The Bulls are coming to Hoffman Estates.
Well, at least some of them.
“An example might be we just got out of practice an hour ago,” Bulls General Manager Gar Forman said at a press conference Wednesday announcing a Bulls Developmental League team to start play next season. “Maybe Bobby Portis or Cameron Bairstow, who practiced with us this morning, they go to Hoffman Estates tonight. The get 35 minutes of great, quality basketball on the floor and they are back in our building (for practice with the team) tomorrow.
“We plan on using it for the development and growth of our young guys,” said Forman. “We think it will be a positive for our fans. I think they will enjoy it, a positive for our staff. But most of all we think it will be a positive for our young players and we are looking forward to starting this team next year and getting our young guys there where you can watch them play.”
The Bulls will thus join 10 NBA teams that currently own D-League teams among the current 19 team D-League. The 10 sole owners in a classic minor league arrangement are for the 2015-16 season: Cleveland Cavaliers (Canton Charge), Golden State Warriors (Santa Cruz Warriors), Indiana Pacers (Fort Wayne Mad Ants), Los Angeles Lakers (L.A. D-Fenders), New York Knicks (Westchester Knicks), Oklahoma City Thunder (Oklahoma City Blue), Philadelphia 76ers (Delaware 87ers), San Antonio Spurs (Austin Spurs), Toronto Raptors (Raptors 905) and Utah Jazz (Idaho Stampede). The Bulls are among three teams becoming sole owners with the expansion to 22 teams next season. There will be 24 home games.
The advantage for the NBA team and the local community is with control of the franchise, the NBA team can operate the D-League franchise with its own staff, teaching its system and using its own players to prepare them to help the parent NBA team.
It’s why, Forman explained, in previous years the Bulls were reluctant to send young players to the D-League with the Bulls then affiliated with the Iowa Energy in Des Moines as a shared team with Phoenix. Part of the reason was the Bulls had so many injured players they could not spare players off the roster. But primarily without control of the team or the staff as NBA teams shared D-League affiliates, the players weren’t guaranteed playing time or asked to play a similar style.
Now that will be different as the Bulls will run the franchise.
Forman said the Bulls will hire a coach and staff as well as medical personnel who will report to Bulls management with the coaching staff working in conjunction with Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg.
It also will be a unique opportunity for suburban fans at moderate prices in the Hoffman Estates Sears Centre Arena to watch NBA caliber players, including players from the Bulls current roster. It would be, as Forman stated, an ideal opportunity for a rookie like Portis to get valuable game experience rather than sit on the bench waiting his turn with a crowded roster. And then for fans and media to watch the development of a young player, who with playing time presumably would be more prepared to step in with the parent Bulls team.
Plus, veteran players coming off injury conceivably could play in D-League games with their consent. So there is the possibility a player like Mike Dunleavy, currently out after back surgery, could agree to play a game or two in the Northwest suburbs before joining the team in the United Center. Perhaps someone like Taj Gibson coming off a surgery. Veterans of more than three years have to give their approval to play a D-League game. Players with three years or fewer in the NBA can just be assigned by the team.
“We’re excited about this and we think this is a terrific step for our franchise from a basketball perspective,” said Forman. “This organization has a great belief in building through the draft and in player development from within (see Bulls as draft leader).
“We’ve been among the league leaders in drafted players on our roster and retaining those players into a second contract and beyond and we think it is a key ingredient to sustaining success over a long period of time,” said Forman. “This will be another important tool for us to help our young players develop and grow. The D-League is an excellent brand of basketball and the competition is terrific. We know how strong the competition is and it’s our plan to use this on a consistent basis for our young players.
“We haven’t used the D-League a lot in the past,” Forman acknowledged. “The biggest reason is we wanted our players within our culture and within our system. Now that we have control of a D-League team and with the proximity we will have the best of both worlds. We’ll have players in our building learning our culture, learning the game from our veterans, our coaches and yet we’ll have the opportunity to send those players to the D-League to get valuable minutes on the floor.”
Last season, there were 170 players who played in the D-League on NBA rosters, including the Bulls’ Aaron Brooks, who played for Rio Grande Valley in 2007-08. Others include Rudy Gobert, Eric Bledsoe, Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lin, Hassan Whiteside and Danny Green. There have been six players who went directly to the D-League from high school or from college in the D-League draft with P.J. Hairston now starting for Charlotte. The D-League also holds an annual national open tryout. Two players from those tryouts, Dennis Horner with the Nets and Dwight Buycks with the Lakers, made NBA teams.
The D-League also is a petri dish for NBA experiments. Last season, the D-League used the international goal tending rule, charged foul shots in the intentional foul tactic and allowed the ball to be advanced without a timeout.
The league’s 15th season begins Thursday. It’s a 50-game schedule into April with most games on live streaming on the D-League web site. When developers Sam and Jack Hoffman in 1954 carved out land for residences 35 miles from Chicago and the Northwest Tollway opened in 1958 and Chicagoans discovered Hoffman Estates, the NBA was playing in cities not much larger. Now they’ll be dunking a lot more than donuts in Chicago’s suburbs.