Apologies from breaking into our NBA Draft coverage, but yesterday's news from various places that the New Jersey Nets are considering purchasing a D-League team, namely the Springfield Armor, is fairly big. Al Iannazzone mentioned it simply in passing at the end of this article, but it's fairly big nonetheless.
Jokes about how the 12-70 Nets and 7-43 Armor are made for each other aside, this move makes some sense. The Armor were (was?) affiliated with the Nets last season, and while New Jersey hasn't exactly called-up D-Leaguers left and right, they have brought several players to training camp for the past few years who then went on to play in the D-League - Bennet Davis and Brian Hamilton among them.
The Nets' new owner, Mikhail Prokhorov, also seems like a smart businessman who is open to new ideas and has indicated an interest in completely re-thinking how the Nets operate as a team. Add those factors to the recent success that the Houston Rockets have had with their hybrid affiliation with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers as well as the ways in which the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder use their D-League teams to their advantage, and this proposal makes some sense.
It raises some questions for the Nets, the Armor and the D-League as a whole, however, which I'll address after the jump.
Will we see an influx of Russian-born players? Let's start off with this one. The answer is...uncertain. Prokhorov is expected to bring fellow Russian executives into the Nets front office, and as NetsDaily has written, one of his stated goals is to use "best practices" from the NBA to improve Russian basketball up and down the line. That could include trying to increase the number of Russian players attending NBA training camp. Does that mean he'll stock the Armor roster with Russian players? It's possible that he'll try, I suppose, but it won't be that easy.
There are a a few ways that D-League players end up on a roster: through local tryouts, the D-League draft, and through the D-League player pool are a few of them. Any international player may attend a tryout, either a local one or the national one in D.C., but as far as I'm aware local tryouts can't be held outside of the U.S. This probably has never come up before, so there might not be a rule about it at all, but I doubt it. Even if Prokhorov managed to persuade the league that Russia is "local" to the Armor, as some have joked/claimed could happen, Springfield wouldn't necessarily have a sole competitive advantage; instead, the Maine Red Claws likely could claim a "local" tryout for Canada, and the Rio Grande Valley Vipers could do the same for Mexico.
If Russian players enter the D-League draft or free agent pool, then of course they can be claimed or picked by any D-League team, not just Springfield. If Prokhorov's goal is to improve Russian basketball by exposing players to the U.S. system, I can't imagine he'd be unhappy with this scenario. And if the players are good enough to be drafted or signed by any team, the fans shouldn't have a problem with it, either.
What about executives? As with pretty much everything in this post, this is pretty speculative, but it's possible that Prokhorov and the Nets could use the Springfield Armor as a training ground for Russian basketball executives. And you know what? That's fine. In fact, D-League affiliates ideally shouldn't be just about the players, but about every level of basketball operations. If a team wants someone to get more scouting experience by having him or her spend time scouting D-League players, so much the better. The same goes for those on a general manager-track. Gersson Rosas in Rio Grande Valley, Brandon Barnett in Tulsa and Dell Demps in Austin all seem to be benefiting from their teams' NBA affiliation.
So what would happen to the current Armor staff? Again, unknown, but this would be true of any NBA team looking at buying/hybrid-affiliating (there has to be a better way to say that) with a D-League team. I wouldn't be surprised to see a new coach, though. Houston and RGV fired coach Clay Moser after their affiliation was cemented, while Tulsa got a new coach in Paul Woolpert after OKC Thunder owner Clay Bennett purchased the 66ers. (Scott's note: After Dee Brown's 7-43 season, this probably wouldn't surprise anyone either way).
What does this do to the D-League's affiliation system? Ah, this is the question I'm most interested in. Having the Armor as the sole affiliate of the New Jersey Nets means that both the Philadelphia 76ers and New York Knicks are without a D-League affiliate. Unfortunately for them, there's only one other team in the northeast (the Maine Red Claws) and they are already affiliated with two NBA teams. There's another if you add in the Erie BayHawks, but they also have two NBA affiliates - and seem to be tied quite closely to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Realignment is going to happen anyway; there's a new team starting up in Frisco, Texas, co-owned by Mavericks executive Donnie Nelson, so one would expect Dallas to leave their affiliation with the
Albuquerque New Mexico Thunderbirds. That would leave the Thunderbirds with just the New Orleans Hornets, who I don't believe are expected to directly affiliate anytime soon (then again, they're expected to have a new owner as well, so who knows?). I'm also not sure at this point whether Frisco will be solely affiliated with the Mavericks, or whether another NBA team would join in ot's seeming to be the latter. If so, then it could be a simple case of divvying up the 76ers and Knicks between Albuquerque and (sigh) the Texas Legends. They'd be farther away, but that shouldn't be a big deal, and it's not like either team uses the D-League much anyway.
However, I do think it would be smart of the D-League to perhaps move one team east and create a new team, or just create two new teams. That might be too much expansion all at once, but the geographics are starting to demand it.
NBA Commissioner David Stern has expressed interest in the past in putting a D-League team in Harlem, which I assume would be affiliated at least with the Knicks (rumor has it they're interested once the economy improves). I also wouldn't be surprised to see the Celtics and Red Claws affiliate hybrid-ly (that's no better) sometime in the future, which would mean the Charlotte Bobcats (Maine's other current NBA affiliate) would be out of luck.
Adding a team in the southeast would also help since the the Atlanta Hawks current affiliate is the Utah Flash and the Washington Wizards are with the Dakota Wizards. Yes, I know I said long distances between affiliates aren't a big deal, but a closer proximity certainly couldn't hurt. Depending on where the team was located, the New Orleans Hornets would be another affiliate option.
This is mostly just me thinking out loud, of course, but I think it's useful to keep in mind given that the D-League will have to do some shuffling around this offseason anyway. An increase in direct affiliations also seems to be what lies ahead for the league, so some longer-range planning is needed. In short, though, adding yet another direct affiliation - either through the Nets buying the Armor or just implementing a hybrid affiliation - could be what initiates other structural moves around the league, both through it's logistical implications and possibly in sparking other NBA teams in the east to follow the Nets' lead.