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With acquisition of Delaware 87ers, Sixers will utilize new avenue for player development

by Max Rappaport, Sixers.com
Posted: April 29, 2013

Saturday, the Philadelphia 76ers announced the acquisition and relocation of an NBA Development League franchise that will play its games beginning this November in Newark, Delaware and be known as the Delaware 87ers.

While the “Sevens” will of course bring NBA fun and excitement to the residents of the neighboring state of Delaware, the parent Sixers clearly understand the benefits the team will provide them at home in Philadelphia.  

“This Development League team is just the next step in what we’ve said we’re going to do, which is to really improve and facilitate a high-quality basketball operation and to bring a consistent winner to Philadelphia,” said Managing Owner Josh Harris during Saturday’s announcement.

When the NBA Development League was established in the fall 2001, it featured just eight teams, all located in the southeastern United States. Today, there are 17 Development League franchises spanning 13 states, with all 30 NBA teams holding some type of affiliation with a D-League club. However, unlike in Major League Baseball, direct ownership of minor league teams is still rare for franchises in the NBA.

The acquisition of the 87ers makes the Sixers one of just six teams with 100 percent, direct ownership of a Development League affiliate, joining the San Antonio Spurs (Austin Toros), Los Angeles Lakers (L.A. D-Fenders), Golden State Warriors (Santa Cruz Warriors), Cleveland Cavaliers (Canton Charge), and Oklahoma City Thunder (Tulsa 66ers). For those teams, the benefits of their close D-League relationship are palpable.

“(The six teams who directly own their Development League affiliate) are on the cutting edge of a growing trend in the NBA,” said D-League President Dan Reed. “With some recent rules changes to the collective bargaining agreement in the NBA, we’ve seen an explosion in player movement from the NBA to (the D-League).

“In all, 132 current NBA players (roughly one-third of all players in the league) have D-League experience.”

Indeed, aforementioned rules changes that have triggered this increase in interleague activity are substantial.

Under the new NBA collective bargaining agreement, established in December of 2011, any player with three years of NBA service or less can be assigned to the D-League by an NBA team (under the previous CBA, the number of years was two). Additionally, players can now be assigned to and recalled from the D-League an unlimited number of times, as opposed to just thrice previously. Finally, players with more than three years of NBA experience can be assigned to the D-League so long as both the player and the NBA Players Union request the assignment. This would likely occur as part of a medical rehabilitation assignment, similar to those utilized in professional baseball.

Perhaps no team has taken advantage of the opportunities afforded by these rules changes and by their direct ownership of a D-League franchise more than the 2012 Western Conference Champion Oklahoma City Thunder.

During the 2012-13 season alone, the Thunder completed 25 combined call-ups and send-downs involving their two most-promising prospects – Perry Jones III and Jeremy Lamb – between their roster and that of their D-League affiliate, the Tulsa 66ers.

For teams that do not have exclusive affiliation with a minor league team, the logistical issues inherent in yo-yoing players between the NBA and the D-League multiple times a month are often too great to overcome.

Last season, the Sixers completed just two transactions between their roster and that of their affiliate, the Sioux Falls Skyforce (South Dakota). The team sent rookie first-round pick Arnett Moultrie down to the D-League on December 21 to play in seven Skyforce games while the Sixers went on an eight-game road swing over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. When the team returned, on January 6, they recalled Moultrie to their official roster.

“I know (the Sixers) will be really pleased to not have to send (players) on multiple flights out west (to play D-League games), but to instead just have (them) drive right down to Newark,” said President Reed.

In addition to the logistical advantages of having a D-League affiliate less than an hour drive away, sovereignty over the coaching and front office staffs of the 87ers will be beneficial as well.

“The Delaware Sevens will have the exact same systems, strategies, and plays as the parent 76ers team,” said Sixers CEO Adam Aron. “(This means) if a player is playing (in Newark) Wednesday night and needs to be called up to play for the Sixers on Friday, there won’t be a lag, and there won’t be learning a whole new set of terms and plays.

“This is one of the things that makes (the relationship) so synergistic and something we can’t do if we just have a loose affiliate relationship with some (D-League) team that’s involved with three or four other (NBA) teams.”

With three picks in the upcoming 2013 NBA Draft this June, Sixers fans will likely get to see the benefits of the organization’s bolstered relationship with the Development League early and often.

“We’ve talked about analytics, and we’ve started a whole process there. We’ve talked to you about the Development League in the past, and here we are today. And we have a bunch of other things up our sleeve that we’re going to be doing to put a consistently winning basketball team on the court in Philadelphia,” said Managing Owner Josh Harris. “This is just the next step in that journey.”

Posted: 2:07 PM, April 29, 2013