This season, NBA teams have already been utilizing the D-League by sending an array of promising prospects down to the minors for more meaningful playing time and further chances to develop their games.
As squads in The Association begin to embrace closer relationships with their NBADL affiliates, it's worth noting that these minor league teams are going to have individual stamps on certain players with regard to how they eventually flourish.
While such a stamp will most often be seen on younger players looking to prove their worth, NBA teams also have the option of trusting the affiliates with providing an assist in the rehab process of major contributors to the team. Playing in the NBADL could provide returning players a chance to get some burn on the D-League hardwood before getting thrust back into tougher competition.
Less than two months into the basketball season, the D-League is continuing to prove its value to the NBA, and they have a new poster child of sorts (watch out, Jeremy Lin). Still rehabbing from an October surgery, six-time NBA All-star Amar'e Stoudemire will start practicing with the Erie BayHawks, the Knicks' NBADL affiliate.
The BayHawks will be practicing at New York's training facility from Tuesday through Thursday, so with the Knicks not likely to go through many full practices during that stretch, spending time with the minor league squad will allow Stoudemire a chance to begin getting his groove back.
There's no doubt STAT is the highest profile player the NBADL has seen utilize the league, even if it's simply just for practice purposes. Erie head coach Gene Cross was present at Knicks' training camp, and has had multiple conversations with New York's front office and Coach Mike Woodson about the squad's overall mentality and how the BayHawks can aid its parent squad carry that out.
By practicing with the BayHawks, Stoudemire will have the chance to muscle up next to Georgetown big man Henry Sims. In addition to spending training camp with the Knicks this fall, Sims has been excelling in the minors, averaging 16.4 points and 8.6 rebounds on the season. His same rugged and physical nature that impressed New York is surely going to propel Sims to an NBA call-up at some point this season. This week, he'll have the invaluable experience of competing against an NBA all-star.
Stoudemire is set to run with the BayHawks on Tuesday, but could also get some burn with the team on Thursday during practice as well. The Knicks are also scheduled to practice that day, however, so perhaps it depends on just how close or far the forward appears to be to returning after a couple days' work.
Coach Woodson did say, however, that while Stoudemire is only set to practice with the affiliate squad, he would in no way hit the hardwood for the Knicks this weekend if he wasn't 100% ready to go. But is donning a BayHawks uniform at anywhere from 80-90% a possibility?
While nothing has been confirmed or merely suggested at this point, that would be an interesting route to go. If Stoudemire is slow in making his way back by the weekend, perhaps going through the motions and getting a feel for real game situations with the BayHawks would better prepare him for that point.
Of course, it all depends on his progress in the early goings of this week. That said, the fact that STAT is even donning a D-League practice jersey is a huge win for the NBADL. It just further proves that NBA teams recognize the huge benefit in utilizing such a squad to aid them in a number of ways. The Knicks' trust in the BayHawks' staff with their multi-time all-star is a perfect example.