The NBA Development League originally set out to be a league where young players, not quite ready for the rigors of NBA play, were molded by capable coaches until their skills were ready to meet reality. Instead, however, it's become known as the best league for players not currently in the NBA to get to the NBA.
That model has opened up the possibility for a few interesting NBA comeback tails this season as several former NBA Draft picks that have been out of basketball for a bit have decided the D-League will be used as their vehicle to get back into the Association.
The three to watch for in Thursday evening's D-League Draft (more participants listed here) are former Indiana Pacers guard Jamaal Tinsley, former NBA journeyman Jamal Sampson and Chris Taft, a promising prospect for the Golden State Warriors before he had his career derailed due to a back injury.
Tinsley is probably the name that is going to get the most recognition considering he began his rookie season as the Pacers starting point guard. Since then, however, Tinsley's career has seen its fair share of bumps -- from sitting out an entire season due to a rift with management when T.J. Ford was brought in to sitting out all of last season after an unsightly showing with the Memphis Grizzlies during the 2009-10 season.
I wrote a bit more in-depth about Tinsley on Tuesday morning with my key takeaway being that I question his commitment.
This isn't to say that Tinsley won't make the most of his D-League opportunity because it obviously takes quite a bit of humble pie to be able swallow one's pride and announce to the world that the D-League is going to be the league you're calling home. It does make me wonder if he'll stick it out, however, knowing he's been unhappy in much better situations in the past.
As far as Sampson is concerned, the 6-foot-11 big man played just one year at Cal before being selected by the Utah Jazz in the 2002 NBA Draft. Since then, however, his career has been a bit crazy.
Sampson played for a different team in each of his first five professional seasons (from the Milwaukee Bucks to the Los Angeles Lakers to the Charlotte Bobcats and then the Sacramento Kings before starting a few games with the Denver Nuggets during the 2006-07 NBA season). Since his five-year NBA stint, Sampson has appeared on rosters in Germany, China (a few times), Jordan and the Philippines. The Philippines has actually been his most intriguing stop thanks to a series of emails published here.
Last, but not least, is the story of former Pitt big man Chris Taft. Taft was a second round pick by the Golden State Warriors in the 2005 NBA Draft and was inserted into the rotation early during his rookie year, but the first round of his NBA career didn't last long as he had a disease known as polymyositis.
I interviewed Taft in September after being alerted to his NBA comeback -- he hasn't played professionally since a stop with the D-League's Rio Grande Valley in early 2008 -- and asked his reasoning for trying to get back into basketball.
"My motivation to get back into is just my passion, the passion for the game has been there all my life, man," Taft says. "Three years ago, I went back to my college -- Pittsburgh -- to go back to school, focus on my education and in the mean time I've been a motivational speaker, but the passion to play basketball has always been there and it always will be there.
"I'm still young, I'm only 26 years old so I haven't really even reached my peak yet and my legs are fresh. I'm hungry to get back on the court and reach my potential."
There are plenty of other interesting stories in the D-League, a few of which I should get to before Thursday night's Draft, but the three above will be stories the NBA world will likely be keeping an eye on as the season progresses.
Further 2011 D-League Draft reading available here: