The pieces are starting to fall into place for the Utah Jazz. After spending the past half-decade in basketball limbo, it looks like they are about to reap what they sowed. With all of the young talent on their roster, now is the perfect time for them to move their D-League affiliate, the Idaho Stampede, into their own back yard of Salt Lake City.
When the team announced the move in early April, Jazz General Manager Dennis Lindsey was very enthusiastic about the benefits that will be seen from relocation. After forming a single affiliation agreement for the 2014-2015 season, the Jazz became the eighth NBA team with complete control over their affiliate by purchasing the team outright in March of 2015. Although the move did uproot one of the more established teams in the D-League, it made sense for the Jazz.
"The relocation of our D-League team to Utah will further align our efforts in player development and basketball operations to support the Jazz," said Lindsey at the press conference announcing the move. "The close relationship will strengthen our team on the court by providing our younger players a chance to grow in an environment that is consistent with Jazz basketball. Additionally, it serves as a training ground for all aspects of our organization, from coaches to support personnel."
As of right now, the Jazz have eight players under contract with three years or less of experience. With so much youth on the roster, having a place that is minutes away from the team facilities where they can go play 30+ minutes, make mistakes, learn the playbook at full speed, and gain exponential amounts of confidence is invaluable at this stage of the game.
In addition to player development, the Jazz could also use the D-League to help rehab injuries, much like Major League Baseball does with the Minors. Since the Salt Lake City Stars are located in town, players like Dante Exum that are coming off of gigantic, career changing injuries can ease themselves back into the game in a controlled environment, as opposed to being thrown out of the frypan and into the fire at the NBA level.
The most interesting aspect of this move, to me, might have been one that went unnoticed. Lindsey made it clear that the Stars will not only be used for player development, but all aspects of the organization. No team has announced that they would use the D-League to start grooming coaches and front office members, but with the recent hirings of former D-League head coaches this should come as no surprise.
The Jazz have sort of made good on this, as they had former assistant General Manager Justin Zanik in charge of every aspect of basketball operations for the Stampede. He was set to fill the same role for the Stars, but has since become assistant General Manager of the Milwaukee Bucks and is expected to take over for John Hammond after he retires. Zanik could become the first of many future front office members to be groomed and gain experience from the D-League. If the league is truly on its way to being 30 teams with a one-to-one affiliation, this could and should become a trend.
In his third year with the team, head coach Dean Cooper might take on a larger role now that Zanik has left for Milwaukee. There is no person the Jazz could bring in that knows the makeup of this team or the league itself better than Cooper. They are wise to continue to trust Cooper, who coached the likes of Jack Cooley, Jeff Aryes, Ian Clarke, Tyus Jones, Phil Pressey, Tibor Pleiss, and the late Bryce Dejean-Jones while in Boise.
Things couldn't be more exciting for the D-League. Teams, like the Jazz, buying and investing in franchises for the long term is best for everyone involved. By providing a place for young players to grow and front office members to get acclimated to the business, teams are further ensuring that they will be getting a quality product and a high return on their investment.