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How The NBA D-League Continues To Rise Up As The Land Of Opportunity

The NBA D-League is still in the expansion phase of its business model and while adaptations must be made to stay competitive, we should also realize that the league is successful in its main endeavor. Getting players exposure has been the goal since day one and that goal is being realized now more than ever.

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With the arrival of the Westchester Knicks, the D-League now has 18 teams, with 17 of those teams entered into one-to-one affiliations with NBA franchises.

Here are some interesting tidbits from the D-League Official Site:

  • 33 percent of players in the NBA have D-League experience
  • At the end of the 2013-14 season, there were a record 149 D-League players on NBA rosters
  • 79 of those players got minutes in the 2013-14 NBA playoffs
  • 10 first round picks from the 2013 draft played in the D-League last year

The motto of the NBADL Official Site reads, "The Home of NBA Prospects" and the NBA call-ups and signings are, of course, the end game for these players. They are taking less money (the maximum salary is $25,000 in the NBADL) to hopefully be seen by an NBA scout or general manager who believes they can help the big club up in The Association. Even on a 10-day contract, a player stands to make anywhere from $40,000 - $50,000 -- so in just 10 days, such D-Leaguers would immediately double their annual salary. When you consider players having families and maybe not wanting to play overseas, that's an enticing carrot to hold in front of them.

In reality the motto on the official site should read, "The Home of Worldwide Prospects", because though the NBA is the ultimate goal, many players use the platform of the D-League to sign overseas as well. Ridiculous Upside has learned that a total of 58 players who played in the D-League last season signed deals to play overseas this past offseason. Sure, it's easy to recognize names like Myck Kabongo, Cameron Jones, and Devin Ebanks but even lesser known guys like E.J. Singler, Kellen Thornton, and Billy Baptist are getting deals as well.

The purpose of the D-League is to give players an opportunity for something greater. The league seems to be successfully fulfilling that goal. Here are some notable tidbits regarding players going overseas.

  • The Maine Red Claws and Bakersfield Jam led the way with seven players going overseas
  • The Central and West divisions both had 22 players get signed while the East had 14
  • 26 different leagues around the world have signed D-League players this offseason
  • The Italian Serie A had the most signings with 11 players

Keep in mind this is all "good" news for the D-League, though they have to consider how to keep some of this top talent in the future. The difficulty is pretty obvious -- the salary offerings are simply too low. Many of these guys are signing for at least $50,000 overseas and that's guaranteed. So, they could stay here and risk getting a max of $25,000 without an NBA call-up or get at least double that elsewhere -- for most it's a pretty easy choice.

In 2013-14 the NBADL salary cap was set at $173,000 per team (which was actually down from $178,000 in 2012-13). There are 10 players on each team, so the average salary is a mere $17,300. The NBADL and the NBA have to realize a way to maximize profits for the D-League so that salary caps can rise and along with that player salaries as well. Even, if they were able to make the salary cap for a D-League team $500,000 that immediately raises the average to $50,000 and entices many more players to stay stateside to compete instead of bolting overseas.

Another thing that could spark a D-League exodus would be an influx of young talent. Last season, we saw P.J. Hairston leave the University of North Carolina and play very well for the Texas Legends. If a player the caliber of an Emmanuel Mudiay were to play in the D-League that would provide so much exposure for the league that the benefits would be hard to quantify. More fans at games, more media covering those games and maybe even getting a televised game here and there on a network like NBATV. Instead, Mudiay took a salary of reportedly over $1 million to play for the Guangdong Southern Tigers in China and it was just announced September 17th that he has signed an endorsement deal with Under Armour as well (terms not disclosed).

What would compel someone like a Mudiay to stay and play in the D-League for less money in salary when he could go overseas and make an easy million? There really isn't much except for maybe familiarity with the American surroundings, increased media exposure and the fact that NBA scouts would see them play much more often if they were here in the U.S.

Next on the horizon of players who could change the face of the D-League -- Thon Maker. If those around Maker could somehow convince him that staying in America and playing in the D-League would increase his stock for the NBA Draft, then we could see astronomical changes for the D-League. Its a long shot to say the least, but with endorsement deals to supplement the lower salary its not entirely inconceivable.

Regardless, the D-League set out to provide opportunity for more prospects and they have certainly done that.

*Statistics from NBA.com/dleague and www.secretrival.blogspot.com