Tag: NBA D-League

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


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:

San Antonio Spurs

Atlanta Hawks
Los Angeles Clippers
Phoenix Suns
Toronto Raptors

Cleveland Cavaliers

Golden State Warriors

New York Knicks

Charlotte Bobcats
Detroit Pistons
Indiana Pacers
Milwaukee Bucks

Portland Trail Blazers

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

Los Angeles Lakers

Boston Celtics

Memphis Grizzlies
Sacramento Kings
Utah Jazz

Houston Rockets

Miami Heat
Minnesota Timberwolves
Orlando Magic
Philadelphia 76ers

Brooklyn Nets

Dallas Mavericks

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.

Winderman: NBA should make D-League into true minor league

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Somehow, you get the sense the ancillary issues in the NBA’s collective-bargaining agreement aren’t exactly receiving prime focus during these marathon mediation sessions.

At this stage, you basically take the league’s substance-abuse program from the expired CBA, update with a few new pharmaceuticals, and reinsert those pages in a new agreement.

To a degree, that is unfortunate, because these opportunities don’t come around very often.

But because certain issues are tied directly to what is negotiated in the CBA, we could be at a now-or-never stage with some facets of the agreement.

Namely, does the NBA truly want to operate a minor league, or merely continue with the shell of such a structure that is the D-League?

Amid the CBA talks, I had the opportunity to speak to a respected agent about the D-League and he said he wished he could have a spot at the CBA table to forward a few thoughts.

Currently, the D-League resembles little of what Major League Baseball or the NHL feature with their minor leagues.

Instead, the just-concluded CBA includes these mandates in its “NBA Development League” section:

“(1) During an NBA player’s first two seasons in the league (regardless of his age when he entered the league), his team will be permitted to assign him to a team in the NBA Development League. (2) A player can be assigned to the NBA Development League up to three times per season. (3) The player will continue to be paid his NBA salary and will continue to be included on his NBA team’s roster (on the inactive list) while playing in the NBA Development League.”

In other words, no established NBA names, no players with more than two seasons of tenure. No ability to freely move a player back up to the parent team when potentially needed because of the three-stint rule. No flexibility with the NBA roster regarding roster space over D-League assignments.

The agent, who represents a variety of NBA players, including some practically-over-the-hill types, said such a policy robs an NBA team from issuing a de facto minor-league tryout during the season for such a veteran and also has teams shying from adding such veterans because there is no clause for a “rehab assignment” in the D-League.

But the argument goes beyond that. If an age requirement remains a CBA issue, an expansion of the D-League’s uses could allow teams to develop such “underage” players in the D-League, sort of like hockey’s “juniors” system, where players are groomed without the façade of the need for college participation.

Then there is the looming consideration of contraction, which even union chief Billy Hunter has mentioned if the lockout shutters the league for a season. Instead of losing jobs with the shutdown of a team, NBA rosters could be expanded, with more players therefore available to be placed in the D-League, perhaps something along the lines of the NFL’s practice squad, where those additional players first would have to clear league waivers. To pacify agents, those players would still receive full NBA benefits, such as NBA per diem.

So if you lose two teams (30 jobs), but add two additional players to each remaining team (56 jobs), you come out ahead of the game. And considering those players would be on minimum-salary deals, it’s not as if you’re adding significant dollars into the salary pool.

Do that, with players you’ve actually heard of being sent down from the parent team, and you could actually place NBA minor-league teams in real markets, ones closer to NBA affiliates. (Did you know Chicago has three minor-league hockey teams? Chicago Wolves of the AHL, Chicago Express of the ECHL and Chicago Steel of the USHL.)

The problem is the NBA hardly has the time right now for minor issues.

Which, to a degree, is a major shame.

Ira Winderman writes regularly for NBCSports.com and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. You can follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/IraHeatBeat.

Have we the mentioned the Fort Wayne Mad Ants are awesome?

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The Fort Wayne Mad Ants are awesome for several reasons. Their president has a blog in which he’s refreshingly open and honest. Their mascot is an internet legend. They’re named the Mad Ants, for God’s sake. And now we have a video that steadfastly reinforces our belief that the Mad Ants are, in fact, awesome. In a league that often takes itself too seriously, the Mad Ants are a great refresher under Jeff Potter that  you can have some fun with yourselves:

Whatcha’ gonna do, when NIghtmare Ant runs wild on you?
(HT: Ridiculous Upside)