There are an array of players in the D-League who can competently help fill out an NBA team's roster. But is the league now housing two future starters for a contending squad? The Celtics sent former college teammates Fab Melo and Kris Joseph to the Maine Red Claws, perhaps hoping their starting to groom potential replacements for their aging stars.
In recent seasons, the D-League has been used by NBA teams that look to the minors for a player or two who can fill in during an injury to a key member of their squad.
In many cases, perhaps a 10 day contract (or a non-guaranteed one) will be granted. The question then becomes, will a player be able to make enough of an impression during that short period to warrant sticking around? If they fill a void left by an injured player, do they even stand a chance of staying on after that said player gets healthy?
When considering this process, it's easy to understand how many of these D-League players are considered temporary solutions by NBA squads. The NBADL is a stepping stone, but just as quickly as a player gets called up, they can get sent back down again. There are no guarantees.
But as big league squads continue to embrace their respective direct affiliates as true extensions of their franchise, one NBA team is looking to use their minor league squad to develop two of their long-term projects.
Many NBA squads in the rebuilding process have an array of younger players filling out their rosters. Thus, sending them down to the D-League may simply serve as a means of seeing them strut their stuff in hopes of finding a diamond in the rough amongst all the raw talent.
But for the Celtics, it's different. Still considered a strong contender with the potential to go deep into the playoffs, Boston has built a dynasty over the last near decade. But as their veterans stars get up there in age, the team is instead, re-tooling, to make sure there's as little loss of their competitive edge as possible as these older stars phase out.
And they're beginning to use the D-League to do so. With both Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce each potentially on their final contracts as Celtics, the team has brought in younger talents to be nurtured and guided by the pair as they enter the twilight of their careers. Players like Jeff Green, Avery Bradley, Brandon Bass, and Courtney Lee now all represent key members of the squad as they look to continue their winning ways.
This week, the team sent both players down to the D-League for a stint with the Maine Red Claws. As both make early impressions, the expectation is for Melo to dominate his competition. Already a competent scorer, Joseph will aim to use the NBADL to hone the rest of his skills.
Take a second and consider what such assignments could mean for the D-League's continuously growing credibility. Everyone knows the minors are full of players who can fill in for an NBA team in a pinch. The ability to make a short-term impact, or even a longer one for a weaker team in need of talent, has become the norm of D-League players.
But what if the league was used by a legitimate title contender, to help extend their aspirations of staying competitive long term? As Pierce and Garnett continue to pace the Celtics' efforts, the team may very well be, at the same time, grooming their replacements in the D-League.
It's still early in the process, but both veterans still have a couple of years remaining on their contracts. This means neither Melo and Joseph will be rushed to truly flourish as the Celtics desire. With the Red Claws' staff on board with their NBA squad's vision, an NBADL team may be very well in the process of helping their parent squad sustain a legitimate competitive edge without losing a step.