NBA teams around the league are cutting their roster sizes down to 15 players. As the preseason wraps up, players will soon find out if their NBA dream will continue, while others will be forced to hit the drawing board once again.
NBA training camp invites were handed out to players with varied backgrounds. Players with D-League experience in particular have become a staple when it comes to NBA teams generating their roster lists entering camp.
When a player makes their name in the D-League or becomes synonymous with the league in some sort of fashion (successful rehab stint or assignment), that player is seen as an example for others to keep the hope alive when pursuing their NBA dream. Some have made it to the next level, while others were there to start their career but tripped up at some point along way, needing the D-League to help get them back. Regardless, when news comes out that one of these type of players are released or cut, it draws a more emotional response and connection to those who have been in their shoes before.
For many of these players, failure has been experienced at some point in their career. It is inevitable. Being cut or released could be looked upon as an opportunity to start anew elsewhere . It is likely that any player who has spent time in the D-League has incorporated this sort of mentality when it comes to tryouts for NBA teams. For the five notable D-League alumni who were released Monday, their NBA dream surely has not died, just taken another detour.
Starting out in Indiana, two of the most notable names ever to of been associated with the D-League outside of Jeremy Lin were let go. Blake Ahearn and Sundiata Gaines were sent packing and now will look for another route back to an NBA team in some fashion. Ahearn is the D-League's all-time leading scorer and became a fixture in the league over the past few seasons. Gaines transformed a 10-day contract with the Utah Jazz into a string of roles with a couple other NBA teams after his buzzer beater three-pointer in 2010 put him on the map as a D-League success story.
In Detroit, a pair of former D-Leaguers were also released Monday. However, Jonny Flynn and Terrence Williams have a different association with the D-League. Both established "firsts", Flynn was regarded as the first high profile player assigned to a rehab stint. Williams was the first player assigned for what some thought was a disciplinary reason. At the time head coach Avery Johnson, sent Williams down to the Springfield Armor where he excelled during his "wake up call". Williams averaged 28.0 points, 11.3 points and 10.7 assists over his 3-games with the team.
Over in Oklahoma, Walker Russell was waived from the Thunder in their first effort to finalize a 15-man roster. Russell developed his game in the D-League over a span of five seasons including 132 games. Russell has career averages of 15.1 points 8.3 assists, 3.4 rebounds and 1.8 steals in the D-League. Last season, Russell was the 17th Call-Up from the D-League, after turning in a noticeable performance during the D-League showcase where he scored 19 points and handed out 19 assists over the Bakersfield Jam. Russell would later stick with the club while becoming Detroit's first ever Call-Up. He would finish the year out as a member of the Pistons.
All five of these players have the experience and also the proven determination to fight their way back onto an NBA squad. For some of them it will be an easier path, for the others it will mean more time spent back in the gym, and perhaps even another stint in the D-League as they cling onto their NBA dream.