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Thoughts on having a 30 team D-League?


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#1 Cj2008nw

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Posted October 15, 2012 - 10:44 PM

I think this would be great after reading a few articles on ESPN for the whole 30 team D-League I think it would help the NBA so much!!!

Full NBA minor league system?
Editor's Note: This is the first installment of a five-part series examining the possibility and impact of a full NBA minor league system similar to the model used in Major League Baseball. Today we explore what the "architecture" of such a system would be.
NBA and the minor leagues

Insider asks: What would happen if the NBA had a full minor league system similar to that of MLB?

10/1 Doolittle: Framing a minor league

10/2 Coon: Inside the finances

10/3 Thorpe: Player development issues

10/4 Ford: Impacting the draft

10/5 Paine: Projecting the players

Player development was just not a term you used to hear much in reference to the NBA. The league had a feeder circuit all right, but it was called the NCAA, and it produced a steady supply of three- and four-year college players with relatively polished skill sets and mature bodies. Sure, you'd run across the occasional big man "project" once in a while, or a player would bubble up from the Continental Basketball Association.

Things changed when Kevin Garnett was at the vanguard of the groups we now refer to as preps-to-pros and one-and-done players. These raw, athletic marvels wowed NBA talent evaluators with irresistible upside, but also lugged with them immense risk. For every Garnett there has been a Jonathan Bender. For every Kobe Bryant, there's a Korleone Young.

And after Isiah Thomas swung his personal wrecking ball at the CBA in 2001, it became apparent that there was something missing, a kind of finishing school for players with unbridled ability, or a proving ground for guys scouts missed. The NBA continued to badly swing and miss on young players.

Part of the problem was the difficulty in projecting the growth of 18- and 19-year-olds. But it's also how to develop the skills of a player who has the talent, but not the polish, to earn NBA game time. Only the elite talents such as LeBron James or Kevin Durant are able to sharpen their teeth in big-minute roles in the NBA. Everyone else learns by watching, or they don't learn at all -- until the NBA Developmental League was established.

Push for development

There was an undeniable economic impetus behind the growing importance of the minor league, which of course caught the attention of David Stern. To cite just one example, Bender produced 3.8 win shares, according to Basketball-Reference.com, and for that he was paid nearly $31 million over eight NBA seasons. His first two seasons in the league were in the years immediately prior to the formation of the NBDL, and he played a total of 704 minutes for the Pacers. What if he had played 3,000 minutes for the Roanoke Dazzle? Could the Pacers have recouped some of their considerable investment?

One league official said there "absolutely" would be fewer draft misses if elite talents were allowed to log extended minor league development time, and added that it's going to take time for teams to realize that the expectation level that accompanies high draft picks is less important than a player being allowed to develop on the court in game situations. That's the dynamic Stern sought when he announced an expansion of the NBDL in 2005.

"The absence of a firm-footed, successful development league is something that has gnawed at me over the years," Stern told reporters at the time, adding, "I hope our development league ultimately will be a place where youngsters could be assigned in their early years in the league."

Enter the D-League

Soon thereafter, the NBDL was rebranded as the NBA Development League or, simply, the D-League. Stern moved the D-League's offices to New York and streamlined the operations between the two circuits. Before long, the D-League became a version of the proving ground long envisioned by Stern, with the number of call-ups increasing on an annual basis.

"It's been good for me to see guys like [Lou Amundson and Mike Harris] to find their way into the NBA," says Timberwolves player development assistant Shawn Respert, who spent two years working in D-League offices. "I can say their success has come from some of the things we tried to incorporate in the D-League."

Last season, a record 44 players found their way from the D-League onto an NBA roster.

"We offer the fastest path to the NBA, and I have numbers to back that up," says Dan Reed, the energetic young president of the D-League. Consider Reed's numbers:

• There were 120 players with D-League experience on NBA rosters at the end of last season. That represented 27 percent of all NBA players.

• There were 60 D-League players on playoff rosters.

• Through last season, 166 players have earned call-ups, and including players who have been tabbed more than once, there have been 270 instances of a player being promoted from the D-League.

• More than 30 NBA coaches honed their skills in the D-League, as did one general manager: New Orleans' Dell Demps. Also, every referee hired by the NBA since 2002 has spent time in the D-League.

Reed is quick to cite the D-League's operational integration with the NBA as the factor that no other league in the world can match. The D-League still doesn't pay as well as many foreign leagues, but it's hard to argue Reed's point. The D-League has kicked into high gear over the past couple of seasons, a period in which seven NBA teams have developed single-affiliate relationships with D-League franchises. During the 2012-13 season, 11 NBA teams will have one-on-one affiliations with a D-League franchise, leaving the other 19 teams to share the five remaining franchises.
Daryl Morey
AP Photo/Pat SullivanHouston GM Daryl Morey was the first to establish a hybrid model of a D-League affiliate.

The Houston Rockets became the first team to develop the hybrid model of D-League affiliation, in which they have a dedicated relationship with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. Rockets GM Daryl Morey and his staff have total control of all basketball operations for the Vipers, but business-side operations remain the domain of the Rio Grande-based ownership of the Vipers.

"You learn about players, learn about coaches and try new ideas," Morey says. "When we looked at the hybrid model, it gave you upside without any of the downside. The minor league team is way more knowledgeable about their market than we are."

That trend will continue, especially given the cost-benefit ratio. When the Celtics announced a single-affiliate relationship with the Maine Red Claws this season, it was reported the overhead will cost Boston around $220,000, or about half the minimum salary of a second-round draft pick.

"We have several other NBA teams interested," Reed says, referring to the trend towards single affiliation.

Stern and his quorum of NBA owners cast a vote for the D-League during the last round of labor negotiations by expanding the relationship between the leagues. Beginning last season, veteran players could be allocated to the D-League, whether to rehab an injury or to work into shape. Starting this season, any player with less than three years of experience can be sent down as many times as his parent club desires. Yet, there is still something missing.

Perception vs. pragmatism

Remember when Hasheem Thabeet was assigned to the D-League in the 2009-10 season? He became the highest-drafted player to be allocated to the minors and it was widely viewed as a demotion.

While some players, such as former Philadelphia 76ers forward Craig Brackins, have actually requested D-League assignments just to get minutes, the stigma of being "sent down" is a paradigm that even Reed admits needs to be overcome. What would help is for a player such as Thabeet -- who put up big numbers in his limited D-League stints -- to use that experience as a springboard toward fulfilling the potential that got him drafted so high in the first place.

"We're still waiting for the unpolished guy to be sent to the D-League and really take off based on his D-League experience," said one league source, who added that he doesn't see Jeremy Lin as an example of that.
Paul Pierce
AP Photo/Charles KrupaA player like Tobias Harris (right) might benefit from some D-League time instead of the NBA bench.

For that white whale to be speared, NBA teams need to better use the structure in place. Utah's Enes Kanter played just 13 minutes per night as a rookie, but didn't log any D-League time. Neither did Tobias Harris, who at the age of 19 put up a 14.2 PER in just 479 minutes for the Milwaukee Bucks and got everybody excited about his potential. Yet he spent most of the season watching Mike Dunleavy and Carlos Delfino from the Bucks' bench rather than logging 30 minutes per night for the Fort Wayne Mad Ants.

"We think that in time, it will be the norm rather than the exception for young players to spend developmental time in the D-League," Reed says.

For that to happen, you have to give each team equal access to the league, so we could eventually be looking at a baseball-style architecture. That arrangement might include:

• A dedicated affiliate that has geographic proximity to its NBA parent club. When the Golden State Warriors became the fourth team to purchase a D-League franchise of its own last year, it allowed the established Dakota Wizards to play a final season in Bismarck, N.D., then moved it to nearby Santa Cruz, Calif., for the 2012-13 season. Indeed, all the single-affiliate D-League franchises enjoy geographic proximity to their parent teams.

• Roster exceptions that will allow them to leave players in the D-League for months at a time, or even a full season, without having to summon prospects to fill roster gaps that crop up due to injury spates. This, of course, will have to be collectively bargained.

• Elimination of the current 10-day contract and replaced by a "call-up" system similar to baseball's. The D-League affiliate will be a mixture of prospects and fringe veterans, all of whom are operating identical offensive and defensive schemes with the same terminology of their parent clubs. This will be the pool of talent from which teams get through the inevitable roster shortages caused by an 82-game season.

• A collectively bargained mechanism that protects a team's affiliate players. Currently, even teams with single-affiliate relationships only control allocated players working under NBA contracts. Other players on their affiliates can be snapped up by other NBA teams, a point of contention for those who lose players they've discovered through the acumen of their scouting department.

• A provision to prevent NBA-worthy players from being trapped at that level through draft-and-stash strategies, so you'd see something similar to baseball's Rule V draft.

• An expansion of the NBA draft to three rounds. Currently, you could easily trim the draft back to one round and no one would blink an eye. However, if you have a fully mature affiliate system in place, teams would leap to scout and draft assets that could be evaluated and developed in its own program.

Reed thinks we're clearly headed toward a 30-team, 30-affiliate structure. However, he declined to place a timeline on that process and emphasized the D-League is focused on "steady, sustainable growth over time." So no, we won't see a 14-team expansion of the D-League next year. However, the "true minor league" Stern envisioned seems well underway.

Says Respert: "We absolutely want to make sure that teams have an equal amount of resources to draw from and a factory to be able to produce the things that they need to ensure the success of their franchises."

Tomorrow: Financial impact

Bradford Doolittle is an author for Basketball Prospectus. Follow him on Twitter at @bbdoolittle.

#2 Cj2008nw

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Posted October 15, 2012 - 10:47 PM

'Buying' into the farm system

Editor's Note: This is the second installment of a five-part series this week examining the possibility and impact of a full NBA minor league system similar to the model used in Major League Baseball. Today we explore what the financial implications of such a system would be.

NBA and the minor leagues

Insider asks: What would happen if the NBA had a full minor league system similar to that of MLB?

10/1 Doolittle: Framing a minor league

10/2 Coon: Inside the finances

10/3 Thorpe: Player development issues

10/4 Ford: Impacting the draft

10/5 Paine: Projecting the players

What started with a smattering of eight teams in the fall of 2001 has expanded to 16 teams and is the NBA's official minor league -- the NBA Developmental League, or D-League. While many NBA teams have embraced the D-League concept, a few remain skeptical -- and this skepticism needs to be overcome if the D-League is to realize its vision of becoming a true farm system for the NBA.

The NBA has been slow to embrace the concept of a farm system as a place where teams can develop their own talent. From 2001 to 2006, the D-League franchises were all independent -- while they shared an affiliate relationship with NBA teams, the big league clubs had little control over the D-League rosters, coaches or basketball operations. Developing talent for an eventual call-up to the NBA was difficult.

In talking to several NBA team executives, a consistent message emerged about the problems that existed, and the changes that are needed for the D-League to take the next step. At the forefront were teams' rights to the players in whose development they were investing.

"If an NBA team likes a player [on another team's D-League affiliate who is not already under contract to the NBA team], they can sign him," said one team executive. "There is no exclusivity, and no right of first refusal."

The structure of the D-League began to change in 2006, when the Los Angeles Lakers pioneered the concept of a team-owned D-League franchise. By owning its minor league affiliate, the Lakers could install their own coaches and trainers, run their own system and better develop their players -- creating an environment much more akin to a minor league baseball team.

"It's a benefit to NBA coaches when someone is called up [from the D-League], and he is already familiar with the system," said the same executive. "For example the San Antonio Spurs obviously have a certain way of doing things. It helps to have players who already know it."

In 2009 the Houston Rockets and Rio Grande Valley Vipers pioneered a hybrid model, called a single-affiliate partnership. Under this model the D-League team retained independent ownership, while the NBA team (which pays a fee) runs all basketball operations. The D-League team retains responsibility for all business operations, including ticketing and marketing.

Today the 16 D-League teams are a mixture of these three ownership models -- independent, team-owned and single-affiliate. There is one outlier -- the Texas Legends, the D-League affiliate of the Dallas Mavericks, are a single-affiliate team, but are owned by Mavericks general manager Donnie Nelson. (See chart below.)

If the D-League is to become a true minor league system, it might require all 30 NBA teams to have their own affiliate -- either owning their own developmental team, or entering into a single-affiliate partnership with one that is independently owned.

And the shared model has its advocates. "[D-League players are] community property for all NBA teams, and that has advantages too," said one team executive. "Right now the current setup works pretty well for us."

D-League president Dan Reed sees the league evolving toward the farm system model. "We are very rapidly approaching a one-to-one model and a farm system model in our league," he said. "The near-term future is that we expect more and more NBA teams to get involved in managing their own D-League team."

Solvency of affiliates

NBA teams have jumped on the D-League bandwagon in two waves. First were the more progressive teams -- the ones that knew they weren't going to get an immediate return on their investment, but believed the system eventually would figure itself out. The second wave consisted of wealthier teams that were willing to spend after seeing the first wave produce some success.

But to become a true farm system, there will need to be a third wave of teams. The remaining clubs will need to be convinced that there is true value in a D-League investment. A lot of that value derives from the location of the D-League franchise.

"There is value," said one executive whose team has a shared affiliation with an independent D-League team. "But as you study minor league sports in general, you have to understand the city and the lease agreement. Those two things need to make sense."

Another team executive concurred. "Profitability is absolutely, 100 percent dependent on location," he said. "If you have a team like Austin, where there's a major university and tons of people, then yes. But Bakersfield? They need to play in a gym."

D-League "ownership"

*The Texas Legends are owned by Mavericks GM Donnie Nelson.
D-League Team Ownership model Affiliated with
Austin Toros Team owned San Antonio Spurs
Bakersfield Jam Independent Atlanta Hawks, Los Angeles Clippers, Phoenix Suns, Toronto Raptors
Canton Charge Team owned Cleveland Cavaliers
Erie Bayhawks Single affiliate New York Knicks
Fort Wayne Mad Ants Independent Charlotte Bobcats, Detroit Pistons, Indiana Pacers, Milwaukee Bucks
Idaho Stampede Single affiliate Portland Trail Blazers
Iowa Energy Independent Chicago Bulls, New Orleans Hornets, Denver Nuggets, Washington Wizards
Los Angeles D-Fenders Team owned Los Angeles Lakers
Maine Red Claws Single affiliate Boston Celtics
Reno Bighorns Independent Memphis Grizzlies, Sacramento Kings, Utah Jazz
Rio Grande Valley Vipers Single affiliate Houston Rockets
Santa Cruz Warriors Team owned Golden State Warriors
Sioux Falls Skyforce Independent Miami Heat, Minnesota Timberwolves, Orlando Magic, Philadelphia 76ers
Springfield Armor Single affiliate Brooklyn Nets
Texas Legends Single affiliate * Dallas Mavericks
Tulsa 66ers Team owned Oklahoma City Thunder

The same executive also noted that the D-League teams initially were all located in the Southeast, and that they all failed. Even Los Angeles had its problems -- the D-Fenders, the team owned by the Lakers, ceased operations for the 2010-11 season.

"They weren't functioning very well as a business," he said. When they returned for the 2011-12 season, they relocated from Los Angeles' Staples Center to the Lakers' practice facility in El Segundo.

Reed understands the challenges. "We want to make sure that we're not growing too fast -- that we have the right teams in the right markets with the right owners, and that we continue to build on our successes over time," he said. "While we would love to have 30 D-League teams for 30 NBA teams it would mean we would need to add 14 new teams in a very short period of time. We think it's better to grow slow, but grow smart."

Salaries affect talent pool?

Another problem to overcome in developing the D-League as a farm system is the size of the talent pool. The model of a successful farm system is minor league baseball, where dozens of clubs operate on five developmental levels, each affiliated with a single major league team. More than 1,500 players a year are drafted into the minor leagues, and almost all Major League players pass through the farm system on their way to the big leagues.

But basketball is different. While it is rare to find a big league baseball player who spent zero days in a minor league system, the opposite is true of the NBA, where most successful players are first-round draft picks. While Reed says that 27 percent of NBA players have spent time in the D-League, this is true only in the broadest sense, when you include players on 10-day contracts and those under contract with an NBA club who are assigned to the D-League for a short stint.

To become a successful farm system, the D-League will need to attract more talent -- players who might otherwise stay in school or play elsewhere.

"If you don't make an NBA roster, there's a whole world of choices out there for you," said one team executive. "Right now it's not set up so it works for every NBA team to have a farm team."
Jack Arent/NBAE/Getty ImagesIn the past, some D-League affiliates have struggled to maintain financial solvency.

Player salaries are a big factor. D-League players are often paid a small fraction of what they could potentially earn overseas. The league has three salary tiers, with the highest tier earning just $30,000 annually. Travel and accommodations are far from luxurious. "But hey, it's the minor leagues," said one executive.

To reach the point of sustainability as a farm system, players will need a financial incentive to prefer the D-League over their other choices. This could come at a significant cost, which will affect each team's bottom line. More than one executive said the NHL's system of two-way contracts would help. Players on two-way contracts earn a lower salary while assigned to the team's minor league affiliate, and a higher salary if they are called up to the major league team. That kind of system would help to control the team's expenses while providing an additional financial incentive to players.

But while many teams are expecting their D-League affiliate to at least be revenue neutral, one executive viewed it differently.

"That's a cost of player development," he said. "You have to look at it that way. At this time I don't look at [the D-League] as a new revenue source. We look at the D-League as a talent pool and a place we can send players to get playing time."

Reed also pointed out one incentive that is unique to the D-League. "We provide the absolute fastest way to get to the NBA," he said. "There were 60 call-ups last season -- those players collectively made $11 million in the NBA. That's an opportunity they wouldn't have gotten if they had chosen to play overseas or stay at home."

The bigger issue for many of the executives is their rights to the players they develop. NBA teams might assign their players (whom they have signed to an NBA contract) with up to two years of service to their D-League affiliate, but they do not control the rights to the other players on their affiliate's roster. "I don't think you maximize the opportunity if you control only a player or two," said one.

"If you do a good job of signing a player and helping him develop, another team can call him up," concurred another team executive. "For all your time and effort, you get no return. Teams will need to have rights based on their efforts."

"Even if it's just two or three players that you pay more to designate, it would help," he continued. "If that happens, an investment in the D-League makes a lot of sense. The value in the franchises will go up. It's something the players and teams have alignment on."

But Reed says that's not necessarily the case. "Players in our league really like having the ability to be called up by all 30 NBA teams, and not just one. It's a competitive advantage for us to tell a player, 'Hey, you're not necessarily slotted behind the three point guards on the NBA parent team. If there's an opening that occurs anywhere in the NBA, it could be an opportunity for you.'"

What's the best model?

Reed says the league is shifting away from the shared independent model and toward the team-owned and single-affiliate models. These models share the ability for the NBA teams to run their own system, and install their own coaches and trainers.

According to data from the ESPN the Magazine research department, the team-owned and single-affiliate models have been similarly successful in developing players who are eventually called up to the NBA.

The choice between the two models depends on each team's individual circumstance.

"Each team is different," said one team executive. "It depends on the organization, and the cycle the team is in. Each team has its own situation."

In sum, the success of the D-League as a farm system will depend on controlled growth -- its ability to greatly increase the size of its talent pool, while developing rules that allow teams to protect their investments by controlling the rights to the players they are developing.

"It all hinges on the ability for teams to take advantage of the opportunity for player development," one executive summarized.

Ultimately, the burden of transitioning the D-League to a true farm system falls on Reed's shoulders. "There are a lot of expectations on Dan Reed to get the league to that point," said another.

"Our goal is to build the perfect minor league system for the game of basketball," said Reed, "which is not necessarily a carbon copy of what works well in baseball or hockey."

Tomorrow: Impact on player development

By Larry Coon

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Posted October 16, 2012 - 01:53 PM

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