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How Much More Desirable Would Financial Security For Players Make the NBA D-League?

As the NBA D-League continues its journey to becoming a more traditional minor league system, could expanded NBA rosters and a specific model for higher salaries be two ways to help bridge the still existent gap?


This offseason proved two very specific things, among others, regarding the NBA D-League. One is that after spending their rookie season in the minors, more than a handful of players are anxious to move on sooner than later. The second thing, however, is that though some other notable players have been working towards something special in their own respective careers while in the NBADL, those same guys at some point feel the walls closing in and their time in the D-League running out.

Both mentalities translate to one thing: up and coming basketball prospects want out of the D-League sooner than not.

This makes plenty of sense, too. The purpose of the NBADL is to help such athletes mature, develop, and better prepare themselves for whatever comes next. The D-League in fact wants to see its players move on to greener pastures.

When attempting to explain the NBA's minor league system to baseball and/or hockey fans alike, most will look at you rather dumbfounded. From multiple NBA teams sharing D-League affiliates, to the big league teams not owning any "rights" to the more promising prospects, there's no denying there are plenty of factors that differentiate the NBADL from the other more traditional minor league systems in sports.

Even so, the D-League has made massive strides and has still come a long way from where it was once was. It is, in fact, steadily becoming a more traditional minor league system of the NBA. Progress continues to be made.

Still, perhaps the most glaring factor (re: what separates the D-League from the more common minor leagues in sports) is player pay.

While every player in every sport hopes to move on to the "major" league at some point, most in other sports besides basketball don't necessarily feel the same pressures. In baseball, for instance, though minor league salaries still aren't much to brag home about, there's a constant affiliation with an MLB club for players. Thus, there's a commitment from such big league teams to develop you to the best of their ability, because they themselves are paying you a salary (though a minor league one, nonetheless). It's in their best interest, too.

What's more, there's also a (small) bump up in salary for those minor leaguers who are considered closer than the rest to making it to the MLB. 

Such players placed on a team's 40 man roster earn more money in the interim.

The pressure is always on for NBA players to go where the money is. If an international team offers a prospect a lucrative contract, that's a tough opportunity to turn down. This is because the money simply isn't there in the D-League, and without even a (small) contractual commitment from NBA teams, it's difficult to gauge the interest of those who may be more inclined to sign you.

Thus, the D-League could have even more success stories like Jeremy Lin and Danny Green waiting in the wings, but ultimately never go on to find out because such players venture overseas instead.

While the NBADL doesn't fight, argue with, and/or even resent the international stints its alumni go on to earn, there's, nevertheless, still something to be said about those players who stick it out and come up straight from the D-League. It's nice to watch homegrown players achieve great things.

It may not be feasible for the D-League to offer all players higher salaries at this point, but perhaps adapting a certain aspect of baseball's model for calling players up is well worth considering. Though a 40 man roster would be a little much for NBA teams, perhaps calling for 18-20 man rosters in the similar sense to the way the MLB does it would still be beneficial.

Such a practice would not only force NBA teams to "commit" to a select few promising prospects, it would also give the more impressive young guns motivation, and a further reason to stay in the minors with something to strive for.

This would undoubtedly be one way to entice players to pursue things even more in the D-League without getting as tempted by overseas contracts. A little bit more money would buy players many things (among them, more time in the NBADL), and in turn, perhaps allow even more success stories from the league to truly manifest.