Don’t You Forget About D
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NEW YORK, May 30 - When NBA Development League President Phil Evans announced his resignation (effective July 1) a couple of weeks ago, I’ll admit that I was not at all surprised (though I was sad).

Evans has decided not to relocate his family when the D-League makes its upcoming move from Greenville, S.C., to the NBA's headquarters in New York City (talk about culture shock). You see, Phil Evans is many things... smart, organized, efficient, a good leader… but a New Yorker he is not. Packing up and moving your family from to the big city requires making sacrifices and compromises. And in making this final decision, Phil is showing the same strong, resolute commitment and dedication to his family that he demonstrated as a league president for the past five years.

Evans initially signed on after working for a number of years at the CBA (the Continental Basketball Association). He served as the D-League’s Director of Legal and Business Affairs, where he drafted and negotiated contracts on behalf of the league and each of its teams, including arena license agreements, player/coach contracts and local sponsorship agreements. Evans also developed the league's initial policies and procedures (though he never did adopt my idea of the four-point line or substitutions on the fly like in hockey). He was named President of the league just a year later.

Ever since, Phil has been directly responsible for making the league what it is… a corral of talent that feeds the cadre of elite that is the NBA. And the proof is in the growing number of players, officials, front office execs, and most recently, head coaches (see below), who get the call up to the show.

On a regular day, Phil might meet with a group of highly-successful and powerful business leaders interested in buying a franchise (the highest of high maintenance individuals) or someone as lowly as the league web guru (and everyone in between), treating them with the utmost respect and communicating and listening diligently as if each was actually his boss.

Speaking of his boss, Phil did all of his best work under the watchful and discerning eye of his direct report, NBA Commissioner David Stern. It is no secret that Stern, whose expectations are always set at the absolute pinnacle of human attainability (I hope this column achieves that, and more, sir), has made the D-League his pet project ever since its inception. Not a single meeting with NBA senior management and top brass goes by without Mr. Stern mentioning the D-League, so the pressure was on Phil at all times.

In doing a job with a focus, energy and grace that not many could pull off, he was also not afraid to take the risks that tip good ideas (the little NBDL) into great executions (the premiere minor league basketball establishment in the world). He developed a league that retained many of the best, young players coming out of college, that brought the best players not in the NBA back from Europe and even attracted significant international talent (all within a limited and tight budget).

Phil was also one of us. He got involved in many aspects of planning that you might not expect and even sheltered us, on more than one occasion from demanding (and often irrational) owners (of course, none of them are affiliated with the league any longer – all of our current owners are great!) who were always wondering why the entire focus and resources of the NBA was not always on the D-League.

All the while, he did so without assuming any airs. While he may have chosen to remain “presidential" in public settings, I know he will always regret not taking advantage of a rare opportunity to let his hair down (and what tremendous hair it really is) and show off his late-night karaoke skills at an empty restaurant somewhere in America’s heartland recently (my Bon Jovi was killer).

But Phil is not the only good man we’re leaving behind. The D-League, like any other young business just starting out, need a team of hard-working, talented individuals willing to go beyond the call of their regular responsibilities to help that business to grow. The league’s P.R. man since the beginning, Kent Partridge, is also not making the trip up to New York. There may be no who was more committed to his work than Kent and I, for one, will miss reading his Daily Developments every morning (and his narrative emails written at 4 a.m.). The only other person probably up at that time was Phil...

So now, in this living obituary (since we pretty much forget about everyone once they leave the NBA anyway), it is fair to say that Phil leaves the NBA Development League is good shape and as strong as ever. Four new expansion teams set to begin play in 2007-08 (Des Moines, Iowa; Ft. Wayne, Ind.; Hidalgo, Texas; and Orem, Utah – four airports Phil knows quite well at this point). Evans oversaw that expansion, brokering the deals that put new teams in new markets every season since the league began.

If I know Phil (and I do), this wasn’t an easy choice to make. He put a lot into making this league a success and he knows that the D-League's relocation to New York City will help foster the league's continued growth by giving it direct access to the support and resources of the NBA and WNBA (I have an extra stapler and some unused post-its I’m ready to share). But he had to choose one family over another.

A successor for Evans, who will serve as a consultant on D-League matters for the NBA, has not yet been named. But I’m sure Phil is proud that a successor has been named to fill the Charlotte Bobcats’ head coaching vacancy. Sam Vincent, who enjoyed a successful three-year career in the Development League (most recently in 2005-06 with the Fort Worth Flyers), became the latest D-Leaguer to get the call to the NBA.

Vincent guided the Flyers a league-best 28-20 record in 2006 and advanced to the championship game. In his first D-League stint in 2001-02, Vincent was at the helm of the Mobile Revelers during the league’s inaugural campaign. He followed that up with a D-League Championship in 2002-03, leading the fourth-seeded Revelers to their first title.

So as Vincent prepares to make his mark on the NBA, both with and against the likes of Smush Parker, Chuck Hayes, Matt Carroll, Mikki Moore and the dozens of other former D-Leaguers who have realized their dream, the legacy of Phil Evans will continue to grow long after his days as D-League master planner (and Stern's Hair Apparent) come to an end.