The idea of the Sixers having their own D-League team has been something we here at Liberty Ballers have always embraced. In fact, we broke the news that the Sixers would purchase the Utah Flash a full 5 months before anybody else reported it.
The benefits of owning your own team rather than being a part of an independent, multi-tenant affiliation is substantial, and always seemed like a lost opportunity. Controlling the coaching staff and training staff, being able to implement a similar system to the one Brett Brown will in Philadelphia, and being able to dictate playing time and priorities will be major advantages that they previously didn't have with their D-League affiliate.
Since the 76ers bought the Utah Flash and relocated them east last spring, two other teams -- The Miami Heat and Sacramento Kings -- have entered into single-affiliation agreements. That leaves only 3 D-League teams with multiple affiliations: The Fort Wayne Mad Ants (Bobcats, Pistons, Pacers, Grizzlies, Bucks, Magic), Iowa Energy (Bulls, Nuggets, Timberwolves, Pelicans, Wizards) and Bakersfield Jam (Hawks, Clippers, Suns, Raptors, Jazz). The move towards either single-affiliation or direct ownership has been a clear trend, and one that is likely to continue.
"I think teams are starting to talk very loud and clear on this issue, and in order to be competitive you recognize that you need to get your system in place and start to farm some talent," Delaware 87ers general manager Brandon Williams told Liberty Ballers. "The more you see the value in a minor league operation, the more teams will step up to the plate here. I'm just glad that the Sixers found a way to create a relationship here in Delaware."
"I think of it as one organization, two environments. We are fully engaged [with the Sixers]," Williams explained. "We're fully connected. Sam [Hinkie] is ultimately our voice. I get to drive a process here, but there's no separation."
"What we hope to do is dispel the myth that there are two separate places, that there's the Sixers and then there's [us]," said Williams, who will be serving in the Sixers front office as well as in his capacity as 87ers GM. "I think on a daily basis there are going to be influences. Whether from the coaching staff, athletic training or athletic performance, from some analytics and technology perspective, as well as the front office."
The coaching staff will be very important to what the 76ers do with their D-League affiliate, which is something that has not yet been settled.
While not having an exact time frame on when the coaching staff will be in place, Williams assured me that the process was well underway.
"On the Sixers side we had a really extensive coaching search, and there were a lot of great names that came up. So there's some interest potentially in some of the candidates who we've looked at for other roles potentially filling a role here," Williams said about the coaching search. "We're working diligently to put together a solid group."
The 87ers season is set to begin November 23rd when they visit the Canton Charge.
Status Of The Current Roster
The 87ers recently conducted an expansion draft to fill out their roster, acquiring the rights to 16 players. There are a couple of things to keep in mind when looking at these results.
First, they only acquired the rights to these players. That means, essentially, that if these players sign a D-League contract, it would be to play for the 87ers. It does not necessarily mean that they will play for the 87ers, however. Should a player sign an overseas contract he would not be bound to play for the 87ers, for example.
"In the offseason, you're just acquiring rights to a player. If he turns out to be a D-League player, if he signs a D-League contract, we would have rights to him," Williams explained. "[I would say] to generally not hone in on any specific players, because we might not see them."
The second thing to keep in mind is that these players have no real obligation to the 76ers. These players could be called up by any team. The contracts signed by D-League players are contracts signed with the league, not with the team. The 76ers do not hold their rights. The players that have contracts signed with the 76ers and are sent down are tied to the 76ers and cannot be called up by other teams, of course.
The D-League has a roster limit of 12 players, which includes the 2 players the 76ers can send down from the parent club.
Teaching Players To Be Professionals
Prior to joining the 87ers (and 76ers) front office, Williams spent the previous 8 seasons with the NBA. During his time there he worked in the league's community and player programs department, helping rookies prepare for being a professional basketball player, both on and off the court.
Williams continues to see that as part of his role, especially when dealing with players who might have had higher aspirations than the D-League at one point in their career.
"The guys that you see here are all hoping to be in a better position at some point, and that's not just players, that's also staff," Williams explained. "Because they're not in the NBA does not mean that they're not talented and won't get there at some point. This is about improving every day."
"Figuring out what it is about your game, about yourself, about your approach that will increase the likelihood of being an NBA player," Williams said. "My job is not only to do the job for the Sixers -- to develop talent that will be of value to us -- but also to move players further along, to make them better tomorrow than they are today."
"Anybody who is a savvy fan knows that part of that is your jumper or your handle, some of it could be your speed, but a lot of that is going to be the mental approach to this game," Williams said. "Being the kind of guy that is ready when his number is called, because if it happens for a player here it usually does not happen that he is a superstar at the next level. It happens that he is a contributor or a role player, a support player."
That aspect of it is something Williams enjoys.
"I would say that the thing I connected to most in my years at the league office was sort of cultural change," Williams said. "It all sort of spoke to what's the product that we really want to see and that we'd be proudest of, as a large organization."
Using The D-League For Injuries
One of the possibilities of the D-League is the use of it to essentially provide rehab assignments for veterans returning from injury, something that Williams said was a distinct possibility.
"It was a smart move between the league and the players and the union to agree to that," Williams said, referring to the rule change starting with the 2011-12 season that allowed veterans with more than 3 years of experience to be sent down to the D-League. "Trainers are looking at the D-League as an opportunity to help players return to play."
"You see veteran players who are injured, and the first return to action is at NBA speed," Williams explained. "To have an opportunity to practice -- and you know that during the season practice is sparse -- to be able to practice, to get shots up, to play at a slightly different pace, is going to be important potentially for some of our players."
Veterans with more than 3 years of experience would have to agree to a D-League assignment, while players with 3 years or less of experience do not require their consent.
Another rule that was recently changed was that there is no limit on the number of times an NBA player with 3 years of less of experience can be sent down to the D-League, allowing the Sixers the ability to use the D-League more frequently, especially true considering the close proximity of the Sixers and 87ers.
D-League And The Draft
Another possibility that was brought up was young players using the D-League as an alternative to going to college or playing internationally.
To be eligible to enter the NBA draft, you have to be one year removed from high school. The D-League, however, has no such restriction, giving players who want to play professionally another option along with playing internationally.
To date, 4 players have been selected in the NBA draft from the D-League, the most recent of which was Glen Rice Jr, who was selected by the 76ers (but not really) in that bizarre sequence of second round trades this past June. After being dismissed from Georgia Tech following his junior season, Rice Jr. elected to go to the D-League rather than transfer, which would have forced him to sit out a year due to the NCAA's transfer rules.
Rice Jr. ended up going 35th overall in the draft, the highest a D-League player has been taken to date. Previously, Mike Taylor (55th pick in 2008), Latavious Williams (48th in 2009), and Chukwudiebere Maduabum (54th in 2011) had been drafted straight from the D-League ranks. Of those, only Latavious Williams came to the D-League directly from high school.
"It's a conversation that has been floating around the league," Williams acknowledged. "The D-League is a viable option, certainly, to Europe."
"I think as some elements of our game are enhanced -- like national exposure, bigger crowds -- that a player who is unwilling to go to college and wants to play professionally may choose the D-League rather than Europe," Williams said. "I think as our product gets better, it's a viable option for sure."
Building The Delaware 87ers
"What we're hoping to do is create a relationship around this team. A two way relationship. We want the players to invest and commit to the community, and we need [the community] to invest in our players," Williams said. "What we really need you to connect to is the experience of dreamers. The guys that you see here are all hoping to be in a better position at some point."
"I think people are fired up here," Williams stated. "It has been a long time since Delaware has had a [basketball] team it can call its own, and because it's a slightly different product, it's a minor league product, so we'll be kooky in a lot of ways. We'll be exciting, we'll do different things every night. It's much more family, fun, and accessible."
"This is not meant to be a direct clone of the Sixers."