The L.A. D-Fenders return after a one-year hiatus, with Eric Musselman at the helm.
The NBA D-League season tips off on Friday night with a full slate of games, highlighted by Canton and Iowa doing battle on NBA TV (7:30 p.m. ET). So to get ready for the season, we present the top 10 things you need to know about the 2011-12 NBA Development League season:
1. Franchises -- New and Old
The D-League features 16 teams again this year. We saw the return of the L.A. D-Fenders from a one-year hiatus and the New Mexico Thunderbirds purchased by the Cleveland Cavaliers, relocated to Canton and renamed the Canton Charge.
2. Affiliations -- Single Affiliates at an All-Time High
The Charge (owned by the Cavaliers) and the D-Fenders (owned by the Lakers) add two more single-affiliations to the D-League, bringing the total to nine, an all-time high. The single affiliation allows the NBA team to install the same offensive and defensive schemes for their D-League team, thus becoming more of a true minor league. Now they can assign players to their D-League team and further their development in the same system they'll use when they get back to the NBA.
There are six NBA teams that own their D-League team and run the business as a whole. They are:
- Los Angeles Lakers (Los Angeles D-Fenders)
- San Antonio Spurs (Austin Toros)
- Golden State Warriors (Dakota Wizards)
- Cleveland Cavaliers (Canton Charge)
- Oklahoma City Thunder (Tulsa 66ers)
- Dallas Mavericks (Texas Legends) * Mavs President/GM Donnie Nelson leads ownership group
There are three teams that use the hybrid model, where the NBA team buys only the basketball side of a D-League team while the existing ownership continues to run the day-to-day operations for everything other than the basketball side of the team.
The teams using this model are:
- New York Knicks (Erie BayHawks)
- New Jersey Nets (Springfield Armor)
- Houston Rockets (Rio Grande Valley Vipers)
3. NBA TV Games
The defending champion Iowa Energy tip-off the D-League regular season with a trip to Canton to face the Charge on Friday at 7:30 p.m. ET in the first of four games that will be carried live on NBA TV. The network will also carry games on the next four Fridays: Dec. 2 - D-Fenders at Sioux Falls Skyforce, Dec. 9 - Sioux Falls at Iowa and Dec. 16 - Rio Grande Valley Vipers at Austin Toros. NBA TV will also be your source for the Showcase, airing 12 games, eight of which will be live, over four days.
4. The Showcase
For most leagues, the Finals or All-Star Game are the biggest happenings of the year, but in the D-League an entirely different event is the grandest of them all: The Showcase. Put simply, the NBA D-League Showcase is why most players are here. A four-day, 16-game event, it's a chance to showcase your skills in front of general managers, player personnel staff, and scouts from each of the 30 NBA teams who are in attendance to evaluate the league’s talent. This season, the event will feature each NBA D-League team competing in two games in Reno starting on Jan. 9.
5. NBA Flavor
The D-League will feature 16 players with NBA experience to open the season. Some of the guys have only had a quick look in the Bigs, but there's also a contingent of somewhat established players looking for another chance:
Jamaal Tinsley (L.A.) -- A standout with the Pacers, who as recently as '07-'08 NBA season averaged over eight assists per game
Antoine Walker (Idaho) -- 'Toine was a fan favorite and All-Star in Boston and won a ring with the Heat in 2006
Keith McLeod (Canton) -- Started 75 games for the Jazz over two seasons, played for four NBA Teams
Jamal Sampson (Texas) -- Played in 72 NBA games 5 different teams
Here's a list of guys we think have the best chance of making an impact on the next level:
Tinsley – The aforementioned No. 1 pick in this year's D-League Draft.
Chris Daniels (Erie) – Dominated in Korea last year and had an impressive preseason.
Durrell Summers (Maine) – Inconsistent play as senior at Michigan State ended the talk of him going in the first round of the NBA Draft (and then, at all), but if he can find form that made him NCAA standout in 2009-10, he’s elite.
Jerome Dyson (Tulsa) – Got looks coming out of UConn, but made name for himself late in season last year, turning into scoring machine for Tulsa.
Leo Lyons (Austin) – Member of Pan-Am Games team; former Mizzou standout who cut his pro chops in Israel’s Premier League.
Brian Butch (Bakersfield) – Former All-Star MVP had gruesome injury knock him out for all of 2010-11, but he’s healthy enough to have played in the Pan-Ams and should see himself with a team in need of post depth.
Donald Sloan (Erie) – Young, natural scoring point guard out of Texas A&M; needs to improve shooting and defense.
7. Tourney Stars
Looking for familiar faces? Then look no further than the NCAA. Players hoping to make a name for themselves in the NBA D-League this season are actually players who made a name for themselves in the NCAA Tourney.
Remember Chris Wright of Dayton? Well, the 6’8 forward will be adding scoring punch to the Maine Red Claws. How about Eric Devendorf? He starred at Syracuse a few years ago and is now in his second tour of duty in the NBA D-League (first go around was with the Reno Bighorns in 2009-10). Devendorf will be stretching defenses as a perimeter threat for Idaho Stampede. Willie Veasley, who played a key role in Butler’s unexpected NCAA Tourney run and has been compared by some to Shane Battier, will be bringing his versatility to Rio Grande Valley. Other names to keep a look out this season include Bakersfield’s Edwin Ubiles (Siena College); Cameron Jones (Northern Arizona) of Fort Wayne, Curtis Sumpter (Villanova) with Tulsa and Chris Taft (Pittsburgh) of Springfield.
8. Coaches With Credentials
A stellar cast of new coaches with unprecedented experience at the highest levels of professional basketball will be courtside in D-League arenas for the 2011-12 season.
The 1995 NBA Coach of the Year Del Harris will guide the Texas Legends, while maintaining his GM duties for the Dallas Mavericks' affiliate based out of Frisco, Texas. Harris amassed over 500 wins in his NBA coaching career.
New L.A. D-Fenders head coach Eric Musselman's 20-year coaching career includes head coaching stints with the Golden State Warriors and the Sacramento Kings. Paul Mokeski brings 12-years of NBA playing experience to his new role as head coach of the Reno Bighorns. Former NBA players Donyell Marshall (Maine Red Claws), Eldridge Recasner (Sioux Falls Skyforce), and Vitaly Potapenko (Dakota Wizards) have also joined the D-League as assistant coaches.
9. Front Office
D-League clubs are also sporting All-Star caliber talent in their front offices this season. As part of their hybrid affiliation with the New York Knicks, the Erie BayHawks have appointed two-time NBA All-Star Allan Houston as General Manager. Houston will handle GM duties at Erie, while maintaining his Assistant GM role with the Knicks, thus providing the seamless continuity envisioned by the hybrid affiliation system. Additionally, with Harris moving courtside for the Legends, Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer Nancy Lieberman has moved up to the front office in Frisco, as assistant GM.
10. D-League games EVERYWHERE
Over one million fans saw a D-League game in person in each of the last two seasons, but there are other ways to catch D-League action. In addition to being able to see live games on NBA TV, fans will once again be able to watch live games online via Futurecast on D-League.com. Smartphone users will also be able to watch games on their Apple or Android device by downloading the free D-League app. And, in the second-year of a partnership, select D-League games will be streamed exclusively on SportingNews.com.