"Vaunted Veteran Leadership" Still More Important Than Potential: D-Leaguers Cut From Camp

It's days like today that are pretty disappointing. When all the hard work that goes into slumping through Bismarck and Rio Grande Valley, all goes for nothing because some coach or GM decides that the other guy is better because he's been in the league longer. Even if he's done nothing with that time that warrants the job. Because "veteran leadership" is so important, even for teams whose entire direction is geared towards youth and the future.

I'm disappointed for the D, I'm disappointed for the players, but mostly, I'm disappointed in the lack of vision.

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Let's play a game. You're probably familiar with it.

Player A is 35 years old, turning 36 years old in December. He's had numerous chances throughout his 11 year career to make an impact (at one time even averaging a whole 8 points a game!) and has failed to do so. He is competing for a job with a team that has no playoff aspirations, no need veterans to help them through clutch playoff moments, no need for anything but capability, talent, and youth.

In the preseason he averages 3.5 points per game, 14.4 points per 40 minutes, 1.2 assists per game (9.2 per 40 minutes) and shoots 38% from the floor. He does not attempt a single three-pointer.

Player B is 24 years old. He has never been put in an optimal situation to develop with an NBA team, but has succeeded at every other level with the right opportunity. He provides energy, coachability, determination, and perimeter scoring to a team that kind of/sort of sucks at it.

In the preseason he averages 7.8 points per game, 26.4 points per 40 minutes (!), 1.2 assists (4.1 per 40 minutes), shoots 52% from the floor (!) and 50% from the arc (!).

Of course you have to look at turnovers in a situation like this. After all, these players are being brought in to manage the game and the veteran is obviously going to have fewer turnovers...

Player A has 3.08 turnovers per 40 minutes. Player B has 2.7.

SHOCKING.

I am, of course, referring to Kevin Ollie and Blake Ahearn. Tonight Kevin Ollie, despite doing less for the Timberwolves in the camp and in the games, despite having no upside nor potential, despite being nothing more than a 35 year old ballboy is going to sleep in his hotel, safe in the knowledge that his inevitable end to a pedestrian career has been delayed for a few more weeks. Blake Ahearn is in a hotel, trying to figure out what D-League or European team to schlepp to as he keeps trying, just as he always does. He has no contract, despite having outplayed Ollie, being a link to solid market in Bismarck, and being a workaholic. But none of that matters because the same management team that wasted Kevin Garnett's career, that wasted the opportunity to return value for Kevin Garnett, that succeeded in helping the Sixers get Elton Brand,and that generally has proven to be inept at every phase of management, decided it would rather grant the minimum contract to a player that brings absolutely nothing they need to the table.

Bravo, Kevin McHale. Bravo.

Let's be clear. There are NBA D-League players I pull for because they're good guys and because I want to see them get a chance to redeem themselves. There are players that aren't especially good guys but who legitimately have the ability to play. I pull for Ahearn not because of some nostalgic preference or underdog sensibility, nor for his Missouri roots that I identify with. I pull for Ahearn because he was the first D-League player that made me sit back and go "Wow. This kid has talent." And he's shown that with coaching and the right opportunity, he can at least be good, if not great. Yet this archaic, backward sentiment that Ollie will better protect the ball (even though the numbers say otherwise) wins out.

Frustrating.

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I really thought Hodge was going to make it. I thought with the impact he made on the coaches with his attitude, with the shooting training, with the roster space the Nets have, I thought he'd make it.

I thought wrong.

Hodge struggled to see the floor. This happened to a lot of the D-Leaguers. Instead of resting their starters or splitting games into solid rotations versus back end bench games, most coaches elected to just throw out the weakest lineups they could find that only used the middle of the rotation in an attempt to force them to gel. It was not succesful.

New Jersey went 2-4. Thing was, Hodge was showing stuff, on and off the court. Just last night, even though he was held to five minutes, he got 2 points and 4 rebounds. 4 boards in five minutes from a backup guard. On Monday he had his best game of the preseason, scoring 8 points with 3 boards and 3 assists in only 11 minutes.

But no.

Likely the injury to Josh Boone and Yi Jianlian (AGAIN) were contributing factors, but it doesn't make it suck any less. Hodge has proven he can play at this level, finally has his head on, and has put the time in.

Frustrating.

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Yup, Chicago's just fine. No need for Elton Brown! No, not with Joakim Noah averaging 7.4 points per 40 minutes and Drew Gooden popping 15 foot baseline jumpers. Yup, everything's just great in ol' Chicago.

I blame Brown as much as the Bulls for this, though. You knew the Bulls weren't going to let him see the court. They had to get Rose used to playing with Thomas and Noah. They weren't going to experiment. Back to Europe,I would guess, for Brown.

Frustrating.

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The rest were predictable. Chris Alexander lacks polish, and Sam Presti isn't looking for raw right now. Fazekas still doesn't have the upper body strength he needs and Denver's too tight right now to try anything new.

Mike Taylor is the obvious good story for the D-League out of camp. In LA he's solidified a backup role with the Clippers and could even end up as a primary backup at point. Not bad for the first rookie ever drafted out of the D.

The only real hope left for a non-drafted D-Leaguer is in San Antonio, where Desmon Farmer and Tolliver are still battling it out. Farmer's been solid, been coachable, and has earned praise. Popovich understands the D-League system and didn't just shut him out of minutes because he wasn't an "NBA player." If Farmer catches on, it'll be amusing to see him light up teams that ignored him simply because he played in the D. But still, people will fail to recognize that slowly, but surely, the D is producing NBA talent more and more. It will go unseen, and these players as blips on the screen.

Frustrating.

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