Amar'e, Erie and What You Should Know

The Knicks star becomes the biggest name to take an assignment to the NBA D-League.
For the next few days, Amar'e Stoudemire -- the six-time NBA All-Star, former Rookie of the Year and fledgling fashion icon -- is an Erie BayHawk.

Technically.

When the New York Knicks announced that Stoudemire would be getting back on the court by practicing with the Knicks' NBA Development League affiliate this week, effectively making him the most famous assignments in the 11-plus-year history of the NBA D-League, you could be forgiven if you find yourself a little confused.

Especially considering that instead of sending him to their NBA D-League affiliate -- like, say, the...
  • ...Suns have done with Kendall Marshall
  • ...Celtics have done with Fab Melo
  • ...Thunder have done with Jeremy Lamb, Daniel Orton and DeAndre Liggins
  • ...Rockets have done with Donatas Motiejunas, Scott Machado and Terrence Jones...
  • ...and so on and so on...
...the Knicks brought their affiliate to Amar'e, flying the BayHawks down to practice at the Knicks' facility in Westchester.

It's not unprecedented, actually. The Spurs did virtually the exact same thing with T.J. Ford last year, coaxing Ford back from a torn left hamstring by letting him practice with the Austin Toros at the Spurs' practice facility. In the Knicks' case, having Stoudemire work out with the Erie squad gives him a chance to get back into basketball shape, instead of walking through lighter sessions with the injury-wracked Knicks.

It should be more like Triple-A in baseball, and it's absolutely something that over time will be seen as one of the best minor leagues in the world.
Daryl Morey
"I think that's how the D-League should be used," said Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey on Monday. "It should be more like Triple-A in baseball, and it's absolutely something that over time will be seen as one of the best minor leagues in the world."

And if the current trends hold -- which they should, so long as the Mayans weren't right -- fans will be seeing a lot more of things like this.

Stoudemire, who looks like he'll just practice with Erie before re-joining the Knicks, becomes the 36th individual player assigned from the NBA to the NBA D-League this year, and 54th overall. In just five weeks. Last year, it took an entire season to reach 44 individuals. At this rate, the league might break that before the calendar turns.

And to keep up, here's what you should know. For a lot more on the changes in the league that have led to the surge in assignments, click here. For the bullet points, read on.
Terminology
  • Assignments: It's a catch-all term for any time a player on an NBA roster practices or plays in the NBA Development League. So, whether you're a first-year player in need of polish like Boston's Fab Melo (now with the Maine Red Claws), a Lotto pick in need of run (like Jeremy Lamb or Kendall Marshall) or a veteran looking to come back from an injury (like Amar'e), you're on-assignment.
  • Recall: When a player on assignment officially returns to the NBA team.
  • Call-Ups: A Call-Up differs from a recall in one key way: a Call-Up occurs when a player who isn't on an NBA roster (but is playing in the NBA D-League) signs a contract with an NBA team.
  • Prospects: The top players in the NBA D-League who aren't on NBA rosters
How It Happened
Until the new Collective Bargaining Agreement was signed a year ago, only players with fewer than three years of NBA experience could be assigned to the league. Now, veterans -- like Amar'e (and Yi Jianlian last year, who did a rehab stint with the Texas Legends) -- can be assigned to the NBA D-League with the player's consent.

Also, players with three or fewer years of experience can now be assigned an unlimited number of times in a season.
On Schedules

Assignments have adopted something of a pattern this year. Because of the way the NBA D-League schedule operates this year, with games packed into the weekends, NBA teams have tended to assign their players on Thursday or Friday, have them play a few games in the NBA D-League and then bring them back to the NBA squad on Monday.

The pattern accomplishes two things: first, it allows players to get run instead of rotting on the bench. Second, it keeps them connected to the NBA team, so they feel more like investments than pariahs.

"I talk to at least four or five guys the whole time," said Houston's Jones about playing in Rio Grande Valley, where he's logged two games (and a 22.5-point, 17.5-rebound average). "They check on me. But I'm a rook, so, hey, it's part of it."
The Start of Something?
If the Knicks find success with Amar'e, a few other teams may follow their example. From where we stand, Dallas looks like the favorite, with the Mavs and their affiliate, the Texas Legends, standing at or near the front of the pack of NBA D-League ground-breakers. The Legends, who brought Yi back that way last year, also became the first team under the NBA umbrella to have a female head coach, when Nancy Lieberman ran the show in 2010-11. This year, coach Eduardo Najera became the first Mexican-born coach under that same umbrella. Could Dirk open up in Frisco?
Top BayHawks to Know
  • DJ Kennedy: the former St. John's swingman is the No. 9 overall Prospect on our Prospect Watch Big Board
  • Henry Sims: the rookie center out of Georgetown has great length and size, and looks to be learning how to use it better every day
  • Keith Benson: the BayHawks' other center was a draft pick of the Hawks in 2011, and turned himself into a dominant NBA D-League big man last year
  • Mychel Thompson: the hyper-athletic brother of Klay and son of NBA Legend Mychal Thompson spent camp with Knicks, and played for Cavs last year