Some of the Nets brass will be traveling to Louisville after the Draft Thursday to watch the D-League National Tryouts, which begin the next day. With the NBA off-season frozen by the threat of a lock-out, the D-League becomes an interesting refuge for hoops fans. Games will continue and it's better than the WNBA.
As part of our occasional series on how the Nets' new hybrid affiliation with the Springfield Armor will affect basketball development, we offer this primer on how D-League teams are stocked. It's not like the NBA and it's a little complicated. We also take a look at how a current Armor player like Scottie Reynolds fits in.
D-League teams are essentially stocked three ways, with "returning" players, "allocated" players from their NBA parent team and "drafted" players from the D-league Draft. There are also local tryouts as well. It's all very different from the NBA.
Springfield, the D-League's newest team, has lost 80 of its first 100 games. So, the pool of returning Armor players is limited. Under D-League rules, a team retains the rights to players on the roster at season's end, minus those on assignment from an NBA parent team. For the Armor, that's eight players. Of those, Scottie Reynolds and JamesOn Curry are the best, assuming they stay. D-League players make no more than $25,000 a year, a lot less than a good player can make overseas.
Where the Nets and Armor can make some headway quickly is in the second area, allocated players, that is players allocated or provided by the Nets. It's beyond sending a second round draft choice down to Springfield for seasoning and it's a bit complicated.
If the Nets like a player who went undrafted on June 23, they're likely to start the process the same way they did last year when they didn't control basketball operations at Springfield. They will make a call to the player and his agent as soon as the draft ends to express their interest and possibly offer them a bonus to sign a summer league contract with the team. Last year, the Nets gave $50,000 to Brian Zoubek and $35,000 to Ben Uzoh. The bonus is a partial guarantee on a minimum contract. Before last year, the Nets hadn't done that since Robert Hite in 2007.
The team will monitor the players' progress through the summer league and then into training camp. Should another player attract their interest in summer league, they can do the same thing they did with any players they liked: sign them to a partially guaranteed deal.
As the Nets' training camp comes to a close, the process will change from pre-Armor years. NBA teams have to cut their roster to 15 players on October 25. By the 31st, as the NBA season begins, D-League teams like the Armor can designate for reassignment three players cut by their NBA affiliate teams. The players of course are under no obligation to sign. As noted, a player can make a lot more money overseas than in the D-League. But if a player is seeking a fast track to the NBA (and already has that cash cushion from a partial guarantee), the Armor might be their best choice. They'll be running the Nets' system, be following the Nets' training regimen; be using the Nets' call signs and most importantly be coached by Nets employees and be managed by Nets executives (the Armor GM may very well be assistant GM Bobby Marks or director of basketball operations Milton Lee, operating out of East Rutherford).
Around the same time, the Armor can be expected to hold local tryouts. More than 60 players have showed up the at the Springfield College Field House last two years. They can bring as many as five players to camp. Springfield can also sign local players to promote the team’s identity.
Then, at the beginning of November, the Nets can use their fat scouting files --and extensive video archive-- to help the Armor in the D-League Draft. (Co-located at the PNY Center is Hoops1 Video, a company with one of the most extensive video libraries, foreign as well as domestic, in the world. Its head, Mitch Kaufman, also serves at the Nets' video coordinator.)
The D-League Draft has none of the pomp and ceremony of the NBA Draft. It is done by conference call and goes for EIGHT rounds. The Armor even let the local paper, the Springfield Republican shoot their "war room". Although no trades are permitted during the draft, deals can be made that night and then finalized later. The Armor in fact don't have their own first rounder in this year's draft. They traded it for Reynolds, the Villanova all-American, last November. D-League rules prohibit the sale of picks.
Where do the prospects come from? Flash back to June, right after the draft. The fifth annual D-League National Tryout is held in Louisville on June 24-26. It offers players the opportunity to showcase their talent in front of D-League front office personnel, as well as coaches and representatives from each of the league’s 16 teams. Participants will be competing for the chance to sign an NBA D-League standard player contract and to be placed in the D-League Draft.
Expect the Nets to be heavily involved in the Draft, Billy King said recently even though the Armor won't have a first round pick. They traded it to get Reynolds, the Villanova All-American.
"We'll have staff that will do it, I don't know if I will be...ultimately I will have final say but I can't see myself guiding it," said King. The Nets' GM explained that in some cases, the Nets used their workouts to look at potential Armor picks. "Some of these guys we brought in to be (training) camp invitees, possibly for a D-League roster," he said after a June workout, calling the Armor option an "added plus" in the search for talent.. "Maybe they're not for our draft, but maybe for the D-League draft...in late October, November."
Could they stock Springfield with Russian ringers? No, says Scott Schroeder of Ridiculous Upside, the SB Nation D-League blog. It's impractible and unlikely.
"Russian players aren't really an option as the D-League is (currently) set up," said Schroeder in an email to NetsDaily. "I guess they could put the Russian players all in the draft, but it'd probably be difficult to secure their rights. The other way to do this would be for the Nets to sign said Russian players and allocate them to the D-League, though that wouldn't seem likely".
The Nets are also hoping a new CBA, if it's in place by then, will permit injury rehabilitation tours in the D-League starting next season. Under current rules, only NBA rookies and second year players can be sent down. Who knows?
It's all yet another, subtle way Mikhail Prokhorov's cash hoard helps the Nets develop talent. By making money available for partial guarantees, Prokhorov makes it easier for the Nets to 1) recruit valuable if undrafted prospects and 2) keep them in the organization so they develop on the Nets' timetable. And by investing $250,000 in the Armor, it gives the Nets a platform for that development. Moreover, none of this is lost on agents, even those representing D-Leaguers. They're starting to see the team in a different light.