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As D-League grows, NBA may broach roster expansion

Idea floated to add new jobs, keep talent from going abroad

POSTED: Feb 6, 2016 9:12 AM ET

By Scott Howard-Cooper

BY Scott Howard-Cooper


Inside Access: D-League Showcase 2016

Here's your all-access pass into the huddles at the 2016 D-League Showcase in Santa Cruz.

The conversation is gaining momentum from Maine to California, not to mention in important NBA locales. It has become that much of a priority in the D-League.

"It could be a very big deal," said an executive with one NBA team who has also paid close attention to the minor league for several years.

NBA big. Global big.

The NBA likes the idea of expanding rosters from the current limit of 15 to as many as 17 as part of the next Collective Bargaining Agreement with the additional spots designated for two-way contracts that will mean more money for some players and more control of select prospects for the parent clubs.

While it will be one of several major issues on the table as the league and the players' union eventually ramp up negotiations on the new CBA that could end as soon as the conclusion of the 2016-17 season, if either side opts out by Dec. 15, the concept of a contract that would cover the minor leagues as well as the majors is a pressing topic for the hopeful D-League. And since the NBA runs the executive side of the D-League as well as most of the basketball operations for the minor-league clubs, the D-League and the NBA usually speak as one.

The proposal would mean as many as 60 new jobs for players, if rosters do increase by two and depending how many of the 30 NBA teams utilize both spots. That, in turn, would mean a deeper talent pool for the D-League as it grows from 19 teams this season to 22 in 2016-17 and possibly more in what is projected to be the first season of the new CBA. And that would mean more prospects for the NBA to develop without paying major-league salaries.

The plan is still early enough in the discussion stage that one of the most bottom-line elements -- money -- has not been settled. According to insiders, though, the thinking is to set the minor-league portion of the dual contract in the neighborhood of $100,000 a season, give or take $25,000.

That would only be for hopefuls with two-way contracts, not all D-League players with salaries that currently peak at $25,000 if they have no NBA deal. Salaries of players sent down with NBA contracts, usually rookies or second-year prospects, would not be altered. But even with a small number of players in the minors impacted, officials figure the chance to make a minimum of $100,000, while showcasing themselves in front of NBA scouts and executives most every game, while getting to be relatively close to home, will convince 60 players to accept a deal in the minors in North America rather than opt for more money overseas.

If the player with a two-way deal gets promoted, he will make the pro-rated minimum of NBA money. If he is sent back down, it will be with the cushion of $100,000 as the floor for the season, not the $25,000, $19,000 and even $13,000 (based on current numbers) others are making in the minors. There is also the possibility those tiers could increase with the next CBA as well.

"I think it's something that makes a lot of sense for our league," D-League president Malcolm Turner said. "I don't want to get ahead of where we are, in terms of planning conversations, but I think it's clearly a logical next step in our evolution. As you expand, you have rosters to fill, and we want to do so in a way that allows us to add more and better talent to the league faster. A two-way system can be facilitating."

There is no indication the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association will try to make an addendum to the current CBA and initiate two-way contracts next season, when the D-League will grow with new direct affiliates for the Hornets, Bulls and Nets. Thirteen of the 22 teams in 2016-17 will be owned and operated by NBA franchises, while others have hybrid agreements where the parent club handles basketball operations and a separate ownership group runs the business side.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. 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.