Over at TrueHoop, Henry Abbott quotes a John Hollinger (Insider) article about Brandon Jennings's early success this year (I just picked him up for my fantasy team), and how it's making Sonny Vaccaro look like a smart man for telling Jennings to go to Europe for a year. I don't have Insider so I can't give you more than Abbott does, but here's the first paragraph:
Nonetheless, his European experiment appears to have been a beneficial experience. Jennings got a chance to play and improve, not to mention a serious ego check. Although he didn't put up great numbers in Rome, his learnings from playing there enabled him to be among the league's readiest rookies, even though he never played one collegiate game.
How, exactly, is that different from the experience would have had in the D-League? A chance to play and improve? Check. Ego check? Hey, enjoy playing in Sioux Falls in January, when it's snowing so hard fans can't get to the arena. One could possibly argue that not playing much in Italy humbled Jennings, and drove him to get a big start this year and never come off the bench again, whereas in the D-League he might've gotten more playing time. (On a more writerly note, "his learnings" can't be the correct way to phrase that, can it?)
There are a few ways to approach that argument. First, not every NBA assignee starts in the D-League. Most of them do, sure, but for example the Colorado 14ers were so deep last season that Sonny Weems came off the bench (he actually started eight of 22 games). Alexis Ajinca didn't start in any of his D-League games. Kyrylo Fesenko came off the bench in 14 of his 37 games with Utah a few seasons ago. Hamed Haddadi only started half of his D-League games last season. So having an NBA talent come off the bench isn't unique to European teams.
Second, there's the whole "among the league's readiest rookies, even though he never played one collegiate game" thing. ...And? He's not the first guy in that situation. Many "preps-to-pros" players have done well in their first NBA season. Even excluding the superstars like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett (among others), success without collegiate experience is possible. And who's to say that Jennings isn't at that level? Not to get ahead of ourselves, but it's entirely possible that Brandon Jennings could become one of the NBA's next stars, so having played in Europe could have less to do with his success than currently thought.
And that's the main point. Two games has proven Sonny Vaccaro to be a smart man? Not that he isn't, but..come on. Nothing's been proven yet. The high-school-to-Europe path shouldn't be validated based on one example. Let's see how Jeremy Tyler and the next few players do.
That leads to the second paragraph Abbott quotes:
In fact, it eventually could undermine the NBA's efforts to raise the age minimum from 19 to 20 years old, because it doesn't really help the league if its future stars are laboring in obscurity in Europe rather than building fans in the NCAA. If Jennings does end up as a surprise rookie of the year winner, the current trickle of prep stars across the Atlantic could quickly become a torrent.
Does David Stern really seem like a "sit back and let all of his future stars play overseas instead of in the U.S. without trying to prevent it" kind of guy? The age limit was a deal he cut with the NCAA in part to make sure that NBA rookies are more marketable and have a national resume for fans to draw on. The D-League doesn't have the exposure the NCAA does, but Stern certainly could change that. If the league encouraged top-notch high school players to head for the D-League instead of Europe* (assuming college isn't an option), then they'd do everything they could to make sure the players wouldn't be "laboring in obscurity." The D-League likely would get a piece of that snazzy commercial action the WNBA has enjoyed for years. The D-League could see even greater expansion onto the East Coast and maybe even give the southeast another shot. Heck, D-League games outside of the Showcase might even get shown NBA TV. Those both sound like D-League-only benefits at first, but not only is it in the NBA's benefit to make sure the D-League is financially viable, in turn the NBA would get players that were kept "in-house" and received the benefit of some national attention.
I know that expanding the NBA's presence into Europe is another one of David Stern's goals, but I'm not sure this is what he means. Instead, don't be surprised if the D-League becomes a more viable option for high school players who aren't attending college for some reason as an alternative to sitting on the bench in Europe.
*and I've checked the league rules and keep writing these pieces without anyone correcting me, so I'm still assuming this is possible