Developing the Development League

It’s time for the NBA to really focus on developing its development league. The NBA should really encourage each team to own one exclusive D-League team. The positives are well known as each team will be able to staff and fill the roster of their own minor league team and develop coaches and players in their own system. Many teams are already on track with this forward thinking but there are many who are still lagging behind.

After this is done I think the next step would be to change the draft. Right now you must be at least one year out of high school and 19 years old to enter the NBA draft. The typical route is to head to the NCAA for a year or two than enter the draft and start your pro career. What we have been seeing lately, however, is top talent playing overseas to earn a paycheck right from high school before entering the draft. Players such as Brandon Jennings and most recently Emmanuel Mudiay. What I am proposing is this:

Allow players to enter the NBA draft right out of high school. However, they must now wait at least three years to play in the big leagues. If they enter the NBA draft right out of high school they will be sent to the team’s D-League team to develop and mature for three years while earning a paycheck. Players can still head off to the NCAA to get a college degree but if they enter the draft before 3 years, they too will be sent to the D-League.

This is done for one major reason, to teach these young players how to be professionals before hitting the biggest stage in basketball. They will be able to earn a living while playing the game they love but won’t be in the spot light. They will be learning how to handle their finances, adjust to the travel and play against top young talent to mold their games and develop before entering the NBA.

The NBA is the only major professional sport in North America that has teenagers playing in it. The MLB has minor league baseball where even the top picks stay for a few years, the NHL has the AHL along with the NCAA and Junior hockey leagues developing their young talent and the NFL also has a 3 year wait time for their players before they can enter the league.

This is something that both the NBA and it’s players will benefit from.

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2 thoughts on “Developing the Development League

  1. I think that NBA brass really wants to work on developing the D-League. Maybe once the new TV deal kicks in and there is more revenue, teams can invest more in their farm clubs. Currently, D-Leaguers work for peanuts, (like $25,000 a year max) so there is little incentive for guys to play in the D-League versus going overseas and making real money. Some guys will use it as springboard to get into the League, but the NBADL is still largely an untapped and underdeveloped resource. Personally, I’d love to see it expanded and given more impact, with all teams having an affiliate and spreading the reach of the league. It would be great to have a geographically-friendly D-League team if you live in an area that doesn’t have an NBA team. Also, D-League games would be a much cheaper option to watching some top-flight basketball. If my wife and I go to a Pacers game, and after tix (way up in the nosebleeds), parking, beer, and a few snacks, it’s easily an $80-$100 night. A strong D-League would give a much more affordable option, and would still be great basketball.

    The only notion that I don’t agree with is the 3-year stipulation, simply because some guys are ready to play year two out of HS (think Jabari, Kyrie, etc). Truthfully, there are some guys that are ready to play right out of high school (although they are rare), and I’ve always said, if a team wants to invest in an 18 year old kid fresh out of HS, let them make the jump. Guys can go pro in baseball, golf, tennis, track, and a number of other more niche sports. The point is, this isn’t football- if a team thinks that a kid is physically and psychologically ready, and that team wants to make the investment, let them. Ultimately it’s the team’s responsibility to protect their investment, and you’d likely see some of those 18 and 19 year old rookies playing minutes at a conservative rate, getting used to the pro schedule, getting on a diet and weight program, etc. By year 2 or 3 they are ready to make an impact. If you make it a mandatory 3-year D-League stint, you’ll have impact players that are 20 and 21 years old still playing for the farm team And if the parent team is bad, they could use the production from said player.

    Now if the D-League gets good enough, perhaps rather than going one-and-done in college or jumping overseas, fresh out of HS guys can spend their first year in the D-League, then make the step up to the big club in year two. That way the player gets in introduction to the team’s system, the players, an abbreviated pro schedule, travel, diet, workouts, etc.- without having to worry about NCAA eligibility, or not getting paid. Make the D-League wage livable, but not over the top. For example, an $80k avg salary. That way the player can get used to balancing a budget and managing their income, help out their family, and live comfortably- without balling out and spending way too much, like young pros are prone to do. Make D-League deals one-year guaranteed contracts, and guys can resign year two, either back with the D-League team, or on the big club. This might create some hurdles in terms of managing cap and roster spots, but the league guys are smart, they’ll figure it out. Either way, I’d love to see the D-League turn into the asset that it could be.

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  2. I think if the NBA markets the D-League a little more it can be profitable in itself. I grew up with a few guys who are currently playing in the AHL and while they don’t make hundred’s of thousands of dollars, their income is roughly $85,000 for the season.

    I just feel that making rookies wait would be beneficial for all. To be put in a situation where they can contribute right away, get paid good money and learn how to be pro’s would help both them and their teams. Obviously there are exceptions (Lebron James) who can impact teams right away.

    I also failed to mention in my piece that I think the draft should be expanded if the league went this route. If the draft had 4 or 5 rounds instead of two that would allow the teams to stock their D-League teams each year with new talent.

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