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Art Garcia

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OKC's Kyle Weaver was assigned to the Tulsa 66ers, but was called back quickly due to Thunder injuries.
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Plenty of suggestions to improve NBA D-League


Posted Jan 10 2010 11:46AM

The 2010 NBA D-League Showcase just ended, a one-stop shop where players get to show off in front of representatitves from all 30 NBA teams.

The Showcase also gave NBA types an opportunity to offer up some tweaks to the relationship between the NBA and the D-League. Picking the brains of several team executives, the D-League could stand to be a little more NBA-friendly. Not that the D-League isn't aware of changes that could be made to strengthen its ties to NBA clubs.

Here are some of the suggestions heard during the recent D-League Showcase in Boise:

Increase number of assignments

General managers who actually use the D-League to get playing time for rookies and second-year pros would prefer having more than three assignments during the course of the season. The thinking behind the current limit is to not continuously shuttle players back-and-forth, which is supposed to benefit the player.

However, in some cases teams burn an assignment due to unforeseen circumstances. The Thunder assigned Kyle Weaver back in November to the D-League's Tulsa 66ers. But before Weaver could ever play a game for Tulsa, Oklahoma City suffered a pair of injuries in the backcourt and had to immediately recall Weaver, thus burning an assignment.

Increasing the number of assignments to five or creating an exception in the cases of injuries were among the ideas bandied about. It's unlikely teams would ever assign a player up to five times during one season, namely to keep the player's head from spinning, but it's also easy to see how three assignments can get burned up quickly.

Expand assignments throughout rookie contract

NBA teams can only assign players during their first two years in the league. Rookie contracts, however, can extend up to four years depending on what options are picked up.

For those rookies that make an immediate impact in the league, this is never an issue. Guys like Brandon Jennings and Tyreke Evans won't ever need to spend a minute in the D-League. But for someone like Hornets small forward Julian Wright, wouldn't it make sense to maybe tack on an extra year or two of development?

Wright isn't getting much time with New Orleans, but the organization hasn't given up on the former 2007 first-rounder. But since Wright is in his third year, he's not eligible to be assigned to the Albuquerque Thunderbirds.

Wright would seem to be an ideal candidate for the D-League. He's only 22 and could use minutes. If an NBA team isn't ready to give up on a young prospect after two years, but also doesn't really have room in the rotation, playing time in the D-League would seem invaluable.

Assignment of drafted players without NBA contracts

Holding the NBA draft rights to a player means nothing when it comes to the D-League. For instance, a number of second-rounders play overseas before they're ready for the NBA. As long as they play international ball, their NBA rights are held by the team that drafted them.

Well, what if one of those drafted players, who doesn't feel ready for the NBA, wants to play in the D-League before signing an NBA contract. Playing for the parent club's affiliate can be tricky. Take the case of DeVon Hardin.

The 6-foot-11 center was selected 50th in the 2008 Draft by Seattle (now Oklahoma City) and didn't make the team. Hardin played in Greece last season before deciding to play in the D-League this year. Even though the Thunder hold his rights and own the 66ers, Tulsa was forced to claim Hardin through the D-League waiver process.

The 66ers were fortunate enough to have the first waiver claim and used it on Hardin. But if they didn't, another D-League franchise could have claimed Hardin before Tulsa. So a player the Thunder have the rights to could have been playing for, say, the Austin Toros, who are owned by the Spurs.

Assigning drafted players makes more sense for NBA teams that own/operate D-League affiliates. Currently, only four do -- Thunder (66ers), Spurs (Toros), Lakers (Los Angeles D-Fender) and Rockets (Rio Grande Valley Vipers). But the D-League expects more teams to adopt this model in the future.

Expand rights for NBA teams with affiliates

Currently, the only D-League players tied to specific NBA clubs are those on assignment. Joey Dorsey is a member of the Rockets who plays for the Vipers. But the rest of the Vipers are free agents and can be called up by any NBA team.

For NBA teams that have made the financial commitment to run D-League clubs, one reward could be holding rights to additional players on those rosters besides those who are assigned. For example: if the Suns want to call up one of the Vipers, maybe the Rockets would have the ability to match.

NBA players on medical rehab

This happens all the time in baseball. A player working his way back from injury is sent to the minors to compete in game conditions before retuning to the Majors. The NBA has no such luxury.

It's commonplace for an NBA player coming back to spend several games "building up his stamina" or "testing his injury" before cutting loose. Instead of using up those minutes in games that count with players who aren't 100 percent, why not send him to the D-League to do the same in a controlled environment?

***

As with most issues involving players and rules, they have to be collectively bargained. So any significant changes will most likely wait until the current CBA expires in the summer of 2011 and, frankly, the D-League agenda won't be at the top of the list with the NBA big boys and the NBA Players Association.

But that doesn't mean many of these issues won't be on the table.

"The last collective-bargaining agreement was extremely important with the success we're now seeing in the NBA Development League with the advent of player assignments and affiliations," D-League present Dan Reed said. "We hope there is a lot of momentum to have a similar success story in the next CBA."

Art Garcia has covered the NBA since 1999. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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