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The D-League Argument: Should NBA Vets Be Allowed to Play Alongside Prospects?

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Should older NBA veterans like Walker be waving good-bye to the game of basketball instead of playing in the D-League?
Should older NBA veterans like Walker be waving good-bye to the game of basketball instead of playing in the D-League?

It goes without saying how much the D-League is truly a league of opportunities.

Gunning for those coveted final spots on an NBA roster, players often use the league to showcase their skills in hopes an NBA executive takes notice, and in addition, likes what they see.

There have been an array of success stories out of the D-League over the years, as players continue working hard to realize their NBA dream. Most recently, Jeremy Lin, Danny Green, and Steve Novak were among the better players to not only break into The Association, but also sign multi-year contracts with respective NBA teams this summer.

Many of these said stories come from players craving a first taste of NBA action, but with their success has come intrigue from a growing list of NBA veterans who are now looking for a shot at redemption.

In a league focused on development, the question quickly becomes, should veterans be able to compete and play alongside some of the lesser known prospects in the D-League? Take the jump as we examine this further.

As the likes of Lin, Green, and Novak become household names in the NBA, veterans who have otherwise faded away in recent years have picked up on the opportunities available in the D-League. Should players (some with as much experience as a decade in the NBA) be allowed to throw their names in the hat once more?

Whereas some of these veterans ponder another shot, a bevy of D-League prospects continue to pine for nothing more than a 10 day contract or two. Is this a fair scenario?

The NBA vets who enter the D-League obviously bring their notoriety (both to the advantage of the league and obviously themselves) along with them. There's so much curiosity amongst league executives and basketball fans alike as to how much (if anything) these returning players have left in the tank. The D-League clearly gives them the platform to prove they've still got what it takes to compete.

There's certainly some added excitement in the possibilities, and the potential for a feel-good story or two is undoubtedly there. But the downside to allowing the veterans to hit the hardwood once more is that it can potentially take away from what has made the D-League so great.

How many fans knew who Jeremy Lin was over just over a year ago? Fast-forward to 2012, and just one measly game (a remarkable performance in which the Harvard graduate exploded for a triple-double, with 28 points, 12 assists, and 11 rebounds during a BayHawks victory on January 20th), gave the Knicks enough evidence to warrant giving him a shot.

From there, "Linsanity" began and a national phenomenon was born.

But these great stories may become too few and far in-between, should more notable past NBA veterans continue to use the D-League as their own lifeline. With experience on their side, NBA teams may tend to favor that over anything else.

This past season, many veterans chose to don D-League uniforms as means of finding another opportunity. Mike James (Erie BayHawks) and Dan Gadzuric (Texas Legends) were among those to effectively use the league to springboard them into stints with the Bulls and Knicks, respectively.

James averaged 21.1 points and 4.6 assists (while shooting 46% from the field and 41% from deep) through seven contests with Erie. Gadzuric averaged 12 points, 11.3 rebounds, and shot 53% from the field through 12 games with Texas.

Perhaps the method used by James (37 years old) and Gadzuric (34 years old) should be the standard for other NBA vets attempting to use the D-League. Get in, show your skills, and then get out. If you aren't able to prove yourself, move aside for the young guns attempting to do the same thing.

Whereas both players' D-League stints were short-lived (for good reason, obviously), there are other NBA vets choosing to stick around and linger in the league instead. Two of the poster children for using the D-League to attempt to leapfrog back into the NBA, Antoine Walker (Idaho Stampede) and Antonio Daniels (Texas Legends), have each spent the last two seasons playing in the minors.

Neither player has seemed to dominate the competition. Walker has averaged 12.7 points, shooting only 41% from the field (and an even more disappointing 29% from deep), through 87 games---only 56 of which were starts. Daniels has only fared a bit better, averaging 13.8 and 8.6 assists (while shooting 44% from the field) in 62 games.

Of course, it may prove valuable to have them around the younger players on the team to help pass on their knowledge. But that's why players go into coaching. With neither exactly on the cusp of making it back to the NBA, perhaps it's time to walk away.

And this is why the D-League may be smart to consider a one-year limit on most NBA veterans attempting to get back into the NBA. There are certainly benefits to allowing the veterans to use the D-League, as a select few have proven. But at what cost does it come? Publicity and feel-good stories are nice, but it's important not to allow them to overshadow the development of young prospects if the D-League truly aspires to become more like an official minor league system of the NBA.