Since its inception, the NBADL has gained increasing acclaim as a junior varsity league to the NBA’s varsity. In 2009-10, the NBADL witnessed a record number of players (27) called up to the NBA for a record number of times (40).
Sundiata Gaines made his mark on an NBA playoff team last year, when he scored a game-winner for the Utah Jazz. Anthony Tolliver was undrafted out of Creighton and played for three NBADL franchises before finishing the 2009-10 season with the Warriors and then signing a multi-million dollar deal with the Timberwolves in the summer of 2010.
The NBADL has proven to be fertile ground for the development of NBA coaches as well. Bryan Gates (Idaho Stampede) and Dave Joerger (Dakota Wizards) made their marks as champions in the NBADL before landing on NBA coaching staffs. Over a dozen other coaches have used the D-League as a springboard to the NBA.
As the NBA heads toward a seemingly inevitable lockout, the NBADL’s players and coaches stand to gain additional visibility, as its teams’ operations will continue despite a locked out NBA. With scouts twiddling their thumbs, they will likely find themselves reassigned, with additional efforts directed toward the NBADL.
During CBA talks, the NBA should make a point of changing the CBA to bring additional attention, acclaim, and success to the NBADL. If more NBADL players had a greater chance of being signed to NBA contracts, then even more of the world’s best talent might flock to the NBADL, thus raising its level of competition and commercial appeal.
One way to achieve this aim might be to allow each NBA team to sign one NBADL player to a guaranteed minimum salary contract using funds provided by the NBA. The player could be sent to the NBA team’s NBADL affiliate at the direction of the NBA team, as presently occurs.
The NBA team would still be required to pay travel and per diem expenses for the player, but these costs would likely be outweighed by having a young and healthy player to keep veterans hungry in practice and by inculcating the player into the team’s system, which could be useful in the case of injuries to rotation players.
Threshold NBA players such as journeymen or ageing NBA veterans would vehemently oppose a program that would subsidize teams’ use of NBADL players, as the veterans would be at a competitive disadvantage. One way around this problem might be to have the NBADL-turned-NBA player not count toward NBA roster minimums or maximums.
Additionally, a team would be unable to cut a non-guaranteed player minimum salary player within a certain number of days before or after signing an NBADL player. This way, the extremely cheap teams who might cut a veteran 14th man in favor of saving a few hundred thousand dollars in signing an NBADL player would be unable to do so.
Most teams would carry an extra player beyond what they otherwise would have because the upside of having that player around would outweigh the downside. However, teams would in no way be required to carry a player formerly under contract with the NBADL.
In creating an additional minimum salary roster spot for each NBA team (thus providing for 30 additional NBA jobs), this proposal would probably be supported by the NBPA, especially if teams are not allowed to subtract a non-guaranteed player in order to add the NBADL player. Veterans protective of their livelihood would understandably oppose younger players competing for their jobs. However, the NBA is best when it is open to the best players in the world and not artificially protective of its old guard.
If all 30 teams availed themselves of an NBADL player, and if all were paid the minimum salary of $473,604 (for a rookie), then the NBA would be required to pay just $14.2 million annually toward this program, one that could dramatically raise the visibility and profile of its NBADL product.
Such a program would drive the long-term growth and visibility of the NBADL as a viable farm system where important NBA talent is cultivated. It could drive viewership of the NBADL, as hardcore fans would opine as to which NBADL player its team should sign.
Importantly, as more NBADL players made NBA rosters and gained visibility on a larger stage, more of the best international talent would play in the NBADL at an early age. It should be noted that, unlike the NBA, the NBADL’s minimum age is 18.
Thus, a foreign talent could play in his native country until he turned 18, then play in the NBADL for a year to raise his visibility and draft stock, and then enter the NBA draft at age 19. Great college basketball players would be more likely to remain in America if the NBADL presented a greater chance for them to achieve their NBA dreams (and an NBA-sized paycheck) sooner.
As more heralded college basketball players remain in the USA’s NBADL (versus going overseas), more basketball fans will tune in to the NBADL on Versus, watch online, and even attend games. More NBADL fans will increase NBADL revenues and increase the salaries available to NBADL players.
As the NBADL becomes an even better avenue for achieving the NBA dream, the NBADL will become more successful. It will be a breeding ground of international talent and will enable great college players to remain visible to their American fans, a pre-established fan base. As the NBADL gains more viewers through gaining better players, the NBA will be better able to showcase the very best basketball talent that the world has to offer.
Matt Tolnick is an agent at Kauffman Sports. The opinions expressed in this article are not to be construed as the opinions of Steve Kauffman or KSMG as an entity. Continue following the blog series at kauffmansports.com or on Twitter @KauffmanSports.