Why the Clippers need an NBA D-League affiliate

Aug 18, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers (left) and owner Steve Ballmer at press conference at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 18, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers (left) and owner Steve Ballmer at press conference at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /

It’s time that the Los Angeles Clippers get their own NBA D-Leauge affiliate. It’s not just a good idea, it’s necessary.

The NBA’s developmental league has long been considered a third, fourth, whatever low rate you want to name it, type of league. The talent level is very low, the pay is even lower (around $20,000 per season) and funding hasn’t exactly grown much in the past few seasons.

However, the framework of the league is beginning to change and the value is certainly rising. Much of this is because of the NBA’s Commissioner, Adam Silver and the man he hired to run the D-League, Malcolm Turner.

In an an interview last April with Keith Schlosser from Ridiculous Upside, Turner had this to say about the growth of the league:

"As we have focused on building this platform, we’re also creating value for the broader market place. To the extent that we’ve been successful there, we’ve been able to grow into national media opportunities with ESPN. We believe we’re at a point where we can grow our national revenue base at the league level. It really starts with the core product on the court. The more successful we are there, the more we’ll be able to facilitate growth in other opportunities around the core product going forward."

June 4, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; NBA commissioner Adam Silver speaks to media before the Golden State Warriors play against the Cleveland Cavaliers in game one of the NBA Finals. at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
June 4, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; NBA commissioner Adam Silver speaks to media before the Golden State Warriors play against the Cleveland Cavaliers in game one of the NBA Finals. at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports /

The Future

In order to develop the league further, Silver has set a naming rights deal as the number one priority for Turner. Think of it as a way to add equity to the league, much like an owner or franchise would seek out naming rights to a stadium or what NASCAR has done with its racing series and championships.

There have been whispers that a small portion of the NBA’s new television deal will be allocated towards funding the expansion and development of the league. A small portion of $2.4 billion is quite a bit, by the way.

The more money the league brings in the easier it is to develop the desired projects to follow. Many of those projects are extremely important to the league and the NBA.

For example, according to Jeff Zillgit from USA Today, Silver wants to continue to use the D-League as a testing ground for “on-court improvements,” such as coaching challenges and tweaked rules.

This also pertains to D-League affiliates and general managers in the NBA testing new strategies. The Houston Rockets’ Darryl Morey is notorious for this with his Rio Grande Valley Vipers in the D-League.

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Morey tested a strategy, in an extreme fashion, that focused on the Valley Vipers basically taking threes, layups or drawing fouls while playing at an extremely fast tempo. This is the type of strategy teams need to be testing with their D-League affiliates.

However, the most important aspects of the league revolve around the age rule, player salaries and franchise expansion.

The age rule is sure to be a priority of Silver and the owners during the next collective bargaining negotiations. What we should be watching for is a push from the league to increase the age limit to 20. This would have a major impact of the D-League, because they do not operate under the NBA’s CBA and allow players to join the league out of high school.

Additionally, Silver is planning on amending the NBA’s roster provisions (15 spots) to add one or two flex-spots, according to his interview on Zach Lowe’s podcast.

"We’ve been talking about two-way contracts. So we’d keep NBA rosters at 15, but maybe in addition to your 15-man roster, you’d have two other slots called your 16 and 17th roster slot, but those would be two-way contracts. They would have different scale than NBA players, so where an NBA minimum is half a million dollars, the D-League contract for those two players could be $80,000 or it could be $100,000. Nobody’s gotten specific yet.Also once you had that direct relationship with an NBA team and it was their 16thor 17th roster spot, they would then have — talk about incentive — much greater incentive to train those players, to coach them under their system so that they would be ready to come right into their system on a moment’s notice and they wouldn’t risk losing those players to another team. Which is what you have now."

Salary increases for players is not only tied to Turner finding a naming rights sponsor for the league, but also the successful marketing of the league’s brand, starting next season.

D-League games will be broadcast on ESPN networks beginning with the 2016-17 season. Surely, Silver and Turner have big plans for a league that is now on a major platform to be seen around the country. Development and increased funding for the league are paramount.

Additionally, Silver plans to have a D-League affiliate for all 30 NBA teams in the near future. Next season, the D-League will expand to 22 teams all of which have a 1-1 relationship with an NBA franchise. A handful more are considering starting up their own affiliate in the near future, including the Los Angeles Clippers.

This could lead to an additional round of the NBA draft, according to Silver.

“This notion of adding additional rounds in the draft [is] very interesting to me because, first from a player standpoint, you’d have potentially another 30 guys or more who are drafted by NBA teams, but then again you’d have this much greater incentive for an NBA team to care about that player and want to develop them and bring them along to play at NBA standard.”

Imagine four or five years down the line…

The D-League has a sponsor, is now on the ESPN family of networks, has expanded to near 30 teams, there are three rounds of the draft and the league is able to offer six figure flex contracts with NBA teams to players who might have signed in Europe or China.

You can see Silver and Turner’s future and it’s right around the corner.

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The Clippers

So how does any of this apply to the Clippers and why should I care?

Consider the fact that the team currently doesn’t have a D-League affiliate, ask C.J. Wilcox and Branden Dawson how that feels.

Wilcox has played for the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, Bakersfield Jam and Canton Charge the last two seasons. Meanwhile, Dawson has played for the Grand Rapids Drive and the Jam this season.

If the Clippers had an affiliate, not only would Wilcox and Dawson not have to be reassigned to a random team across the country, but they would actually be playing together and being developed by members of the organization.

This isn’t to say that Wilcox or Dawson would surely become better players from simply being developed by the Clippers’ D-League affiliate, but the entire idea of them not being developed within the organization while in the D-League seem backwards.

Additionally, assuming the new CBA does allow for some kind of expanded NBA roster with a D-League tie-in, this would be a huge advantage towards finding more pieces of the puzzle around the Clippers’ core.

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30 percent (132) of the players in the NBA played in the D-League last year. That number continues to rise, but the Clippers are only seeing these players second hand. Multiple teams have begun signing players to partially guaranteed contracts or training camp invites that also have the option for them to play on the team’s D-League affiliate if they do not make the roster.

This allows teams to pay a small guarantee to at least attend training camp while providing them an opportunity to develop within the organization at a lower level.

Finally, a D-League team doesn’t cost much to operate. In fact, owners can start their own affiliate for around $4-6 million. That’s less than paying a player the mid-level exception for one season.

The impact on player development is important and something the Clippers need to improve.

Financially, the Clippers are more well equipped to spend on a development affiliate than any other team in the league, thanks to Steve Ballmer.

The D-League is expanding and the future is quite intriguing. Add in the potential benefits of hybrid roster spots, systematic experimentation and a way to develop drafted players while gaining an extensive closer look at hand selected fringe-NBA players, and you can already see the benefit.

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Where is the downside? An affiliate can only help strengthen the organization and player development. Not to mention, this is the way the league is trending. Heck, even the Los Angeles Lakers have their own affiliate and their front office isn’t even analytic based.

A Clippers D-League affiliate isn’t just a good idea, it’s necessary.