NBA Assignees Find Opportunities in the D-League

By Brian Martin,

For players in the D-League, earning a GATORADE call-up is the realization of their basketball dream – a chance to play in the NBA.

On the flip side of the call-up is the assignment – when a young NBA player is assigned to a D-League affiliate by their NBA team. The assignment can be viewed in many ways: it could be seen as a nightmare, a demotion, an opportunity or an advantage.

Alando Tucker, Albuquerque Thunderbirds
Layne Murdoch/Getty Images/NBAE
“You’ve got a lot of emotions going through your head,” said Shannon Brown on his recent assignment from the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.

“You’ve just got to figure it out for yourself on how you are going to look at it. Are you going to look at it as a disappointment or if you going to look at it as a positive and try to come down here and get better and continue to strive to be the best?”

Brown, a second-year guard from Michigan State, has appeared in 12 games for the Cavaliers this season, including four starts, and averaged 7.9 points. In his three games with the Vipers, he is scoring 19.3 points per game, including a game-high 26 in Tuesday night’s 93-89 loss to Idaho.

“Most likely if you get assigned, that means you’re not really getting any playing time (in the NBA),” Brown said. “So you try to get down here and get a good run in and just go out and try to improve on your game.”

Brown faced a fellow assignee on Tuesday in Idaho’s Josh McRoberts, who is on assignment from the Portland Trail Blazers. McRoberts, a rookie forward from Duke, did not embrace his assignment when he first heard the news.

“To be honest, I wasn't very excited about it,” he said. “I enjoyed being in Portland and being with my teammates, and it's a new situation to get used to. But once you know that you are going, you have to take it as an opportunity to play and to get better.”

McRoberts was held scoreless on Tuesday, but did register a dozen rebounds and five assists. In his three games with the Stampede he has averaged 6.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 4.7 assists.

“It's been a big adjustment coming here,” McRoberts said. “You are coming to a whole new situation and a new team. You need to get used to everybody and learn what the team has been trying to do.”

While McRoberts was wary of his assignment from Portland, Alando Tucker of the Phoenix Suns has embraced being assigned to the Albuquerque Thunderbirds from the day he told about the possibility. Tucker and Suns teammate D.J. Strawberry have both spent time with the Thunderbirds and the Suns this season. The two were swapped for one another – Tucker assigned and Strawberry recalled – on January 11.

“When (Suns GM) Steve Kerr and (Assistant GM) Vinny Del Negro first brought this to us, we talked about it like, ‘Hey, we’re going to use this as a big time advantage for ourselves to be able to come down here and get some play and work our game,” Tucker said.

Kerr and Del Negro presented the D-League to Tucker and Strawberry as an opportunity rather than a demotion. Tucker adds that his Suns teammates have been very supportive and understand what he is going through.

“Steve Nash talks about his situation coming into the league and not being able to play and not having a D-League as an option,” Tucker said. “That’s where I have the option to use this as an advantage. Where most people think that being assigned to the D-League is a bad thing, no, it’s actually an advantage. It’s a Developmental League and I’m here to develop.”

Tucker is on his second assignment with the Thunderbirds this season and has appeared in eight games for Albuquerque, where he is averaging 29.9 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.3 assists.

Brown, McRoberts and Tucker all agree that the biggest advantage the D-League has to offer for NBA players is simply the ability to play. As one of the last options off the bench and limited practice time during the NBA season, these young players do not get a game-like situation to help them improve as basketball players.

“As a player, that’s one thing, I’ve always just wanted to play,” Tucker said. “This is just another chance for me to try to get better and at the same time keeping a rhythm and staying in shape.”