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.

Lillard poised to pass Drexler as Trail Blazers all-time leading scorer

2022-23 Portland Trail Blazers Media Day
Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images
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Damian Lillard could have done what a lot of NBA stars have done — what a lot of them told him to do while recruiting him — and has chosen to stay in Portland. He wants to be remembered as the greatest Trail Blazer ever.

One good way to do that: Become the franchise’s all-time leading scorer. Sometime around Thanksgiving or a little after, Lillard will do just that, passing Hall of Famer Clyde Drexler and his 18,040 points (Lillard is 531 back).

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports spoke to Lillard about when he knew the record was within reach, during Trail Blazers training camp in Santa Barbara, California (go Gauchos!). It was when Lillard got to 10,000 points.

“I was like, ‘Damn, I got 10,000 already?’ ” Lillard told Yahoo Sports he recalled at the time. “It was my sixth season in the league. That’s when I started thinking, if I could be consistent, I could score into the high 20,000-point range. As a scorer, 20,000 points is always looked at as a special mark. From that moment, I knew it was possible, but it’s also when I first researched Clyde Drexler’s [scoring] record with the team.”

Drexler is good with being passed by Lillard.

“You and I know records are made to be broken, but I can’t think of a better player or person to break the record than Dame,” Drexler told Yahoo Sports. “He exemplifies being a team player and going about his business in a professional way. I have nothing but admiration and respect for him. When he comes close to getting the record, and if our schedules align, I would love to be there to help out in any way I can. That’s a nice milestone to achieve. I am looking forward to him accomplishing that.”

Lillard is on a lot of front office people’s watch list this season, as in “how long before he is unhappy and asks for a trade?” The thing is, Lillard has been on that list for years and he keeps choosing Portland — he isn’t looking to leave. Of course, the $120 million extension and a retooling of the roster around him helped with that decision, but Lillard always had other options if he wanted them (and at times it felt like he would take them).

The Trail Blazers brought in Jerami Grant, re-signed Anfrenee Simons, and will put them with a solid core of others such as (a finally healthy) Jusuf Nurkic, Josh Hart, Gary Payton II and others. It’s a good roster, the question is how good in a deep West?

There are a lot of questions about how this season shakes out in Portland, but the one seeming sure thing is Lillard becoming the Trail Blazers’ all-time leading scorer. And that seems fitting.

Suns update: Ayton blames Sarver for contract, Crowder conflict, Johnson to start

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Phoenix went to the NBA Finals two seasons ago and had the most wins in the NBA last season, yet dark clouds seem to be blocking out the Suns heading into this NBA season.

Here’s the latest on three situations with the Suns: Deandre Ayton‘s contract frustration, why Jae Crowder is asking out, and who starts at the four now.

• Ayton ended up signing a four-year, $132.9 max contract and will be back with the Suns to start this season, but the road to get there was rocky. The Suns would not offer Ayton a max five-year contract extension, his name kept coming up in Kevin Durant trade rumors, so Ayton went out and got a four-year max offer from the Pacers — which the Suns instantly matched. Phoenix saved $40 million and a guaranteed year, but the process left Ayton a little bitter.

Ayton blames outgoing owner Robert Sarver — a notorious penny pincher as an owner (among other, much worse things) — Marc Spears and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN discussed on NBA Today (hat tip Real GM).

“That is certainly something that caused the ire of him,” said Marc J. Spears. “I was told that it was Robert Sarver who didn’t want to give him that fifth year, who wanted to save the money.”

“My understanding from talking to people close to Deandre is that he thinks this was Robert Sarver’s decision as well. And Robert Sarver’s not going to be the owner anymore. So there is some healing that can happen there. But I know there were some hurt feelings over that contract and how that played out.

“If they were going to instantly match an offer sheet that he signed, why not just give him the max contract? Yes, it saved them a year and $40 million but as somebody close to Deandre told me ‘There’s a karma to this. Why do that to your No. 1 overall pick?'”

Shelburne hit the nail on the head — the NBA is a business, but it’s a business of relationships. Not only did the Suns sour theirs with Ayton, but you can also be sure every other agent around the league noticed how that was handled. It doesn’t help when recruiting players. The eventual new owner, whoever it ends up being, has a lot of work to change the franchise’s perception.

• Jae Crowder remains away from the Suns during training camp awaiting a trade (which reportedly will not be to Dallas). Crowder started 109 games for the Suns during the past two seasons and was a key part of their run to the NBA Finals, so how did things deteriorate so quickly? Marc Stein lays it out in his latest Substack newsletter.

Entering the final season of his current contract at $10.2 million, Jae Crowder let the Suns know that he was seeking a contract extension. League sources say that the Suns’ messaging, in response, was to let Crowder know that, at 32, he was no longer assured of starting or finishing games ahead of Cam Johnson. That gulf between the parties led Crowder to seek an exit from the desert that has landed him on indefinite mutual leave from the team until Phoenix can find a trade for him.

While Miami gets mentioned as a suitor a lot, it’s next to impossible to put together a trade that works for both sides right now (at the trade deadline, maybe, but Crowder isn’t going to be with the Suns that long). Cleveland is currently the hot name in league circles when talking Crowder trades, and Stein also mentions the Milwaukee Bucks, who have been looking for a P.J. Tucker-like replacement for P.J Tucker. But, do any of these teams want to extend Crowder at age 32?

• Suns coach Monty Williams confirmed what Crowder heard — Cameron Johnson will start at the four for the Suns this season.

Johnson brings better shooting to the table — 42.5% last season on 3-pointers — and is more athletic at this point, but Crowder brings better defense, toughness, and veteran savvy that can be trusted in the playoffs. The Suns may miss that when it matters, but Johnson will get the chance to prove us all wrong.

Blake Griffin agrees to join Boston Celtics on one-year deal

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According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Blake Griffin has agreed to join the Boston Celtics on a one-year contract which will be fully guaranteed.

The Celtics were desperate for frontcourt depth following injuries to Danilo Gallinari and Robert Williams, as Luke Kornet was even getting some run with the starting group at training camp.

You do have to wonder just how much the 33-year-old Griffin has left in the tank though. Last season with the Brooklyn Nets, Griffin only managed to play 17.1 minutes per game and his 3-point percentage dropped like a stone to 26%. He was also a major liability on defense, and the Celtics surely know that after Jaylen Brown drove by him with ease time and time again during the postseason.

Griffin was still an effective playmaker and that may make him a good fit with the second unit alongside the likes of Malcolm Brogdon, Derrick White and Grant Williams with all of these capable of handling the ball. Injuries and Father Time have zapped Griffin’s athleticism, but if anyone can squeeze the last bit of value out of him, I’d bet on Brad Stevens and the Celtics.

Highlights from Japan Game: Hachimura and Wiseman put on show, plus Suga and Curry

Golden State Warriors v Washington Wizards - NBA Japan Games
Jun Sato/WireImage
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The NBA preseason is officially here — and it started in Japan. The Golden State Warriors faced the Washington Wizards in front of a sold-out crowd at the Saitama Super Arena in Tokyo. In case you didn’t wake up at 6 am Eastern to watch a meaningless preseason NBA game (and if you did, we’re worried about you), here are a few highlights and notes from the night.

• The Wizards were there because they have the biggest Japanese star in the NBA, Rui Hachimura, and he was given a chance to shine. The crowd erupted when he did anything.

• The leading scorer on the night was the Warriors James Wiseman with 20 points on 8-of-11 shooting, plus nine boards.

• Dunk of the game goes to Kyle Kuzma.

Stephen Curry was doing Stephen Curry things.

• Stephen Curry also met Suga of BTS and gave him some game-worn kicks. This will win Twitter for the day.

• Oh, by the way, the Warriors won 96-87. As for the level of basketball, it looked like the first preseason game after a flight halfway around the world. The teams combined to shoot 11-of-47 in the first quarter (23.4%) and both were under 40% for the game.

Klay Thompson is sitting out both Warriors games in Japan.

TRIVIA TIME: Can you name the other two players currently in the NBA born in Japan?

Cam Thomas (Yokosuka) and Yuta Watanabe (Yokohama), both of the Brooklyn Nets (Watanabe is on a training camp deal and is not expected to make the roster). Both were raised much of their lives and went to high school and college in the United States.