Thursday, March 6, 2008

Developmental Education 3.4.08

Developmental Education. Where I tell you all sorts of things about the D-League you never thought to ask. Mostly because you don't care. But I aim to change all that! Yes I do! I'm going to change your widdle minds! Yes I am! I'm going to make you respect B-quality talent because it's still better than Jason Collins and 80% of the Heat roster, yes it is!

Anyway, here's a few random thoughts on the D-League.
I've been thinking a lot about some things I want to suggest to President Reed, on how to tweak the D-League system to maximize it's potential, both commercially and as a development tool. Reed has actually done a tremendous job in developing and growing the league, within a very restrictive environment. But there are always ways to improve.

I. Expansion, Expansion, Expansion: I recognize that D-League teams have failed in several markets. But that was the old D-League. This is the new D-League. The Jamario Moon, Azabuike, Jordan Farmar D-League. The one you've help shepherd into growth potential. Let's open it up a little bit.

First off, there needs to be a team in New York. It's got some of the most passionate fans in the world, and they're currently stuck with an unfathomably bad franchise for the next few years. Giving them a solid D-League franchise with ties to the Nets and Knicks is an easy sell. It's a fantastic basketball town. Put one in Queens, don't mess with the Globetrotters tradition. It's not like Knicks fans aren't lunatics enough to go catch them when the Knicks are out of town. Just don't let the Knicks buy them outright at this juncture. We've seen what can happen when people let Isiah in charge of minor league basketball. This is a perfect marriage, though. It's an easy sell to get good players to sign. It helps keep interest in a horrible franchise, and sets up both of the teams in that huge market. You can bring in local squads for exhibition games. If you can have both the Anaheim Arsenal and the Los Angeles Defenders, you can set up a squad in Queens.

Furthermore, you're starting to prove the teams are an effective business model. Use this to bring the league to other areas where interest is high. I see you sneaking towards Vegas, Dan. Yes, I know the real reason you set up shop in Reno. Why not test drive some of the other markets in consideration? Kansas City has a gigantic arena with no tenants. St. Louis has great sports fans and multiple universities with strong ties to the area. If Oklahoma doesn't get the Sonics, put one there in the meantime as a placeholder. If Oklahoma does get the Sonics, put a D-League team there to rebuild faith in the market. I know Stern won't go for this, but hey, it would be at least a sign of good will towards one of the biggest markets in the country. I understand the South is primarily a football and NASCAR demographic, but seriously. There are two NBA teams in Florida. Stick a D-League team in Tampa and throw them a bone.

There are a lot more areas for expansion. Rock it.

II. Gotta Revamp The Assignment Rules: I understand you're dealing with one of the most powerful players' unions in pro sports. They want to protect the players and make sure they're not punished for contract disagreements by being assigned to the D-League. But there's too much potential being limited by the current rules, which only allow teams to assign a player that has zero or one year of service in the NBA. It restricts the ability of teams to effectively manage the progression of a player, and also keeps us from the greatest lure of all, rehab assignments (we'll get to that in a second). I know the CBA is set and done and agreed upon, and the lawyers may not want to touch it. But if you sweeten the deal by raising the per diem or standardizing a contract structure, maybe you can at least get some discussion going.

The more talent a team has, the bigger the draw. You'll increase ticket sales exponentially if there's a chance that being a fan will let them see the big boys working out the kinks or developing inside the D-League. We're already seeing this with the success of the Austin and LA teams. Build on it.

III. The Players Want To Go To Rehab, The Rules Say No, No, No: Elton Brand was recently quoted as saying he would be willing to head to Anaheim to work with the Arsenal, just to ease his way back into 5 on 5. For the love of God, why can't we get this done? I've touched on it before, but this needs to be a priority. If Roger Clemons, roids or no, can do a few weeks with the Round Rock Express, then the NBA and Players Union can lighten up enough to let players that actually have the work ethic to try and effectively rehab work out with the D-League teams in limited minutes. You can make it optional, that's fine. It's not like Zero's going to be jumping over chairs to go play for the Dakota Wizards (side note: Blake Ahearn, Rod Benson, Carlos Powell and Zero = better than 7 teams in the East; book it). But there are players that could really benefit from the playing time getting back to health (I mean you, Shaun Livingston; hell, let's just admit it. The Clippers desperately need their own D-League team like the Spurs and Lakers. Too bad Sterling wouldn't pay for a bag of popcorn at a D-League game much less the team), and anything the league can do to support them, it should. On the flip side, if you tell people in any D-League city that they get to see an NBA player demolish the competition, even on a gimply leg and only for 20 minutes, you're going to triple your odds of sell-outs. Take the Toros. Obviously, Tony Parker's not going to be coming down for a stint. But if Vaughn or Oberto did a rehab stint? You're going to see a huge bump in attendance, and those guys pretty much clean up the leftovers from the stars. It's a fantastic win-win scenario. Make it happen.

IV. Adjust The Call-Up Times: Okay, Mr. Reed. You're going to think I'm insane. I understand this. Just hear me out. One of the big issues with the league is that players get called up and then don't get playing time. They're afterthoughts. Let's make the players more valuable by limiting when they're available. Let's say you take the first month and make it impossible to call-up a player. Then, a month later, a two month window opens where you can sign anyone, just like now. Then, another month where players are locked in. Then they're free for the remainder of the year, including heading into the playoffs. It'll keep teams together, which makes them more likable. It also creates heightened times of attention towars the league. You've seen how insane we all get towards the trade deadline. A fraction of that brings more attention to the D-League. Just throwing it out there, to see if it sticks.

V. Keep Up The Good Work And The Transparency: The best thing about the D-League is how approachable it is. Versus professional sports which are impenetrable, obtuse conglomerates with no true connection to it's fans, the way the D-League is reaching out to the blogosphere with player blogs and your own blog is refreshing. Keep up the communication, it'll pay off in the long run. You've been really good about being grounded and honest with your approach, and that's endearing. It would honestly help if you were to make sure the teams do more to report when a player leaves for Europe. We know it happens. We expect it to happen. We don't blame the D-League, nor the teams. These things happen. But hiding it from us just creates situations like last week when I promoted the Toros as unstoppable with Keith Langford and Andre Barrett. Until I showed up for gametime to find out that Langford took a gig in Italy. That was embarrassing. Wishing the players well and letting them know they'll have an opportunity to try and get back with their squads if they chose to would be a great way to go.
I've found something interesting from every D-League player I've met. The biggest thing they've gotten from all of them about what they feel they really need is playing time. And it makes a lot of sense. It also explains why a lot of players are actually developing well in the system, which is the entire point of the team. Teams are hesitant to put players into the D-League system, instead preferring to keep them with the team 24-7. Why? Do they really get that much out of practice?

Andre Barrett, who just got called up to the Clips, has quite a bit of NBA bench-riding experience, and is actually a pretty talented point guard, told me that while practice does get you a lot of work and valuable feedback on your game and how to improve, there's nothing to replace being in a game.

In New Orleans for the D-League All-Star Game, when I asked the players what they needed to work on most in order to make it to the show, they all surprisingly said the same thing. Confidence. They talked about how the biggest problem occurs when you've worked so hard to get called up, and you get your shot, only for a few minutes at a time, there's a lot of pressure to perform well in an environment you're not used to.

It makes you wonder what would have happened to the Kandi man if he'd spent some time in the D-League. It also makes you wonder about all those rookies your team has scrubbing the bench, and if they'd be better served getting some playing time in the D-L to build their confidence.
Something I've come up on in the last week, and I wanted to share.

Here are the teams that are most involved with the NBA D-League.

San Antonio Spurs: 3 Call-Ups, one assignee, own the D-League Austin Toros.
Los Angeles Lakers: Own the Los Angeles Defenders. Jordan Farmar is a former D-League assignee.
Boston Celtics: In talks to develop D-League team in Portland, ME. Recently assigned Gabe Pruit. Have heavily assigned players in the past.
Detroit Pistons: Currently have Cheikh Samb on assignment. Have assigned Amir Johnson in the past.
Dallas Mavericks: Have assigned 6 players in the past, including Jose Juan Barrea (Jub-Jub!), and Maurice Ager.
Portland Trailblazers: Heavily involved, have assigned Taurean Green and Josh McRoberts, along with Martell Webster in the past.

That's funny... all of those teams are at, or close to the top of the NBA... huh.

Conversely, the three least active teams in the D-League? The Clippers, the Kings, the Knicks, and the Pacers.

A deaf D-League player is trying to make it to the show. This is pretty awesome. (Just click to sign up for the trial version and then don't click to subscribe and you can view it. PS: Albuquerque paper? You fail with all the subscription stuff.)
Now it's time for this week's "What You're Looking For." Here I'll give you a player to fill that raw spot on the roster.

Instant Energy Off The Bench: Get Marcus Williams. Get him now. Remember him? Out of Arizona? The Spurs picked him up out of the draft, had him in camp, sent him to Austin, called him up, then waived him. Now he's inside the Spurs offense down there, and he's started absolutely killing it. Last five games looks like 25 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals and a block per game, including 32 points last night. I've seen him up close, and I can tell you, the kid's all-around effort is off the charts. Due to foul trouble, Marcus has been defending guys that have 4 to 5 inches on him, and he's shutting them down. He's been a matchup nightmare. The Arsenal, for reasons I can't comprehend, decided to put 32 year old Derrick Dial on him. So Williams abused him in the post. Then the Arsenal went to a bigger lineup. So Williams started working it from the outside. He can handle the ball, he runs in transition, he rebounds, and plays defense. He's a high energy guy. Even if you want to put him back in the D-League, get him, now.

Need The Boards: Rod Benson. Don't get me wrong. I'm a big of the Boom Tho Movement. And Rod is unquestionably the best interview I've found in the D-League. But I've tried to manage bloggers' hopes about him, by pointing out that he doesn't have a ton of size, struggles in transition defense, and has trouble finishing. Boom Tho, apparently, don't play that. He's been incendiary lately. The other night he pulled down 24 points and 24 boards. 24 rebounds! In a league where most players are brought in to play defense and rebound, Benson's exactly what you're looking for. And his defense has improved by leaps and bounds, plus he's starting to put together his offensive set as well. The fact that the Grizzlies haven't put this kid on even a 10 day is redonkulous, given their holes down low.

Serviceable Combo-Guard: Earl Calloway has a nice set of offensive moves, and is able to drive and kick. The best thing about him as a call-up prospect is his size combined with his defensive discipline. He can guard speed, size, and agility. He can also add in rebounds and distribute the ball. He's got a lot of experience and isn't prone to turnovers.
Player To Watch: Demetris Nichols: I have a theory. Any big man that gets out of New York and Chicago ends up so pissed off at the mismanagement of young players that they light it up. He had 33 in his Energy debut last night.

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