Like I said in last week’s post, the Heat are essentially in rebuilding mode for the next two years. If they’re competitive next year, that’ll be a nice bonus, but they’re focus will ultimately be on the 09/10 season. Their sole priority over the next two years will be to build a roster and develop the talent to retain Wade when his contract expires.
One of the way the Heat (or any other team in their situation) could expedite this process isn’t being fully utilized. As presently constituted, the NBDL is functioning at less than half its capacity. Franchises undergoing rebuilding periods is an inevitability, but that process dragging on for years isn’t.
This is why the NBA should continue to grow the NBDL. In March of 2005 Stern said, “I would like to see a 15-team development league where two NBA teams could share one development team. The younger players could get the needed coaching, training and life skills that would make them better NBA players.” Stern is on the right track, but stopping at 15 teams, is too modest a goal.
The virtues of a true farm system
The parent club would be able to dictate the style of play to their affiliate, thus giving an advantage to possible call-ups. It would benefit both the individual player as well as the NBA team: a seamless transition (system-wise) would improve the player's chances of sticking and simultaneously not disrupt his team's chemistry.
No longer in a gladiator-type battle NBDL players could worry less about eye-catching play, which often comes at the expense of teammates, and instead focus on all facets of their game, not just the glamorous ones. Because while yes, other teams’ scouts would be watching them too, they would primarily be seeking to impress the parent club.
Having a direct relationship with the parent club would foster a greater sense of team cohesiveness. The coaches and the training staff of the NBDL team would be those picked by the parent franchise, the players would be coming up together.
There would be no gaps in the direction of development. In SI’s 1/20/08 issue, Ian Thomsen, covering the NBDL “showcase” describes how Seattle’s player personnel chief Bil Branch has to “urge” Sene’s coach to give him more playing time, because the Sonics want to see some development from their $3 million/year investment. Thus without any official obligation, the Sonics must then count on favors from NBDL coaches, should they have a directional preference for a particular player.
This is where we’re at now
The Spurs were the first NBA team (11/06) to go out buy their own NBDL affiliate. Is it any surprise that the team with the best front office and top-down organization in the NBA was the first to make such a move? Now, this past summer the Lakers followed suit and bought one for themselves as well. This should be the clearest signal yet for Stern to act, because while the actions of these two teams send a strong message about the value of a minor league, there are still 28 other teams who have yet to act would benefit from the league's help and guidance.
Why this has become a necessity
1. The dilution of draft talent: With college no longer serving as a free farm system because of so many early departures, (the new age limit only mitigates the effect so much) a new one has to be created. There needs to be a substitute for the lack of in-game experience for the players that elect to forgo their junior and senior years.
2. The continuing expansion of the game globally: The pool of players is constantly growing larger. Right now we’re at 82 foreigners out of approximately 400 NBA players, somewhere around 25%. Nike, for one, had been counting on 50% by the end of the decade, and with Stern’s recent announcement about a 5-team Europe division, theirs seems a prescient prediction.
To top it all off, if NBA can support the WNBA as it hemorrhages untold millions, solely for the ostensible PR and general goodwill purposes, then it can surely fund a minor league system and thus ensure a greater quality of play.
Back to the Heat
So lets return to the present example, the Heat. This is a perfect season for Miami to try to develop new talent. Chris Quinn, Daequan Cook and Dorrell Wright have already been getting many more minutes than their numbers justify. Whats unfortunate is that their isn’t a mechanism in place for the Heat to embrace this rebuilding opportunity with more enthusiasm. If only the Heat could make a couple of call-ups and be that just that much better next yearand that much more certain of their off-season needs. And as an incidental benefit, there would be a lot less complaining about the late season tanking because the system would be perceived much like baseball’s September call-ups.
Perhaps the Heat’s hypothetical minor league team wouldn’t have anyone worthy of a call-up, just like the Heat haven’t called up any D-leaguer in real life. However, without that team existing, practicing the Heat’s system, and it’s coaches reporting directly back to Riley, the Heat (and every other NBA team except for the Lakers and Spurs) are missing out on an opportunity. And what’s more, in five years, and then ten years, and on and on into the future, as the global talent pool continues to grow, that opportunity missed will be a much bigger one than it is today.