NBA Mulls New Player Assignment Policy for D-League
The biggest piece of news is that the NBA is considering possibly changing the relationship of D-League teams to players cut from NBA training camp rosters. To be clear, there are a number of players who do not enter the D-League draft, but instead are automatically assigned to an NBA team's affiliate if they choose to play in the D-League, waiting for an opportunity on the big club in the case of a trade, injury, or roster movement. Currently, this only applies to players who are drafted by the NBA team, then cut during training camp.
The proposed change would expand the number of players a D-League team could claim from training camp cuts. It is a move that would not only formally centralize the relationship between an NBA team and its affiliate, but strengthen a player's chances for a call-up and keep him in the same organization. While the results would vary from team to team and affiliate to affiliate, the potential is very high for improving the league's development goals for both players and teams.
This isn't a sweeping change: no changes to NBA team assignment will occur until the next Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NBA and its players is finalized. That means that even though the NBA D-League affiliate can claim a player to keep him in the same system, playing alongside the assigned players he played with in camp, it doesn't restrict any other NBA team's rights to him.
As an example, say a player goes undrafted by the NBA, but gets enough attention to warrant a training camp invite with the Washington Wizards. He goes to camp, impresses the coaches, but there's simply not enough room on the roster. So they cut him, but tell him that they like his game and if he stays stateside in the D-League, there's a good chance they'll call him up. The player can opt to go with the safe route and head to Europe for the big payday, or remain with the D-League. If the player elects to sign with the D-League he would then be assigned by the league to Washington's D-League affiliate, the Dakota Wizards. (Yes, there are two Wizards in play here. Try to keep up.)
If Washington were to devote some resources to Dakota, they could track the player's progress, keep him on the path to what they want him to do (rebounding vs. perimeter shooting, for example), and then call him up. But so could any other NBA team, meaning that the Wizards would then have wasted energy on the player that now benefits someone else. These are the types of things that are going to be examined closely in the next round of the CBA.
Let's take another more solidified example, the Houston Rockets' hybrid affiliation with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. Say the Rockets draft a player and think that he's got tremendous potential, but simply isn't ready at a defensive level to contribute. They cut him, and he elects to sign with the D-League and the Vipers claim him. He will now be in the Rockets' system, with their training staff, being developed on the same principles he was learning in training camp, and likely playing alongside Rockets players, considering Houston's penchant for assignment. This is a great expansion of what the league does, helping teams develop players they want to invest in without just signing them and having them sit on a bench getting Chuck Hayes his leg warmers.
Since the D-League has stabilized both its financial situation and viability as a minor league, it has turned its attention to initiatives like this. In the past three years, it has added the hybrid system, a coaching assignment function, and added teams with direct ownership. It's these small tweaks that further the league in becoming a true developmental system, and we've seen the results in not only call-ups, but ones that make a difference.
In other league news, Reed also touched on expansion, and the news is not good. While the D-League's eventual goal is to have 30 teams, one for each NBA squad, it appears that goal is on hold until the economy gets significantly better. Reed stated that the D-League is "not actively pursuing expansion for 2011-12 at this point." This is somewhat of a surprise, given the fairly consistent rate of expansion under Reed through last year. This coming season was already set to have only one new team, the Texas Legends, who will be taking the place of the now-defunct Colorado 14ers.
With no options for 2011-2012, the league may be facing a situation of increasing demand and low supply, which will be a nice change for them, but still something to juggle. The biggest question surrounds the Springfield Armor, who are rumored to be under consideration by the New Jersey Nets for possible acquisition, either through outright ownership or the D-League's hybrid system.
If the Nets acquire the Armor, they'll only have one NBA parent team, the Nets, leaving the Sixers and Knicks -- who currently share Springfield with the Nets -- without an affiliate. That would leave Philly and New York to triple-bunk with another NBA team or two, preferably in the East (the league tries to keep affiliates regional as much as possible). Having four teams with assignment capabilities could get messy. If you're the Knicks and you decide to assign a player, you don't want to have him being coached by or playing next to two other team's personnel. It's just not a preferable situation.
Reed attributed the hold on expansion to a desire to solidify the league's business goals and internal operations, and that's certainly a smart strategy. As the league becomes more viable, more NBA teams are becoming interested in relationships with D-League teams. NBA teams that haven't showed any interest in the D-League are also the ones who are struggling with on-court success.
Meanwhile, some of the strongest teams in the league, the Lakers, Spurs, and Thunder all have direct ownership situations, and the Boston Celtics and Maine Red Claws are thick as thieves. By strengthening the relationship between the two leagues, the D-League can ramp up interest from NBA teams which will help the league remain stable and move toward its goal of being the best developmental system for NBA players in the world.
Still, it will put a damper on the always hilarious watch for names and mascots for the next two years, and it also means that some teams which may want to be more involved in the D-League may find themselves with fewer viable options. On the other hand, if a team decides to purchase a D-League team, those moves can happen rather fast, as was the case with the Tulsa 66ers.
The league's outlook is remarkably different than it was three years ago, and its that there is an internal movement towards building "up" rather than "out." The League is no longer concerned with proving itself viable. As Reed said, 20 percent of all NBA players now have D-League experience. Think about that. Shannon Brown, Jordan Farmar, Aaron Brooks, Hasheem Thabeet, Reggie Williams, Anthony Tolliver, Sundiata Gaines, all of these players have experience in the D-League and all are important parts of the NBA. The D-League had a major cable deal this year, and will be broadcasting in HD online next season. There's a new CBA coming that could have major impact on how the D-League is shaped in the future, and interest from NBA teams is at an all time high, and rising.
Reed continues to steer the ship towards better and calmer waters. We'll keep you posted on where it lands.