Joining Portland, Tolliver Proves D-League Works
And it worked.
Tolliver, the power forward from Creighton, became the second D-League player this season to get called up to an NBA team, joining the injury-riddled Portland Trail Blazers this week.
Tolliver could have been making considerably more money if he taken that offer to play in China, or returned to the Turkish Basketball League, where he played for a part of last season.
Instead he went to Boise, Idaho to play with the D-League's Idaho Stampede.
"If I had gone overseas to play, no way would I be here today,'' said Tolliver in the Blazers locker room before he dressed for the game against the Magic. "You go overseas, and it's too easy to get lost in the shuffle. The D-League is a great tool for a guy who thinks he's close to cracking the NBA. Every single guy now in that league is hoping and praying for an opportunity like this.''
Tolliver, a 6-9 power forward, is getting his chance only because the Blazers were hit hard by injuries. They have six roster players who are missing games for an extended period. The NBA granted Portland a "hardship exception,'' to add a 16th player.
Tolliver averaged 20.7 points, 9.9 rebounds and 1.2 steals in seven games with with Idaho when the Blazers flew him to Portland for a workout Wednesday. Two hours after he finished the workout, the Blazers signed him.
He joined Chris Hunter as the second D-League player this season to sign with the NBA. Hunter, who was playing in Fort Wayne, Ind., went to the Golden State Warriors. Neither has a contract that will be guaranteed until Jan. 10.
Tolliver played 19 games with the San Antonio Spurs last season, sandwiched around previous D-League stints with the Austin Toros and the Iowa Stampede, along with that fling in the Turkish League.
"To get called up this early in the season is crazy. It stinks that some guys have to go down for me to get this opportunity to pop up,'' he said. "You don't wish that on anyone, but it's inevitable in the NBA. People get hurt, and teams need players. That's why you want to be close.''
Tolliver came to Portland with a change of clothing and his workout gear. He hasn't been back to Idaho, leaving Friday with the Blazers on a four-game road trip that started Saturday in Orlando.
The NBA Development League is almost inconsequential to the average basketball fan. But to those that play in it, it's a lifeline to the NBA. Last season, 20 players got called from the D-League into the NBA. Yet often they disappear as suddenly as they appear.
"I think I belong here. I know I belong here in the NBA,'' Tolliver said. "There's no doubt in my mind. I just have to get an opportunity to show it.''
Tolliver didn't play in Saturday's loss to the Magic, and neither did he play in the victory over Phoenix on Thursday. He knows that the clock is ticking because he could be sent back to Idaho when Nicolas Batum or Rudy Fernandez is ready to play again.
Instead of the pro-rated $500,000 he will make in the NBA, Tolliver could go back to the estimated $30,000 he will make in the D-League.
His first and only practice with the Blazers was Friday night in Orlando. They had just arrived on a cross-country flight from Portland. Most of the players were going half-speed, with the blessing of the coaching staff, using it to get loose for Saturday's game.
"We've had one practice, like a walkthrough Friday night, but for me, it was 100 percent. I don't know any other speed. There won't be any walking for me. I have to show them what I can do because you never know how long this will last. I belong here, and I want to stay here.''