“They have to understand when they go down there, everybody’s gunning for them, because they have what everybody else wants,” Frank said. “Trust me, they think they deserve it. That’s why they’re there, not in Europe making more money.”
The Pistons rookies, taken five spots apart in the 2012 draft’s second round, are likely to be with the Mad Ants for games Friday, Saturday and Tuesday before rejoining the Pistons in Toronto on Wednesday. Frank also reminded them to leave a good impression behind them.
“Pay some things forward,” Frank said he told them. “(D-Leaguers are) playing for not a lot of money. When you’re with your teammates, take care of them. But also realize that in practice, they’re making a name for themselves because they’re not particularly fond of those guys coming, either, because they’re taking their time. Understand what it is and what you’re trying to get done and what’s your mission.”
Two of Frank’s assistants, Dee Brown and Roy Rogers, cut their teeth as coaches in the D-League, so Frank urges players to talk to them before they make the trek for their perspective. Beyond that, his best advice is, “just make a difference and maximize your time, build some rhythm and confidence on both ends and come back a better player.”
Joe Dumars reiterated the organization’s optimism for the futures of both second-rounders before making the move.
“We like both of those kids,” he said, adding that the Pistons went into the draft feeling a trade of their pick at No. 44 – the last of their second-rounders, used to take English – was likely but changed their minds when English was still available. “We’re in a situation now where they have veterans in front of them. But, long term, we like both of those kids.”
A number of first-rounders, including lottery picks, have spent time in the D-League already this season. Where it was once stigmatizing for NBA players to be sent down, the perception has turned around in a relatively short time frame.
“When guys were first sent to the D-League, it was seen as a demotion,” Frank said. “The whole perspective has changed, which is a credit to the D-League and the amount of players they’ve produced. It’s a great tool that we use and will continue to use it.”
Top D-League players make $30,000 a year, but most make less. Players who aspire to the NBA often have to decide whether to go to Europe for more money but a more problematic path to the NBA or to play in the D-League, where they will be not only scouted regularly but also have an unimpeded path should an NBA team summon them. European players are usually contractually obligated to their teams. As Frank noted, even players with clauses that allow them to opt out should an NBA opportunity arise are often too far off the radar screen to draw interest.
“Guys see (the D-League) as more of a pipeline,” he said. “You go overseas and even if you have an NBA out, a lot of times it’s ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ Here, you’re local, you have NBA scouts at every game. There’s more of a connection. Plus, when you go overseas, you are playing a different game. When you stay here, you are running NBA sets, NBA defenses. It’s just easier from an evaluation standpoint to be able to look at a guy and say, ‘He’s able to play in the NBA.’ ”
Middleton and English eagerly accepted their D-League call, Frank said.
“When you’re not playing, to me, you want to play. You can do all the drills in the world, but at the end of the day, you want to play. It’s a real positive for them. I think the more it’s utilized, the better. I believe in it strongly because I’ve seen the result.”