Reed Interview, Part II: Developing a Development League

In Part II of league president Dan Reed's interview, he discusses the recent explosion of interest in the league -- inside and outside the NBA.

When the 2011-12 NBA Development season tipped off last November, it did so under a cloud of questions.

The NBA, mired in a lockout since July, still hadn't signed its new CBA and the season looked just days away from cancellation, after meetings between owners and players ran far into the night before crumbling time and time again. Even without the NBA season, the NBA D-League would still run, but without its main source of value -- cultivating prospects and developing players already in the NBA -- it would do so in a vacuum.

Then came the CBA. And a Christmas start, followed by a four-month, 66-game schedule that moved faster than college. And as a condensed season wore down rosters, the NBA D-League answered its call, turning out a record number of NBA Call-Ups and Assignments over the course of the year and proving itself to be, more than ever, the premier league for Prospects looking to break into the game's highest stage.

With Summer League just a few weeks away -- and with it, a chance to see Top Prospects compete against NBA players --'s Kevin Scheitrum sat down with league president Dan Reed in a three-part interview to talk about where the league's been in his five years at the helm and, more importantly, where it's headed. See below for Part II, and click here for Wednesday's Part I! You could hear scouts at Showcase this year say over and over again that the talent level was unlike anything they’d ever seen there, and that was before Mike James blew up, coming back from Europe to overwhelm people. How exciting was that for you this year to see talent from around the world recognize the quality of the NBA D-League and realize it could be a launching pad.

Dan Reed: It was great. That’s now new – it’s been building for a while, but this year we hit a new high. It was nice to see the universal recognition, whether it was from NBA scouts, GM’s or the international community, everyone was complimentary about the talent level this year. And that’s a real tribute to Chris Alpert and his team, Chris Lauten and Steve Weinman, and certainly all of our coaches working at our teams. They’ve been actively communicating the benefits of playing it he league, playing for their teams, our teams have done a terrific job taking good care of their players, making sure they’re developing and well-cared-for in their market. That we have good workout facilities and they really have every resource to develop their game and get exposure for the NBA. There was a guy, Cory Joseph, this year that was almost as much an Austin Toro as he was a Spur, and he got close to being an NBA D-League champ and NBA champ.

Dan Reed: I really give San Antonio and Oklahoma City in particular a lot of credit for paving the way for how an NBA team can really utilize the NBA D-League to their advantage, and really helping us reach our potential as a minor league for the NBA. It’s no coincidence that those are two of the most successful teams in the league, and now there are 11 NBA teams that own or control their own NBA D-League team. [Seven] of them have bought in in the past 14 months.

But all the NBA teams involved in our league do a terrific job, and they’re really helping us get better from a development standpoint. They help our reputation amongst players and agents, they give us a lot of credibility, and they’re using the system the way they should be. We want to continue to welcome more NBA teams to the fold and I think that’ll happen over time. The question people always ask is ‘how’s the affiliate system work?’ You can send a guy down, and he’s still in your system, but teams can pluck guys in the NBA D-League from other teams. Is it on the roadmap to go 30-for-30, to have single-affiliations for all 30 teams?

Dan Reed: In the very long-term future, I could see eventually getting to 30 to 30, 1 to 1. But we’re in no hurry to get there. We’re very happy with our current footprint. I think what I can certainly say is that we’re clearly moving very rapidly in a direction where we’ll have more single-affiliates, 1-to-1 affiliates, than not in our league. I think the future will be NBA teams utilizing their exclusive affiliate more and more, and we’ll transition, slowly but surely, into a world that looks more like minor league baseball or minor league hockey.

But we think our system works very effectively now. Every NBA team has their own NBA D-League affiliate. Every NBA team can utilize our system, and they have utilized our system. All 30 teams have a –D-Leaguer on their roster, and the results speak for themselves in terms of our performance as a minor league You have a business background. There’s always fear about growing too fast and making sure you’re growing at the right rate. Is there a business model, or league precedent, you try to base your own growth off of?

Dan Reed: We don’t discriminate. We take great ideas from everywhere [laughs].

We study very closely the other minor leagues. We’ve spoken directly with the folks at the AHL, Minor League Baseball, the MLS, the ECHL. We’ve studied those leagues very closely to see what’s worked, what’s not worked, and we try and take and adapt the best ideas, the things that have been proven, that have worked – we try to avoid the pitfalls. Then we try to identify what’s unique to us and what should we do on our own.

We work obviously very closely with the NBA as well, to make sure we’re fitting in with their objectives. It certainly doesn’t hurt to be under the umbrella of the NBA and have all their resources at our disposal.

I wouldn’t say there’s any one league we look at. We study them all and try to take what works best across all leagues. You had a team this year that came back from a one-year hiatus. Some people can see a hiatus as a bit of – not a death sentence, but a death knell, to say ‘OK, maybe this team isn’t doing so great.’ Then the D-Fenders came out and had the best record in league history, turning out tons of guys to the NBA. How encouraging was that, where they were able to create a new model for an NBA D-League team this year?

Dan Reed: I think the D-Fenders’ triumphant return to the NBA D-League was a real positive. The L.A. Lakers, I give a ton of credit to for being the first NBA team to invest in the NBA D-League – they were truly trailblazers. Being first has its advantages and its disadvantages. One of the disadvantages was that they didn’t have the model, ultimately, that some of the other teams had proven over time to work. So, they took a year off, they re-tooled, and we think they’re well-positioned for growth going forward.

I give Joey Buss there a lot of credit. He worked very hard to change their model, both on the basketball and business side. And they were proven again – you saw the results: best record in the history of the D-League, Coach of the Year, a really amazing performance. What significant tweaks did they make this year, coming out of the one-year hiatus, outside of drafting Jamaal Tinsley and having Gerald Green, Jamario Moon and Elijah Millsap? Outside of having five of the top 10 or 15 players in the NBA D-League on their team at some point this year, what substantial changes did they make that you saw that positioned them not only for a run this year, but the future?

Dan Reed: Certainly the hire of coach Musselman was a terrific hire. A very important hire.

Joey Buss directly getting involved and having the ownership and accountability for the entirety of the team made a big difference. They worked very hard on the transition into playing in the Toyota Sports Center, and making sure that that model worked with the Lakers’ schedule, with the Lakers’ issues – opening up a private NBA practice facility is a delicate issue, but I think they handled it well.

They’ve already identified a long list of things they can improve on to get even better. That’s terrific. We’re the Development League for a reason – we’re always looking to get better in every respect, and I give the Lakers and Joey Buss and that organization a lot of credit.

And hey, Glen Carraro just got promoted! Great for him, who was the GM of the D-Fenders, and now he’s the assistant GM of the Lakers. That’s another Call-Up. You’d see that involvement every time you were looking at photos from D-Fenders games – you’d see Mitch Kupchak sitting on the side of the court, assessing these players. How much have you seen the interest in the NBA D-League among NBA GM’s grow over the past few years, too?

Dan Reed: It’s funny you say that. I ran into Stu Jackson here in the hallway the other day, and he just looked at me and said ‘man, D-League is hot right now.’ And when he said ‘it’s hot right now,’ he meant among NBA GM’s, who are the people he talks to every day.

You can see it in the results: we’ve had six NBA teams buy their own D-League team in the last year or so, and that’s driven by the GM’s who are getting a taste of what we can do for them, and wanting to jump in with both feet.

But it’s not just the single-affiliates. GM’s across the country, even if they’re sharing an affiliation, are really bullish about the league. They’re really excited about some of the changes that have been made, with more flexible assignments, with our affiliate-player rule, with the things we’ve done to improve the value of the NBA D-League for NBA teams.

And they’re using it at the highest level ever. We had a record 67 NBA player assignments this year. And we’ve never had as many people come to our Elite Mini Camp. It’s very positive among NBA decision-makers. There was one assignment in Erie this year that turned out to be a pretty big Call-Up, too. So, Jeremy Lin’s at the press conference, a few days into Linsanity, and he says ‘I wouldn’t be anywhere if not for the NBA D-League’ – we’re paraphrasing, but it was almost that dramatic. What were your thoughts?

Dan Reed: The Linsanity thing was just overwhelming for us.

For so long, we know that these stories have existed. We’ve seen, up-close, success stories. Players who’ve really worked on their game and then they’ve achieved NBA success. But we hadn’t had a player reach that level of success, so that was really thrilling for us. We were really happy for Jeremy, and it allowed us to tell the story, through Jeremy, of the entire NBA Development League.

So, in that context, to hear Jeremy himself validate that, unprompted, by referencing his time in our league and how important it was to his development, and how he might not have been where he is today without our league, it was a really amazing testimonial to all we’ve done, to everything our teams have done, everything my colleagues here have been doing to put this team on the map.

That was really exciting for us.

In fact, we’ve woven his press conference into our new video that we show when we introduce the league into potential partners.

Stay tuned for Part 3 of the interview on Thursday, and look back on Part I here!