An article about the Detroit Pistons’ plans to establish an NBA Development League team raised my eyebrows. I’ve harped on this issue before, but the fact that more than half the NBA’s teams now have a D-League affiliate brings the matter into sharp focus. While I can’t find confirmation, one assumes the Toronto Raptors will once again have some sort of relationship with the Bakersfield Jam.
It’s beyond me why Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment [MLSE], the Raps’ owner, is so slow off the mark. Cost is no inhibitor; the one-time franchise fee is mentioned as being around $6M, which is lunch money for MLSE. As for running the team, player salaries and travel combined are above the starvation level – barely. The Pistons’ people are happy with the idea of having a farm team close at hand, so they can call up a player at short notice. That sounds sensible to these ears. The Maple Leafs, also owned by MLSE, have their Marlies farm team about 20 minutes’ drive away from the Air Canada Centre. So the hockey people see the virtue of proximity, but not the basketball folks? Suppose we did establish a team in Buffalo, a ninety-minute jaunt from The Big Smoke. That could only help the growth of Raps’ fans in western New York, and that part of Ontario, couldn’t it?
Admittedly when I scan the list of D-League callups from this past season, it’s hardly inspiring. Kendall Marshall stepped into the role of starting point guard for the Lakers, which gives you an idea how desperate they were. Ex-Rap James Johnson got sent down, then was recalled by Memphis. He played well for the Grizzlies, but is in serious trouble after getting arrested for domestic violence. [20-second timeout: We knew there was an altercation between Johnson and coach Dwane Casey at practice, which led to Johnson's benching, then a rapid departure to Sacramento. Was Casey the object of Johnson's extreme anger?] Othyus Jeffers was the league’s MVP, and earned a callup, but he’s 28 so isn’t likely to tear up the NBA next season. Thanasis Antetokounmpo, the Bucks’ Giannis’ brother, played in the D-League this past season, and has declared for the draft. I don’t believe I’ve ever heard of that happening before, but it’s intriguing and might be a precedent.
A D-League squad is also a place to allow men in suits a chance to hone their craft. Do we like a young coach or trainer or nutritionist but have no place on the big team’s bench? Let him learn, and keep an eye on him, in a low-pressure environment.
I don’t believe a business should do anything simply because a competitor is doing it. You have to think for yourself. But this is a case where the entire league is moving in the same direction, and I’m mildly surprised there hasn’t been a regulation put in place that all 30 teams establish an affiliate. C’mon Masai Ujiri. Go pound on Tim Leiweke’s desk. Let’s get a D-League team this season.