The NBA lockout is definitely not a good thing for the basketball-watching public, but the fact that the owners and NBA Players Association now have more time to talk could help the two sides delve deeper into the ancillary features of the NBA's new Collective Bargaining Agreement -- if they ever actually head to the bargaining table, of course.
While there are plenty of issues at hand, one of the more intriguing topics that should come up over the next few months of negotiations will be that of the NBA Development League, the NBA's official minor league.
The D-League, as it's known, has made quite a few strides since the league began play during the 2001-02 season: a record nine (9!) NBA teams have decided it's worthwhile to buy their own D-League squad after seeing the league unearth solid role players such as Reggie Williams of the Golden State Warriors, Detroit Pistons point guard Will Bynum and Anthony Tolliver of the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The D-League has also lived up to its development moniker, having played a crucial role in the careers of Dallas Mavericks miniature maestro J.J. Barea, Ramon Sessions of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors energetic forward Amir Johnson, who had each been assigned to the D-League earlier in their NBA career.
The above-mentioned names aren't enough to really justify more than a casual interest in the D-League for most observers -- NBA executives and fans alike -- but subtle changes to the new CBA could change that.
As far as fan interest goes, the best thing the NBA could do for the D-League is allowing injury rehab assignments, a la Major League Baseball. Baseball's success in the minor leagues has a lot to do with the possibility of seeing high-level players at the local ballpark, it seems, even while they're less than 100 percent as they work their way back from injury.
Rehab assignments to Sioux Falls, S.D., might not be something the players would agree to initially, but there really isn't a reason that this isn't already happening. Even if the new rules would make an assignment the player's option, it would be a good start for everyone involved -- including the players with the work ethic needed to know that they might need a few games to warm up before going full bore in an NBA game.
The D-League's rules currently only allow rookie and first-year NBA players to be assigned to the D-League, something that sort of makes sense in terms of development, but the Portland Trail Blazers sending Luke Babbitt to the Idaho Stampede for a few games isn't going to help garner any extra interest in the D-League. If someone like Greg Oden, however, began next season in the D-League while continuing to recover from his chronic knee issues? Well, there's a good chance that some of the rabid Blazers fans may even make a road trip to Boise to watch their former No. 1 pick take the court.
That leads to another problem that some believe should soon be rectified by the NBA -- if Oden were assigned to the Stampede, how would Blazers' brass know that the Idaho coaching staff has Oden's best interests in mind considering the D-League team is also affiliated with the Denver Nuggets and Utah Jazz? Simply put, coaches in the D-League want to get called up to the NBA just as much as their players and wouldn't put that in jeopardy by pledging unfair allegiances. The topic of a one-to-one affiliation for all 30 NBA teams, however, is something that should be looked at by the CBA's negotiators.
There are currently slated to be 21 big league teams sharing just seven D-League squads next season. This is due to the new-found interest that's come from NBA teams buying D-League counterparts, and while it's not an easy fix, the groundwork should at least be put in place before the owners and players are done at the negotiating table this summer. First up on that docket should be to find a way to lure more talent to the Development League, ultimately upping the product on the floor and making it possible to even field 30 minor league teams stocked with -- at worst -- players with the ridiculous upside necessary to make an NBA roster down the road.
The current salary structure doesn't make this possible, though, as the best D-League contract calls for a player to make $25,500 for his six months of work along with a full benefits package and team-provided lodging. It doesn't sound terrible for the average Joe, really, but there simply are not enough players that would consider that salary and the chance at a 10-day contract a more promising offer than those available across Europe and Asia. To circumvent that issue, there are a couple of seemingly simple solutions.
NBA teams are required to have at least 13 players on their roster with a maximum of 15 -- despite a rule that only allows 12 to dress for each game -- leaving a couple of useless players (for all intents and purposes) in fancy suits at the end of the bench. These roster spots are typically occupied by older players that bring a good attitude into the locker room or veterans that spell the team's star player during practice, but the fact of the matter is that NBA teams likely aren't exactly achieving even a mediocre return on investment with these players that rarely see the court.
If instead teams would be willing to fill these spots with up-and-coming youngsters that just need a bit of development, however, there are some good options available as have been laid out in various CBA proposals from those in the know around the invaluable interwebs.
Tim Donahue of Eight Points, Nine Seconds proposes that each NBA team sponsor a couple of D-League player's contracts while getting said player's NBA rights in return. The upside in this situation is that if an NBA team calls a player considering going to Europe and says "Hey we really are interested in you, but we don't have the roster spot available right now. However, we'd like you to pay you to play for our D-League affiliate this team," there's a decent chance the player accepts the offer considering an NBA team is showing tangible interest in his wares -- especially if said NBA team got as creative as I proposed over at Ridiculous Upside.
CBS Sports' Ken Berger also addresses the D-League in his CBA proposal, suggesting something similar to Donahue's proposal although with the added benefit of a more palatable salary and closer NBA affiliation.
Each team would be able to allot three roster spots as hybrid NBA/D-League spots. If the player is on the NBA roster, he would be paid his NBA salary. If there are no minutes for him with the NBA team, he can be sent to the team's D-League affiliate and be paid a new D-League salary that is more than the current pay for that league but far less than the NBA minimum. The player would get the experience necessary to develop into an NBA rotation player, and the team wouldn't be forced to pay the NBA minimum.
Either of the above options, depending how they might be officially construed in the CBA, would, at worst, lure a few more players to the D-League that currently would be set upon taking their talents to Turkey and the like. At best, however, it would lay the groundwork and eventually prove to the NBA teams that investing in the D-League is only going to result in positives for the basketball operations staff along with minimizing the hit on the financial side of things.
Along with the above proposals, the other large piece relating to the D-League negotiated this summer is the complicated nature that some teams have had to go through in order to better implement the D-League for rookies they've drafted but don't have a roster spot to give them. The current options are either sending said player to Europe, where he'll be used at his new team's discretion, or navigating the convoluted loopholes that the Oklahoma City Thunder have found over the past couple of seasons while placing their young players with their D-League team in Tulsa.
Obviously there are plenty of other, smaller changes that the NBA should eventually look at implementing in order to make the D-League a better place. If the new CBA involves the above changes, however, the D-League will at least begin to look like the official minor league it's already billed to be.
For more on the NBA D-League, be sure to visit SB Nation's Ridiculous Upside.