Before Dan Reed took over as D-League President, minor league basketball was something that could only be followed in the local newspaper the next day, unless you lived in exotic locales like Bismarck, North Dakota, Sioux Falls, South Dakota or Hidalgo, Texas.
Since Reed's taken over, people from all around the world can tune in on Futurecast and watch the next Mike Taylor or CJ Watson, read what's going on in the head of a D-League GM, watch a D-League coach discuss his week and even give the President of the D-League suggestions (like the current pick-your-poison playoff format) by commenting on his blog. It's simply amazing the level of access the D-League gives to those of us who follow the world's top minor league.
Reed, who oversees all of the NBA Development League's basketball and business operations, has had a direct influence on the recent success of the D-League. He's brought live streaming webcasts of all the games to D-League.com. He's made the D-League Showcase a must-attend event for the NBA decision-maker's. Reed even masterminded the D-League All-Star game, which featured a great showcase of the D-League's talent as well as the best dunk contest available on the internet since Vince Carter's win in 2000.
Reed has directly influenced the interest from the NBA in the D-League as well. This growing surge of interest in the league as call-ups and assignments has reached amazing numbers, as D-League alums now account for roughly 20% of all NBA players. In fact, this preseason, one in four of the player's in NBA training camp's had previously played in the D-League. That's simply mind-boggling - seriously.
The sky seems to be the limit for the D-League's potential, and Reed has been a integral part to giving the D-League this Ridiculous Upside.
Ridiculous Scott: In regards to the semi-rarity of 10-day contracts (of the roughly 220 players that have played in the D-League this season, 20 have received 10-day's) it seems that for the average player, it almost makes sense to go overseas rather than battle the odds on the D-League salary. What are the best solutions to this?
D-League President Dan Reed: Well, if you go overseas you basically eliminate your chances of playing in the NBA that season, so if your goal is to make the NBA your odds are much better playing with us. I asked our folks to run these numbers for me, a - of the 107 players who have been called up to the NBA in a given season, 61% of them (65 players) received a guaranteed contract that season. I actually think these numbers are pretty compelling reasons to play in the NBA D-League, when you consider that: a) even one NBA 10-day contract is worth as much or more than a player can make in a month overseas, b) if you get one 10-day it's highly likely you will double your money with at least one additional 10-day, and c) if you do get a 10-day there's a 60% chance you'll be with that team for the rest of the season, and d) you have a zero percent chance of being "called up" to the NBA if you play overseas.
I would also submit that it's not all about the cut and dry "10-day to guaranteed contract" process, and that sometimes players find success outside of the standard route. Look at a guy like Dahntay Jones. He played in our league last year with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants and didn't even get a 10-day, much less a contract for the rest of the season. Yet he caught a lot of NBA team's attention through his play for the Mad Ants, which led the Denver Nuggets to target him for their summer league team, which he parlayed into a starting role on the Nuggets, who are currently leading their division. Think he's upset he didn't have a 10-day or get signed for the remainder of the season? Probably not. This sort of "delayed call-up" happens quite often. Jeremy Richardson got a number of 10-day bites, and now has been with the Orlando Magic for the entire '08-09 season. Blake Ahearn, Bobby Jones, and Trey Johnson are examples of guys that are going through that process right now. Stephen Graham, Jamario Moon, Anthony Roberson, and of course Mike Taylor are other examples of D-League alums in the NBA who never received a 10-day. There are a lot of ways to do this, but the common denominator among all of these examples is that the NBA D-League was instrumental to their success as an NBA player (and the compensation that goes along with that status).
That's why I think the best number to look at is the sheer number of NBA D-League alumni playing in the NBA, and by that metric, we clearly establish ourselves as the absolute best way to get to the NBA -- we've produced five times more NBA players than any other professional basketball league in the world. We're the most heavily scouted league in the world, and that is extremely valuable for our players. If you really want to look at odds, check out this stat: if you played in the NBA D-League last season you had a 1 in 4 chance of participating in an NBA team's training camp the following season. I'd say those odds are pretty good. And even if after all that the NBA simply doesn't work out for player, showing well in the NBA D-League allows you maximize your earning potential no matter where you decide to play.
RS: The D-League has to be the most accessible league in the world with your blog, Futurecast, Jeff Potter's blog, Scott Roth's podcast, Garrett Martz' blog, and Rod Benson's everything, among others. Is this something you encourage more in the league to do? How much do you think this new media has helped the D-League?
It is actually a goal of ours to be the most accessible league in the world, so that's nice of you to say. We are very supportive of our players, coaches, GMs, and front-office members participating in "new media" and communicating directly with our fans - whether it's blogging, podcasting, tweeting, participating in Facebook, or just embracing the basketball blogosphere in general. I wanted to help set the tone with my blog, although Rod is so prolific he puts us all to shame.
Jumping headfirst into new media was not only a very deliberate strategy for us to grow our business, but is another way we perform our R&D function for the NBA. For example, before we launched NBA Futurecast last year, there was no way for fans to watch an NBA D-League game without literally going to an arena. Now fans can log on and watch any game for free, and follow their favorite team or check out a top NBA prospect. While this has certainly been a boon for the awareness of the NBA D-League, it's also aided the NBA's new media efforts.
Since we launched NBA Futurecast the NBA has also moved to stream games online through League Pass Online, and the WNBA is now exploring how they can utilize the same underlying NBA Futurecast technology for their games this summer. We look forward to capturing their learnings (along with our own) so we can improve the NBA Futurecast viewing experience for next year, and push into the new media space even further.
RS: With the hybrid option seemingly becoming official for next season, what do you see as the benefits for the NBA teams? I love it, but without gaining the exclusive rights of the team, wouldn't it seem easier to just buy a team rather than renting it?
DR: The NBA teams that have expressed interest in controlling the basketball operations of their NBA D-League affiliate usually cite three major benefits. One, it allows you to completely control the environment for a top prospect you would like to develop in your system. The Spurs did this for Ian Mahinmi, who would have been Tim Duncan's backup this season had he not been injured. Another example is the Oklahoma City Thunder, who were very happy with the ability to nurtureShaun Livingston into their system via the Tulsa 66ers. Two, it provides for a great opportunity to develop an up-and-coming coach or trainer into their system. Three, it offers scouting benefits, as your own hand-picked coaches are scouting and competing against every prospect in the NBA D-League.
There are also a lot of other ideas and benefits that I've heard from NBA GMs - for example, at least one team is interested in experimenting with different styles of play using their affiliate (for example, would employing a fast paced trapping and pressing defense for an entire game work in the context of NBA rules? By the way, I think Colorado is demonstrating this could in fact work.) The benefit of the "hybrid" concept is that some NBA teams are solely interested in controlling the basketball operations and would prefer to leave the business side of the D-League team to a local owner/operator (which is a model very prevalent in minor league baseball and hockey for example), while others are interested in managing both sides. The hybrid concept provides additional flexibility.
RS: It seems to me that if each NBA team had their own D-League affiliate, and was able to call up, send down, and rehab players on their D-League teams, much like the farm system of Major League Baseball, that the NBA and the NBADL would both benefit tremendously. Are the leagues making any attempt toward moving in that direction?
DR: We took a major step towards that sort of system when we created the affiliation and assignment system back in 2005. Since then we've doubled the number of teams in the league, have seen 104 NBA players "sent down" and recalled to/from their NBA team, and have had 59 additional players called-up to the NBA. As a result we now have close to 80 former NBA D-League players on NBA rosters right now, which is getting close to 20% of the entire league!
We think the system we have today works quite well, and we've received very positive feedback from NBA teams. Due to all of this success, NBA coaches, GM's and players have indeed expressed interest in making the system even more robust, and we're optimistic that we'll see continued enhancements going forward. Any changes along the lines you suggest must be collectively bargained with the NBA Players Association, which is still a couple of years away. But I think we've come a very long way in a very short time.
RS: Since the D-League Showcase in Orem, Anthony Tolliver, Chris Alexander,Coby Karl, Andre Brown, Carl Elliott and Smush Parker have went overseas, though most still more than likely had a shot at a 10-day contract with the NBA. How can the D-League change this, as I'd assume salary wasn't the problem with some of these players coming off of NBA contracts?
DR: Actually, we've seen many more players this year choose to sign and stay with in the NBA D-League, versus playing elsewhere. There are two pieces of evidence here. One, we've experienced a 50% reduction in the number of players that leave the NBA D-League in-season to play overseas. Two, there are dramatically more top NBA prospects now choosing to join the D-League versus those leaving the league. For example, in the same period since the Showcase we added Pops Mensah-Bonsu, Shaun Livingston, Quincy Douby, Mouhamed Sene, DeMarcus Nelson, Herbert Hill, Romel Beck, Mickael Gelabale, Jawad Williams, Kasib Powell, Demetrius Nichols, Kevin Burleson, John Lucas, Richie Frahm, DerMarr Johnson, JamesOn Curry, Earl Barron, Justin Reed, Dwayne Jones, Billy Thomas, Steven Hill, and Jared Jordan, to name a few.
This is due to a variety of factors - the biggest being an increasing recognition of our strong track record producing NBA players, some strategic changes we made to increase player exposure to NBA teams and reward longevity in the league, and the tough economy.
RS: I think congratulations are in order for bringing the D-League to the East coast with the Portland Maine and Springfield Massachusetts franchises. Was expansion back to the East coast your plan, or was it more of just finding a solid ownership group in the right area?
DR: Both. We've long targeted having teams in the Northeast, but for a while it didn't make sense geographically and we didn't find that perfect combination of a great arena, strong ownership and a good market. Our teams in Fort Wayne and Erie took care of the first issue, and we were fortunate to hit a home run in all three of the areas I mention above with our two teams in Maine and Springfield.
Both teams have incredibly strong ownership groups -- the Chairman of TD Banknorth and a successful racetrack operator in Maine, and a very successful owner of four minor league baseball teams and a great group of local business people in Springfield. They struck excellent partnerships with their respective arenas and the markets are responding well to both teams. We're thrilled to now be open for business on the East Coast.
RS: What are your thoughts on the location of D-League affiliates in relation to the big league teams. Like (just an example), it'd seem to be best for Portland to have an affiliate really close (like Eugene) in order to have easy call-ups/send-downs and to cut operational costs for travel and such, but it might be best for the D-League to have a team in Seattle or Vancouver. How does the D-League seek to balance that, along with the interests of the NBA team and the interests of the Development League as a whole?
DR: There are so many factors that determine whether a market is attractive, and yes the geographic location relative to a potential NBA affiliate partner is one of them. But we also look closely at market size, competition, income levels, size of corporate base, basketball fan avidity (Scott's Note: Love this word), and many others. Of course it's ideal to be able to check off all of the boxes.
RS: Going into next season, there are currently 17 teams in the mix and with Frisco seemingly no longer being an option, how will that affect the scheduling for next season?
DR: We'll take a look at division realignment and the schedule making process after the playoffs are over, as we do every season. I suspect that we may create a new eastern division with Maine and Springfield now in the mix, and that may shake things up a bit.
RS: Is there a chance the allocation system during the preseason could change? I was never really sure how this worked. It seems some of the larger market teams, such as LA are able to bring in much better talent via tryouts, as opposed to Dakota or Sioux Falls. This season LA had two players with D-League experience allocated to them via tryout (Rashid Byrd, Ryan Forehan-Kelly).
DR: It's funny, we raise the issue of the allocation system every year with our Competition Advisory Panel (a collection of NBA D-League coaches, basketball operations folks and team presidents that advise us on basketball-related issues), and every year the coaches tell us they like the system as it is. That includes the teams in the relatively small markets. Every time we try to tinker with it we always come back to the same system. So I think, at least in the short-term, it will stay as-is. These sorts of things tend to balance themselves out of course, as Sioux Falls and Dakota were fighting for a playoff spot this year while LA was mathematically eliminated from the playoffs some time ago.
RS: Explain to me the Othella Harrington situation. Being 34 years old and already playing 12 years in the NBA, he surely wasn't in the D-League to develop. What are the restrictions on who can come into the D-League? Is it anyone that could possibly be called-up or are there specific guidelines?
DR: In general, we look to sign talented players who are in the "development" stage of their careers, and whom NBA teams have expressed interest in evaluating further. This usually means we sign younger prospects (and we do have an 18 year old age minimum), however periodically there is an accomplished veteran who wants to continue playing for a shot to get into the NBA. As long as said player can still compete and a few NBA teams tell us they're interested in seeing him play, we'll usually offer him a slot.
We also think a player like this can play an important role as a mentor and advisor to our younger prospects -- for example, does Mike Taylor from the Idaho Stampede become the first NBA D-League player drafted to the NBA without learning from an 10-year NBA veteran like Randy Livingston every day in practice? Finally, players like Othella and Randy are sometimes interested in participating in the D-League in order to start a transition into coaching, and as you know another objective of ours is to help develop coaches for the NBA. Randy is an example of a guy who has managed this transition quite successfully.
RS: What did you think of the Sioux Falls at Dakota game you attended in Bismarck last week?
DR: It was honestly one of the more exciting basketball games I've ever attended. The game represented everything you'd ever want in a live sporting event -- an already intense Dakota-Sioux Falls rivalry, huge playoff implications, stars like Kasib Powell playing big in a big game, Mo Baker and Renaldo Majorcoming up with huge plays at crunch time for the home team, and a crowd that literally didn't sit down for the last 7 minutes of the game. Usually at a game like that I have a strong rooting interest, so it was a little surreal to have to stay composed amidst all of the madness.