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With New NBA D-League Affiliate, Brooklyn Nets Finally Focus On Player Development

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The Brooklyn Nets took a chance on aging superstars to fuel a championship run, but their gamble didn't pay off. They're now following Golden State and San Antonio in relying on player development for success.

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

When Mikhail Prokhorov became principal owner of the New Jersey Nets in 2010, the team underwent a massive transformation. The facelift began with a plan to move across the Hudson River to Brooklyn and culminated in opening night at the new Barclays Center in 2012 with Jay-Z and Beyonce in attendance. Prokhorov, the 3rd richest man in Russia, had paid for the Nets to become the trendiest team in the NBA.

After their first season in Brooklyn went sour with a first round playoff exit, the Nets looked externally for answers. The team traded three future draft picks, along with Gerald Wallace, and Kris Humphries to the Celtics in exchange for veterans Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Jason Terry. The blockbuster trade backfired. Pierce, Garnett, and Terry left Brooklyn with no championships to show for their time, and the Nets lost three chances to draft and develop talented young players.

Compounding Brooklyn's development issues since the trade is the lack of a D-League affiliate. Currently, the team uses the flexible assignment system to give players D-League experience. The system allows the Nets to assign players to the D-League but in a roundabout way. After a player is designated for assignment, the D-League identifies a team willing to accept the player. The player is then assigned to to that team. For the Nets, this has a few consequences. First of all, there is the potential for a player to travel from Brooklyn to Santa Cruz or Los Angeles then back again when they're needed in the NBA. If you look around the D-League, affiliates are typically local and travel is a big reason why. A second, bigger issue for the Nets is the fact that they can't ensure their players are developing together. The D-League isn't just a proving ground for individuals, but also for chemistry. Having a single affiliate allows teams to try out young player combinations in a low stakes environment.

In late 2015, Brooklyn announced plans to purchase their own D-League team that will debut during the 2016-2017 season. The Long Island Nets will play next season at the Barclays Center before transitioning to the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum for the 2017-2018 season.

While the merits of a short commute and player chemistry probably crossed the minds of Brooklyn brass, their decision to add a D-League team was likely based on what they're seeing work across the league. Long term success in the NBA happens with homegrown talent. The San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors are key examples. The Spurs are the dynasty that won't die, and that starts and ends with Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker. Similarly, in Golden State, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson have risen to stardom with just one team.

Even though those players didn't spend extended time in the D-League, their supporting cast did. Danny Green spent time with three D-League teams including the Reno Bighorns and Austin Toros before helping the Spurs, while the Warriors have made great use of their Santa Cruz affiliate for developing players like James Mcadoo and rehabbing Festus Ezeli. These are model franchises and Brooklyn is trending in the right direction by supporting their own player development with a D-League affiliate. Even though their stars may not play there, the deep bench that makes a championship team will.