They're punishing Terrence Williams for his behavior by sending him to the D-League, and in doing so, are hurting themselves, Williams, and the league at an extremely volatile time.
NBA teams are restricted in assigning players to their D-League affiliate to only being able to do so in the player's first two years in the league. After that, if they want him in the affiliate, they have to waive him and hope he elects to join the D-League. It's a curious and frustrating rule, as many players need more than two years to get their feet under them, or need a rehab assignment in later years. There are several reasons for the restriction, but one is that the player's union in CBA negotiations didn't want teams to simply use the D-League as a punitive system.
Trapping the player in the D-League forces him to deal with the D-League conditions (low travel budgets, lack of staff, lesser accommodations), and that's not supposed to be the intent of the league. The D-League is a place to get players floor time, to work with them on specific parts of their game that they need to improve on in order to become NBA-caliber players, to fix kinks in their game and regain confidence. It's not meant as a lesser environment to send players down to punish them because you don't get along with them.
Williams averaged 14.9 points, 7.9 rebounds, and five assists last season per 40 minutes. Not bad for a rookie. There was every reason to believe he'd progress this season with a better supporting cast and become a vital part of the Nets' rebuilding. But instead, he clashed with coach Avery Johnson, started missing meetings, and then was suspended. Missing meetings is obvious knucklehead behavior, but I wouldn't describe it as unforgivable for a 23-year-old NBA player dealing with a new coaching staff.
But forget Williams himself. T-Will could probably use some polish and the D-League isn't the worst option for him to get it in. If he's not going to get time because Johnson is making a statement or compensating for his height or whatever, that's fine, get him the opportunity. The problem here is not Williams' specific assignment. It's the issue of using the D-League as a punitive measure, which goes against the spirit of the league, what's best for the Armor, and what's best for the Nets.
The Nets just got through showing a great commitment to understanding the importance of the D-League in acquiring the basketball operations of the Armor in 2011-2012. Now they've just shown they didn't learn from an earlier mistake in using the D-League as a prison with Sean Williams (an experiment which failed miserably), and now appear as if all they've done is buy themselves a $250,000 timeout corner. How are you going to get future players to commit to a long-term development plan in this system you've afforded yourself if your assignment legacy is one of a wrist slap by sending the player down to the D-League?
It's true that the D-League is often uncomfortable, hard, and no fun at all. Most players who come out of the D-League work hard in part because they never want to go back to having to carry their own bags or the long bus rides through Dakota in the winter. But while that experience should help teach those players to appreciate what they have, it should not be used to threaten players to stay in line as some sort of basketball gulag. The D-League should be used to help players, not hurt them. It's somewhere for staffs to help a player reach his potential, not babysit him while you don't want to deal with them.
It's a win and a loss for the Armor, who will also likely add Craig Brackins to a solid roster sometime next week. More talent means more wins, and more wins means more ticket sales, and all that goes down the line. Williams makes them a more talented team, and that's always a good thing, especially if he decides to bust his back to get out of there as soon as possible. At the same time, this isn't a player humbled by his performance who realizes he needs to improve to make it back to the NBA. This is a player who knows he's talented enough to start but has been banished to what now looks like basketball Siberia by the Little General gone off his rocker. That's a bad attitude to have in a locker room, a bad attitude to have as a teammate, and a bad attitude for a coach who's just trying to do his job to have to deal with.
For the league, this is particularly harmful. It already fights enough battles trying to get players, coaches, and media to see how the D-League is a legitimate development portal. Despite all the progress they've made under President Dan Reed's leadership, there's still a ways to go before the league gets where it needs to. And a huge part of that advance has to be made at the tail-end of some seriously contentious CBA talks. The D-League will be among the last items discussed in negotiations, just before complimentary pregame fruit, but how the new CBA impacts the D-League will go a long way in deciding how soon the league will reach its goal of becoming a true minor league system similar to what MLB currently enjoys.
A move like this puts those negotiations at risk because the union is then forced to protect its players to whatever degree it can from teams using the D-League, a player development tool, as a punitive device which can impact a player's future earnings. Keeping a player in the D-League for three years because you don't get along with his attitude means he has a damaged ability to reach his potential in free agency. The union has members which want a more expanded role for the D-League. Elton Brand said years ago he wanted to rehab his knee injury in Anaheim, Calif. Coaches have said they wish they could have kept a player in their system. But to get where those things can happen, the union can't be threatened by the league's potential as a detention center. This move jeopardizes that.
Williams is a problem child for Johnson. And maybe he's completely justified in his approach to punish the youngster to get him in line. But using the D-League seems like a creative solution for them, when in reality, it's a reckless maneuver that only hurts Williams, the Nets, the D-League, and the NBA. Use the D-League for what it was designed to do: develop players. Don't use it as your own personal timeout corner. You're only hurting yourself.