The Clippers are without a D-League affiliate. Now what?


Earlier today, the Indiana Pacers made their purchase of NBA Developmental League franchise Fort Wayne Mad Ants official, allowing all 19 teams in the lower league to have 1-to-1 affiliations with a professional club, as illustrated in the tweet from the official D-League account below.

If you’re capable of quick math, you’ll notice that 19 is 11 teams short of the number of teams in the NBA — 30; with the Indy-Fort Wayne partnership on paper, those 11 teams, including the Los Angeles Clippers, are now without a D-League partnership, as Fort Wayne Mad Ants were partnered with the NBA teams without 1-to-1 affiliates.

Throughout the Doc Rivers era, using the D-League to further develop young players has been a scarce method, with only then-rookie C.J. Wilcox, the team’s 2014 first-round pick, being sent down (played in fives games — 13 days on assignment); the previous first-round pick under Rivers, shooting guard/small forward Reggie Bullock, remained with the Clippers throughout his entire rookie season, even when not healthy. And prior to Bullock’s arrival in 2013, the last player sent down to the D-League by the Clippers was forward Travis Leslie in March of 2012, where he spent 34 days total; prior to Leslie, Eric Bledsoe, and prior to Bledsoe, Willie Warren in 2012.

Fortunately for the franchise, all is not lost in the 2015-16 season if Doc chooses to use the minor league. If Rivers sees the D-League fit for one of Wilcox or 2015 draft-night acquisition Branden Dawson, selected late in round two by the New Orleans Pelicans before being purchased by the Clippers, the league, via a newly implemented flex assignment system will allow Los Angeles, and other teams without affiliates, to do so, as spelled out below via Upside Motor.

"Flex Assignment System: To accommodate assignments to Fort Wayne, a flexible assignment system will be utilized when an independent NBA team assigns a player at a time when the Mad Ants already have either the maximum of four NBA players on assignment or two assigned players at the position of the NBA player who is being assigned. In either event, the NBA D-League will identify to the assigning NBA team any singly-affiliated NBA D-League team that is willing to accept the assigned player, and the independent NBA team assigning the player will choose a team from among those teams to assign the player. If no singly-affiliated NBA D-League team is willing to accept the assigned player, he will be assigned to one of the non-NBA-owned single affiliate teams pursuant to a lottery."

As was the issue — albeit a small one — with dealing with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants in previous years, while the Clippers and Doc Rivers could offer up a young player to receive in-game experience by playing in the D-League, it comes without priority in their development. Whomever a Wilcox or Branden Dawson would get sent to for D-League work, they’ll be second-rate behind whatever guys the host franchise have a stake in. Of course, there’s the argument that losing out on some sort of direct affiliation with a D-League team won’t matter because Rivers and the Clippers, as stated above, rarely used the option for his younger guys.

The above factor doesn’t take away from the Clippers’ need to purchase a minor league club. In a perfect scenario, Wilcox and Dawson see stark improvements during prolonged stays with the D-League team, making life easier on the front office in regards to adding talent in the offseason, taking pressure off both Doc Rivers the decision maker and the low amount of cap space the Clippers are expected to have in the summer of 2016 — Wilcox improves defensively and figures out ways to work around defenders despite the lack of athleticism in comparison to NBA peers and Dawson adds a respectable jump shot to the collection of skills displayed in this past Summer League. We’ve seen in the past how developing players has helped lead to championships in recent years. The San Antonio Spurs’ dynasty has revolved around such with Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker anchoring the franchise dating back to 2006, but in their last championship run, Kawhi Leonard, Patrick Mills, Danny Green, and Tiago Splitter played key roles (Leonard was awarded NBA Finals MVP in 2014); a year later, the likes of Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Harrison Barnes, and Klay Thompson represented majority minutes played by the 2015 NBA champions. The Clippers haven’t had this spark around Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan, at least in the Rivers era because Griffin and Jordan are success stories in their own right, especially Jordan who overcame odds as a second-pick. A factor key in Jordan’s development? Receiving playing time, even in the days where his presence on the floor did more damage than when off, aka the Vinny Del Negro years. The odds of Wilcox or Dawson transforming into an All-NBA talent like Jordan? Slim to none, but failing to put the effort into development, or at least an extra one, lessens the chances more than natural progression.

When Steve Ballmer took over the reigns to the franchise in 2013, he made a vow to do (and spend) whatever to progress the Clippers into a field that generates consistency across the next decade — in a little over a year ago, the New York Knicks reportedly paid $5 million to purchase a D-League team; this past season, the Clippers paid close to that figure for Carlos Delfino, Miroslav Raduljica, and Jordan Farmar to NOT play for the team. Going into the luxury tax this season is a good first step in that direction. Emphasizing player development — young and old (injury rehab) — via a D-League purchase is the next.

Hopefully, this purchase transpires next summer; the earlier the better.

Next: Doc Rivers says Clippers plan to keep Jamal Crawford