It’s time for another roundtable about our beloved NBA Development League. I went a different route this time by getting a wider range of perspectives from a trio of people within the D-League, a scouting guru and an NBA expert.
Let’s meet our panel!
Kevin Danna (@kevo408) Kevin is a broadcaster for the Santa Cruz Warriors and he is the only broadcaster that travels on the road with his team. When you listen to a Warriors’ game, you better expect to hear about Gucci, corner 3s and all sorts of NBADL nuggets. He knows his team inside and out but also has a great feel for the league as a whole.
Nevada Smith (@nvsmith) Nevada is the former head coach of the Rio Grande Valley Vipers (Houston Rockets’ affiliate). In two seasons with the club, Smith led them to a record of 57-43 and reached the second round of the playoffs in 2013-14. Smith’s offensive philosophy is innovative to say the least, and he has changed the landscape of the D-League and NBA.
Scott Schroeder (@ScottSchroeder) Scott is an assistant coach and director of basketball operations with the Reno Bighorns. He’s been involved with the NBA D-League in some capacity for many years. Needless to say, he knows the ins and outs pretty damn well.
Ed Isaacson (@nbadraftblog) Ed is an NBA draft analyst and scout who founded NBA DraftBlog. Ed doesn’t follow the status quo, so if you’re gushing over a player’s potential, he’s the guy to bring you back to Earth with facts and his expert analysis.
Adi Joseph (@AdiJoseph) Adi is the NBA editor for Sporting News and is super active on all issues related to college basketball and the NBA. While he doesn’t cover the D-League directly, he provides a unique perspective from an NBA point-of-view.
1. With the addition of the Raptors 905, the D-League now has an all-time high 19 teams. Charlotte, Atlanta and Brooklyn have all been reported as looking to add a D-League affiliate very soon as well. How long do you think it will be until we have 30 D-League teams?
Danna (@kevo408): I remember you and Adam Johnson (@AdamJNBA) saying that 2022 was the year that there’d be 30 teams, or at least that’s what I think I remember you saying. I tend to agree with that based on current growth, but I could see it being much quicker if, say, all those teams get a D-League team next year. Then that really puts the other 9 teams in a bit of a development hole, if that’s something those send-em-to-Fort-Wayne teams really care about. I’ve also heard that Chicago wants a D-League team, but I don’t know how soon that’ll be.
Smith (@nvsmith): I think it will still be a couple years. Have to make sure the teams have a solid infrastructure first. Maybe 30 in 5-8 years or so.
Schroeder (@ScottSchroeder): I’m hoping sooner rather than later, but the league has handled expansion very well thus far and there’s no reason to speed it up solely for the purpose of having 30 teams. I’m sure the next Collective Bargaining Agreement will change some things as far as the D-League is concerned in regards to salary and such so that players are more inclined to stay stateside — meaning expansion will also be more palatable as there won’t be a drop in talent as teams are added.
Isaacson (@nbadraftblog): I think we’re still looking at 5-7 years minimum before we see a 1:1 NBA/affiliate ratio. Just being able to find the right markets to add teams, have the right personnel in place to make it worth it, and getting some of the last remaining teams to buy in to the concept will take time. Toronto was smart by taking what was in effect a Canadian League team and turned it into a D-League team, so they were able to bypass a lot of the challenges that will face some other teams.
Joseph (@AdiJoseph): Every team should have one. The delay is not a good look for the D-League or for the NBA. Money is an issue, of course, and the NBA saying several teams are losing money shouldn’t be ignored when it comes to expanding operations. But the benefits are too real to be ignored. This isn’t about giving pro basketball to communities without it — that’s an ancillary benefit. NBA teams need to use this minor league system in a way that benefits their top-level clubs. Experimenting with playing style, finding new talents and giving rookies more playing time are essential.
2. The Raptors 905 are the new darlings of the D-League and are affiliated with the Toronto Raptors. What do you think of the team name? Do you see any potential issues with the team being located in Canada?
Danna (@kevo408): At first, I hated it. I was like, “but where’s the name of the city?” Two weeks or so later, I’m diggin’ it pretty hardcore. “Raptors 905” sounds like a European club soccer team, which I can definitely vibe with. Don’t get me wrong, I like “Santa Cruz Warriors” better than “Warriors 831,” but Raptors 905 does kinda roll off the tongue. Passports could certainly be an issue, but there aren’t too many times in the NBA that a dude can’t play in Toronto because of passport issues. I’m sure the D-League will have some passport thing in place. I’m also not thinking very clearly right now and this question is too smart for me at the moment.
Smith (@nvsmith): I like the team name. Shows pride in where they are from. I think the passport and international flights could be a challenge from a cost stand point. Also, if guys have any criminal backgrounds getting into the country could be an issue.
Schroeder (@ScottSchroeder): I’m not so concerned with team names. I’ve been a part of Minot Skyrockets, Dakota Wizards, Sioux Falls Skyforce, Reno Bighorns and the Rayos de Hermosillo thus far in my basketball career and I don’t think our fan support would’ve been any different had we been called something different. As long as the locals have a connection (and since I often hashtag my tweets #701 in honor of North Dakota, I would assume they do), I think it’ll all be good.
As far as potential issues, the main issue is passports to get into Canada — but I believe that’s been solved by requiring every player to have a passport this year. There’s also the issue of Canada being a little stricter in allowing people with past indiscretions across the border, but the D-League has done a great job of making sure there are high-character players in the league over the past few seasons that that hopefully shouldn’t cause too many major problems. There’s also the cost due to international travel, but I’m not sure it’ll be more difficult getting there compared to some of the smaller D-League markets.
Isaacson (@nbadraftblog): While I think the name is a bit silly, it’s no different than the Oklahoma City Blue or the Delaware 87ers, and I can understand wanting to take the existing brand and extending it from a business point of view. I don’t see any major issues with the team being in Canada, especially since the D-League contracts are with the league in the United States, so you don’t have a lot of the tax issues you’d see if you played with the Raptors, but I’m sure there will be players who would rather be in the United States.
Joseph (@AdiJoseph): Canada’s great. Canadians are great. They have even more doughnuts than we do, and they put syrup or gravy on everything, and they have the best accents in the world. Let’s do it. (But that whole passport issue absolutely is going to come up at some point.)
3. The D-League has long been a “testing ground” for the NBA regarding new rules. This past season, the league implemented the Coach’s Challenge. Do you think it’s something the NBA could adopt in the coming years?
Danna (@kevo408): Yeah, sure, why not? It gives coaches one less reason to gripe about officiating. Let’s stick with 1 per game and a 2nd if you get the 1st one right, no need to go all NFL and give coaches 2 challenges with the potential for a 3rd.
Smith (@nvsmith): I liked it to a point. I think it added a ton of extra time to the game. I would have it so the coaches could only challenge fouls in the last two minutes.
Schroeder (@ScottSchroeder): The NBA will probably adopt a version of it in the future because it’s a very useful feature, but it’ll likely be different than used in the D-League. There were occasions in the D-League where the right camera angles weren’t available and it made it frustrating to challenge because you couldn’t be sure that what you saw live would be available for the officials to review. That obviously won’t be a problem in the NBA, however there is the concern that it could slow down the game.
Isaacson (@nbadraftblog): I like the idea of the Coach’s Challenge, as long as the refs keep the reviews timely. I’ve seen how reviews can go horribly wrong at the college level, and it can really take the teams and crowd out of the game if they go on too long. If it proves to be successful over another season in the D-League, I think some form of it should make it’s way to the NBA shortly after it. Maybe if some sort of time limit is there for the review, it may even get a bigger backing, which I think will help the game. It’s about making sure the calls are right.
Joseph (@AdiJoseph): I’m of the opinion that the replay system still has a lot of holes in it. The replay center was a big step, but they still need to speed up the way it’s executed. Until then, adding a coach’s challenge seems like a way to further slow down the ends of playoff games.
4. What change(s) would you like to see in the D-League over the next couple years, whether it’s to do with the rules, the relationship with the NBA or salaries?
Danna (@kevo408): Not sure how much I can comment here as an employee of a team in the league. Sorry, but I’ma have to sit this one out. You can quote this or not, I don’t really care either way (you can even quote the parenthetical phrase, and the phrase after that, and that … Inception).
Smith (@nvsmith): I think the salaries to attract and keep better players would be great for the league. Ideally if it gets to 30 each team could treat it like minor league baseball. I think that would be great.
Schroeder (@ScottSchroeder): I trust Mr. Turner, Chris Alpert and his staff to make the right moves going forward. There are some obscure behind the scenes rules I wouldn’t mind see changed in regards to player acquisition and higher salaries or two-way contracts will obviously be great when it makes sense for everyone involved. I believe the relationship with the NBA the D-League has is the best it’s ever been, but getting NBA teams to buy-in more to scouting the league from Game 1 to the D-League Finals is one thing that I’d like to see individual franchises focus more on – sometimes it seems too much focus is put on the D-League Showcase and not enough on the random Tuesday night game that shows which players have the moxie to put in work night in and night out instead of just when the lights are brightest.
Isaacson (@nbadraftblog): I’d love to the salaries increase, but I can see what the NBA isn’t in a real hurry to do it. I know players can make more overseas, but the incentive of a quicker road into the NBA will keep plenty of talent over here willing to play. The league has come a long way in promoting the D-League to a larger audience, but I think more can be done, especially since each year we will see more and more first-round picks likely to spend more time there. Plus there are a lot of great personalities working in the D-League as coaches or front office, and I think the league could do more to promote these people to a bigger audience.
Joseph (@AdiJoseph): I want the draft to expand to three rounds, with guaranteed D-League contracts at minimum to all players selected. The execution would be tricky, and agents might fight against it. But I think it would give a developmental incentive to teams and create a more valuable investment in the player-team relationship. This is only possible when there are 30 D-League teams, though.
5. Last year, Hassan Whiteside exploded onto the NBA scene after spending a few weeks in the D-League with the Iowa Energy (and briefly with Sioux Falls). Who is your breakout player to watch going into the 2015-16 season?
Danna (@kevo408): I think Glen Rice Jr. and DJ Kennedy are two guys to watch out for. They both have limited NBA experience like Hassan prior to this year and have been super impressive in Summer League (and, like Hassan, have rolled through RGV). I know it’s just Summer League, but Kennedy is a ballplayer. To go all Ernie Kent on you, he plays the game of basketball at a high level and he knows how to play the game of basketball. And Glen Rice Jr. can score like nobody’s business, and he’s athletic and can rebound well for his size. I know there are some concerns about coachability with GRJ, but I think he’s a good dude and can be effective if given a shot. Also, Bryce Cotton should be in the NBA all year next year, playing at least 10-12 minutes per game. And lastly, I think Seth Curry has done enough in Vegas to warrant a spot on somebody’s bench to start the season at least and see if he can get his contract guaranteed for the rest of the season come January.
Smith (@nvsmith): Hard to say who will be in the league but a personal favorite is Jaron Johnson who played at RGV. The more he plays the better he is getting.
Schroeder (@ScottSchroeder): That’s a tough question, not knowing who might return to the D-League. As far as last year’s D-League players that are on NBA rosters but not on the radar yet, I’ve been very impressed with both Bryce Cotton and Jack Cooley throughout Summer League (both Utah and Vegas), David Wear and David Stockton from Reno, Jabari Brown obviously burst on the scene last year and should be able to have a large role with the Lakers this year and two other players we had in Reno last year – Jordan Hamilton with the Clippers and Quincy Miller with the Nets – are both talented enough to make big impacts in the NBA if given the opportunity.
Isaacson (@nbadraftblog): I think the Whiteside instance was more exception than some we should expect regularly, but I think there are a few guys who can make some impact the NBA level next year if the opportunity is there. Of course, we don’t know fully who will be in the D-League yet, even with some idea, so these are guys who spent most, if not all, of last year in the D-League. A lot of it is about opportunity being available at the NBA level, but if playing time opens up in Portland, I think Tim Frazier will turn a lot of heads. The other guy I would watch out for is Jonathan Simmons, who signed with the Spurs. He’s come a long way in the last two D-League seasons, and really earned his contract, just not sure the playing time will be there. If it is, he’s a guy who will fit well with the Spurs’ system.
Joseph (@AdiJoseph): You’ve got five people on this panel, so I’m going to assume that Willie Reed, Khem Birch and Seth Curry have been mentioned. So I’m going to go a little offbeat and pick James Michael McAdoo. He had a lot of talent but fizzled at North Carolina. Now he’s on the Warriors, and they really need some help at power forward. I could see him rising to the occasion and becoming a key contributor for a title contender — if he puts the requisite effort in.