NBA D-Leaguers proving they belong in Las Vegas
Posted Jul 20 2009 6:29PM
LAS VEGAS -- Trey Johnson had a chance to hook up with the Spurs for the summer. Why didn't he?
A call from Scott Roth, his former coach with the Bakersfield Jam, changed Johnson's mind.
"I knew the system, he knew me, I knew him and I was comfortable," he said Saturday. "I was appreciative of the opportunity from San Antonio. That's a great franchise and organization, but to come here and play where you don't have to worry about minutes or go to a place where they were obligated to play Draft picks, it was just an easy decision for me."
Johnson is still in Las Vegas. Having passed on the Silver & Black, the 24-year-old shooting guard is sporting the sky blue of NBA Development League Select. The D-League entry isn't stocked with Draft picks, young players back for extra seasoning or those vets you've heard of trying to stick in the league. The grand total of NBA experience on this particular NBA Summer League team totals Johnson's four games.
There are 10 guys on the roster.
Still, these basketball hopefuls aren't content just to be in the middle of the desert showcasing their wares for a possible 10-day contract somewhere down the line or an overseas contract from one of the many international talent brokers in the stands.
Select is winning games in its first foray into Summer League. Winning against those teams with those Draft picks, young players and vets. Select opened by beating Minnesota and Sacramento earlier this week, and took Phoenix down to the wire despite missing two of their leading scorers, including Johnson. The short-handed Select team dropped to 2-2 with a 94-90 loss to Denver.
"I've got to believe we're one of the best teams here in the Summer League when it comes down to it," said Roth, the Select coach. "We have experienced guys who know how to play. They're playing with a little bit of a chip on their shoulder. They believe they should be on some of these other rosters and aren't getting a fair look.
"They're playing as hard as they possibly can, playing together and playing the right way. At the end of the day, it's validation that there are good players in this league."
Though the Select roster is made up of D-Leaguers, Roth said it's not fair to categorize them as players NBA Summer League teams snubbed. In addition to Johnson, Othyus Jeffers and Gary Forbes had NBA overtures but thought they would be better served being a bigger fish in a smaller pond.
D-league director of player personnel Chris Alpert was the architect behind the Select team, putting together a squad with the NBA and the careers of the players in mind. Alpert categorized it as a reward for those players who excelled and finished the season on D-League rosters.
"We wanted to give them another opportunity to get exposure for NBA scouts," he said. "We feel we put together a pretty good team with quality prospects who bring a lot of different skills to the table."
Alpert wasn't looking for an "All-Star" team in the strictest sense. The goal was a balanced squad with shooters, defenders, ball handlers, etc. Part of the thinking involved being competitive. Notching a few wins may lead one of those scouts to delve a little deeper into the Select team.
The Timberwolves and Kings, for example, both feature lottery picks in Jonny Flynn and Tyreke Evans, respectively. Matching up and having success against players that will be in the NBA is a point of pride for members of Select.
"We're playing against the exact same guys," said Jeffers, a 6-foot-5 swingman and the 2009 D-League rookie of the year. "There's nothing different. We're professionals. The whole Development League is about developing to play in the NBA. We did that the whole year. We know how to play basketball. This is what we expect."
There are only so many minutes to go around with NBA teams that are focused on their Draft picks and returnees. Part of Roth's responsibilities are divvying out the minutes as equally as possible. The Select's 10 players are each logging more than 12 minutes per game. That doesn't happen on NBA summer rosters.
"The Spurs drafted a couple of guards in the second round," Johnson said. "The minutes would be better here and the opportunity the same. I'm seen not only by San Antonio, but other teams as well."
Select finishes up its five-game summer stint Sunday against Portland. Several may get a shot to attend an NBA team training come October. Some may head overseas and others will be back in the D-League next season.
"You don't go to the [D-League] for the money," Roth said honestly. "No question about that. It's about trying to advance yourself. If it's in Europe where you can make a great living, so be it. They're getting great exposure here.
"When they got that first win under their belt, they took a breath and realized we're pretty good. They made kind of a statement with the second one and got a little bit of swagger about themselves. But more importantly, they're playing the right way."
If you have a question or comment for Art Garcia, send him an e-mail.