Not So Minor Any More: The D-League, the NBA’s developmental league is becoming a bigger part of the basketball discussion, especially for some of the fringe guys in NBA training camps this season.
For the first time in its 14-season history the D-League will feature 17 single-affiliation partnerships. Eight of those teams are owned and operated by their parent NBA club, while nine teams operate under what’s called a “hybrid” affiliation where the parent NBA team runs the basketball operations side, while an independent owner runs the business and sales side.
A quick run of the math: There are currently 18 D-League teams featuring 17 D-league single affiliation teams versus 30 NBA teams, meaning there is a lone “independent team” that the remaining 13 NBA teams will be affiliated with and that is the Fort Wayne Mad Ants.
NBA teams are permitted to “assign” up to four players to their D-League affiliate at any one time, but no more than two players at any one position.
The Mad Ants will have a slightly different set of rules this year because of their 13 affiliated NBA teams. To accommodate assignments to Fort Wayne, a flexible assignment system will be utilized this season. If an independent NBA team assigns a player to the Mad Ants and they already have either the maximum of four NBA players on assignment or have two players assigned at the position of the NBA player who is being assigned, that player will either be allocated to one of the direct affiliated teams, with mutual consent, or that player will be assigned to one of the non NBA-owned single affiliate teams using a lottery-type system.
For the first three years of a NBA player’s career he can be sent to the D-League an unlimited number of times, however, players with more than three years of experience can only be sent to the D-League with their and the Player’s Associations’ consent.
The NBA and the Player’s Association have been more flexible about the D-League over the years, allowing teams to freely move players in and out. This has become extremely helpful for franchises like the Oklahoma City Thunder, who use their D-League team to get valuable playing experience for their younger guys.
As more teams take control of their minor league teams, additional focus is being put into the daily operation of those teams. The Thunder and the Spurs run virtually the same offensive and defensive systems in the D-League as the parent club, going as far to install the same processes and terminology to better acclimate the switch from one team to the other.
The proximity of the owned D-League teams is playing a bigger factor in how often and in-depth NBA teams use their affiliate. Most teams that are owned by a NBA team are less than 90 minutes from their parent team, making it logistically easier for the front offices to meaningfully participate in the D-League process. It also makes it more reasonable for players to be sent down to the D-League team for playing time and then immediately brought back to the parent team.
The NBA also adjusted the assignment rules for the D-League this season, which is playing out in training camps this year. Players that are in a team’s camp now can have their D-League rights retained after they are waived by the NBA club and clear the waiver process.
The meaningful exception is those players who played in the D-League last season.
While all D-League contracts are one-year deals, if a player played for a team last season, that team has that player’s rights for the upcoming season if that player chooses to play in the D-League this year. The exception there is a drafted player. Thanasis Antetokounmpo played in the D-League last season for Delaware, but was drafted by the Knicks. His D-League rights remain with the Knicks by virtue of the draft.
However, Orlando Magic camp invite Seth Curry played in the D-League last season with Santa Cruz, so they would retain his D-League rights despite being brought into camp by the Magic with eye on him playing for their D-League team. What’s likely going to occur there is some type of trade between Santa Cruz and the Erie Bayhawks if Curry opts to play in the D-League and does not make the roster in Orlando.
A number of teams are also figuring out ways to navigate the D-League’s extremely low salary system.
The NBA and its teams don’t talk about the D-League salary system, but it’s been reported numerous times that the D-League employs a salary cap system where each team is capped at roughly $173,000 per team, and employs slotted salary tiers for player contracts. Top level players earn roughly $25,000 per season, while second tier players earn$19,000 per season with lesser named guys earning $13,000 per season.
The work around some teams have found is to offer guaranteed money in their initial NBA contract offers, knowing that those players would be cut after camp and sent to the D-League. Some teams have gone as far as using their 15th roster spot and the NBA wage associated with it as a means to work around the limited salary available in the D-League, simply signing the player and assigning him to the D-League for the bulk of the season. The third mechanism is the 10-day contract option teams have available starting in January.
Last season current Pacers’ camp invite Adonis Thomas signed with the Atlanta Hawks, who guaranteed him $50,000 to come to camp. He was released and landed in the D-League for 34 games before getting a series of 10-day contracts from the Philadelphia 76ers and the Orlando Magic. All told, Thomas earned roughly $150,000 last season despite playing most of it in the D-League.
Changes to the D-League’s economic structure are coming. With more teams owning their own teams, and the eventuality that there will be one D-League team per NBA team in the not so distant future, increasing the funding and salaries in the D-League is on the horizon. The NBA has been pushing to increase the age limit to enter the NBA and increased D-League funding could be part of an age limit increase compromise between the NBA and its players.
NBA teams are charged an affiliation fee if they do not own a team. That fee is said to be north of $250,000 per team. The teams that own and operate their own team are spending anywhere from $1.5 million to $2 million a season to fully run a team. When you factor in that the NBA’s salary cap could reach $70-$80 million inside the next two seasons, the D-League is going to play a bigger role going forward. With 17 teams now in control of their D-league teams, you can expect a lot more movement between leagues as well.
The D-League opens regular season play the second week of November and plays a 50-game schedule, with the D-League showcase set for January 15-19 in Santa Cruz. This year the Showcase will feature a tournament style format called the Showcase Cup, featuring the top eight teams in the D-League.
Short Term Deals?: The biggest fear among NBA teams competing for something is that the players they sign to big contracts fade out before their contracts are finished. The worst years of a player’s contract are usually those last years. When guys like Atlanta’s Paul Millsap and Charlotte’s Al Jefferson signed with their respective teams, their age played a factor.
As each enters their second season with their respective teams, the deals they signed last season are starting to become problematic for their home teams.
Jefferson had questions marks. Most around the league liked Jefferson, but was he a guy you invested a ton of money into? The Hornets thought so, inking him to a three-year, $40.5 million deal. The problem for Charlotte is that the third year was a player option and Jefferson has arguably out-played his $13.5 million salary, or at least played himself into a few more guaranteed years.
This puts the Hornets in a tough spot. Jefferson can and likely will opt-out of his deal in July if only to sign a new deal. There is also the possibility of another team poaching Big Al away.
The Hornets and Jefferson are saying all the right things, that they both want to continue the relationship beyond the current season, but the Hornets will have little control over the process, by virtue of the shorter term deal. So instead of entering season two with Big Al as the cornerstone, there will be questions and inevitably rumors, especially with as many at 15 NBA teams having ample cap space next July.
The Hawks find themselves in the same place with Millsap. He agreed to a two-year, $19 million deal last summer. Millsap earned an All-Star berth last season and led the Hawks to the postseason, clearly outplaying his $9.5 million salary this season.
Millsap will be an unrestricted free agent and while the Hawks can do a new deal, Millsap will be free to explore his options.
Hawks’ head coach Mike Budenholzer, who is also handling the personnel moves on an interim basis, has said his team and Millsap have been talking and while an extension of the existing contract is not an option, both parties would like to continue the relationship.
Like Jefferson, he too could stay, but with Millsap being unrestricted, he too is going to face constant questions from the media and ultimately rumors, especially if the Hawks struggle to compete.
Sometimes the short-term deals make sense. Sometimes players who don’t get the larger payday the first time want the chance to hit free agency again, so some of this is simply the byproduct of shorter term or lower dollar deals. But for both the Hornets and the Hawks, those shorter term deals will create storylines neither team really wants to deal with. While it’s likely both guys ink new deals right where they are, their potential for unrestricted free agency is going to keep their names in the news.
The K.J. McDaniels Contract: So 76ers second round draft pick KJ McDaniels opted to sign a one-year, fully non-guaranteed tender contract instead of the four-year deal the 76ers put on the table.
While some may point to that decision as risky, it’s actually really smart, especially for a player that could see significant playing time.
The 76ers offer was a four year deal, which featured some guaranteed money in year one, a little bit of guaranteed money in year two and no guaranteed money in years three and four. It in essence fully protected the 76ers, locked in McDaniels’ rights and insured his cost was low.
That would have been a great deal for the 76ers; it’s a terrible deal for the player.
Agents with second-round picks are being asked to agree to these massively one-sided deals. For players that may not play or are bubble guys, a four-year deal sounds great, until you outplay your deal.
In McDaniels’ case, he was a borderline first-rounder. If he plays well this year it’s likely as a restricted free agent in July a team offers him a three or four year deal worth $4 or $5 million. That’s not the home run payday of a marquee free agent, but it’s almost twice what the Sixers were offering and it’s likely to be fully guaranteed.
The smart money says if McDaniels plays well he’s back with the 76ers on a better deal next season. If he plays really well, he could see a market for his services in free agency. If he doesn’t play well the 76ers release him and he can pick his next team based on fit. To retain his rights the Sixers would have to issue a qualifying offer, the value of that offer is likely better than what was in the four year deal, so there are lots of options for McDaniels.
There is risk of injury, but it’s likely that his agent has secured an insurance policy to protect against that.
While most teams do find middle ground with their second-round picks and get them signed, what’s playing out with McDaniels and the Sixers isn’t new. A number of agents have presented this option to their clients who usually buckle to the allure of a multi-year deal. If McDaniels gets a hefty payday next summer you can expect more second rounders to use this tactic, especially if their teams won’t guarantee the dollars.
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Emeka Okafor Impacting 2018 Western Conference Playoff Race
Sidelined for several years with a neck injury, Emeka Okafor is back in the NBA and helping the Pelicans fight for a playoff seed.
When DeMarcus Cousins ruptured his Achilles tendon, most people in and around the league assumed the New Orleans Pelicans would eventually fall out of the Western Conference Playoff race. It was a fair assumption. In 48 games this season, Cousins averaged 25.2 points, 12.9 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.6 blocks while shooting 47 percent from the field and 35.4 percent from beyond the arc.
Anthony Davis and the Pelicans had other plans. Davis put the team on his shoulders, played at an elite level and, arguably, has forced his way into the MVP race. Behind Davis’ efforts, the Pelicans are currently 39-29, have won 7 of their last 10 games and hold the sixth seed in the Western Conference.
While Davis has been carrying the team since the loss of Cousins, he has received significant help from his teammates, including Emeka Okafor.
More recent NBA fans may be less familiar with Okafor since he has been out of the league since the end of the 2012-13 season. For context, in Okafor’s last season, David Lee led the league in double-doubles, Luol Deng led the league in minutes per game and Joakim Noah made the NBA All-Defensive First Team. However, Okafor entered the NBA with a lot of excited and expectations. He was drafted second overall, right behind Dwight Howard. Okafor played in 9 relatively successful NBA seasons until being sidelined indefinitely with a herniated disc in his neck prior to the start of the 2013-14 season.
Okafor was medically cleared to play in May of last year and played in five preseason games with the Philadelphia 76ers but was ultimately waived in October, prior to the start of the regular season. However, with the injury to Cousins, the Pelicans were in need of help at the center position and signed Okafor to a 10-day contract. Okafor earned a second 10-day contract and ultimately landed a contract for the rest of this season.
Okafor has played in 14 games so far for the Pelicans has is receiving limited playing time thus far. Despite the lack of playing time, Okafor is making his presence felt when he is on the court. Known as a defensive specialist, Okafor has provided some much needed rim protection and has rebounded effectively as well.
He has been [helpful] since the day he got here,” Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry said about Okafor after New Orleans’ recent victory over the Los Angeles Clippers. “I think his rim protection has been great. But, he’s capable of making a little jump shot and you can see that today. But just having him in there, his presence there has been great.”
Okafor has never been known as an elite offensive player, but he did average 15.1 points per game in his rookie season and has shown glimpses of an improved jump shot in his limited run with the Pelicans.
“You know, I’m happy it’s falling,” Okafor said after he helped seal the victory over the Clippers. “Kept in my back pocket. I was invoked to use it, so figured I’d dust it off and show it.”
Okafor was then asked if he has any other moves in his back pocket that he hasn’t displayed so far this season.
“A little bit. I don’t want to give it all,” Okafor told Basketball Insiders. “There’s a couple shots still. But we’ll see what opportunities unveil themselves coming forward.”
Okafor will never have the elite offensive skill set that Cousins has but his overall contributions have had a positive impact for a New Orleans squad that was desperate for additional production after Cousin’s Achilles tear.
“It’s impossible to replace a guy that was playing at an MVP level,” Gentry said recently. “For us, Emeka’s giving us something that we desperately missed with Cousins. The same thing with Niko. Niko’s given us something as far as spacing the floor. Between those guys, they’ve done the best they could to fill in for that. But we didn’t expect anyone to fill in and replace what Cousins was doing for us.”
Okafor is currently averaging 6.2 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game while shooting 54.5 percent from the field. While his averages don’t jump off the page, it should be noted that his per minute production is surprisingly impressive. Per 36 minutes, Okafor is averaging 13.4 points, 11.8 rebounds and 2.9 blocks. Those numbers are nearly identical to his averages from the 2012-13 season, though he is averaging twice as many blocks (up from 1.4).
The Pelicans have exceeded expectations and currently are ahead of teams like the San Antonio Spurs, Utah Jazz, Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Clippers in the extremely tight Western Conference Playoff race. Okafor is doing more than could have reasonably been expected when he first signed with the Pelicans, though he would be the first person to pass the credit toward Anthony Davis.
When asked about Davis’ recent play, Okafor enthusiastically heaped praise toward his superstar teammate.
“It’s to the point where it’s like, ‘Alright, he has 40 doesn’t he?’ It’s impressive,” Okafor said about Davis. But it’s becoming so commonplace now.
He’s just an impressive individual. He gives it all. He’s relentless. And then off the court too, he’s a very, very nice kid. He really takes the leadership role seriously. I’m even more impressed with that part.”
There is still plenty of regular season basketball to be played and even a two-game losing streak can drastic consequences. But the Pelicans have proved to be very resilient and Okafor is confident in the team’s potential and outlook.
“I think we’re all hitting a good grove here and we’re playing very good basketball, said Okafor.”
Whether the Pelicans make the playoffs or not, it’s great to see Okafor back in the NBA and playing meaningful minutes for a team in the playoff race.
NBA Daily: Nothing’s Promised, Not Even For The Warriors
The Warriors are wounded, and with Chris Paul, the Rockets may be equipped to take advantage.
The Warriors are wounded, and for those that thought their waltzing into a four consecutive NBA Finals was a given, the Houston Rockets may have other ideas. Especially when one considers that the beloved Dubs are trying to buck history.
Steph Curry has ankle problems, Klay has a fractured thumb and Kevin Durant—the most recent of the team’s lynchpins to find himself on the disabled list—has a rib injury.
Sure, the Dubs might shake off their injuries and find themselves at or near 100 percent once the playoffs begin, but seldom do teams in the NBA get healthier as the year progresses.
Winning in the NBA is difficult. In order to take all the marbles, teams need a bunch of different ingredients, chief among them are good fortune and health. And in many ways, the two are entwined.
Simply put: the human body isn’t built to play as often and as hard as NBA players do. Those that we recognize as being among the greatest ever—Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James among them—had one thing in common. They were all exceptionally durable.
Over the years, we’ve seen attrition and fragility cost the likes of Anfernee Hardaway, Yao Ming and Derrick Rose what seemed to be careers full of accolades and accomplishments. And the simple truth is that you never know which player, players or teams will be next to be undercut by injuries and progressive fatigue.
Just to keep things in perspective, the Warriors are attempting to become just the fifth team since 1970 to win at least three NBA championships in a four-year span.
The Los Angeles Lakers won the NBA Finals in 1985, 1987 and 1988 before Michael Jordan and his Chicago Bulls completed their three-peat from 1991-93. The Bulls would again do the same between 1996 and 1998, and Shaquille O’Neal and his Los Angeles Lakers accomplished the same from 2000 to 2002.
There are reasons why so few teams have been able to win as frequently as the Lakers and Bulls have, and health is certainly one of them. That’s especially interesting to note considering the fact that the Warriors may have been champions in 2016 had they had their team at full strength. Mind you, both Stephen Curry and Andre Iguodala were severely limited in their abilities, while Andrew Bogut missed the fateful and decisive Game 6 and Game 7 of those Finals with injuries to his left leg.
At the end of the day, injuries are a part of the game. The best teams are often able to overcome them, while the luckiest teams often don’t have to deal with them. To this point, the Warriors have been both the best and incredibly lucky, but at a certain point, the sheer volume of basketball games is likely to have an adverse effect on at least a few members of the team.
We may be seeing that now.
En route to winning the 2015 NBA Finals, the Warriors turned in a playoff record of 16-5. In 2016, they were 15-9 and in 2017, they were 16-1. In total, the 62 playoff games would have worn a bit of tread off of their collective tires, just as their 73-9 regular season record may have. In becoming a historically great team, the Warriors have expending the energy necessary of a team wishing to remain a contender, and that’s not easy.
As an aside, those that understand the difficulty in competing at a high level every single night are the ones who rightfully give LeBron James the respect he’s due for even having the opportunity to play into June eight consecutive years. Win or lose, in terms of consistent effort and constant production, James has shown as things we’ve never seen before.
Today, it’s fair to wonder whether the Warriors have that same capability.
We’ll find out in short order.
* * * * * *
As the Houston Rockets appear headed toward ending the Warriors’ regular season reign atop the Western Conference, there’s something awfully coincidental about the fact that the team seems to have taken the next step after the addition of Chris Paul.
Paul knows a thing or two about attrition and how unlucky bouts with injuries at inopportune times can cost a team everything. As much as anything else, it probably has something to do with why Paul continues to believe in the ability of the Rockets to achieve immortality.
On the first night of the regular season, mind you, in one horrific moment, Gordon Hayward and the Boston Celtics reminded us that on any given play, the outlook of an entire season—and perhaps, even a career—can change.
A twisted knee here, a sprained ankle there, and who knows?
With just over three weeks remaining in the regular season, the Warriors—the team that everyone knew would win the Western Conference again this season—has some concerns. Their primary weapons are hurting, their chances of securing home court advantage throughout the Western Conference playoffs are all but nil and their road to the Finals may end up being more difficult than they could have possibly imagined.
If the season ended today and the seeds held, the Warriors would draw the San Antonio Spurs in the first round and the Portland Trail Blazers in the second round before squaring off against the Rockets in the Western Conference Finals.
Of all teams, the Spurs are probably the last team the Warriors would want to see in the playoffs, much less the first round. While the outcome of that series would be determined by the health of Kawhi Leonard, there’s no doubt that Gregg Popovich would at least be able to effectively game plan for Golden State.
While the Blazers might not provide incredible resistance to the Warriors, the Oklahoma City Thunder will enter play on March 18 just two games behind the Blazers for the third seed out West. With the two teams squaring off against one another on March 25, it’s possible for Russell Westbrook and his crew having the opportunity to square off against the Dubs in the playoffs.
For Golden State, their path to the Finals having to go through San Antonio, Oklahoma City and Houston would absolutely be a worst case scenario. The only thing that could make it even more terrible for Steve Kerr would be having to do it with a platoon that was less than 100 percent.
Funny. In yet another season where everyone thought that it was the Warriors and everyone else, there are quite a few questions facing the defending champs heading into the final few weeks of the regular season.
Indeed, the Warriors are wounded. And whether they can be nursed back up to full strength is perhaps the most interesting thing to watch as the calendar turns to April and playoff basketball draws nearer.
NBA Daily: The Golden State Warriors Need to Enter Rest Mode
With a bevy of injuries to their stars, the Golden State Warriors should rest up the remainder of the regular season to avoid any playoff letdowns.
After a three-year-long run of dominating the NBA, the Golden State Warriors are showing some cracks in their armor.
Granted, those cracks aren’t a result of a botched system or poor play, but rather the injury bug biting the team in full force as they come down the regular season stretch.
First, it was Steph Curry and the ankle that’s bothered him all season — and for most of his career — when he tweaked it yet again on March 8 against the San Antonio Spurs. Golden State announced he would miss at least four games. Then it was Klay Thompson, who fractured his thumb three days later against the Minnesota Timberwolves — he’ll miss at least two weeks.
Now it’s Kevin Durant. Last year’s Finals MVP suffered an incomplete rib cartilage fracture and was ruled out of Friday’s game against the Sacramento Kings. Durant is expected to be sidelined for at least two weeks. The Warriors would go on to lose that contest 95-93.
In about two weeks time, the Warriors went from having one of the most formidable offenses and scoring trios in the entire league, to having Quinn Cook and Nick Young logging starter minutes.
Luckily for the Warriors, they’ve built up a big enough lead in the standings to achieve a 52-17 record, good for second place in the Western Conference. But the issue for the remainder of the season now becomes how healthy will the Warriors be come playoff time?
Curry and Durant have injury histories. Curry particularly has been bothered by this ankle since he entered the league. Without either of them, the Warriors — while still incredibly talented — will be on a completely even playing field with the Houston Rockets, and possibly other teams in the gauntlet that will be the Western Conference playoffs.
The bigger issue on top of the pending injury concerns becomes whether the Warriors should just pack it in for the rest of the regular season, and regroup for another expected title run.
Steve Kerr doesn’t seem to be thinking that way, however.
“All these injuries seem to be temporary,” Kerr told reporters. “A couple weeks, a week, two weeks – whatever. We’re in good shape. We’ve just got to survive this next slate of games and hopefully, start getting guys back and get rolling again for the playoffs.”
That’s true. None of the aforementioned injuries seem to be anything more serious than a few weeks of rest and relaxation. But that’s assuming the best case scenario for these players.
Should we assume that the Warriors are without their scoring trio for the next couple of weeks as their health updates have indicated, that would put their return roughly around April 1. At that time, Golden State would have six games remaining on their schedule. Four coming against playoff teams (Oklahoma City, Indiana, New Orleans, and Utah) with the other two games against Phoenix.
After missing the last few weeks on the court, with injuries that most likely won’t be at 100 percent, tossing their most valuable contributors back into the fray against a slate of playoff teams probably isn’t the smartest idea.
At this point, the Warriors postseason position is locked up. They likely won’t take the top seed away from Houston, and their lead is big enough to keep their second seed intact regardless of who’s on the court. The only thing left now is the determining who Golden State will play in the first round. With the revolving carousel that is the playoff standings out West, that’s anybody’s guess right now.
The only thing that’s certain is whichever team coming into Oracle Arena for that first round will be battle tested and talented based off of the dogfight they had to survive just to make the playoffs. The last thing the Warriors need to be is a banged up in a postseason with their first opponent smelling blood in the water.
In all likelihood, the Warriors — should everything go according to plan — will play the Houston Rockets for a chance to return to their fourth straight NBA Finals. Only this time, a potential Game 7 won’t be at Oracle Arena. It will be in downtown Houston, at the Toyota Center.
An advantage as big as the Warriors’ homecourt can never be understated. Operating in a do-or-die situation away from home will be newfound territory for this bunch. Regardless of talent or team success, at that point, it’s anybody’s game.
It won’t be easy for the Golden State Warriors as they try to extend their dynasty’s reign. This might be their most difficult year yet.
Durant, in his own words, can’t even laugh right now without feeling pain. The league’s only unanimous MVP is operating on one and a half ankles, and the team’s second Splash Brother has an injury on his shooting hand.
Resting up the team’s stars should be the team’s top priority right now, at risk of entering the postseason hobbled. Track record means nothing if the Warriors don’t have their full arsenal at disposal when the games matter most.
Hey, a 16-seed finally won a first-round game in the NCAA Tournament. Anything is possible on a basketball court, and the Warriors should do everything possible to ensure they’re not the next major upset candidate in line.