The D-League Dynamic

Player development to get a boost from Pistons-Grand Rapids affiliation

Grand Rapids D-League
It’s not unusual for NBA teams with their own dedicated D-League franchise a short hop away to hold a practice in the morning, send a young player or two out to play a D-League game that night and then bring the players back in time to suit up for the following night’s NBA game.

Such a scenario is now in play for the Pistons.

After a longstanding affiliation with the D-League’s Fort Wayne (Ind.) Mad Ants, the Pistons will handle basketball operations for their own D-League affiliate in Grand Rapids next season. (Go to grdleague.com to help select a team nickname.)

“One of the things we’re most excited about is the proximity,” Pistons assistant general manager George David said about the new arrangement. “We did a tremendous amount of research with some of the other D-League teams and saw the intrinsic value for the teams that had a driving-distance proximity to their D-League team. It does make a big difference.”

As the Pistons approach the 2014 draft, their evaluation process has added another layer this spring. In addition to the typical evaluation for how prospects might transition to the NBA, David and the team of Pistons personnel evaluators are looking at prospects to fill out the Grand Rapids roster who might, after a period of development, have something to offer at the NBA level.

The greater opportunity for player development was another motivating factor for the Pistons in their decision to establish a dedicated D-League affiliate, as opposed to sharing Fort Wayne with five other NBA teams, as happened last season. As more NBA franchises established D-League affiliates, the few remaining unaffiliated D-League franchises found themselves partnering with multiple NBA teams.

It hadn’t yet become problematic for the Pistons to find playing time for their young players in Fort Wayne, but it likely would have been an unavoidable reality in the future. Assured playing time whenever a break in the NBA team’s schedule allows for a D-League assignment can only enhance the player development experience.

“In the past, all our D-League work was on, A, scouting for potential Detroit Pistons players through the D-League and, B, evaluating assigned players we sent down,” David said. “What having our own D-League team does is it adds a very, very important third element that we never had before – actually playing a direct role in developing potential players through the D-League team for the Detroit Pistons. That’s where we’re probably going to see the biggest difference – the ability to potentially develop some players. We’ve had some (NBA) playoff games won by D-League players this year.”

The Pistons will be responsible for stocking the roster and hiring and paying the team’s coaches and basketball staff. Local ownership will handle sales, marketing and related areas. That affords the basketball side the opportunity to implement compatible systems and terminology so that players going back and forth frequently will be stepping onto familiar turf.

That search for D-League players has already begun with the Portsmouth (Va.) Invitational Tournament held earlier this month and continuing next month at the Chicago draft combine. We’ll have more later this week on how David, Ken Catanella and the staff are preparing for the June draft.