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).
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.)
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)
Too lethargic from all of the Vegas buffets?
Still trying to figure it all out? (Probably)
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
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).
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
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.
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.
Brown, guard, Cleveland Cavaliers A dozen games… 2.1 ppg… one or two
minutes every few weeks… seems like a no-brainer.
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.
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.
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
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.)
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.
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).
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
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
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.
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.
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.