worked in the D-League last season are on NBA benches this year, just under 50 percent of the players drafted in 2015 spent some time in the D-League and 40 percent of players on NBA rosters at season’s end had some D-League experience, according to Turner.

Miami center Hassan Whiteside became the first former D-League player to sign a max contract this summer and there have been conversations between NBA owners and the players’ union about including a clause in the new collective bargaining agreement that allows for two-way contracts that would only increase the usage of the minor league.

“The numbers are already there,” Turner said. “Those are meaningful numbers in terms of D-League experience in the NBA, and that’s just on the players’ side. I think ecosystem and fabric are key terminology for us. It’s not aspirational for us. It’s actually happening.”

Turner said the league is exploring possible international ventures, seizing on the NBA’s global reach. Big league general managers have told D-League representatives they plan to use the league more going forward to help veterans play their way back into shape after long injury hiatuses.

Season No. 16 begins on Friday night with four games: Canton at Grand Rapids; Long Island at Windy City; Maine at Oklahoma City; and Iowa at Los Angeles.

“We don’t disclose our financials publicly, but I would tell you, both at the league level and with our teams, we are trending in the right direction as it relates to not only revenue growth but more importantly profitability as well,” Turner said.

AP National Writer Paul Newberry in Atlanta contributed to this report.

Greg Oden understands he will go down as “biggest bust in NBA history”


When you watch Joel Embiid look like a force of nature for the Philadelphia 76ers this season, know this: That is how Greg Oden was projected coming out of college. An athletic big man who could score, defend, grab boards, and just be a force in the paint.

But Oden’s body betrayed him. He played just 82 games (one season’s worth) in the five seasons he was with the Blazers. He had seven knee surgeries, three microfracture. Some fans seemed to want to make this a personal failing of Oden’s, when in reality it was the opposite. Most people in his shoes would have given up and just lived the rest of their lives very comfortably on the millions he made off his rookie deal as the former No. 1 pick, but Oden loved the game enough to fight all the way back and make the Miami Heat roster a few years back (during their title years). Miami gave him a shot, but he just couldn’t stick (he played 26 games), his body to slowed and unable to stay healthy. He spent part of last season in China.

But Oden knows how he will be remembered, as he told ESPN’s Outside the Lines:

“I’ll be remembered as the biggest bust in NBA history,” Oden told Outside the Lines. “But I can’t do nothing about that…

“Don’t get me wrong,” Oden said. “If I was healthy, I would love to continue playing, but I’m not healthy.”

We can debate if Oden was a worse No. 1 pick than Anthony Bennett or Kwame Brown or a few others, although I would say no (because it was injuries in Oden’s case).  Part of what makes the Oden pick look bad is that the debate was him or Kevin Durant to go No. 1 that year. Obviously, Durant has gone on to be one of the great scorers the game has ever seen. It makes that debate look silly (although GMs telling us now he would have chosen Durant are lying, it was pretty much a unanimous consensus for Oden back in the day, there’s a lot of revisionist history with that draft).

Oden is currently taking classes at Ohio State to finish up his degree. Whatever is next for him, hopefully, it goes more smoothly than his NBA career.


Pat Riley admits he should have given Dwyane Wade max deal back in 2014

Associated Press

Dwyane Wade returned to Miami Thursday night in his Chicago Bulls uniform, where he was greeted with a wave of love by the fans. After 13 years in Miami, where he was the most important player in franchise history, it was an emotional night for everyone (but the Bulls came away with the win).

Pat Riley admits now he should have locked Wade up in 2014.

The summer that LeBron James decided to return to Cleveland, Wade and Chris Bosh also were free agents. Riley didn’t want Bosh to escape, so he locked the big man up with a max contract (this was before his blood clot issue surfaced). But with Wade, who was battling knee issues and on a maintenance program so he would be good for the playoffs, Riley didn’t want to go with max money, and certainly not max years. Wade played for $15 million that season, $20 million the next, then bolted for Chicago, which gave him $47 million over two years.

Riley admitted to David Aldridge of TNT he made a mistake. Here is what Aldridge said during the broadcast Thursday night.

“Riley told me before the game that, if he had to do it over again, in the summer of 2014, after LeBron James left and went back to Cleveland, we should have given Wade a max deal as well as Chris Bosh, as the team did. ‘That was wrong. I should have, we should have given him that. That’s a big second-guess, but that’s on me.'”

Sometimes a team should overpay to keep a star, because it’s good for business to keep the face of the franchise around and because it shows loyalty to future free agents. Teams don’t need to go the full Kobe Bryant and hamstring rebuilding efforts with an oversized contract, but show some loyalty and respect.

Riley seemed last summer to be okay with Wade coming back on the team’s terms or bolting. But with Bosh out Miami is rebuilding mode now they could use a stabilizing veteran like Wade, who would also help them get wins along the way.

Report: Jrue Holiday to return to Pelicans next week

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The New Orleans Pelicans started the season 0-8, and the reason for the slow start was the lack of scoring, playmaking, or much of anything good outside the play of Anthony Davis (who was a beast). New Orleans got its first win Friday night because Tim Frazier put up 15 points and 10 assists at the point, in addition to Davis dropping 32 points.

Which is why this is good news — Jrue Holiday is expected to return to the Pelicans next week, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical of Yahoo Sports.

Holiday is going to have to be eased back into condition, but his return is needed — the former All-Star averaged 16.8 points and six assists per game for the Pelicans last season.

Holiday has missed all of camp and the start of the season to be with his family. His wife Lauren Holiday — the former U.S. National Women’s soccer team star who is an Olympic gold medalist and World Cup champ — had a child while diagnosed with a brain tumor. Several weeks after she gave birth to a healthy daughter, she underwent successful surgery to have the benign tumor removed. Jrue had far more important places to be than a basketball court, but everything went well, and now he’s ready to return to work.

The Pelicans went into the season one of those teams where, if everything went right, they could make the playoffs — they were projected in that 46-36 win range where a lot of teams in the West will land. But starting out 0-8 may have dug New Orleans too deep a hole to climb out of.

Nuggets file protest over last-second loss in Memphis


DENVER (AP) — The Denver Nuggets have filed a protest with the NBA over a call in the final second of a 108-107 loss in Memphis on Tuesday.

The ball appeared to go off a Grizzlies player with 0.7 seconds remaining, but the ruling on the floor and video review awarded possession to Memphis. Marc Gasol hit the game-winning shot on a tip-in.

In a release Thursday night, the Nuggets said the NBA released its final two-minute officiating report and acknowledged an incorrect possession call. Nuggets coach Michael Malone says the best-case scenario would be to “replay the last seven-tenths.”

The odds of that, though, are “slim and none,” Malone said.

But it’s not without precedent. Atlanta and Miami replayed the final 51.9 seconds of its disputed game during the 2007-08 season.