More NBA teams are using the NBDL as a minor league system

More NBA teams are embracing the farm system

7/25/13 in NBA   |   droth   |   127 respect

The Sacramento Kings became the latest NBA team to enter into a one-to-one affiliation with a D-League team and the third NBA team to do so this offseason when they took over the Reno Bighorns two weeks ago. Over the last few months, the Kings new ownership group has been working to redefine the franchise after almost a decade of terrible basketball and they view this relationship as a step in the right direction.

Trendsetting teams like the San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets have been at this for a while. The Spurs became the sole affiliate of the Austin Toros in 2007 and the Rockets have had the Rio Grande Vipers to themselves since 2009.  

In addition to Sacramento, San Antonio, and Houston, 11 other NBA teams have a one-to-one affiliation:

Jul 14, 2013; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward Lazar Hawyard looks for a play to develop while being defended by Portland Trailblazers guard Terrel Harris during an NBA Summer League game at the Thomas and Mack Center . Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY SportsCleveland Cavaliers - Canton Charge
Philadelphia 76ers - Delaware 87ers
New York Knicks - Erie BayHawks
Boston Celtics - Maine Red Claws
Brooklyn Nets - Springfield Armor
Miami Heat - Sioux Falls Skyforce
Dallas Mavericks - Texas Legends
OKC Thunder - Tulsa 66ers
Portland Trail Blazers - Idaho Stampede
Los Angeles Lakers - Los Angeles D-Fenders
Golden State Warriors - Santa Cruz Warriors

Some teams own their D-League affiliate outright while others use a "hybrid" model, where the team is still owned separately but the parent franchise controls basketball operations.

That leaves just three D-League teams for the 16 remaining NBA teams to share.

This summer's rush on D-League affiliates leaves just three D-League teams for the 16 remaining NBA teams to share and indicates that the league is definitely heading towards a pure minor league model where every D-League team has a parent franchise.

The number of teams in the D-League, as well as their location and name, has always been pretty fluid. Teams come and go, so it is likely that new teams will emerge or folded teams will be brought back to accommodate the increasing demand for D-League partners.

But until then, those 14 NBA franchises that have taken initiative have a clear advantage. The ability to run and teach the same offensive and defensive sets is crucial, but perhaps the biggest and most obvious benefit is that prospects do not have to fight for minutes against another franchise's players.  

Additionally, there are benefits from a business standpoint. A closer and more direct relationship will raise awareness for the D-League team in the parent franchise's city and teams in the same region will have increased marketing opportunities. The Bighorns and Kings, for example, have reportedly discussed special ticket packages and offers available in the Sacramento market, which is just two hours away.

The history of the D-League is still a small sample size and the history of the one-to-one affiliation is even smaller, but this is certainly the direction the league is heading in. It is unlikely that it will ever look like the minor league baseball model because of the impact that young players straight out of college consistently have at the NBA level, but I can definitely see the D-League expanding in size and significance in the coming years.

The first thing the NBA would have to do -- after adding enough D-League teams, of course -- would be to expand the draft. Make it four or five rounds, at least. The more players there are, the more Manu Ginobilis there will be. If enough guys get a shot at developing and earning their way to the big leagues, it will improve the league-wide level of competition.
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