Aug 30, 2012, 9:00 AM EDT
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)
Los Angeles Clippers
CANTON CHARGE (OH)
DAKOTA WIZARDS (Bismarck, ND)
Golden State Warriors
ERIE BAYHAWKS (PA)
New York Knicks
FORT WAYNE MAD ANTS (IN)
IDAHO STAMPEDE (Boise, ID)
Portland Trail Blazers
IOWA ENERGY (Des Moines, IA)
New Orleans Hornets
LOS ANGELES D-FENDERS (CA)
Los Angeles Lakers
MAINE RED CLAWS (Portland, ME)
RENO BIGHORNS (NV)
RIO GRANDE VALLEY VIPERS (TX)
SIOUX FALLS SKYFORCE (SD)
SPRINGFIELD ARMOR (MA)
TEXAS LEGENDS (Frisco, TX)
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.
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