As the D-League continues to grow, many around the league are pushing for all teams to have a single affiliate D-League team sooner rather than later. While Upside and Motor’s Chris Reichert argued against this and provided a workable compromise to this issue, the best future for the D-League lies with the single team affiliation model.
Reichert’s main point is that this future will limit player opportunities from the D-League:
Instead of a player like Hassan Whiteside signing in the D-League and having 30 teams watch him, he would only have one.
This underestimates the amount of scouting smart NBA teams would utilize looking for the next rotation player. An affiliation with an NBA team doesn’t preclude teams from acquiring a player in another team’s farm system, as they can trade for D-League assigned players. Language can be placed in the next CBA to help facilitate D-League player movement, such as allowing the straight-up purchasing of contracts for D-League players, for example. Teams will continue to scout the D-League for talent and organizations that invest in scouting and trust their process will find the hidden gems that can turn into NBA players.
His solution boils down to NBA teams retaining the rights of players they bring into training camp but don’t keep on the active roster:
Right now, NBA teams are permitted to assign four players to the D-League via the Affiliate Rule. After each team’s respective training camp, they have to trim rosters to 15 players for the NBA season. This rule allows them to keep players in-house with their D-League affiliate, although they do not retain the player rights to the players assigned (unless they have their original draft rights, like the Thunder with Semaj Christon last season).
Keep the four player limit, but allow the NBA club to also retain the rights to these players. Add another salary tier to the D-League and make it $50,000 more than the tier A contract, too, and we have a simple solution for both NBA and player buy-in for staying in the U.S. rather than going overseas for more money.
There is a simple, much more reasonable solution to this fear, which will keep players invested in the D-League with the hope of a future call-up: expand the rosters for the last month of the season. The MLB does this and it is a great way to see what type of players they have in the minor leagues and also giving some veterans extra rest down the stretch.
As the NBA D-League moves toward a true minor league system, a single affiliate system is needed to reward smart NBA teams. They can use their D-League team to develop players, coaches and on-court strategies that could lead to NBA championships. While player call-ups shouldn’t drop substantially, the NBA could implement steps to reward players sticking in the D-League by expanding rosters at season’s end.