Today the NBA released it's announcement of the 2008 NBA-NBA D-League affiliates . For those of you just joining our game, each team is assigned as an affiliate to an NBA D-League team. This is the team they have the strongest relationship with. Or in some cases, "relationship." Or "forced affiliation in name only." This is the D-League team the parent NBA team can assign first or second year players to. The relationships between the teams can range from strong (Utah Flash to Utah Energy, Phoenix Suns to Albuquerque Thunderbirds last season) to pathetic (anyone to Bakersfield Jam, Memphis to the Dakota Wizards). This is important because the staff on the D-League affiliate and the relationship between the two impact how comfortable the NBA squad is with leaving their player in the hands of the D-League. And it also tends to impact how well taken care of the D-League affiliate is, which in turn impacts the mindset, training, and coaching of the potential call-ups.
So with that, let's take a look at the affiliates, the ramifications, and what you can expect for your team concerning the D-League next year.
Albuquerque Thunderbirds: Dallas Mavericks and Miami Heat- First thing I'm asking next time I get a D-League official on the phone? Why in the hell is Phoenix no longer the Albuquerque affiliate? It would be one thing if Phoenix hadn't used Albuquerque much last year, but they sent both DJ Strawberry and Alando Tucker for extensive stints with the Thunderbirds. And both of them actually got quality experience from it. D'Antoni and Kerr actually did something kind of inventive. They put Tucker on a timed schedule, two to four weeks in Albuquerque, two to four weeks in Phoenix. That way he got the best of both worlds. The only things I can consider are A. Phoenix was less than thrilled with the Thunderbirds organization (the team was without a trainer for the last two weeks of the season. No therapy, no taping, no nothing. It was do-it-yourself physical training. Yikes. Miami's trainers will fit right in.), B. Kerr wanted to cut all ties from the D'Antoni era, or C. the D-League just makes no sense. All are pretty possible.
Albuquerque was one of the more dangerous teams last season, especially down the stretch with the addition of Julius Hodge. It will not be as dangerous this season, without some serious magic from head coach Jeff Ruland. Dallas has no players currently elligible for the D-League and a whopping 1 draft pick all the way down at pick 51. Though that player is likely to be assigned, if he's signed at all, it's not exactly a good sign, especially with a new coach and a roster full of veterans that's not looking to the future at all at this point. Then there's Miami. The question becomes, of course, whether they keep Ahearn, Lasme, and Powell on board. If they do, those players are likely to spend some time. They're also likely to receive some time from Dequan Cook and Joel Anthony, along with whatever other draft picks the Heat pick up. Ahearn was absolutely lights out in the D-League, and despite all the jokes he had to put up with, along with Ira Winderman's constant belittlement, actually played pretty well once he settled down. If he isn't signed by an NBA squad and decides the Heat is his best way back in, the Thunderbirds will have their star.
Anaheim Arsenal: Atlanta Hawks and Los Angeles Clippers- The Clippers are really confusing. Coach Dunleavy openly questioned the D-League last year when he dropped Andre Barrett for Smush Parker. Who was also, you know, in the D-League originally. Anyway, then, the Clippers elected to sign two of the best D-League call-up eligible players in Nick Fazekas and Marcus Williams. So the Clippers could be heavily involved with the D-League, especially with the close proximity of Anaheim, or they could completely ignore the league. Clearly the #7 pick (*cough* Eric Gordon! cough*) will not be spending anytime in the Arsenal, but the 35th pick, along with Williams and Fazekas are eligible. However, if the Clippers don't resign Williams, expect him to head back to Austin to be reinserted in the Spurs system, which drafted him, and were big on him all season.
The Hawks? Yikes. Ownership squabbling. GM in transition. Coach in transition. Which is a shame, because this team could definitely use some D-League time. Acie Law needs some development time, and with Mike Bibby around, they can afford for him to spend some time in Anaheim. Of course, the fact that they agreed to terms with an affiliate on the other side of the country is probably a bad sign. Anaheim will probably be middle of the road again this year.
Austin Toros: San Antonio Spurs- San Antonio owns the Toros. Literally. They have a top notch coach, a solid roster from last year they'll probably be looking at to bring back, one of the most appealing markets to play in in the D-League, a close relationship with the Spurs, and a strong commitment to developing players. Winning is just a nice by-product. Ian Mahinmi made huge strides this season, developing into a well-rounded asset that can occasionally be a beast. He could definitely use another year under head coach Quin Snyder, though. He still needs to learn to stick with his defender in the post, stay out of foul trouble, and keep his focus. The thing is, the Spurs are looking to reload and don't have a lot of time. With Tiago Splitter ditching the Spurs for Spain, Mahinmi may get pushed up. There's a good chance the Spurs late first-rounder will spend time in the capitol. Austin should be a favorite to win their division again.
Bakersfield Jam: Golden State Warriors, Orlando Magic- Oh, this just makes me sad. A D-League team that needs some help playing in the toughest division in the league. Two teams that desperately need to develop young talent. And yet, this is going to be a waste. Sigh. I can't, for the life of me, figure out why Brandan Wright didn't spend time in the D-League last season. Wright didn't need to carry Dizzle's luggage, he needed playing time. But Nelson never even discussed the possibility. Even Marco Bellini didn't get time. And this is the team that got significant minutes from Kelenna Azaubuike, one of the great stories of the D-League. It just doesn't make any sense. Wright showed he can play down the stretch, and likely won't be in Bakersfield this year, either. With Mullin and Nelson both saying the team plans to focus on the youth movement this year, Bakersfield is probably on its own. Unfortunately, they won't be getting any help from Orlando, either. Orlando needs whoever they draft to help in the frontcourt. Conversely, the Magic should have been looking to pick up rebounding help from the D-League last year. But the Magic have yet to exhibit a knowledge that the D-League even exists. Bakersfield was the worst team in the league last year. Expect that trend to continue.
Colorado 14ers-Denver Nuggets, New Jersey Nets- The Colorado 14ers were doing fine until Elton Brown took off for Europe. Then things kind of fell apart. With the Nuggets and New Jersey, they could be great, they could be terrible. The Nets are likely to have a ton of young talent. A smogasbord. A bevy. A plethora. It's up to Kiki Vandeweghe to use Colorado. It makes sense, considering they have so much youth, and three picks coming in this year. The Nets have a rare opportunity to set up a true farm system with young talent, but they have to take advantage of the 14ers. Conversely, the Nuggets have this great D-League affiliate with a good facility not that far from them. Unfortunately, the entire team is in flux right now. There's no way of knowing what their roster will look like in November, and as long as George Karl is under pressure to put together a winner now, it's unlikely that he'll invest much time in the D-League.
Dakota Wizards: Memphis Grizzlies, Washington Wizards- Why? Why are teams so blind? Why? You've got two teams last season, the Grizzlies and the Wizards. Both needed quality players, for different reasons. The Wizards needed defense and size. The Grizzlies needed quality players at any position. And they are affiliated with one of the best teams talent-wise in the D-League. Nothing. Sigh. Rod Benson had 28 rebounds in a game this season. 28. He averaged 12. Are you really telling me Memphis didn't need him? Then there's the bevy of young guards for Memphis. Couldn't they have used some experience for one of the young guns? It just doesn't make any sense. The biggest thing about being affiliated with Dakota is if you keep in contact with them, you have a good chance of getting the line on NBA-ready talent. They do a great job of putting together quality teams in a small market, and the Wizards and Grizzlies would be wise to take advantage of this resource.
Eerie Bayhawks: Cleveland Cavaliers, Philadelphia 76ers- Don't get too comfy, Philly. This is Cleveland's D-League team. The owner is a Cavs season ticket holder. The Cavs had considered purchasing a D-League team outright, and have made noise about being heavily involved in the process, which would serve them well. Unfortunately, they don't have many to send down. As in, anyone outside of Lance Allred. The Sixers' young'uns are all heavy in the rotation, so they're unlikely to get sent down. Cleveland's first round pick might spend some time, but only if no trades occur for Wally Szczerbiak and the rotation remains jammed with veterans. The D-League is for teams looking to the future, and the Cavs have to make every move they can for right now. I wouldn't expect a great first season for the Bayhawks while the organization settles in. The future is bright, though.
Fort Wayne Mad Ants: Detroit Pistons, Indiana Pacers- The Pistons use the D-League efficiently and in the smartest way possible. It's likely that uber-long freak Cheikh Samb will spend another season in Fort Wayne, along with Detroit's second round pick. New coach for the Pistons Michael Curry? Yeah, he used to be VP of the D-League. So he knows how the league works and how to use it effectively. It's no coincidence that the top four teams most heavily involved in the D-League are four of the top teams in the league. Detroit will use Fort Wayne in some capacity this season.
Then there's Indiana. If there is anyone that could use a more active role in the D-League, it's the Pacers. They need young players, they need to develop raw talent, they need to expand their fanbase, and they have a team in the same state! And yet. The Pacer have no one eligible for D-League time before the draft. The Pacers should at least try and keep contact with the Fort Wayne staff to keep an eye out for a diamond in the rough.
Idaho Stampede: Portland Trailblazers, Toronto Raptors- Raptors did well by landing this affiliate. This is a young, active, progressive, talented organization. The 2008 NBA D-League champs have great coaching and a good eye for talent. Lance Allred? Stampede. 2008 Draft prospect Mike Taylor? Stampede. 2008 D-League Dunk Champ Air Georgia? Stampede. And from what I've seen, Portland got it's money worth sending Josh McRoberts down as well. We'll see if he spends more time in Idaho, or heads back to the surging Portland. Toronto, on the other hand, in retrospect, should have sent Andrea Bargnani down. He would have built his confidence and gotten to play against guys with NBA size. Too late for that. Jamario Moon is arguably the biggest D-League signing in league history, but he won't be coming back. Toronto is likely to use it's affiliate, though, and with Colangelo's progressive mindset, I have to wonder if he was the one pushing for this collaboration. Idaho will be back in the playoffs for the D-League. Book it. Amazing young coach Brian Gates will see to that.
Iowa Energy: Phoenix Suns (?!), Chicago Bulls- Iowa had more turnover than an Andre Iguodala clone fest last year, constantly losing all of their valuable players. They suffered because of it, but it speaks to the organization. With Vinny Del Negro now in charge, it'll be interesting to see what changes are made with their affiliation. With the number of young playerson Chicago, one would think they'd use the team. But you never can tell with Paxson.
Phoenix ended up here, and I'll figure it out, I swear. For right now, to me this indicates a move away from the D-League, which tells me they expect Alando Tucker, DJ Strawberry, and their picks this year to be contributors. This is actually a really interesting affiliation to keep an eye on. With less turnover, Iowa might be able to make some noise this year.
Los Angeles Defenders:Los Angeles Lakers- Great team, great organization, owned by the Lakers, well-managed, quality coaching, quality roster management (outside of letting Chris Alexander go). The Lakers are short on picks this year, and probably won't be sending anyone down. Even still, expect the Defenders to be in contention for their division, and if the Lakers get a steal with the 58th, he could end up here.
Reno (name unreleased): New York Knicks, Sacramento Kings- Tough break for the expansion squad. They get one team who's roster is a mess and who's new coach is going to be looking to flush the parent team with young talent, and another team who is an absolute failure in using the D-League, despite their desperate need for it. The Kings have exhibited no interest in using the league, so it'll be a shock if they change that tune, even with a closer affiliate. Going to be a rough year in Reno.
Rio Grande Valley Vipers: Houston Rockets, New Orleans Hornets- The D-League has teams in Los Angeles, Anaheim, Austin, Bismarck, Albuquerque, and Tulsa. So of course the best source of talent is... RIO GRANDE VALLEY?! I love this league. Love it. Let me put it this way. While no one is noticing what's going on in East Texas, Rockets' GM Daryl Morey has built himself his own little perfect farm system. The Rockets were made up heavily of guys with D-League experience last year, and it worked like a charm. Bear in mind this team doesn't have a GM at the moment and their coach is an interim coach that was promoted. New Orleans might use the team, but it's not likely with as set as their roster is. They've got their future already. But hey, if the Vipers can actually hold on to some of that talent this year, they can make a run at the playoffs.
Sioux Falls Skyforce: Charlotte Bobcats, Minnesota Timberwolves- Again, two teams that should be using the D-League heavily, and again, two teams that don't. Oh well, another good year for the Skyforce faithful, who boast one of the best attendance averages in the league. Minnesota has so much young talent, they may actually send some down, if someone tells Kevin McHale what a D-League is.
Tulsa 66ers: Milwaukee Bucks, Seattle Supersonics- Insert Sonics team in Oklahoma here. Sickening. Tulsa hasn't been a great D-League squad, since I've heard things about a lack of communication with parent teams. The Bucks and Sonics could certainly use the ability to develop a few players and keep an eye out for diamonds in the rough, but management has never expressed confidence in th system, for either team. Another long year for Tulsa.
Utah Flash: Utah Jazz, Boston Celtics- Very quietly, this may be the best D-League-NBA affiliate team in the league. They keep constant communication with their parent teams, they focus heavily on development over winning games, they have a great new practice facility and a new stadium coming, rabid fan support, good coaching, and experienced management. Both parent teams are happy with this relationship, and it should continue productively until Portland joins next season. I like Utah to make the playoffs as well, this season.