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Art Garcia

Jonny Flynn is one of many young NBA players to get sent to the D-League this season.
Dave Eggen/NBAE/Getty Images

D-League assignments becoming more and more mainstream

Posted Dec 5 2010 11:53AM

Minnesota coach Kurt Rambis admitted the assignment to the D-League didn't initially sit too well with former lottery pick Jonny Flynn.

"Well, to be honest, he probably kinda raised an eyebrow about it the first time, Rambis said, "but he talked to people and his confidants told him they thought it was a good idea."

Flynn spent just one game with Sioux Falls Skyforce, Minnesota's affiliate in the NBA Development League, on what basically was a rehab stint. Flynn is returning from offseason hip surgery, and Rambis and the Timberwolves wanted to test the point guard out in a game situation before activating him in an NBA game.

Flynn passed the audition. His 25-minute outing against Iowa on Friday netted eight points, nine assists and two steals. The initial plans to maybe have last year's No. 6 pick spend two or three games with Sioux Falls were scrapped, as Flynn was brought back to the big club on Saturday.

Flynn's original reluctance is part of the D-League's stigma for some younger players already comfortable with the NBA's lifestyle.

"Those are difficult places, small venues and hotels, commercial flights, and that's not something everybody is used to at the NBA level," Rambis said, "but sometimes it's a necessity."

It appears to be becoming more of a necessity for NBA teams looking to get more out of their recent drafts picks. The D-League season is only about three weeks old, but 13 players have already been "sent down" by their NBA clubs. Only 24 players were assigned all of last season. The D-League record is 32 in 2008-09.

In most cases, the assignments this season are to get players minutes they otherwise wouldn't be getting in the NBA. Houston is high on rookie forward Patrick Patterson, for instance, but there isn't room in the Rick Adelman's rotation for the 14th pick. There is room with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.

"It's also good for young players, I think, in the league who are not getting playing time and they may not be a whole lot of practice time with their respective teams, too," Rambis added. "So if there's not a whole lot of practice time, when they're there just running drills and this gives them an opportunity to play and keep their game-type conditioning up, and also keep their confidence up and their rhythm in playing.

"There's a lot of good ways to use it, assuming they go down there and get the playing time and play in a way that hopefully is similar to the way that they play when they're back on their respective NBA ballclubs."

Terrence Williams could be the test case for using the D-League as a punitive measure. While New Jersey would never admit to sending last year's 11th pick down as punishment, the truth is Williams was suspended this season for continuing to violate team rules. Perhaps time served in the D-League will open his eyes.

Eleven rookies have been assigned for far, including six taken in the 2010 first round. (Christian Eyenga, a rookie selected 30th in the 2009 Draft, is also on assignment.) Only three first-rounders were assigned to the D-League all of last season.

Memphis made plenty of headlines last season when struggling No. 2 pick Hasheem Thabeet was sent to the Dakota Wizards. Many immediately tabbed Thabeet a bust, considering he's the highest draft choice ever assigned to the D-League.

While the jury is still out in Memphis, the assignments this year don't carry those same proclamations of gloom and doom. Players such as Patterson, Oklahoma City's Cole Aldrich (11th pick), Philadelphia's Craig Brackens (21st) and Dallas' Dominique Jones (25th) are logging valuable minutes that just aren't there in the NBA right now. Like Flynn, Toronto's first-rounder Ed Davis (13th) is using the D-League for rehab.

Patterson, Aldrich and Jones get the added benefit of playing and practice time in the same system as their respective NBA teams. Five NBA teams either own or control the basketball operations of D-League affiliates: San Antonio (Austin), Houston (Rio Grande Valley), Dallas (Texas), New Jersey (Springfield) and Oklahoma City (Tulsa).

"More teams have done what we did and basically purchased a franchise, so you have total control over it, what's being run down there and how things are being run," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "Obviously that helps your program, so it's something that a lot of people have figured out and are starting to do now."

A number of coaches and general managers have said an ideal minor-league system would be one team for every NBA club. A number of NBA clubs, though, don't appear to have the interest, financial or otherwise, to expand into the D-League.

The NBA's commitment is solid. In the event of a lockout next season, the D-League will continue, albeit without NBA players. For now, though, they're still coming.

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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