As we all know, the Sixers recently bought and relocated a defunct D-League team to create the new Delaware 87ers. In my opinion, this is a great step in rebuilding not only the team but the organization, with (possibly?) an emphasis on player development. This was a hallmark of the Rockets in the last few years, which is why it's not exactly a surprise with new GM Sam Hinkie, a former Rockets assistant GM coming in. But it is also fair to say that the D-League still doesn't have the best reputation as a minor league, especially when compared to the more established minor league structures of baseball and hockey. I have some ideas on how to improve this reputation
- Increase salaries - "Mo' money, mo' money, mo' money." "SHOW ME THE MONEY! SHOW ME THE MONEY! SHOW ME THE MONEY!" Quite simply, money is one of the most, if not the most important parts of both sports and life. The NBA D-League, despite all its other good qualities, does not seem to have gotten this message. According to this Grantland article the pay scale for the NBA D-League is basically crap. "[S]alary cap limits of $13,000 (four players per roster), $19,000 (four), and $25,500 (two)" aren't going to have near-NBA or other young players eying the D-League with great excitement, especially with the money available in larger foreign leagues and the demand for talented players to act as stars (or in the case of China, stars and huge marketing tools). Really, the D-League will likely remain something of an afterthought until the pay scale is massively improved. In my opinion (note that this opinion is not exactly new), this is the biggest roadblock to the D-League becoming a "big deal" among guys that just miss the NBA cut. And speaking of guys that just miss the NBA cut...
- Allow a form of "protection" - According to this NBA D-League FAQ, "A call-up occurs when a player is signed by an NBA team. An NBA team is allowed to sign any D-League player as long as they are eligible to play in the NBA under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). However, an NBA team cannot call-up a player whose draft rights are still held by another NBA team." A simpler way of saying this is that any D-League player whose draft rights aren't held or who isn't on assignment can be signed by any NBA team. My suggestion would be to allow one player a year to be designated "protected" status - allowing a team to sign the best undrafted players directly to the D-League affiliate and keep them from being signed by other teams for one season. These players would receive a bonus that season as compensation for being with only one organization.
Continue working towards every team having a D-League affiliate - There are currently 17 NBA D-League teams, 15 with single affiliation, and 2 with multiple affiliations. Multiple affiliation can be a bit of a mess - especially when you have a coach and offensive/defensive system different from the big club. One of the best ways to use the D-League as development is for every team to have a D-League team working out of the same system and same basic ideas as their NBA parent, that way players are at least mentally ready to be "plugged in" on their 10 day contracts or full call-ups. For example, had the 87ers existed last year, they would have run an offensive system based on long twos and complete lack of an inside game, readying their players for the COLLINSFENSE
Get the games on (better) TV - The D-League is currently televised through a combination of CBSSportsNet, NBA TV, and NBA TV Canada. No offense, but most of those networks suck, both for quality and distribution. Personally I think the NBA should push its television partners to carry at least the D-League championships nationally (ESPN2 airs the MLB Futures All Star Game, and I think they could handle the D-League finals or even the whole playoffs.) I see no reason why CSN or a newer sportsnet like Fox Sports 1/NBCSN wouldn't carry the D-League based on their willingness to carry niche sports or mid-major college basketball. As the D-League grows, interest in this idea will take off, but the NBA should try to get the ball rolling now.
Make the D-League a viable alternative to college - Now we come to one of the toughest suggestions. The idea of going to college and being drafted after a year or two is entrenched, and let's be straight - I'm a college student, and college is fun. I imagine it's even more fun for players who are celebrities at Big State U. But the D-League offers one thing that college doesn't - $$$. You get to play the game, get paid, and you can enter the NBA draft at the end of your first D-League year, just the same as if you came out of college. Unfortunately, the NBA still seems opposed to handling player development itself, preferring to let universities absorb the time and money cost. Should teams ever decide to start going down this road though, it would really help build the image of the D-League, especially if they could lure top tier talent to their teams. The draw of seeing the "stars of tomorrow" is what brought 10,000+ people to a stadium in Reading to see Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg. I imagine the same would have been true of Lebron James, Andrew Wiggins, and the next crop of "potential superstars."