On Monday morning, the Utah Jazz announced that they’ve assigned guards Alec Burks, Dante Exum and Raul Neto to the Salt Lake City Stars, their D-League affiliate. As noted in their press release, the assignment allowed the trio to spend that afternoon to practice and scrimmage with the Stars.
Immediately following that practice, the trio was recalled back to the Jazz as each player is expected to be uniform for the team’s Tuesday night battle against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Despite some negative attention, this was a smart move for the Jazz as each member of that trio have been going through their own type of struggles during the NBA season. For example, Exum is currently trying to make his way back into the Jazz rotation after missing the majority of the past two weeks with tendinitis in his left knee.
It’s a similar tale for Alec Burks, who is just returning to basketball action after missing the first two months of the NBA season after going through arthroscopic surgery on his left ankle in early November. Last but possibly least, Neto has just spent the season struggling to find any kind of playing time with the Jazz this year.
While each member of that trio is expected to immediately return to the Jazz rotation, there’s one player that could be making a brief return to the D-League.
Within his piece on this move, Salt Lake Tribune’s Jazz reporter Tony Jones made a brief mention about how Alec Burks is expected to head back down to the Stars for their Wednesday night game against the Grand Rapids Drive. This stint is expected to last just one game, as the Jazz will need the veteran guard for their home back-to-back against the Pistons and Magic on Friday and Saturday night.
NBA teams sending their players for a brief rehab stint is actually becoming common in the D-League, as we’ve seen a handful of occurrences in recent years. Just last week, the Oklahoma City Thunder sent Cameron Payne down to the OKC Blue for a brief two game stint to help test out his surgically repaired right foot.
The most prominent example of a team using the D-League to help rehab a player was seen last with the Detroit Pistons and Brandon Jennings. To help ease Jennings back into the Pistons rotation after he ruptured his left achillies, the team sent him to the Grand Rapids Drive. In his lone game with the Drive, Jennings thrived by having an 11 point, 12 assist double-double in only 27 minutes.
As Burks looks to follow in the footsteps of Jennings & Payne, he’ll be put to the task of competing against arguably the best backcourt in the entire NBA D-League. When Burks puts on a Stars jersey to play against the Grand Rapids Drive on Wednesday night, he’ll be put to the task to compete against one of Ray McCallum, Jordan Crawford or Kevin Murphy.
While it isn’t quite the same as playing against Harden or Westbrook, matching up against any part of that trio would be Burks’ first real opportunity to go against high-quality competition since last season. If he proves that he can thrive against those solid players, that could ultimately give the Jazz confidence that Burks is ready to return to the team’s rotation as they look to make their run at a high playoff seed.
Utah’s decision to place Alec Burks in the D-League for a single games is a move that should play immediate dividends for all parties involved. For the Utah Jazz, this decision allows the squad to watch Burks to compete in extended minutes against quality competition for the first time since the 2015-16 season.
More importantly, this move should help create some much needed buzz around a Salt Lake City Stars team as its extremely rare to see someone of Burks’ notability to spend time in the D-League. If Burks and the Stars can thrive on Wednesday night, then there’s a strong possibility that we’ll be seeing a lot of new fans of the SLC Stars.