It’s There, So Use It
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SECAUCUS, N.J., Feb. 28, 2007 -- Rome may not have been built in a day. Then again, David Stern was not Caesar.

By this summer, the commissioner's vision of 30 NBA D-League teams to go along with the 30 NBA teams will be more than halfway complete. (Get on board or get out of the way!)

Until very recently, only about half of the league's general managers seem to have gotten the memo. But the assignments of Nets rookie center Mile Ilic to the Colorado 14ers on Monday and the Pistons' Amir Johnson and Will Blalock to Sioux Falls yesterday prove that system is starting to work (and forced me to go back and re-write much of this column).

The D-League has been around for five seasons now and already has a number of success stories to its credit. Lakers guard Smush Parker, Charlotte's Matt Carroll and New Jersey's Mikki Moore are just a few of the successful call-ups who have "stuck" with an NBA team. (Note to self: avoid Chris Andersen references here.)

When the NBA introduced this affiliation system last year, a whole new type of success story was born: that of the young NBA player who spent time in the D-League and got better as a result. Celtics forward Gerald Green is prime example. He was a part of the last class of players able to come right out of high school before the NBA implemented a minimum age requirement. He spent nearly half of his rookie year with the Florida Flame and has developed into a solid contributor (and 2007 Slam Dunk champion) in his second season.

So with less than two months to go in each league's season, why haven't more NBA teams taken advantage of the new affiliation system and assigned their younger players to the D-League? Teams both in the playoff hunt and long since out of the race have young players on their bench that could benefit from more playing time to continue developing their game.

Are the GM's lazy? (Unlikely)

Stubborn? (Maybe)

Too lethargic from all of the Vegas buffets? (Possibly)

Still trying to figure it all out? (Probably)

"I don't think anyone knows how this is all going to work," Nets General Manager Ed Stefanski told NBA.com's John Schumann prior to the 2005-06 season. "I think people have different plans on how to use it, but we'll need some time to go by to see what experience people have had with it."

Some NBA coaches and general managers believe that being around the big club and getting to practice against more established players is the best path for ongoing maturation (learning through osmosis). Others are of the opinion that it is better for younger players to progress in a competitive environment and focus on their game fitness (learning through trial and error).

If you subscribe to the latter theory, there are about 20 to 25 current NBA rookies and second-year players who should be in the D-League right now. Here are a few players (12 - seems like a good number since there are 12 D-League teams and I don't want McTen to accuse me of plagarism) that could benefit most from the under-utilized affiliation system.

12. Hassan Adams, guard/forward, New Jersey Nets
Adams is a versatile wing from Arizona with great athletic ability (Where have I heard that before? Oh yeah. Richard Jefferson). But unlike Ilic, this rookie has actually appeared in a fair share of games so far this season. Yet he is a good candidate for a D-League visit as his productivity has been limited in his 8.5 minutes per game and he continues to cycle in and out of the rotation. Adams is a pure athlete who still needs work on some of his fundamentals such as ball-handling and 3-point shooting in order to become a consistent back-up to R-Jeff or Vince. Adams can hit from 18-feet and in when left open, but then again, so can I.

11. Dwayne Jones, forward, Cleveland Cavaliers
It appears as though the Cavs forgot they had Jones on their bench until last week. A second-year player who spent time with the Florida Flame last season, Jones makes a brief appearance on the court for Cleveland once every lunar cycle.

10. Shannon Brown, guard, Cleveland Cavaliers
A dozen games… 2.1 ppg… one or two minutes every few weeks… seems like a no-brainer.

9. Ronnie Brewer, forward, Utah Jazz
The Utah Jazz have already begun to use the system in the ongoing development of guard C.J. Miles, sending him to Albuquerque last season and then to the Idaho Stampede this season. Yet rookie Ronnie Brewer, a first round pick out of Arkansas, could probably benefit from a trip to Idaho (who doesn't love Idaho in the Winter?) even more at this point now that Miles is catching on. After starting nearly a dozen games earlier this season, Brewer is now playing fewer minutes and averaging less than 12.0 minutes per game.

8. Orien Greene, Indiana Pacers
After an up-and-down rookie season with the Celtics in which he appeared in 80 games (as a result of injuries to players ahead of him on the depth chart), Greene was sent packing by Boston last summer. He has been given a second chance with the Pacers in 2006-07, but Indiana has never assigned a player to the D-League. Having appeared in only 20 or so games this season, Orien may soon flicker out like a constellation in the night sky.

7. Mardy Collins, guard, New York Knicks
The Knicks (speaking of teams that have yet to call on the D-League) have two first round picks that would have been prime D-League candidates at various points this season. While Renaldo Balkman has earned a spot in Coach Isiah Thomas' rotation, Collins, a 6-6 rookie out of Temple, has appeared in only half of New York's games this season. Only a handful of those appearances have come following his six-game suspension in December.

6. Bracey Wright, Minnesota Timberwolves
When Minnesota traded for Marko Jaric and signed Mike James to a long-term contract, it was a clear sign that second-year guard Bracey Wright was not yet ready to play the point on a consistent basis for the Timberwolves. Wright is a shooter by nature, but too small to cut it as a shooting guard. He must learn the point to stick with an NBA team, and what better way to learn than by spending more time on the floor? (Those sneakers with springs on the bottom are a sham, trust me.)

5. Uros Slokar, forward, Toronto Raptors
The Raptors may be one of the youngest teams in the NBA and are making the most out of that young talent, but Slokar is one of several Toronto players who has not been able to crack the lineup. Without the chance to play and improve, (Warning: bad pun alert) he could be on the verge of extinction. Before getting in at the tail end of Saturday's 93-76 win in Charlotte, the 6-10 Slovenian had not appeared in a game since December 19. P.J. Tucker has returned from his time with the Colorado 14ers after spending nearly a month in the D-League, so now is the time for the Raptors to pull the trigger on Slokar or Pape Sow (with Pops Mensah Bonsu back in the NBA, we should try to avoid any confusion), who spent time with the Arkansas RimRockers last season.

4. Tyrus Thomas, forward, Chicago Bulls
After displaying a unique blend of strength and skill at L.S.U., the Bulls made Tyrus Thomas the fourth overall pick last June. Since then, he has been in and out of the rotation as well. He might not need a long stay with the Dakota Wizards, but a dominant showing a la Pops in Fort Worth could do wonders for his confidence (and make T-Time fun again). Thomas would be the highest pick ever sent to the D-League, but he would not be the first lottery pick. Portland's Martell Webster spent a month with the Fort Worth Flyers last year and Golden State's Patrick O'Bryant and Seattle's Mouhamed Sene played with the Bakersfield Jam and Idaho Stampede respectively this season (and should probably still be there).

3. Hilton Armstrong, center, New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets
The 12th overall pick in last year's draft has seen action in 36 games so far this season, but is averaging only 3.1 points and 10.8 minutes per game. And most of that came before New Year's. Armstrong showed glimpses of his potential as the prime beneficiary of extended minutes when the Hornets struggled through injuries earlier this season. With starting center Tyson Chandler on the shelf, Armstrong scored in double digits three times (since Chandler's return: zero double digit scoring games).

2. Cedric Simmons, forward, New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets
Another Hornets rookie who was good to have around earlier in the season when the team was decimated by injuries, but the forward out of North Carolina State has played in only three games since January 20.

1. J.J. Redick, guard, Orlando Magic
Why don't we see some more bigger-name rookies in the D-League even if they are not in the rotation? Perhaps NBA execs are worried that it would be an admission that they made a mistake in drafting the player. Orlando's J.J. Redick (a rich man's Gerry McNamara) was hurt in training camp and did not play for the entire first month of the season. While he is finally starting to get some more playing time now, he is still playing behind a deep guard rotation and would benefit from more reps and more shots in competitive game situations.

There is no general rule as to who should stay in the NBA and who should take the trip south (or west, east or north, depending on the teams). Every roster is different (like snowflakes) and each team has its own circumstances so assignments need to be made on a case-by-case basis.

The Los Angeles Lakers own their own team which also plays in the Staples Center (though they still don't let fans in to watch them play), yet have not assigned a one of their younger players to the D-Fenders. Rookie Jordan Farmar and second-year forward Ronny Turiaf, who both would have been good candidates for assignment before the season played out, are both solidly in the rotation on a winning team.

While not all teams may need to use the D-League today, they will ultimately need the affiliation system to stay competitive with the teams that do utilize the system to develop players. So who will be assigned next?

Stay tuned to NBA.com for this (developing) story.